2020 Cadillac XT5 Review

Christian Wardlaw | May 12, 2020

Introduction

Cadillac is in the middle of a complete overhaul of its lineup and a transition to a new naming strategy that employs CT for cars and XT for SUVs. Flagship models, like the redesigned 2021 Escalade and the upcoming electric Lyriq SUV, will evidently carry official names.

Naturally, the 2020 Cadillac XT5 is positioned between the small XT4 and the larger 3-row XT6 in the automaker’s lineup. It seats five people, and is built in Spring Hill, TN alongside the GMC Acadia with which it shares a platform and mechanical components. 

This year, Cadillac gives the XT5 a refresh, introducing a new standard 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, a revised trim and packaging strategy, subtle styling changes, and plenty of new technology in a bid to keep it competitive against the likes of the Infiniti QX50, Lexus RX, and Lincoln Nautilus

2020 Cadillac XT5 front view in gray

For this review, J.D. Power evaluated a 2020 Cadillac XT5 Premium Luxury equipped with the Platinum, Driver Assist, Comfort and Air Quality, and Enhanced Visibility and Technology option packages. Additionally, the test vehicle included 20-inch aluminum wheels, a night vision system, a navigation system, a 14-speaker Bose premium sound system, and a compact spare tire. The price came to $65,490, including the $995 destination charge.

What Owners Say…

Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the 2020 XT5, it is helpful to understand who buys this midsize premium SUV, and what they like most and least about their vehicles.

Compared to owners across the segment, and according to J.D. Power data, Cadillac XT5 owners are more likely to be female (47% vs. 37% for the segment), are more likely to be older (65 years vs. 58 years), and are less affluent in terms of median annual household income ($138,176 vs. $198,923). Overwhelmingly, they prefer to buy a vehicle from a domestic company (88% vs. 36%), and more than a third identify as retired (34% vs. 14%).

Cadillac XT5 owners are more likely to agree that they avoid vehicles they think will have high maintenance costs (88% vs. 80% for the segment), are more likely to agree that a first consideration when choosing a new vehicle is fuel economy (47% vs. 40%), and are less likely to strongly agree that they are willing to pay extra to ensure their vehicle has the latest safety features (37% vs. 44%).

Owners say their favorite things about the XT5 are (in descending order) the exterior styling, interior design, driving dynamics, engine/transmission, and seats. Owners indicate their least favorite things about the XT5 are (in descending order) the visibility and safety, storage and space, infotainment system, climate control system, and fuel economy.

In the J.D Power 2019 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, the XT5 ranked 10th out of 13 midsize premium SUVs.

What Our Expert Says…

In the sections that follow, our expert provides his own perceptions about how the 2020 Cadillac XT5 measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the APEAL Study.

Exterior

Equipped with Premium Luxury trim, optional 20-inch alloy wheels, and the only color that doesn’t cost at least $625 extra (Radiant Silver), the test XT5 looked appropriately upscale while showcasing traditional Cadillac styling themes. Viewed straight on from the front, though, it looks narrow and tall in comparison to the smaller XT4 and larger XT6, each of which have adopted the brand’s more modern design details.

2020 Cadillac XT5 exterior view

This does not appear to concern XT5 owners, however, who rate the SUV’s styling as their favorite thing about it.

Interior

Closely following exterior styling on the list of XT5 owners’ favorite things, the interior design impresses the people that buy this Cadillac. 

2020 Cadillac XT5 interior dashboard view

The interior does look good, especially with the optional Platinum package, which coats the cabin in premium materials that resemble, feel, and smell like luxury. In particular, I liked the gold-tinted carbon-style trim, an unusual pattern and color that gave the test vehicle’s all-black cabin some serious swank. 

There is a minimalistic sensibility here, too, the dark and layered dashboard providing high contrast against any interior color but Jet Black. However, at the same time, the XT5’s uninspired plastic air vents, somewhat flimsy stalks, clunky glove compartment door operation, and other details are more appropriate for a mainstream rather than a premium-brand SUV.

