Home TechnologyCars 2020 Cadillac XT6 First Drive Review: Mind the gap

2020 Cadillac XT6 First Drive Review: Mind the gap

by George Mensah

Considering how fundamental the Escalade has been to Cadillac staying afloat, it’s a surprise that the three-row 2020 Cadillac XT6 took so long to arrive. Still, the XT6 may be late to the segment, but the automaker is confident that its combination of comfort and cabin tech will help close the gap.

SUV sales have long buoyed Cadillac’s fortunes, and so the 2020 XT6 has been artfully designed to slot neatly into the range. Smaller than the soon-to-be-replaced Escalade, but larger than the XT5, it offers three rows of seating but without the extreme heft.

It’s a cunning strategy. The XT6 starts at $52,695 before destination, sharing a little overlap with the top-end of the XT5, but undercutting the Escalade by more than $22k. Caddy isn’t just counting on badge prestige to sway you from something like a 2020 Kia Telluride, either. The XT6 may be more expensive, but it comes with an impressive level of standard equipment, including both cabin niceties and active safety tech.

As we’ve seen with other recent cars from the automaker, the XT6 follows a Y-shaped trim structure. The 2020 XT6 Premium Luxury is the entry level, with a Platinum Package available to add in extras. Alternatively, there’s a $57,095 2020 XT6 Sport, which itself gets a Platinum Package option.

The Luxury and Sport bloodlines look different, certainly, but they’re also mechanically different too. The Premium Luxury cars get shiny trim on the outside and a choice of front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. Sport models, however, get blacked-out trim and a mesh grille, along with all-wheel drive as standard.

2020 Cadillac XT6 Sport vs Premium Luxury

Regardless of the trim path you go down, you get a 3.6-liter V6 engine with 310 horsepower and 271 lb-ft of torque. There’s a 9-speed automatic transmission, along with multiple drive modes and towing support for up to 4,000 pounds.

The XT6 Premium Luxury gets Cadillac’s Active Sport Chassis system, while its AWD uses a single rear clutch. The SUV can shift power front to back, depending on traction requirements.

In the XT6 Sport, however, things get more interesting. Cadillac calls it Sport Control AWD, and it uses a twin-clutch system that not only allows for torque to be distributed front to rear, but between the rear wheels too. The result is active yaw control – aka torque vectoring – that can help steer the SUV by pushing more power to the outside wheel in the corners.

Cadillac combines it with an active suspension system – though not the Magnetic Ride available on some of the automaker’s other cars – that can adjust the dampers in real time. It’s an option on the Premium Luxury trim, if you get the Platinum Package. Finally, the Sport trim gets a faster gearing ratio for the steering, making it a little more responsive.

Get the angle right

From certain angles, the XT6 nails the styling. At the front, for example, the oversized grille with its narrow bezel, flanked with sharply squinting headlamps atop crisp DRLs, are a knowing nod to 2016’s gorgeous Escala concept. It doesn’t quite look like the rest of Caddy’s SUVs, in fact, leaving their fascia’s seeming fussy and over-adorned in comparison.

Make the most of it, though, as things lose their way from the side. It’s not that the XT6 has a bad profile, it’s just… generic. You could be looking at any reasonably-sized SUV. At the rear, the swoosh of chrome and sculptural lighting just about redeem what’s otherwise a fairly pedestrian design.

Color plays a big role with all cars, but on the XT6 it’s night and day. The Crystal White Tricoat may be one of the most expensive finishes, but it flattens what sculptural lines there are and leaves the SUV boxy. Best stick to the metallic brown or red, which coax more interest out of the shadows.

The upside to a functional shape is interior space, and the XT6 has plenty of it. Seven seats are standard, with room for actual adults in the third row – albeit not necessarily somewhere you’d want to spend a long trip, thanks to the legroom on offer. Optionally you can switch the second row bench for two captain’s chairs. Either way, power-fold seats with remote control over the second row are standard.

Cadillac says it consciously chose to include as standard many of the features drivers choose to add on its other vehicles, and the result is a healthy amount of kit on even the cheapest XT6. A hands-free power tailgate is standard, as is the Next Generation Cadillac UX, with wireless charging, NFC easy-pairing for Android devices, an 8-inch touchscreen, and a new rotary controller that can also be nudged like a joystick.

Each row gets two USB ports – Type-A and Type-C in the first and second, and two Type-C in the third – and each seat has its own HVAC vents and LED reading lights. The sizable sunroof, which extends over the first and second rows, is standard too. Blind spot warnings and rear cross traffic alerts are also included by default, which is welcome.

