Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: October 1, 2019
Îles de la Madeleine, Quebec - Cadillac is on an aggressive product offensive, plugging every gap in their portfolio with a new model every six months until 2021. They are on a roll too, launching Cadillac Live, standalone dealerships all across Canada, and the new semi-autonomous Super Cruise feature on every model. Now looking to regain a foothold in the seven-passenger luxury SUV segment, Cadillac has introduced the XT6, sporting modern looks, every bit of tech from the GM catalogue, and more importantly, three rows of seats. Bridging that massive gap between the XT5 and Escalade, the XT6 is positioned to compete against similarly-sized luxury crossovers like the Lincoln Aviator, Infiniti QX60, Volvo XC90, and the Acura MDX.
Cadillac is offering the XT6 in two distinct trims, both catered towards a different kind of buyer. On the one side is the XT6 Premium Luxury ($60,998) that offers traditional cues of comfort and premium appointments with a more mature front end, a passive suspension, and a single-clutch all-wheel drive system. The XT6 Sport ($63,798) on the other hand spruces things up with a more aggressive black grill, gloss black accents, a faster steering rack, an active suspension, twin-clutch all-wheel drive system, and sport-tuned throttle maps and shift calibrations for a more athletic drive. 20-inch wheels come standard on both models with optional 21s. Also available is a Platinum Package that adds some swankier interior materials and features. But no matter how you spec the XT6, its understated styling shouts sophistication rather the bling bling of the Escalade.
Cadillac decided to utilize the same platform as the smaller XT5, GMC Acadia and Chevrolet Blazer, instead of the larger architecture found under the Buick Enclave and Chevrolet Traverse - perhaps a larger Cadillac is incoming? We nagged their product planners and while they admit there’s a small gap between the size of the XT6 and the Escalade, they believe the third-row in the XT6 to already be sufficient enough for families looking at seven-passenger seating. That’s great to know, but with an upward trajectory of SUV sales in Canada, I think it would be prudent to squeeze out as much of the market as they can. Then again, they wouldn’t want to cannibalize sales of the money-making Escalade either.
Cadillac is marketing the XT6 as a true family and friends SUV, and are targeting millennials looking for a minivan alternative. The second row is available in both a three-seat bench or two-seat captain’s chairs, both of which are foldable and slidable for easier ingress into the third row. Surprisingly, I can fit behind my six-foot self in all three rows, but the skinny entry portal into the back row does make ingress a little tricky. Once seated, the third row does offer an impressive amount of head- and legroom, though the higher floor bed puts your knees at chest level. There are USB-C slots back there but only a slim amount of trunk room when all rows are up, barely enough to store two carry-on sized luggage bags, giving even more reason for a possible XT7. There are side-mounted buttons along the trunk wall to individually lower the second and third row as well.
Cadillac has made a huge leap forward in terms of interior quality, luxury, and materials when compared to the rivaling QX60 and MDX, both aging considerably and due for an overhaul anytime soon. The fit and finish appears more cohesive and sturdier than the Lincoln Aviator, which has yet to be launched but has recently hit the news with a wave of recalls due to a missing part that keeps the car from moving when parked. The first thing you notice when driving the XT6 is just how quiet and solidified the vehicle feels, offering almost Buick-levels of insulation. There was nary a rattle nor whiff of tire noise seeping into the cabin on our windy journey through the empty yet scenic roads of Îles de la Madeleine, a small archipelago located in the heart of the Saint Lawrence. While the engine emits an emotional growl on acceleration, the interior mutes that to a minimum so only the discerning ear would notice. Much of that comes down to a large commitment to sound-deadening equipment like specialized floor mats, dual-paned windows, and a Bose Active Noise Cancellation system that listens to unwanted noise and generates the opposite soundwave to cancel it out.
