2011 Cadillac XTS Platinum Concept Review

Trevor Hofmann - CAP staff
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When I was a kid if you'd asked me which company made the biggest production car, I would have said Cadillac. There might've been larger Buicks out there and possibly even a Lincoln or two stretched farther than one of the crested wreath brand's Sixty Specials or Fleetwood 75s, but my guess is that Cadillac's flagship sedans needed every cubic inch of their top-line 8.2-litre V8 just to get them going.

Flash-forward to today's Cadillac and there's hardly a V8 in the lineup, unless opting for the massive Escalade SUV, of course, or its specialized performance-oriented CTS-V super sedan, and soon super coupe, super wagon, etc. Sure, the "flagship" DTS gets a V8 that's actually less powerful than the premium brand's 3.6-litre V6 in top tune, but this car is hardly a significant seller compared to the CTS, which makes up the majority of the marque's sales. Cadillac hopes a new SRX crossover will spread the love around a little more, although this model only comes with a couple of V6 options now, unlike the previous model that had a V8 option, and like the DTS, midsize STS sales are hardly significant enough to comment on, and with the V8 even less so as the power gains are nominal. Yes, it appears that Cadillac is starting to wean itself from the much-loved-by-enthusiasts but now environmentally taboo eight-cylinder engine, a move that doesn't go unnoticed on forums, message boards and blogs with respect to the new XTS Platinum Concept.

The XTS is to be Cadillac's new flagship, replacing the DTS and STS in one fell swoop, two models that haven't done that well within Cadillac's lineup for a number of reasons, but the foremost probably being that they've never really stood out. The STS is pulled off of CTS architecture, stretched and widened a bit and toned down visually, and something happens with Cadillac's modern, bold and sharply aggressive Art & Science design language when it gets toned down; it goes kind of bland. As far as the DTS model goes, the top-line DeVille DTS that came before the current model was a lot more exciting to look at, albeit not quite as presidential.

The latter car rides on the same dated front-drive architecture as Buick's Lucerne, and pundits are even complaining about all-wheel drive being available on the top-tier LaCrosse, hardly in the same class as a full-size premium Cadillac. No, it's pretty well a given that premium cars have to be rear-wheel drive or at the very least all-wheel drive, with front-drive models, like those from Acura, Saab and Volvo, relegated to entry-level premium status. Heck, even Hyundai is offering full-size, rear-drive luxury these days, so Cadillac obviously wouldn't want to be outdone by the bargain-basement comparative upstart from Korea. Enter the XTS.

Cadillac isn't saying specifically, but most reports have the brand's new flagship rolling on a modified version of GM's adept Epsilon II platform architecture, which means that the same extremely capable Haldex-based torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system found in the new SRX 2.8-liter turbo should power all four wheels.

If you've driven a new LaCrosse, Europe's car of the year in Opel Insignia trim, you'll know that Epsilon II is a worthy chassis architecture and, when optimized for full-size Cadillac use, will feel even tighter, more refined and capable. Yes, I know it's difficult to surmise a BMW 7-Series fighter pulled from LaCrosse underpinnings, but remember again that this is an altogether different LaCrosse and the same architecture gets used for Saab's flagship. Hmmm… maybe that last point won't add confidence to the doubters out there, and to be realistic I have my reservations too. Then again, the 7, Mercedes' S-Class and Audi's A8, not to mention Lexus' LS share some chassis architecture and/or components with lesser models, so we'll just have to wait and see what the new XTS feels like on the road. One nice add-on will be magnetic ride damping, the same basic system found on the CTS-V and Corvette ZR1, giving the big Caddy an edge in ride quality and overall control.

And it should be a strong performer, with an expected 350hp and 295 pound-feet of torque from its hybrid-electric drivetrain. Yes, it appears that Cadillac will be going up against the likes of Lexus' LS 600h L, Mercedes' S400 Hybrid and BMW's ActiveHybrid 7 right out of the gate, although the XTS is fitted with a more advanced and more efficient PHEV drivetrain, or rather a plug-in hybrid system, mated to GM's much-lauded 3.6-litre direct injection V6. An LG Chem/CPI-supplied liquid-cooled lithium ion battery pack, the cells pulled form Chevy's Volt, will put out 8 kilowatts/hour, sufficient for electric-only propulsion up to 60 km/h (40 mph). At launch the electric motor combines with the V6 for added output, giving the car V8-like muscle despite its V6-like fuel economy. Actually, if used more conservatively while leaving stoplights and for shorter trips with the ability to charge in between, easier thanks to "fill-ups" available via standard electrical outlets, the XTS' hybrid system should be able to deliver much better mileage than a regular V6, making the big Caddy a standout in the full-size hybrid crowd.

