Road test: 2014 Cadillac XTS Vsport AWD Platinum

Overview Power-rich full-sized luxury sedan
Pros Surprisingly sporty for a big car
Cons Awkward paddle shifters, thirsty
Value for money Good
What would I change? Simplify centre stack controls

It just sort of snuck up on me, like grey hair, middle-age and the need for afternoon naps — a heightened appreciation for luxury cars. Oh, I’ll still jump at any chance to get behind the wheel of a sports car, but given that the opportunities to properly exercise such a beast are few and far between, the hedonistic comfort provided by a well turned-out luxury machine is a more than acceptable alternative, especially on cold winter days. Then, neck-snapping acceleration and high-g cornering take a back seat to how quickly the seats and steering wheel heat up. (Yes, I know one doesn’t have to shell out big bucks for a luxo-yacht to get a little warmth to the extremities, but one cannot truly appreciate the other pleasures until one has thawed out.)

As it is, a good number of newer-generation high-end cars provide not just the expected creature comforts and high-tech trickery, but a considerable amount of snap as well. Take Cadillac’s XTS Vsport, for instance. General Motors describes the full-sized sedan — which debuted for the 2013 model year as a replacement for both the DTS and STS — as “one of the most technologically advanced production cars in the brand’s history.” While usually dismissive of standard corporate hyperbole, I find this one to be pretty much accurate. The Caddy is a powerful performer with an engine that’s a delight, and at a price point that makes one wonder why there’s a need to go offshore.

The 2014 Cadillac XTS Vsport AWD Platinum comes with a new-for-2014 twin-turbo 3.6-litre DOHC V6 engine that produces 410 horsepower and 368 pound-feet of torque at a low 2,000 rpm.

The 2014 Cadillac XTS Vsport AWD Platinum comes with a new-for-2014 twin-turbo 3.6-litre DOHC V6 engine that produces 410 horsepower and 368 pound-feet of torque at a low 2,000 rpm.
Handout, Cadillac

Make no mistake; the available twin-turbo 3.6-litre DOHC V6 that Cadillac uses to transform the XTS into the Vsport will go down as one of the great powerplants of the decade. Rather than the base normally aspirated 3.6L that delivers a middling 304 hp in the full-sized XTS, the new-for-2014 boosted V6 pumps out a hearty 410 horsepower, and 368 pound-feet of torque at a low 2,000 rpm. Jump on the throttle and a pair of small turbochargers under the hood spool up very quickly and deliver an abundance of power for most driving needs, such as merging onto highway on-ramps. Acceleration to 100 kilometres an hour takes less than six seconds, impressive for what could easily be an airport limo — one that tips the scales at 1,912 kilograms. The engine is hooked up to a six-speed manumatic with paddle shifters located on the back of the steering wheel (rather than the more user-friendly batwing type). I think they’re a tad out of place on a big car such as the Caddy, but using them adds a little more zip to the driving experience.

Considering the high-performance engine and the XTS’s avoirdupois, fuel economy is not going to be high up on the Caddy’s list of attributes. I averaged a suitably thirsty 16.6 litres per 100 kilometres in an even mix of highway and suburban commuting, made more painful by the need for premium unleaded.

2014 Cadillac XTS Vsport AWD Platinum

2014 Cadillac XTS Vsport AWD Platinum
Brian Harper, Driving

For those still possessing the belief that anything with a Cadillac badge is automatically a wallowing luxo-barge — this despite the known sporty handling qualities of the CTS and ATS — allow me to hammer the final nail into that myth: You can throw the XTS into a corner and have it come out the end with minimal body roll and still holding its intended line. Credit for this goes to the car’s standard Magnetic Ride Control — the world’s fastest-reacting suspension, according to GM — in conjunction with the optional Haldex all-wheel-drive system and electronic limited-slip differential that splits torque between the rear wheels. The ride, for the most part, is Goldilocks balanced — not too hard and not too soft. But combine 20-inch Vredestein winter tires with bloody cold weather and beat-up potholed and ice-covered pavement and there are occasions where unaccustomed road shock makes its way into the cabin. The upshot: Why anyone would even consider the bloated Escalade as all-weather transportation — unless towing is a priority — is beyond me.

