The Cadillac XT4 is an all-new subcompact SUV from GM’s luxury brand. A new chassis and 2.0-liter turbocharged engine has been designed to make this five-seater balance the line between efficiency and fun-to-drive engagement. It’s the first in Cadillac’s plan to launch a new model every six months from now until 2020.

The Good: Driving engagement isn’t winning awards, but it’s quite satisfactory in case a fun backroad is encountered during a journey. Plenty of cabin room to satisfy four occupants without compromise. Stylish exterior goes a long way to make the XT4 stand out.

Who They’re For: Shoppers looking for the utility of a crossover without the need to go full-SUV. Also, anyone who’s eager for something slightly upscale, though that prestige is only skin-deep here.

Watch Out For: The middle-of-the-road interior. We know Cadillac can create a premium luxury environment, so it’s a downer that the XT4 doesn’t deliver anything special.

Alternatives: Most of the cars threatening the XT4 are overseas rivals. These include:

Volvo XC40 ($33,200, base)

BMW X1 ($33,999, base)

Mercedes GLA 250 ($33,950, base)

All three will be superior in terms of luxury appointments and possibly performance, too. Styling gives the XT4 some edge, however.

Verdict: The Cadillac XT4 is a perfectly satisfactory crossover that ticks the right boxes in looks, comfort and convenience, but doesn’t grab the brass ring the automaker was reaching for. As the trailblazer for a new product portfolio initiative, it’s a solid yet conservative entry that won’t disappoint buyers, just as long as they come in with the right expectations.

Review: Have you ever heard someone say that a product is “The Cadillac of…” whatever type of product it is? There’s good reason for that. Cadillac’s reign as the top luxury brand in the US spanned nearly an entire century. With a track record like that, it’s easy to understand how the brand becomes shorthand for high quality.

These days, however, GM’s luxury arm has a lot of competition from other marks both foreign and domestic, and something had to change. Cadillac came up with a 10-year plan to revitalize its image, and the XT4 crossover is a large part of that plan’s acceleration.

“We’re very much back in the luxury conversation,” says Steve Carlisle, President of Cadillac, who say the initial phase of the 10-year plan succeeded in establishing Cadillac’s brand identity. Now, a growth in portfolio – as well as other strategies – kick off with the XT4. As a frontrunner of a new future, it’s a very conservative entry, but it doesn’t explode out of the gate.

The Cadillac XT4 is all new from the ground up, built on a freshly developed subcompact SUV platform and paired with a new 2.0-liter turbocharged engine. Caddy endeavored to make a vehicle that satisfies the brand’s standard of luxury, is engaging to dive and still retains the convenience provided by a crossover.

The XT4 is an optimistic move in the segment, especially thanks to its styling. The exterior is clean, with a solid facia highlighted by striking headlamps with cascading LED daytime running lamps. These give the graphical profile a very sharp countenance that supports the broad grille. Same goes for the rear, with its tail lamps that ride up the car’s edges, framing the back hatch. Everything in between is suitable enough, which seems to be the prevailing issue throughout the XT4: not much going on in the “in-between” parts.

Let’s take the interior, for an example. The driver position gets its due attention, but things start to fall off from there. It’s also where the premium experience begins to falter. The wheel, though chunky, feels light, regardless of driving mode. Behind it, two standard gauges besiege a digital information screen that conveys useful information but is light on configuration. It falls on the eight-inch infotainment screen to be the technological centerpiece, but in this cabin, it feels disproportionally small and particularly lonely on a dashboard that doesn’t have much else visually going on.

To be clear, all of this works just fine – the system has both touch and rotary dial interfaces, is easy to use, and has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility – it just doesn’t sell the luxury experience as well as competitors. Same thing for the gauge cluster information display. It does its job, but is just very matter-of-fact, performing its function without style or grace. There’s something to be said of a clean cabin bereft of the multiple, mission-control-style displays that test driver attention limits to their extremes, but the presentation underwhelms.

That’s not to say its all bad. The XT4’s surfaces rarely resort to filling spaces with hard plastics, filling the negative space with rubbery touch points that present a comfortable environment and absorb sound. Seat memory is available as well as some light lumbar-area massaging, but it’s a forgettable feature. What is handy is the adjustable support and bolstering that can be tailored with the twist of a knob. There’s also a great deal of tech baked in like all the connectivity OnStar makes available, including in-car wifi. Adaptive cruise control, a collision warning safety system and a companion phone app are other welcome highlights.

If the flash is where the XT4 missteps, practicality and performance are areas where it regains its footing. Underneath the surface is a solid crossover that suits four to five passengers with ease. Both front and rear occupants have decent head-and-legroom to utilize, plus 22.5 cubic feet of rear cargo volume.

Cadillac kicks of a “Y” model strategy with the XT4, in which its trim levels branch off to either favor comfort or performance. All start at “Luxury” but either head down the road towards “Sport” or towards “Premium Luxury,” with the top-tiers being “Platinum” and “V Series,” if the vehicle necessitates that. With the XT4, it’s the Sport model that presents the vehicle in the most distinguishing light.

All XT4s are also powered by a new 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that delivers 237 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. Married to a new nine-speed automatic gearbox, power is sent to either all four wheels or the front two, depending on drive mode. Notably, the new engine has a series of special engineering features to balance performance with efficiency while the automatic gearbox is developed for “nearly imperceptible upshifts.” They ride on a MacPherson strut front and five-link independent rear suspension, with the Sport getting Continuous Damping Control, or CDC.

The difference made by the CDC is palpable between the models, with the Luxury XT4 riding appropriately smoother than the Sport. When engaged in any sort of dynamic driving, the fun you have is up to how you want to approach it. When I encountered a windy road, I wasn’t too sad that I didn’t have a sports car to attack it. The 2.0-liter power plant performed with the right expectations, getting the crossover up to speed without considerable delay, and actually climbing high in the speedometer in a crafty way; it was easy to get to highway speeds without noticing.

Cadillac’s nine-speed transmission is particularly special. Mashing the throttle evokes distinct shifts, but left to do its job in either a light cruise or driven aggressively, the gearbox was an unsung background hero throughout it all. I tend to be wary of many-geared transmissions, particularly when examples like Lexus’s 10-speed has proven to be indecisive and distracting. This nine-speed was very much the opposite.

In fact, the one hiccup of the otherwise satisfying drive experience was the all-new electro-hydraulically controlled braking system. It’s meant to be more efficient and to prevent brake fade, as well as assisting in emergency braking situations. For whatever reason, specific to the Sport models I drove, these brakes didn’t provide sufficient stopping power when pressed, an issue that wasn’t in the Luxury version I drove. Perhaps these pre-production test vehicles weren’t properly calibrated, but it’s worth noting that in the model designed for sprightly driving, I wasn’t confident in its brakes.

Ultimately, though, the Cadillac XT4 is a solid crossover that perhaps bears too heavy a burden being the vehicle to lead the charge of Cadillac’s new era. Starting at $35,790 ($40,290 for the Premium Luxury and Sport models), it’s in a price range on par with its competitors, leaving it to rely on its charm to make it stand out. It just might not be enough to bank on.

2019 Cadillac XT4 Key Specs

Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four-cylinder
Transmission: nine-speed automatic
Horsepower: 237
Torque: 258 lb-ft
Weight: 3,660 lbs

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