Seats

Seat comfort falls mid-pack on XT5 owners’ favorite things about this Cadillac, and I’d say it’s because they don’t spend much time in the back seat. I find the rear seats to be super comfy, dished to supply terrific thigh support and angled in a way that creates a natural seating position.

In comparison, though the front seats offer a wide range of adjustment, I had trouble dialing in my preferred amount of height and thigh support. Greater seat cushion tilt and an adjustable thigh support extension would help in this regard.

Climate Control System

Cadillac XT5 owners rank the climate control system just ahead of fuel economy as their least favorite thing about the SUV. 

In spite of a Southern California heat wave, I had no complaints about its ability to keep the cabin at a comfortable temperature, though I’d recommend keeping the panoramic glass sunroof shade drawn closed. Generally speaking, Cadillacs, and all General Motors products, have effective heating and cooling systems.

With that said, I can’t understand why the seat ventilation indicators are orange instead of blue, the same color Cadillac uses for the seat heaters. Also, the climate system is not connected to the XT5’s voice recognition technology, so you can’t request temperature adjustments by pushing the “Talk” button.

Infotainment System

The XT5’s infotainment system is not high on the list of owners’ favorite things, either, but that is fairly common across all makes and models. And Cadillac takes steps to improve its technology for 2020.

This year, a new version of the company’s Cadillac User Experience (CUE) is standard, bringing the SUV up to date in terms of connectivity and personalization features. Highlights include Near Field Communication phone pairing capability, USB-C ports, a 15-watt wireless smartphone charger, and more.

In contrast to the widescreen displays offered by competitors, Cadillac continues to use an 8-inch touchscreen display for (CUE). Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, and Cadillac Connected services through OnStar remain standard. Cadillac also installs a new rotary controller for the system on the center console, similar to BMW iDrive, but mostly I used the touchscreen, steering wheel controls, and voice recognition technology.

The system responded accurately to voice commands, except when trying to adjust the radio station. That proved a hit-or-miss exercise. Also, during a photo shoot requiring multiple start-up cycles as I moved the XT5 into different positions, the system quit playing music through the speakers. Another time, the SiriusXM satellite radio could not acquire a signal.

Cadillac offers a new 14-speaker Bose “Performance Series” audio system in the XT5. It delivers loudness without distortion, but not the immersive experience you expect at this price. Cadillac also touts new metal speaker grilles; the ones on the door look upscale but the ones on the black microfiber suede-wrapped windshield pillars appear out of place.

Storage and Space

Cadillac XT5 owners rank storage and space at the lower end of the scale, and that’s understandable. The glove compartment is a good size, there is a huge storage tray under the center console’s flyover bridge, and the wireless charging smartphone slot forward of the center console is useful (though it can be easy to forget your phone since it is out of sight). 

In other respects, interior storage is lacking. My 11-year-old daughter, searching for a place to stash her smartphone, even questioned why Cadillac didn’t make the door armrest pull grips into bins.

Cargo space isn’t generous either, especially for an SUV that is pitched as a midsize model. With the rear seat in place, it holds 30 cu.-ft. of luggage. Fold the rear seat down, and the XT5 carries 63 cu.-ft. of cargo. Under the cargo floor, the test vehicle’s optional spare wheel and tire took up all of the space. Standard equipment includes a tire inflator kit.

Visibility and Safety

With a good view forward, large side mirrors, and available visibility-enhancing technologies like new high-resolution cameras for the surround-view camera and rear camera mirror systems, it’s easy enough to see out of a Cadillac XT5. Plus, front and rear parking sensors help, and the XT5 is available with a new rear pedestrian detection system. Better yet, the optional head-up display remains visible when you’re wearing polarized sunglasses.

My test vehicle had the optional Night Vision system. It’s expensive, but it came in handy on a dark night while searching for parking to view the bioluminescent waves crashing ashore near Los Angeles. People were everywhere in the darkness. If you live someplace where streetlights are in short supply, and where pedestrians and wildlife are common after dark, you might want the $2,000 upgrade.