We'll certainly know it when we see one coming. The XTS boasts the same wide, deep chrome grille as the CTS, Escalade and pretty well every other modern-day Cadillac, this one borrowing a few cues from one of my favorite concepts in recent memory, the Sixteen. To say that it's heavily influenced by the Sixteen wouldn't be doing that classic Cadillac concept the justice it deserves, however, as the radical machine that pretty well stole the 2003 Detroit auto show singlehandedly is a lot bolder and much more stylistically experimental than the XTS Concept at this week's Detroit show. Sure it features a similar grille, but so has everything else in Cadillac's lineup since the Sixteen, and while the vertical headlight and fog stacks pay homage to the Sixteen, everything else is new and much more conservatively penned with the XTS. The larger car is also not quite as edgy as the smaller CTS, but it still incorporates Art & Science design language more fully than the STS or DTS, and looks particularly classy doing it.

Truly, minimalist elegance is hard to come by this day and age, with such subtleties having been substituted for large, eyeball popping grilles and attention getting character lines. The greatest offender in the latter respect was BMW's previous generation 7, while Audi has come under fire from the brand's traditionalists for its in-you-face grille treatment. Certainly the XTS' grille is bold, and might just be the widest in the segment, largeness made even more prominent from being pushed forward by the fascia's protruding design treatment, but the rest of the car, from that same protrusion rearward, across the hood and then gracefully up and over the arcing roof before melding into the trunk, is pure elegance in metal crafting. Lower down a crease leaves the top edge of the headlamp cluster and fades into the horizontal window ledge, while another crease starts mid-front fender, visually lining up with the top of the front wheel arch before gliding rearward as it moves upward, culminating with a blend into the taillights, which are classically Cadillac in shape and upright fin-like presence. Other than those lenses and a small V-shaped deck lid spoiler with an integrated CHMSL (Center High-Mount Stop Light), the shape of the XTS' back end and its overall rear three-quarter view isn't particularly unique, but these small elements add a distinctiveness that can only be Cadillac. Enhancing this Platinum-trimmed concept is a generous helping of thick chrome brightwork highlighting the side window trim, door handles, trunk garnish, and particularly attractive rectangular tailpipe ports and diffuser trim. Large 20-inch 11-spoke alloy wheels finish off a concept that truly looks ready for the road.

We can only hope that the XTS' interior will move from concept to reality unmolested too, because, like the exterior design, it's pure elegance. Chocolate brown and light beige leather and laser-etched suede make up the colour and materials scheme, enhanced by an abundance of highly glossed hardwood, polished metal and multi-coloured digital displays. Framed by the leather, wood and metal multifunction steering wheel is a technicolor organic light-emitting diode (OLED) primary gauge package not unlike that in the new SRX, only larger, while the pop-up navigation screen in current Cadillacs has been swapped out for a permanent OLED display in the centre stack, like the gauge cluster.

Those who lament the loss of the pop-up display screen and its wow factor to friends and neighbours shouldn't worry, though, as the XTS concept, in Platinum trim at least, features two pop-up monitors integrated into the backsides of the front seats. Instead of mounting these into the backs of the headrests, which has become de rigueur for in-car entertainment lately, Cadillac fits them into the seats themselves to elevate up and into view when needed. Cadillac chose not to make the rear seat into a mobile lounge like some producers do, such as BMW in its top-line 7-Series iL, and even more so Lexus with the centre console, massaging seats and extendable ottoman offered with its long-wheelbase LS. Instead is a contoured bench, with an odd single headrest that spans the entire seat width.

There's plenty of legroom, although not as much as in the current DTS that enjoys a four-inch (100 mm) longer wheelbase, and four inches more length too. The new XTS is 1.5 inches (38 mm) taller, however, adding headroom.

The XTS is certainly proportioned properly for a production car in the full-size premium class, which makes me think that this might be somewhat more than merely a concept. Certainly the ultra-thin mirrors will get the toss, which is unfortunate as they're gorgeous, and maybe a few of the ultra-high end interior features won't make the move from dream car to waking reality, but we're probably looking at Cadillac's new flagship right now. It's no Sixteen, yet is it bold and unique enough to pull full-size premium buyers away from their S-Classes, 7-Series, S8s and LSs? If this car gets built, only you will be able to answer that question, with your pocketbook.

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Sedan, Cadillac, 2010, XTS Platinum Concept, $50,000 - $74,999,

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