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On The Road

The comeback Caddy

Photo By: Courtesy of Cadillac
Photo Courtesy Of Cadillac The new Cadillac SRX, above, compares favorably to the Mercedes-Benz M-Class.

Five years ago, most automotive journalists had given up General Motors for dead. One major automotive news website went as far as posting a week-by-week deathwatch for GM.

Most of those journalists would not have believed then that we would be driving a new Cadillac SUV this year. Even more incredible, who would have expected that we would find that Cadillac comparable – in most respects – to the third generation of the Mercedes-Benz M-Class? Mercedes, after all, lays claim to having established the concept of a luxury SUV.

Nevertheless, we believe that the 2012 Cadillac SRX AWD Premium is proof that all-American Cadillac (designed in Detroit, assembled in Mexico) is back and ready to go wheel-to-wheel with the best that Germany can produce. We might even say that GM has earned the right to have the word “Cadillac” assume its position again as an adjective meaning “top quality.”

We had a brief chance to drive the 2012 Mercedes ML350 when it was introduced last summer, so when we scheduled our week to drive the new 2012 SRX, we requested the ML350 for a week as well as a base for comparison. In many obvious respects – size, price and market target – the two automobiles are very similar.

After our week with each, our conclusion is that if you’re in the market for a midsize SUV and want one with all the trimmings, you should check out both of these new models.

The two vehicles will meet slightly different needs – the Cadillac has a slight edge in the sporting department, while the Mercedes has a more powerful engine and the edge in utility – but both provide that nice “We’ve arrived” feeling when taking you to your destination.

The Cadillac SRX is in that best of places, large enough to be useful and comfortable for a family of four or five to take a driving vacation, but not so large that it’s impractical to maneuver or expensive to own.

Mixing with the classic-car crowd, we find it interesting that these midsized crossovers are comparable in passenger and luggage space to the standard sedans that populated the highways before the first gas crunch in the 1970s. Yes, most of us now drive compact cars that are a stretch to take two people on a vacation in comfort, though for most in-town use they are perfectly acceptable.

Nevertheless, there was a reason why that four-door Lincoln or Cadillac of the “Madmen” era was the size that it was.

This example of the latest generation of crossovers is also the epitome of the luxury touches that one once could only find in a Cadillac Eldorado or a Lincoln Continental. Outside, this new vehicle is clearly Cadillac from end-to-end, from impressive grille to vertical tail fins. The knife-edge design cues that now define Cadillac styling work well with the traditional touches, reaching a distinct maturity in use.

The only downside with the sleek, swooping roofline that gives this model its distinctive character is that rear-seat headroom suffers to some extent compared to a typical flat-roofed SUV – and the large rear pillars restrict sight lines when backing out of diagonal parking spaces on Main Street downtown.

The interior of our Premium Collection model (the top of the line) was even more traditional Cadillac in look and feel than the other versions, with beautiful leather cross-stitched in contrasting thread on all primary surfaces that can be touched and enjoyed. Even the top of the dashboard, normally covered in vinyl even in other luxury cars, was leather wrapped on the SRX.

On recent cold mornings, we were pleased that the SRX is equipped with seat heaters on both front and back seats, so that we could get warm before the cabin heater had done its job.

The infotainment system combines logical buttons with some touch-screen operations in an intuitive and responsive manner. Clearly a great deal of thought has gone into creating a solid Cadillac visual and visceral experience in this crossover.

On the highway, the feeling was also definitely Cadillac, especially when contrasted to the ML350 and the Ford Explorer we drove recently. The first word that comes to mind driving the Cadillac is “comfortable.” The car wasn’t excessively disconnected from the pavement, and certainly handled itself well in corners, but the smoothness with which the chassis absorbed the potholes on Highway 101 is definitely achieved at the expense of some suspension responsiveness.

There is also some compromise in the gasoline-powered engine, in contrast to other vehicles with diesel engines. Though the 308 horsepower is definitely peppy enough to handle any traffic situation, the relative lack of torque means that a pair of snowmobiles or a light boat is the limit on the available 3,500-pound trailer hitch.

Bottom line: If you’re buying an SUV because it is a large, comfortable car rather than as an alternative to a pickup truck, the SRX (priced at around $50,000) will meet your needs and remind you of why people of your father’s or grandfather’s generation took pride in driving a Cadillac.

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