Story: Will Sabel Courtney
As an automotive writer, it’s easy to become…inured to the way everyone else sees cars. So for the sake of a fresh perspective, when given a weekend with Cadillac’s 2014 XTS Vsport – it of the 410 horsepower twin-turbo V6 – I grabbed a trio of non-enthusiast friends and yanked them on a quick trip to Vermont to see what they thought of it.
First impression: This thing’s pricey. Cadillac may have done a damn fine job improving their quality and image in the last decade, but the $69,000 price tag was still high enough to startle my friends. It was a bit of a reality check for your humble narrator; considering I’d just returned from driving a $129,000 Audi RS7 in Las Vegas, a $70K Cadillac didn’t seem so unreasonable. (It was the Platinum trim level, after all.) But after they pointed out that, uh, yeah, 69 grand is a lot of money, I started reflecting on the fact that the XTS is based on the same Epsilon II platform as the Buick LaCrosse and Chevy Impala. Which means this $69,000 car shares the same basic architecture as a $26,000 car.
Then again, you can’t buy an Impala with the XTS Vsport’s motor at any price. It’s the same engine under the hood of the new CTS Vsport, tuned here to generate 410 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque. Even in a car this size, that’s enough power to frag the front tires, so every Vsport comes standard with a Haldex all-wheel-drive system. It’s a potent enough setup to send this rather porky sedan (roughly 4400 pounds) from 0-60 in 5.2 seconds and through the quarter mile in 13.6 at 105 mph, according to the careful testers at Car and Driver. In practice, the XTS Vsport always felt pleasantly brisk, even loaded down with 700-plus pounds of quarter-lifers, craft beer and pumpkins.
Second impressions tended to revolve around the XTS’s tendency to replace analog controls and readouts with digital ones. The car’s reliance on touch-sensitive controls in place of conventional ones—the electronic button for the glove box release, the metal bar to slide your finger along in place of a volume knob—caused a bit of confusion at first, and a bit more frustration later on. The idea behind them is sound—it’s just that the execution doesn’t work as well as it should. If those touch-sensitive buttons didn’t have a quarter-second lag time between action and reaction, and if they worked 95 percent of the time instead of 65 percent of the time, there wouldn’t be any issue here.
Other parts of the XTS’s gadget load-out proved more popular. The touchscreen buttons that appear when a hand nears the display turned out to be a consistent source of entertainment for my front-seat passenger, and everyone found the electronic gauge cluster novel—especially when they learned it could flip between multiple display layouts.
Third impression: the XTS rides and handles surprisingly well. Again, coming fresh from driving Audi’s hundred-grand top-of-the-line sports sedan, the XTS felt a bit boatish to my cynical hands. But my friends were quite impressed. Credit goes to the GM’s Magnetic Ride Control suspension, which comes standard; it made for a smooth ride in normal mode but pleasantly firmed up when bumped to Sport mode. (Unlike many cars, the XTS doesn’t come with a separate suspension tuning control; it’s in comfort mode when the car is in Drive, and flips modes when the transmission is bumped into Sport. It’s a simple system, which is a breath of fresh air in this day and age; unfortunately, it’s also one that Cadillac doesn’t exactly advertise. The only way I knew about it was because I’d learned that directly from GM PR when I first drove the XTS back in 2012.)
In spite of my best attempts to pry one out of them, though, I couldn’t squeeze much of an opinion from my friends about the overall looks of the XTS. Which is a shame, because I was really hoping to have my love for this car’s looks affirmed—or, if that wasn’t in the cards, determine that I’m a terrible judge of style. In spite of its front-wheel-drive origins, the XTS—to my eyes, at least—looks gorgeous, with its high trunk line, flowing flanks and sharp creases. Especially in the stolen-straight-from-the-Sixteen-concept Sapphire Blue slapped onto my tester. Alas, my friends offered little more than quiet, unconvincing agreement when I’d mention, “It looks pretty good, right?”
So would I buy the XTS Vsport? Probably not. For $70,000, I’d buy an LSA-powered CTS-V wagon while you can still get one. But I’m a 26-year-old gearhead who once resolved never to own a car making less than 500 horsepower. I’m not exactly the target XTS customer, even one making 410 horses. But it impressed me, and it impressed my friends—a group of mid-to-late twentysomething urban professionals who like trying new things and tend to have strong feelings about what we like. In other, highly cliché words, we’re “trendsetters.” So the fact that Cadillac’s FWD platform-based flagship managed to impress us? That’s damn impressive. And it’s a sign Caddy is doing something right.