First Drive: Cadillac Sport/Utilities
Present, future, and who knows?
Cadillac is fast at work bringing new-car models to market in an attempt to compete with the best from Germany and Japan. The CTS is already on sale, the XLR roadster will follow next year, and a new rear-drive STS is in the final stages of development. Even then, the Wreath and Crest crew is hardly sitting still on the truck/SUV/crossover side of the equation, areas where GM has a wide portfolio of products and platforms around which Cadillac can build a product plan.
We first saw the SRX luxury/utility crossover last year, in the form of the Vizon concept. The trip from design study to dealer showroom will be a fast one, as the SRX goes on sale late next summer as an '04 model. It shares much of its Sigma platform underpinnings with the CTS and the upcoming Seville replacement, the STS, as well as their crisply folded Art & Science design language. Most eyes will agree that the Vizon's look and proportions translated nicely from concept to production (we much prefer the latter).
SRX buyers will be able to choose between rear drive and all-wheel drive. Both versions will be available with a new "high feature" 3.6L DOHC V-6 or an updated version of the Northstar DOHC V-8. Cadillac promises the SRX will offer a sporty, carlike ride and handling demeanor, and we won't be surprised to see a high-performance V-Series SRX show up 12-18 months after launch. The fully independent suspension will include the use of GM's Magnetic Ride Control active shock-absorber damping system, introduced on the '03 Corvette. We're told the feature- and safety-packed interior follows design themes similar to that of the CTS, with innovative rear seating and cargo-management flexibility. Its competitors? Think BMW X5, Lexus GX 470, Mercedes-Benz ML, Lincoln's new Aviator, and Chrysler's upcoming Pacifica.
In spite of the fact that Cadillac had no intention of entering the sport/utility business prior to Lincoln's success with the Navigator, Escalade sales have been brisk, so the division is dipping into GM's truck pantry for yet another variant: the Escalade ESV, though they might as well have named it "Suburbillac."
The ESV is just what it sounds like: the Chevy/GMC Suburban platform, done up in Escalade trim, inside and out (including the obligatory BVLGARI clock, of course). The interior features a third-row seat, with the first and second rows consisting of individual buckets. Infotainment includes an upgraded Bose audio package, OnStar, a rear-seat DVD entertainment system, and XM satellite radio. Power comes via the Escalade's more-than-adequate 6.0L/345-hp Vortec V-8. Full-time all-wheel drive will be standard. Tuners have been grafting Escalade noses onto Suburbans for years, so it's time Caddy got in on the action.
An engine with more than eight cylinders contributes greatly to a car's ranking as a status symbol, not to mention its performance. In its prewar heyday, Cadillac had not only smooth, torquey V-16s, but prestigious V-12s, too. It's in this vein that GM Powertrain developed the Northstar XV12 concept engine for this year's Cadillac Cien mid-engine exotic. While the Cien, as a production project, is on the shelf for the moment, development of the 7.5L XV12 appears to be moving ahead. GM's engineers assembled an XV12-powered Escalade as an R&D toy, and we drove it. No, it's not the first V-12-engined sport/utility; that distinction belongs to Lamborghini's LM002--the "Rambo Lambo"--of the late '80s.
The XV12 is a technology-packed powerplant: 60* V-angle, aluminum block and heads, carbon-fiber intake, block-mounted accessories, Displacement On Demand cylinder deactivation, and direct fuel injection are just a few of its features. It's rated at 750 hp in Cien trim, but is detuned to a paltry 500 hp for sport/utility development duty.
As you'd expect, it's fast and it's smooth. The V-12's perfectly balanced 60* cylinder architecture gives it a turbine-like feel, and it burbles out a sound that speaks upscale power.
The engine's output doesn't feel like 500 hp to us, but it's 400-plus and moves the 5500-lb Escalade smartly. It's fun to feel the engine's substantial torque power the truck out of a slow corner, without lots of revs or a need to downshift. We doubt Cadillac is yet ready to produce an Escalade with a V-12, but it makes an interesting test bed for the engine. Why? Because the Northstar XV12 won't fit in the engine bay of Cadillac's cars. So the sport/utility is the division's only current product in which the engine can gain some on-the-road miles.
More important, GM wouldn't bother with any of this if the engine had no future for production. Looking down the road, it might find its way under the hood of the next Seville (STS) and/or a full-size Sigma-based flagship sedan--perhaps the next DeVille.
At least we now know it works in the current Escalade/ EXT/ESV platform. Any takers for a Rambo Caddy?