SEATTLE-For years, General Motors has turned its back on Cadillac's heritage in effort to emulate its German competition.
It hasn't worked out so well as consumers have ignored the German-emulating CTS or ATS sedans in favor of Cadillac's most traditional four-door, the XTS. Similarly, it's the Escalade SUV that yields Cadillac's highest transaction price, and no wonder. It's as close as you can get to a traditional Cadillac of yore: extravagantly big, bold, comfortable, powerful and unapologetic. Given its success, you'd expect Escalade's essence to filter down to the brand's other trucks. Instead, the midsize XT5 crossover bears little resemblance to its larger sibling, yet it outsells it nearly 2-to-1. This explains why Cadillac's first luxury compact crossover, the 2019 XT4, owes more to the XT5's understated suburban chic than the Escalade's luxurious bravado. It's an initial salvo in a stream of new Cadillacs being launched over the next two years in an effort to restore brand's luxury luster.
Filling a gaping hole in the lineup, the 2019 Cadillac XT4 follows the premium compact crossover template, yet it's distinctively a Cadillac, wearing the brand's new grille and accented by vertical LED lighting and sharp body lines. It makes itself seen, if a bit more quietly than its largest sibling.
Power comes from a 2.0-liter turbocharged double-overhead-cam four-cylinder engine mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission with automatic stop/start. Cadillac says the new engine is 15 pounds lighter than the existing power plant of the same displacement and uses new technologies that makes it up to 15 percent more efficient. Part of the credit goes to the automatic stop/start, which unlike too many German competitors, is blessedly unobtrusive and quick.
Rated at 237 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, the engine produces its peak torque at just 1,500 rpm, so it feels willingly quick off the line, easily pumps out the power. Turbo lag is non-existent and engine noise is well suppressed. The transmission proves responsive, quickly and unobtrusively snapping off the shifts. That said, when shifting manually, particularly with the paddle shifters, the transmission seems a bit slower to respond.
Initially, the XT4 will be offered in base Luxury trim, starting at $35,790. From there, buyers can choose either the Premium Luxury or the Sport, both of which start at $40,290. But the Sport does offer adaptive dampers and a livelier suspension, with other differences being mainly cosmetic.
Desirable options include Forward Automatic Braking/ Reverse Automatic Braking/ Adaptive Cruise Control, which make up the $1,100 Driver Assistance Package, although you must also order the $770 Driver Awareness Package. This adds Forward Automatic Braking, Forward Collision Alert, Lane Keep Assist, Lane Departure Warning and automatic headlights. There's also an $850 Cold Weather Package with front and rear heated seats (which Cadillac patented in 1955 and first offered 10 years later) and a heated steering wheel.
The test models were equipped with on-demand four-wheel drive, a $2,500 option, which reverts to front-wheel drive when not needed in the name of fuel economy. Front-wheel drive is standard.
Handling is impressively nimble, with quick, accurate light steering that doesn't feel like a video game. Maneuvering around downtown Seattle was stress-free. Body lean is well-controlled but noticeable, with impressive grip that lent drivers a feeling of confidence and comfort. Bump absorption is impressive, without undue body motions on rebound. And despite the difference in names, there seemed to be minimal differences in driving feel between the Sport and Premium Luxury models. However, highway and tire noise are surprisingly prevalent, but not enough to drown out conversation. That this is an issue in a Cadillac is unexpected.
Front seat occupants enjoy substantial front seat space, with supportive and comfortable front seats. In the rear, passengers will appreciate more legroom than just about any competitor in the segment, although headroom is average. Cargo room seems ample.
The XT4's horizontally-oriented instrument panel is anchored by an 8-inch screen that's controlled by touchscreen or a knob on the center console. It houses an improved version of Cadillac's Cue infotainment system that's Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible and far better than previous versions. It was a pleasure to use. Less pleasurable was the feature that transforms the rear-view mirror into a rear-view monitor. It induces vertigo, not to mention motion sickness. Thankfully, it can be turned off. The overall interior trim seems upscale, but not luxurious, especially when the XT4 is trimmed entirely in black, although this is common to this class of vehicle. The two-tone interiors livened the proceedings and felt richer.
The XT4 is unquestionably good, with impressive excellent engineering offset by an interior that's merely competitive and styling that seems timid. That should change somewhat when the new Platinum and V-Sport models arrive at a later date.
The 2019 Cadillac XT4 merits consideration, even from those who until now would never consider a Cadillac. It's far better than the competition from Lincoln and others. But it should be a baby Escalade-and it's not
Vehicle: Compact crossover SUV
Base prices: $35,790-$42,790
Engine: Turbocharged DOHC 2.0-liter four-cylinder
Torque: 258 pound-feet
EPA fuel economy (city/highway): 24/30 (FWD), 22/29 (AWD)
Wheelbase: 109.4 inches
Length: 181.4 inches
Cargo capacity: 22.5-48.9 cubic feet
Towing capacity: 3,500 pounds
Curb weight: 3,660 pounds