As for safety technology, rather than detail the full list of passive and active nannies, let me just say that the car is as much committed to keeping you safe, sound and alert as the rest of the best out there.

For fans of the understated, the XTS’s look is right up their alley, a subtler interpretation of Cadillac’s Art & Science theme that began with the first-generation CTS. It’s quite elegant in its simplicity, with a particularly nice rear window treatment.

The elegant interior of the 2014 Cadillac XTS feels sort of like a mobile gentlemen's club.

The elegant interior of the 2014 Cadillac XTS feels sort of like a mobile gentlemen’s club.
Handout, Cadillac

The cabin is equally elegant, with leather, wood and chrome trim blended together to create a serene environment — a sort of mobile gentleman’s club, interrupted by the arcade game that is the Cadillac User Experience (CUE).

Standard on all models, its heart is the eight-inch screen in the centre stack, the faceplate below the screen and the steering wheel controls. Features include capacitive-touch control with proximity sensing, haptic feedback, gesture recognition and enhanced voice recognition. It’s overkill, really — some of it works well; others, especially the touch-sensitive controls for the audio system and heated seats when wearing gloves on frigid mornings, not so much.

As distracting — or informative, depending on your outlook — is the 12.3-inch reconfigurable instrument cluster standard on Premium and Platinum models. The bright graphic displays offer driver-selectable themes, ranging from minimal to extensive information. I had the displays showing a navigation screen, trip/fuel economy, fuel use and tire pressure, plus the head-up display providing vehicle speed through the windshield.

Although I would prefer to sample Cadillac’s resurgent performance in the smaller CTS and ATS models, I can’t help but be impressed by the more spacious XTS. It flexes as much muscle as its smaller brethren while offering full-sized sedan roominess, especially rear-seat legroom. (Cadillac claims the XTS has more stretch-out room than the mid-sized BMW 5 Series, Mercedes E-Class and Audi A6 and more truck capacity — 509 litres — than the full-sized 7 Series, S-Class and A8L.)

For those who want a healthy dose of performance in a bigger car without going to the extreme power and price of a rival AMG or M version, the XTS fits the bill. A relaxed American cruiser that can get busy when the mood arises, it provides four-season, all-weather traction. Furthermore, it’s smooth, stylish inside and out, tech-rich and, for about $75,000 for the topline Vsport AWD Platinum model, it’s a veritable bargain when compared to the European nameplates. In short, it’s damn good.

2014 Cadillac XTS Vsport AWD Platinum

2014 Cadillac XTS Vsport AWD Platinum
Handout, Cadillac

The Specs

Type of vehicle All-wheel-drive full-sized luxury sedan
Engine Twin-turbo 3.6L DOHC V6
Power 410 hp @ 6,000 rpm; 368 lb-ft of torque @ 2,000 rpm
Transmission Six-speed manumatic
Brakes Four-wheel disc with ABS
Tires P245/40R20 winter
Price (base/as tested) $73,745/$77,135
Destination charge $1,700
Natural Resources Canada fuel economy (L/100 km) 13.2 city, 8.3 highway
Standard features (Platinum) Power sliding/tilt sunroof with power sunshade, power rear glass sunshade, leather-wrapped instrument panel cover, door pad inserts and console cover, leather seats, power front seats with memory, heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, heated steering wheel, illuminated front sill plates, automatic tri-zone climate control, 12-inch colour reconfigurable instrument cluster, colour head-up display, navigation system, Bose surround-sound audio system, cruise control, power tilt/telescoping steering column, Intellibeam auto high beam control, adaptive forward lighting, rear-vision camera, illuminated outside door handles, front and rear park assist, auto-dimming driver’s side outside mirror, Driver Awareness package ( forward collision alert, rear cross traffic alert, side blind zone alert, lane departure warning, safety seat alert)
Options Rear DVD entertainment system with dual screens and wireless headphones ($1,995), black diamond tri-coat paint ($1,295)

About Brian Harper