The interior materials are impressive, sourced right from the top shelf with real carbon fibre gracing the dashboard and steering wheel spokes, soft semi-aniline leather gracing every other surface on Platinum-equipped vehicles, and a suede headliner to top it off, no pun intended. The thickly padded steering wheel is comfortable to grasp, as is the substantially leather-wrapped gear shifter. The sleek dashboard only houses a few buttons and dials, giving it a cleaner and fresher look than the button-heavy Aviator, amounting to an upscale environment that may not live up to the same kind of luxury as the Escalade, but is convincing enough to persuade first-time buyers into the Cadillac brand.
With only two trims available, the XT6 is loaded to the brim with standard options (hence the elevated starting price - there are no ‘base’ models here) such as a panoramic roof, heated and ventilated front seats, heated second row seats and steering wheel, wireless charging, and almost every safety and driver assistance in the book (except for adaptive cruise control, night vision, head up display, automatic forward braking, and rear camera mirror). The semi-autonomous Super Cruise feature will be available for the XT6 by 2022 - you can read up about our evaluation of that here with the CT6.
Out on this small island carved up with 435 kms of coastline, the XT6 proved to be an honest and welcome driving companion. Propelling this sizable SUV is a naturally aspirated 3.6-litre V6 producing 310 hp and 271 lb-ft through a 9-speed transmission. While those numbers may seem paltry, the clever tuning of the gearbox and linearity of the V6 makes it a darling of a powertrain. The V6 is going to be a point of contention for many people, as it lacks turbochargers and makes considerably less power than the 400-hp Lincoln Aviator, but I don’t think the XT6 needs it. The power delivery may not kick you into the seat back but it’s so much more accessible and predictable because of it. The XT6 revs up nicely, the 9-speed swaps through gears in a polished yet refined manner, and the fuel economy isn’t bad with the Active Fuel Management in play, shutting down two of the engine’s cylinders when demand is low - we averaged 10.4 L/100km while cruising around the archipelago.
We only had the XT6 Sport model on hand for evaluation, and its adaptive suspension was more than adequate for soaking up pothole-ridden roads and the occasional jaunt off the beaten path. Combined with the excellent cabin insulation, I would call the XT6 not only more comfortable than the Volvo XC90 and Infiniti QX60, but its first-rate road manners and dedication towards comfort rivals more expensive SUVs like the BMW X5 and Mercedes-Benz GLE. With four driving modes available - Touring, AWD, Sport, Offroad - you can tailor the XT6 Sport to any scenario, with two clutches modulating and shuffling torque distribution between the two rear wheels independently, ensuring maximum traction in adverse conditions.
The steering is light and measured, though I would not exactly call it sporty. That said, it’s easy to place the front wheels exactly where you want, and it doesn’t require a Popeye-sized arm to finesse this large SUV around a tight parking lot. The steering wheel is also flanked by a pair of paddle shifters but I wouldn’t bother using them, as the gearbox is slow and unwilling to shift when commanding it directly. Better to leave the transmission to its own devices - it’s smart enough to know what gear you need to be in for the current driving predicament.
The new three-row SUV from Cadillac is late to the party considering its rivals have dominated the segment for the good part of a decade, but better now than never. Good thing then, that the XT6 is an impressive product that finally fills in the seven-passenger void, and while its roomy interior deserves applause, we can’t help but wonder why they did not use the larger Enclave platform for an even grander and more substantial SUV instead. Still, the XT6 is jam-packed with standard features and slots in more than $10,000 less than its largest new rival, the Lincoln Aviator. Combined with a pleasant naturally aspirated V6 and sophisticated styling, the XT6 may not change the rules of the game, but it has enough interior space and refinement to give it a slight edge over its established competitors.
Model: 2020 Cadillac XT6 Sport
Paint Type: Garnet Metallic
Base Price: $63,798
Price as Tested: $79,128
Engine: 3.6-litre V6
Horsepower: 310 hp
Torque: 271 lb-ft
Transmission: 9-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway / Combined ) L/100km: 13.5 / 9.7 / 11.8
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 10.4