Preview Drive: 2010 Cadillac SRX

Redesigned mid-luxury crossover abandons V-8 engine, as it gains fresh profile

by James M. Flammang


2010 Cadillac SRX

LAKE FOREST, Illinois - For decades now, engines have been growing in both size and power. Ever since the 1950s, that's been virtually the "American Way." So, it's particularly newsworthy to report that an auto company, when redesigning one of its models, has taken the route of smaller engine displacement, rather than larger.

That's what Cadillac has done, while developing the second generation of its SRX crossover wagon. In addition to creating a fresh look for the SRX, Cadillac has abandoned the V-8 option that was offered with the original (which debuted for 2004).

Not that potential power output has diminished, though. The new 3.0-liter direct-injection V-6 produces 265 horsepower, versus 255 hp for the prior 3.6-liter. Still, the 320-hp, 4.6-liter V-8 has been dropped, replaced by a turbocharged 2.8-liter V-6 that generates 300 horsepower and 290 pound-feet of torque. Each engine works with a different six-speed automatic transmission.

Cadillac product director John Howell suggested that this SRX demonstrates General Motors' commitment to easing away from V-8 engines, in favor of more efficient six-cylinder powertrains. In his view, the era of V-8 luxury is departing, if not gone already. No prior Cadillac has ever used a turbocharger.

With the 3.0-liter engine and front-wheel drive, the SRX gets an EPA fuel-economy estimate of 18 mpg in city driving and 25 mpg on the highway. With all-wheel drive, those figures drop to 17/23 mpg. Fuel-economy estimates are not yet available for the turbocharged model, which goes on sale later, and will come only with all-wheel drive.

Aluminum 18-inch wheels are standard. An available FE3 sport suspension includes 20-inch tires and continuously variable suspension damping. Like Saab's Cross-Wheel Drive system, used on the Swedish automaker's 9-3X turbo, the SRX's AWD system can shift torque from front to rear, and from side to side, as needed.

Notable features include a programmable power liftgate, and an Ultra view sunroof that's called the largest in its segment. All models have a reclining, three-position rear seat. Adaptive forward lighting is available. So is a navigation system with a pop-up screen.

With its new 3.0-liter engine, the SRX certainly suffers from no shortage of energy. Though it doesn't quite leap off the mark, this wagon gets moving briskly before long. Unfortunately, that energy is accompanied by noticeable engine sound: just enough to be a trifle out of character for a luxury model. Floor the gas pedal, and something closer to a snarl may be noted. Automatic-transmission shifts are noticeable, too, but not annoying.

Hard-to-beat ride smoothness - even with the FE3 suspension and bigger tires - is a main attraction, though handling is nothing to exclaim about. Cushiony seats have long bottoms, but not much side bolstering.

SRX pricing starts at $34,155 (including destination charge) for a front-wheel-drive version. Popularly-equipped, the cost escalates to around $40,000.

Cadillac hopes to double SRX sales, which have run in the 18,000 range each year. SRX has been "almost an also-ran in the segment," Howell admitted, while the Lexus RX and Acura MDX - the principal competitors - are way up in the sales race. Production of the 2010 SRX began in summer 2009.

Turbo SRX update: Performance is just a little more energetic with Cadillac's 300-horsepower turbocharged 2.8-liter V-6 engine, compared with the 3.0-liter V-6; but it's delivered with an enthusiastic flair. Fuel economy, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, is estimated at an unappetizing 15 mpg in city driving and 22 mpg on the highway. That estimate contrasts with 18/25 mpg for the all-wheel-drive 3.0-liter model, and 17/23 mpg for an AWD edition with the non-turbo V-6. Only all-wheel drive is available with turbo power, so the manufacturer's suggested retail price starts at a hefty $51,140 for the Performance model ($53,685 in Premium trim), versus as little as $34,655 for a base-model 3.0-liter version with front-drive. Pick a Premium AWD 3.0-liter edition, however, and the starting cost escalates to $48,865.

Although the ride is reasonably smooth for a semi-sporty SUV, the Turbo SRX suspension is undeniably taut. Nicely-controlled handling and moderate-effort steering add to the turbo SRX's attractions. So does a shapely, attention-grabbing profile (especially when painted red). Rear legroom is good, but backseat headroom is on the snug side. (3/11/10)

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Text and photos by James M. Flammang