First Drive: 2012 Cadillac SRX [Review]

Cadillac slices the SRX's engine lineup for 2012 to leave just one heavily tweaked V6. Is it a case of simpler is better?

A new, leaner and meaner General Motors meant that something had to give. Now down to just four brands, including GMC, Chevrolet, Buick, and "the standard of the world" Cadillac, every move they make needs to be especially calculated and deliberate. The 2012 Cadillac SRX is just such a move.

Already two years into its second generation, the powers that be at the General, decided that this volume leader for the Cadillac brand was due for a refresh in order to maintain market share and position. Were these moves good? The SRX went from number nine in the segment to number two. The company boasts that 71 percent of buyers were new to the brand entirely, something that the crest-and-wreath brand hasn't been able to brag about since its inception.

Hop in as we tour around Santa Barbara, Californi's wine country to put the SRX through its paces.

Innovative engineering
For 2012, Cadillac has re-engined the SRX with a new V6 mill known by its LFX engine code, that maintains the same displacement but features a totally new design. And yes, the trickle-down theory is alive and well at General Motors. Expect to see this engine in a variety of new vehicles in the coming years.

In addition to the new LFX engine, is the availability of an-all-wheel-drive option. Add to that more features such as included Bluetooth telephone connectivity, and OnStar turn-by-turn automated navigation with directional downloads.

Provoq-ing design
Based on the 2008 Provoq concept vehicle, which made its debut as a hybrid at the Consumer Electronics Show, the Cadillac SRX replaced the rather large-ish CTS station wagon-appearing first-gen model that was available from 2004 to 2009. Manufactured at General Motors' Ramos Arizpe, Mexico, factory, it has forsaken the three engine options available from 2010 in favor of a single 3.6-liter direct injection engine.

A five seater, the SRX is offered in a base trim, as well as luxury, performance and premium "collection" versions. All-wheel-drive can be had on all but the baser. Based on GM's Theta premium platform, its sharply creased, angular design serves as the basis for the recently introduced Saab 9-4X crossover. While competing with the Saab is akin to eating its young or in this case, an ex in-law, the SRX also goes head-to-head with the Lexus RX 350, the Mercedes-Benz GLK and the Audi Q5.

Styling on the SRX begins with the now standard egg crate-inspired grill, which whips around the front fascia creating character lines that help rake up the slab appearance of the side panels. Clever use of black rocker covers help to condense the height of the door panels. Blingy faux vent panels and the greenhouse bright work at style as does the blacked out rear passenger and cargo area glass.

Inside, a full leather interior with heated and available ventilated front seats keeps things warm-or-cool as needed. Speaking of cool, our tester had a cooled glove box feature to chill drinks or keep cosmetics or pharmaceuticals cool. A Bose audio system and navigation screen, similar to that found in the Cadillac CTS, rises from the dashboard to offer birds' eye view graphics in navigation mode, and station info while listening to SiriusXM

A movable cargo fence is offered in the rear, as is under floor storage with a choice of inflator kit or space saver spare tire. Cargo capacity behind the rear seat checks in at 29.2 cubic feet, but fold them forward for an increase to 61 cubic feet.

Better living through technology
In addition to changes under the hood, the SRX also receives more acoustic material to help minimize noise including composite fender liners and other sound barriers that are embedded underneath the vehicle. The end result was an extremely quiet ride on the very best road surfaces, and moderately quiet on all the rest including some of the rough aggregate surfaces found on many back roads throughout America.

The available Advanced All-Wheel-Drive is a Haldex-built system is equipped with an electronic limited slip differential, which can move the torque around from front to rear and side-to-side, to the wheel with the best traction.

The suspension through the entire line has received upgrades, from the base to the Performance and Premium Collection models. They include new front upper strut mounts, shock valving, new calibrations, and in the case of the performance and premium collection models, electronically controlled dampers that can read road conditions in milliseconds for greater comfort and car control. The same system is also engaged under aggressive maneuvers to counteract "Porpoising" or side-to-side vehicle wallowing.

Throwing down
The big news for the SRX is the simplification and revamping of the engine lineup. Where there once were three, there is now only one. And it's a good one. The General Motors LFX 3.6-liter direct injection V-6 is totally redesigned for 2012. Producing 308 horsepower at 6,800 rpm, for a 16 percent increase, and offering 265 lb-ft of torque at 2,400 rpm up to approximately 5,000 rpm, gives it a relatively flat power band that fits in with most daily driver's habits. By the numbers, that's a 30 percent increase in engine torque.

The engine is built from a cast aluminum block and has cast-in bore liners, variable valve timing, and a pair of new aluminum heads. Innovative in their own right, they eliminate traditional bolt-on exhaust manifolds, and in the process, save approximately 13 lbs. per engine. The V6 is mated to a 6T70 Hydra-Matic six-speed automatic transmission with an ECO mode, a sport setting, which holds gears longer and a "slap shift" mode to allow enthusiastic drivers to hit the road more aggressively, while shifting up or down through the gears as needed.

Curb weight for this redesigned Caddy is 4,277 lbs. for the FWD model, while the AWD version tips them at 4,442 lbs. EPA estimates say this mill is able to achieve 17/24 mpg for FWD and 16/23 mpg for AWD.

Putting the SRX through its paces from Santa Barbara northwest to Vandenberg AFB and then eastward to Lake Cachuma had us experiencing nearly every possible road condition from tar-patched backroads to freshly paved highways and nearly everything in between. Through that, the SRX with AWD displayed excellent, if not quattro-like road handling. Remembering that corner cutting in a high vehicle can lead to a case of ugliness, we caught ourselves before being lured in by the siren song coming from underhood.

In standard AWD drive configuration, the SRX held gears for a while as the go-pedal was squeezed aggressively. Sliding the shift lever into the sport position offered almost immediate boost through throttle remapping and gear change adjustment. From there it was dealer's choice as to whether to slap shift up or down. The down shift ability came in handy as we found ourselves quickly closing on slower traffic in front of us.

The FWD version of this mid-size CUV almost became our favorite model during the test drive. Driving more in tune with what we find ourselves in most of the time, it was a different, if not better experience. Not everyone will opt for the AWD package, and truth be told, not everyone needs it, either. Steering through the available variably assisted, speed-sensitive setup offered great road feel and confidence for handling the twisties and evasive maneuvers alike.

Leftlane's bottom line
The General simplifies its best selling product and in the end makes it a more capable vehicle.

Still offering loads of choices in configuration, it will definitely continue to boost Cadillac's bottom line, and cause fits for one of the segments' most popular entries, the Lexus RX 350.

2012 Cadillac SRX base price range, $40,590 to $49,660.

Words and photos by Mark Elias.