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  • By John R. Quain

GM Debuts a Baby Caddy: The 2019 Cadillac XT4, a Comfortable, Compact Crossover

Can we squeeze one more model into the luxury compact crossover category? Cadillac thinks so and has just introduced its new bouncing baby Caddy, the 2019 XT4.

The Cadillac XT4 is an all new model with a new engine--a turbo-charged, 2-liter, 4 cylinder--and new frame and body. The all-wheel-drive compact doesn't have the aggressive lines of some Japanese competitors or the rounded corners of German vehicles in this category. Instead, it manages to maintain the Cadillac corners, derived from the sedans and the Escalade, albeit while looking a little like a puppy with oversized paws and big eyes.

I spent a day driving it around the countryside outside of Seattle and found it to be a comfortable and capable road companion. (I even liked the built-in seat massager.)

The Tech:

Cadillac has settled into a combination of touch-screen, button, and dial controls. There's a built-in navigation system, plus Android Auto and Apple CarPlay support. OnStar is on board as well, which tends to be (quite frankly) quicker to respond when you need help. (Ask a human being, what a disruptive idea!) Voice recognition is basic but comparable to others in this group; you can't adjust the heat with it, but you can use it to change radio stations.

One especially noteworthy feature on the XT4 is the inclusion of Cadillac's video rear-view mirror, which substitutes a rear camera view in an LCD screen for the usual rear-view mirror. The advantage--and it's a big one--is that it eliminates virtually all blind spots behind you, including the car's own rear roof pillars, anyone sitting in the back seat, or any luggage you may have piled up. With some practice, you can take one glance and see all the lanes of traffic behind you.

Cadillac's video rear view mirror. Photo: John R. Quain

Some drivers find the view and its unusual focal distance distracting. I like it for its safety aspects, but if you find it irritating, you can switch it off and go back to the regular mirror.

Also much appreciated are GM's vibrating seats that provide a warning when you're backing up and there's a pedestrian or car behind you. The seat will also vibrate and a red warning light will appear in the head up display should you fail to brake quickly enough for a stopped vehicle. It's better than an audible chime alert, for example, because the seat vibration is more difficult to ignore and it also doesn't alert passengers that you were distracted or inattentive.

Parents will appreciate the built-in rear seat reminder. Intended to prevent heat stroke fatalities when children are left in the backseat by mistake, the system notices when you've opened the back door before departing. Then when you arrive and turn off the car, it will chime and display a message reminding the driver that there's something in the backseat. It's not a perfect solution (suppose you stop for gas along the way?) but it's a great parental prod.

Surround views help you get out of tight spots. Photo: John Quain

The only downside on the tech side was the absence of GM's popular semi-autonomous Super Cruise option. Super Cruise allows drivers to speed down certain highways hands- and feet-free (the only such system available to date), but it won't be an option on the XT4 until at least the 2020 model.

Driving Impressions:

Comfort and convenience are the hallmarks of the Cadillac XT4. There are few surprises, which is clearly how the designers wanted it. Make drivers and passengers feel like they're in a CT6 or an Escalade...only smaller.

To a great extent, Cadillac succeeds here.

The handling and braking are all tuned to appeal to the average driver, not too soft (hello, Toyota) or too tight (hello, Mini). It makes for predictable steering (a good thing) and some warning shivers when you push it too hard into corners. The difference between comfort and sport modes in the Premium Luxury model was minimal and amounted mostly to a perceived change in acceleration and shifting (as with most up-to-date vehicles today, there's a smoother, more fuel efficient 9-speed automatic transmission).

The Premium Luxury model of the Cadillac XT4 handled wrinkles in the road well enough, although we would have liked a flatter response in corners. Still, it handles better than the Mercedes-Benz GLC, which tends to roll more. And the Sport model of the XT4 in sport driving mode did tend to keep things more level.

One item of note is the Cadillac XT4's automatic engine shut-off. Most cars come with a similar fuel-saving feature that turns off the engine when you're sitting at stop light or stuck in traffic. I found the XT4 had a bit of lag between when you hit the gas and when the engine turns on, which can be a bit of an unwanted surprise when you're turning left in traffic. (For 48-volt systems that solve this, see here.)

Bottom Line:

Trying to compare vehicle prices is a like trying to capture a drop of mercury. No two models have exactly the same options or features.

The Cadillac XT4 looks competitive on first blush--starting at $35,780 for the Luxury model and $40,290 for the Sport or Premium models. The 2019 Acura RDX, by way of comparison, starts at about $38,300 for a front-wheel-drive base model and goes up to roughly $48,400 for a top-of-the-line Advance SH-AWD model. However, the cost of the Cadillac XT4 can escalate rapidly when you start adding "options." My test Sport model with all the technology options, including what I consider absolutely necessary safety tech like forward collision alerts, topped out at over $56,800.

Ultimately, the luxury compact crossover arena is one of the most closely competitive categories, with respected names like Acura, Lexus, Volvo, and Mercedes all playing in the space. Cadillac now has its tiny Caddy in the game, and it is not to be ignored.

Deer crossing. The fawn stayed on the other side. Photo: John Quain

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