Car Review: 2004 Cadillac SRX-V8 Review


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DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS

In response to a changing marketplace, Cadillac has changed tremendously over the past decade. Nearly the definition of American luxury automobiles through the 1950s and `60s, Cadillacs became out of style with younger buyers by the early 1990s. Cadillac responded with more European-style machines like the STS and Catera, but misread the SUV phenomenon. In the mid-Nineties, a Cadillac executive even stated that there would not be a Cadillac SUV.

He is no longer at Cadillac, and the supersized Escalade SUV has brought many younger, trendier customers to Cadillac. But there are other SUV niches and other customers to be won as well. The leading import brands have done quite well with mid-sized car-like ``crossover'' vehicles that combine the style, function, and cachet of an SUV with the comforts and handling abilities of a car. Cadillac meets this challenge directly with its new SRX.

The SRX is officially called a ``medium luxury utility vehicle,'' but it is not what you might think of when you think of a medium-sized luxury SUV. There is absolutely no truck in its background; it is in no way a downsized Escalade. It's really a European-style sports- luxury wagon with American-style extra headroom.

This should surprise no one. Europeans love their wagons, Americans love their SUVs. The SRX should please both. It is built with the same ``Sigma'' architecture as Cadillac's CTS sedan, to which it bears a more than passing resemblance. But it shares no sheetmetal with the CTS, and is a few inches greater in length and wheelbase, slightly wider, and definitely higher. V6 and V8 models are available; the V6 is Cadillac's newest 3.6-liter while the V8 is the latest iteration of the 4.6-liter ``Northstar''. Rear-wheel drive is the standard chassis configuration, with all-wheel drive available. And the technological prowess Cadillac has demonstrated in recent years continues with the latest version of the ``Stabilitrak'' stability enhancement system standard equipment and optional magnetically- controlled suspension, not to mention a trick power-operated folding third-row seat and the full-length ``UltraView'' sunroof.

I've been driving an SRX V8 with nearly ever available option for the past week. It's been a very impressive vehicle, with a world-class combination of comfort, power, handling, and refinement and more interior space inside than most of its competitors. It points toward Cadillac's future, and that future looks bright.

APPEARANCE: Love it or hate it, Cadillac's angular ``Art and Science'' look is definitely its own, inspired by and copying no one else in the auto industry. The SRX, like the CTS, is all crisp angles and slightly-curved planes. It's a muscular but not muscle-bound vehicle, a larger, two-box version of the CTS in looks, with the newest version of the Cadillac vee-shaped egg-crate grille flanked by vertically-stacked faired headlamps in the style of the company's XLR sports car. A strong character line defines each side, and there is no lower cladding. Thin vertical taillights are part of Cadillac heritage, and grace the rear of the vehicle. Cadillac considers the SRX to be the first of a new ``S'' series of vehicles, and as such it is a preview of future styling directions.

COMFORT: There is plenty of room inside of the SRX, and good design and attention to detail make the most of it. The styling builds on that of the CTS, with an instrument panel featuring the same textured materials and PC-like center stack. Burled wood trim enhances the doors, dash, and console. Covered compartments in the doors add convenience. The front buckets have very good comfort and support, and are power-adjustable of course, as is just about everything including the pedals. The outboard portions of the rear seat are contoured in a similar way to the front, and are just as comfortable. Leg and head space are at the head of the class. The second row splits 60/40; the cushions tumble forward and the backs fold flat for useful cargo carrying ability. Cadillac is well-known for interesting gadgetry, and the optional third-row seat is the shining example in the SRX. It's tight for adults, but should delight young children. It's power-adjustable - with the touch of a button the back angle can be changed, and another button folds it flat into the floor. If that's not enough, check out the ``UltraView'' full-length sunroof for the view of the sky and scenery above.

SAFETY: The Sigma platform used by the 2004 Cadillac SRX is designed for strength and crashworthiness, with a heavily-reinforced structure and safety cage around the passenger compartment. Four- wheel antilock disc brakes are standard, as is the latest version of the ``Stabilitrak'' stability control system.

ROADABILITY: With a regular SUV, ``sport'' is what you do when you get to your destination. With the SRX, the sport is in the driving. It is at home anywhere - on the highway, around town, and especially on the sort of twisting secondary roads that are the province of sports cars. Although not light in weight, the SRX is light on its feet. Its eight inches of clearance should be adequate for logging roads, not to mention urban curbs, chuckholes, and road debris. And, despite its high stance, the SRX's weight is carried low. With its rigid chassis, good weight distribution, and sport-tuned independent suspension, the SRX has the road manners of a European sports sedan. My test car had the ``Luxury Performance Package,'' which includes magnetically-controlled suspension and all- wheel drive. Gild the lily...this improves damping control and traction, with no reduction in comfort. The SRX is as quiet as expected, for low-fatigue touring.

PERFORMANCE: The SRX V8 uses the newest version of Cadillac's acclaimed 4.6-liter ``Northstar'' engine, now with variable valve timing to increase power and the spread of useful power. It's shared with Cadillac's flagship XLR luxury-sports roadster, and makes 320 horsepower at 6400 rpm and 315 lb-ft of torque at 4400 rpm. At nearly 4,500 lbs, the AWD SRX is no lightweight, but the Northstar gets it down the road very quickly, with great gobs of power at all engine speeds. The five-speed automatic is smooth in operation and can usually just be left in ``D.'' To play with the sports cars, put the lever in manual mode, drop it into second or third, and enjoy. This is a world-class powertrain.

CONCLUSIONS: In the new Cadillac SRX, sports car meets crossover sport utility. Sport wins, with plenty of utility as well. It's a win-win situation.

SPECIFICATIONS 2004 Cadillac SRX-V8

Base Price $ 46,300
Price As Tested $ 58,140
Engine Type dual overhead cam 32-valve aluminum alloy V8 with variable valve timing
Engine Size 4.6 liters / 279 cu. in.
Horsepower 320 @ 6400 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 315 @ 4400 rpm
Transmission 5-speed electronically-controlled automatic
Wheelbase / Length 116.0 in. / 195.0 in.
Curb Weight 4442 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower 13.9
Fuel Capacity 20.0 gal.
Fuel Requirement 91-octane unleaded premium
recommended Tires Michelin Pilot MXM4 front: P235/60 VR18 rear: P255/55 VR18
Brakes, front/rear vented disc / vented disc, antilock and brake assist standard
Suspension, front/rear independent short-and-long arm / independent multilink
Ground clearance 8.2 inches
Drivetrain front engine, all-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 15 / 20 / 17
0 to 60 mph 6.8 sec
towing capacity 1000 lbs standard, 3500 with towing package

OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Luxury Performance Package - includes: magnetic ride control, all-wheel drive, DVD navigation system, Bose(tm) 8-speaker audio system with 6 CD in-dash changer, HID headlights, electrochromic inside rear-view mirror $ 7,145
UltraView sunroof $ 1,800
Rear-seat entertainment system $ 1,200
Third-row power seat $ 1,000
Destination charge $ 695

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