In terms of safety, Cadillac requires XT5 owners to upgrade to either Premium Luxury or Sport trim in order to get a blind-spot warning system, rear cross-traffic warning, and the contents of either the Enhanced Visibility and Technology package or the Driver Assist package. So, in order to get the full collection of advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS) on a Cadillac XT5, you must pay $8,275 more than the base price of the SUV.

Think of that what you will but know that when the XT5 is so-equipped the ADAS systems work well. However, when set to its medium sensitivity level, I thought the collision warning system was overeager. The vibrating Safety Alert Seat is also somewhat off-putting to me. And the XT5 doesn’t offer a lane-centering assistance system, let alone Cadillac’s excellent Super Cruise technology.

In crash tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the XT5 receives Good ratings in most assessments.

Engine/Transmission

Evidently, when a Cadillac XT5 has a “350T” nameplate on the rear liftgate, that signifies the presence of a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine equipped with direct fuel injection, cylinder deactivation, and an automatic stop/start system. 

New for 2020, it generates 237 horsepower and 258 lb.-ft. of torque. Honestly, it feels stronger than those numbers might suggest, providing plenty of power for this vehicle. Hints of torque steer are evident with front-wheel drive; most likely the optional all-wheel-drive system resolves that. When revved, the 4-cylinder doesn’t sound refined, but the grainy engine note is muted.

A new 9-speed automatic transmission executes quick, crisp upshifts. I had no problem with the transmission’s behavior, but I think some people might not like the way the electronic shifter works.

Fuel Economy

According to the EPA, a Cadillac XT5 equipped with the new turbocharged 2.0-liter engine and front-wheel drive should get 24 mpg in combined driving. The test vehicle averaged 21.7 mpg on my testing loop, with the mountainous portion of the route driven in Sport mode.

Driving Dynamics

After exterior styling and interior design, the Cadillac XT5’s driving dynamics top the list of favorite attributes of this SUV. 

For 2020, buyers have two distinctly different upgrades over the base Luxury trim from which to choose. The XT5 Premium Luxury is for people seeking a more traditional approach to a luxury SUV, while the XT5 Sport offers component and tuning differences designed to provide a more engaging driving character.

My test vehicle was the Premium Luxury variant, which Cadillac says is “tailored for confidence-inspiring control that keeps you connected to the road while providing a retreat from road disturbances.” 

I can’t agree with that position, as the XT5 made me well aware of rough pavement, bridge expansion joints, potholes, California’s remaining Botts’ Dots lane separation bumps, and more. Indeed, the XT5 demonstrates good roll control when you’re driving with enthusiasm on a twisty mountain road, but otherwise this Cadillac just doesn’t feel as solid and secure as most competitors – especially those hailing from Europe. 

And it doesn’t matter what type of road you’re on. Whether you’re traveling a freeway, city street, suburban boulevard, or arrow-straight country highway, this SUV gets discombobulated on anything but glass-smooth pavement, allowing too much impact harshness to reverberate throughout its structure. The XT5 doesn’t soak up anomalies on the surface as much as it seems to disperse their effect.

Choosing the Sport driving mode does solve for the lifeless feel of the steering wheel while firming up the ride a bit, but not to a competitive degree. A new electronically controlled braking system debuts in the 2020 XT5, but the pedal feels like a brick under your foot until you get used to it. Plus, in spite of claimed improvements in acoustics, this SUV is rather loud on the highway, more so than the likely buyer expects.

No doubt, the XT5 Sport, which has a dual-clutch AWD system with active yaw control, a continuous damping suspension, and quicker steering, is probably more satisfying to drive.

Final Impressions

With the 2020 XT5, Cadillac has a ‘tweener in terms of price, equipment, and size, a luxury crossover SUV positioned in the narrow strip of white space that many competitors leave vacant. Often, this strategy works by offering a little more for a little less than larger competitors while at the same time supplying greater size and sophistication than smaller competitors.

Here, though, the end result strikes me as sheer window dressing.

Honestly, driving this Cadillac reminded me of driving a turbocharged Chevrolet Equinox 2.0T, which I am certain isn’t what Cadillac is striving for here. That’s not a knock against the Chevy, either, which is a genuinely likable vehicle for its segment and price point. But a Cadillac needs to be better than this.

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