Day one: The Cadillac is waiting for me when I stumble out of Los Angeles airport, gummy eyed and greasy skinned off the flight from London. At this point all I can tell you is that it has wheels and an engine and should be capable of taking me where I need to go without fuss. Actually, that’s not quite true. The XTS has something called CUE – Cadilliac User Experience – which centres around a big touch screen. It’s a new GM thing they’ll spread to other cars. The UK will get it as Vauxhall Automated Guidance Integrated Navigation Assist.* At first, I think the entire screen is loose. It turns out that odd knocking sensation is actually haptic feedback. It’s strange. It also won’t respond to my clammy jabbing which I put down to my hands being aeroplane fresh.
Day two: The XTS looks quite nice, approached from the front three-quarter in the bright light of an LA morning. It’s sort of modern and a bit different. The back is less successful. It’s got too much bustle, like an old Lexus GS. And the entire car appears too narrow to make the styling work properly. This is probably because it’s meant to be a big car but it’s built on GM’s ‘Epsilon 2’ box of bits which we know best as the reptacular Vauxhall Insignia. It’s like trying to construct a grand palais in the space where a bus shelter used to be.
I need to find another address and once again spend 20 minutes furiously prodding the touch screen which still won’t react to most inputs and still feels like it’s loose on its mountings. In the end I decide it would be less annoying simply to get lost, veer in South Central and receive a shot through the neck.
Day three: My mate John and I are taking the Breaking Badillac off into the desert to buy some meth. Not really, we’re going to a film shoot. I try to put the destination into the nav. Several hours later John suggests he has a go. He has no more success. Incidentally, the permanent buttons that operate the air-con and stereo are also touch sensitive and also have haptic feedback. They’re slightly better but still don’t always do what you’ve asked in the manner that, oh I don’t know, a proper sodding button would.
Some time later, we end up on a massive salt pan somewhere in the wilds of California. In the absence of anyone telling me not to, I crank the Caddy up to 120 or so. The 3.6-litre V6 pulls pretty well as it turns out but at high speed the car shifts around. I think that’s the fault of the surface rather than the chassis which, actually, is well planted and reasonably agile on the road. This particularly car has a four-wheel-drive system developed by SAAB for their short-lived 9-5, also based on this platform. Lesser XTSs are just front-wheel-drive, even though the ATS and CTS models below it have bespoke rear-wheel-drive chassis’. I bet the marketing department loves that. As we stop out on the salt, an unmanned drone from a nearby air base drifts silently and spookily overhead. Back in a distant control room I imagine some guy looking a screen and muttering, ‘Man, that car is too narrow for its length’.
The downside to the XTS’s reasonable handling is the ride. In a big Cadillac you want it to be as squishy as the average owner’s belly whereas actually it’s a bit thuddy. I’d rather it was ultra soft so that when you came to a halt the car kept rocking for another 45 minutes.
Day four: It’s a shame the Caddy’s touch screen is so infuriatingly useless. The actual graphics and the menu layouts are very good. The virtual instruments look nice too, and their design is smarter and more grown up than the digi-dials you get in a Jaguar XJ. This evening I need to visit some shops. I was worried that inputting the address would take so long everything would have closed for the night but then I discovered the XTS has voice control. This doesn’t work either. Assuming it’s because I have an English accent, I try doing an unconvincing American one instead. This still doesn’t work and the system keeps asking me to repeat things then immediately talking over me. Eventually I lose patience with it. Although as a result I can confirm there isn’t a local shopping mall called ‘Oh for fuck’s sake shut up’.
Day five: Cadillac needs the XTS back. Perhaps one of their managers intends to use its sat-nav next month and wants to get a head start in programming it. This isn’t a terrible car but nor is it convincing as the company’s flagship. The terrific CTS-V proves they can do better, but probably not if they have to work with the chassis from a European rental car and a four-wheel-drive system that arrived in a box from Sweden. To compensate for this they’ve tried really hard with the trimmings and, whilst the interior is pretty well done, the high-tech stuff slathered all over it would drive you utterly mental before you’d even got home from the dealer. Apparently there’s a new rear-wheel drive big Caddy coming in future, confirming that the XTS is really just an Insignia-based stopgap. Hopefully the new car will be a bit wider, a bit softer and a lot less touch sensitive.
The Cadillac XTS has a 3.6-litre V6 engine that makes 304 horsepower. It’s claimed to do 0-60 in 6.5 seconds and have a top speed of 130mph. In the United States it costs from $44,075 to $64,360
* Not really. My friend Aaron inspired this gag and I just wanted to use it. He also sorted the loan of the Cadillac. Thanks Aaron.