On the options list there’s a 14-speaker Bose audio system, night vision, an 8-inch driver information screen that’s larger than the 4-inch standard panel, and Cadillac’s rear camera mirror. All nice to have, but still easily skipped if you want to keep the sticker price down.

That’s not to say there aren’t some odd choices. Making adaptive cruise control with lane-keeping assistance an option, when it can be found standard on cars much cheaper than the Caddy, seems like a particularly blunt way of trying to nudge buyers into upgrades. The same goes for the 360 degree camera: the XT6 may not be quite as hefty as an Escalade, but getting a top-down view is still a huge benefit in tight parking lots.

If you want them you’ll need both the $2,350 Enhanced Visibility and Technology Package and the $1,300 Driver Assist Package. Even then you don’t get Cadillac’s excellent Super Cruise system. The automaker says that’s coming as an option for the XT6 in the “near future.”

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On the road

It means you’ll have to keep hold of the wheel, and there the XT6 is fairly predictable. I started the day out in the XT6 Sport, with its trick AWD system, though the active yaw control is only actually activated when you’re in the Sport drive mode. In comfort-focused Tour, the SUV glides along relatively serenely, its active chassis damping suspension doing a decent job of soaking up bumps and potholes, while body lean is pleasantly low.

AWD is manually selected, a second drive mode, and then Sport makes things their most enthusiastic. That’s a relative term, of course. I can’t say the XT6 Sport fooled me into thinking it was a rally car, but headed into a roundabout with a somewhat heavier foot on the gas it nonetheless kept its poise. 0-60 mph comes in a leisurely-feeling 6.9 seconds, but the V6 makes itself heard despite otherwise effective acoustic damping.

From the XT6 Sport I switched to an XT6 Premium Luxury, with the standard AWD system. Honestly, in everyday driving I’m not sure you’ll notice a huge amount of difference. The SUV thrummed along capably, the 9-speed prioritizing smooth gear changes over eagerness, while the strictly-enforced speed limits on the Virginia route where Cadillac had invited us out to test the new XT6 provided what I suspect is a fairly representative experience of how it’ll be most typically used. The EPA combined economy is 20 mpg, but our highway-heavy route saw us hit 21 mpg.

It also underscored both how compliant the XT6 is on the smaller wheels of the Premium Luxury versus the Sport’s 20- or 21-inchers, and how much I missed adaptive cruise control versus the base model’s regular cruise system. Really, though, you want Super Cruise, and were it my money I’d be holding off until Cadillac’s hands-off system is available here.

The sedate pace did at least leave plenty of time to get familiar with the cabin. Cadillac’s new infotainment system is a huge improvement over the little-loved old platform, with far more clarity in how it’s laid out and a significant improvement in speed, while the dashboard’s dedicated buttons for the HVAC system – and a knob for the volume – are welcome. The dash itself is over-designed, multiple layers stacked atop the other like geological strata, and while the wood, metal, and carbon fiber are all real they’re also busy to the eye and have the extreme shininess, ironically, of fake trim.

Nooks and storage bins abound. Cadillac is oddly proud of its wrapped and stitched open storage bin just ahead of the shift lever, but I was more taken by slide-out cubby in the second row, underfloor storage bin in the trunk, and a compartment that can hold – count ’em – three wine bottles in careful isolation. With the second and third row seating flattened, there’s 78.8 cubic feet of cargo space. With them all up, that drops to 12.6 cubic feet. Not bad, but that Telluride offers 87 and 21 cubic feet respectively.

2020 Cadillac XT6 Verdict

I can’t exactly say that the XT6 is an exciting car. It’s definitely a strategic one, though. Cadillac has been laser focused on fitting its new three-row SUV into place in its range, and while the automaker may draw some criticism for doubling-down on sedans even though drivers are flocking to utilities, it’s rational space-filling like the XT6 which demonstrates it’s not completely out of touch.

How appealing the SUV is depends on how much you need up to seven seats, handsome if unmemorable design, and the Cadillac badge on the nose. The XT6’s strong level of standard equipment is certainly appreciated, though even then there’s a premium over similarly-sized three row SUVs.

I suspect it’ll still sell strongly, the automaker’s prestige in SUVs helping justify the price to many. Cadillac’s focus has filled the most obvious gap in its line-up, but that might be the last of its easy wins. With no XT6 hybrid on offer, not even a 48V mild hybrid, and the first Cadillac full-EV still some ways out, the more modern reputation the automaker has worked so hard to cultivate over the past few years could easily begin to wane. While it may help with sales, the 2020 XT6 won’t contribute much there.

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