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2019 Cadillac XT4 First Drive: The Escalade Begets a Puppy

Seattle, WA - Not a brand overflowing with models on its roster, Cadillac gave its designers the rare chance in 2018 to roll out an entirely new one with the official presentation to journalists of the 2019 Cadillac XT4, this after the vehicle was first unveiled in New York this past March. The setting for our first drive was the beautiful region in and around Seattle, Washington.

The compact crossover follows in the footsteps of the larger Cadillac XT5 SUV, introduced successfully two years ago. Though according to the XT4’s creators, its designers took as much inspiration from the brand’s flagship utility model, the Escalade, when developing the XT4, which would be tasked with attracting new, younger buyers to the brand. The Escalade, but as a puppy, in the words of Robin Krieg, head of exterior design for the XT4.

“Imagine the Escalade as a puppy…. We have demonstrated with the ATS that Cadillac can do small.”

- Robin Krieg

Now, the new XT4 is small, relatively speaking – its total length is just under 4.6 metres, its wheelbase a mere 2.77 metres. But it is one of the larger “small” crossovers in its segment, and Cadillac actually thinks it will compete as well with bigger compact crossovers, particularly in Canada. We should mention that Canada represents Cadillac’s third-largest market, after China and the United States.

Photo: D.Boshouwers

The XT4 is, as mentioned, an entirely new model for the brand, but it’s more than that: its architecture is entirely new, the engine is all new and the infotainment system it comes with has been fully revised. The base model is called the Luxury, and buyers can then choose to move up to either a Premium Luxury or a Sport version.

AWD deactivation, on demand
The latter two trims come with a standard feature that is one of the more exciting to be found on the new XT4: on-demand all-wheel drive. The vehicle can be driven in three different modes: Tour, AWD and Sport; the first of those disconnects the all-wheel drive system, and voilà, you’re in a more fuel-economical front-wheel drive vehicle.

The main competition for the new XT4 will be the Audi Q3, BMW X1, Volvo XC40 and Mercedes-Benz GLA, just to name those. It’s a tall order for Cadillac, but the company, mindful of the younger, successful demographic it needs to go after, designed the model very specifically to appeal to that clientele. According to Robin Krieg, himself excepted, all those who worked on designing the XT4 are in the same age group as the buyers they’re aiming the model at.

This translates into a taut, compact exterior design that looks small but houses a big interior, provides the full range of technology and drive assist systems you would expect from a premium crossover, and delivers a lively driving experience. We were given the opportunity to sample that driving experience on a varied route that took us from downtown Seattle out onto the highway, then on to country roads and finally the gorgeous region west of Puget Sound.

Photo: D.Boshouwers

The look
The new XT4 is no brute. It may be a baby Escalade in many respects, but it’s much more human in scale and demeanour. The wheels are slightly oversized for the body, the stand-up front grille and vertical LED headlights make for a confident but not angry look. That grille is proudly upright like the Escalade’s, but seen from the front or from the side it’s much less of a cliffside than the big Caddy SUV’s is.

The hood has an elevated centre portion, which according to Robin Krieg was inspired by the automaker’s V-series of cars, and intended to give the XT4 a sportier feel – and it succeeds. There are more sculpted lines on the sides of the vehicle as well, which further enhances the sporty appearance of what is in its guts still a practical, though premium, urban utility model. And those oversize wheels are set just a little bit outside the body, giving the XT4 a slightly wider, more aggressive stance.

The inside
Cadillac says the new XT4 offers best-in-segment rear-row legroom, and certainly those back seats do feel roomy, at least for the legs. Less so for the head, I’m afraid. I’m of average size and my head was grazing the ceiling when I sat back in the seat.

Trunk size is quite ample; when you open up the hatch you see why Cadillac thinks the XT4 can also compete in the category above it, with the likes of the BMW X3 and Lexus NX, for example. The entrance is set low for easier loading of heavy objects, and depth is good as well. Seats-up capacity is 637 litres, and that climbs to 1,385 litres with the back seats down, and as a bonus you get some extra storage spaces beneath the floor, around the spare tire.

Photo: D.Boshouwers

Over occupants’ heads a great big panoramic sunroof covers most of the roofline and makes of the cabin a well-lit, aerated space. The seating is comfortable though not overly plush; our testers had leather seating, four-way lumbar support for the (ventilated) front seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel and on and on. This may be small for a Cadillac, but it’s still a Cadillac, with all the luxury amenities you’d expect – as long as you don't mind splurging extra for the options packages that bring much of that stuff.

The tech
As mentioned, the infotainment centre has been updated to provide a more streamlined, intuitive user experience, more akin to your smartphone’s. A nice new function is something called Near Field Communications (NFC), which allows Android phone owners (sorry iPhoners) to pair their smartphone with the multimedia centre simply by placing it near the NFC logo just below the centre screen. Love it!

The powertrain
One of the most notable features of the 2019 XT4 is its 2.0L 4-cylinder turbo engine. It’s not the first engine of its type for the brand, to be sure, but this one is fully new; it’s 6.8 kg lighter than the existing 2.0L, and according to Cadillac it’s up to 12% more efficient. It has an output of 237 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, and comes wedded to a nine-speed automatic transmission.

Photo: D.Boshouwers

According to Todd Pawlik, chief engineer for the Cadillac XT4, this engine was designed to achieve the best possible balance between power and efficiency. Some of that efficiency is provided thanks to a cylinder deactivation system that cuts two of the four cylinders when conditions permit, such as highway cruising on flat terrain.

As we climbed the gentle rises on the winding roads east and then south of Seattle, we could feel the effectiveness of the engine in delivering maximum torque starting at just 1,500 RPM. That comes courtesy in good part of the new twin-scroll turbocharger Cadillac developed for the XT4. Chances are good this engine will make it into other models in the coming months and years.

One thing this puppy Caddy does not have, is much of an engine growl. As we pushed it harder to climb at speed or pass on the highway, the noise coming from under the hood was more high-pitch whine than rumbling roar - somewhat similar to what you get from the Mazda CX-5. Count that for what it’s worth to you…

The base-model Luxury trim comes with front-wheel drive, to which you can add a twin-clutch all-wheel drive system as an option. As mentioned, with this system, the driver can use a front disconnect function to economize on fuel when AWD is not needed.

Photo: D.Boshouwers

The pricing
The smallest Cadillac SUV to date is also, and logically, one of the most affordable yet from the premium brand. The entry-level Luxury trim will sell starting at $37,900 ($39,995 with freight) in Canada. Adding all-wheel drive adds an extra $3,395.

The Premium Luxury and Sport versions can be augmented with the addition of several different packages that add things like leather seating, 4-way lumbar support, additional drive assist systems, ventilated front seats, a massage function for those seats, head-up display, wireless smartphone charging, etc. Total price for one of the top trims, when adding in all the extra packages, can come in at over $55,600.

Our test models included the two ranging-topping trims with optional packages added in.

Luxury FWD - $37,900
Luxury AWD - $41,295
Premium Luxury AWD - $46,295
Sport AWD - $46,295

Fuel Consumption
FWD – 9.8 / 7.8 / 8.9 L/100km (city / hwy / combined)
AWD – 10.9 / 8.2 / 9.7 L/100km (city / hwy / combined)

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