Cadillacs of old were masters of the road, big luxury vehicles with V-8s and cutting-edge technology, such as the first electric starter and the first automatic climate control system. The 2013 Cadillac XTS retains the idea of a big, luxury vehicle with cutting-edge technology, but bows to modern engine downsizing with a 3.6-liter V-6, the same as used in the CTS model.
As for the XTS's front-wheel-drive platform, which it shares with the Buick LaCrosse, the Eldorado had front-wheel drive long ago. However, the Premium-trim XTS I tested came with a torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system, available on all but the base XTS trim.
Gauges are so last-century
Where the XTS really departs from tradition is in the cabin. Sitting in the plush driver's seat, I was looking at a blank panel where the speedometer and tachometer should be. When I fired up the engine, a neat little animation had those gauges flying in from the side, taking their rightful places before my eyes.
Yes, the XTS offers a full LCD instrument cluster, something that might bother traditionalists but that offers a lot of advantages. These virtual gauges look like the real thing, and each can host useful information such as navigation or range-to-empty in its center, selectable by the driver with controls on the steering-wheel spokes.
The center stack, completely devoid of dials or physical buttons, further defies tradition. Cadillac uses a touch surface for the XTS' climate controls and stereo volume. The former worked well enough in my testing, but I still prefer a dial for volume control. However, drivers will find the volume buttons on the steering-wheel spoke much handier to use, and should never really have to touch the slider.
The XTS' center touch screen, hosting the new Cadillac User Experience (CUE) cabin electronics interface, works in a way that's initially baffling. Looking at the map screen, for instance, there seems no option for zooming or entering destinations. However, as I put my hand near the LCD, buttons for those functions and more suddenly populated the screen. This proximity sensor is cool, but takes a little getting used to.
CUE streamlines entering addresses, letting me enter the entire address string from the onscreen keyboard, where other navigation systems break it up into separate screens for city and street. It also seems that CUE can understand partial addresses, employing fuzzy logic in its searches. The XTS has voice command, which let me say whole address strings. The navigation system's points-of-interest database was limited, lacking listings for some fairly large businesses, such as Fry's Electronics and Beverages & More, although it could find me the nearest Taco Bell.
The maps on the system were excellent, showing 3D-rendered buildings in downtown San Francisco. The system displayed traffic flow and incidents, using this data to dynamically adjust routes around bad traffic. And one feature I particularly like, previously seen on the CTS, is that the navigation system will proactively warn about bad traffic down the road even when it is not under route guidance. The car not only showed route guidance graphics on the main LCD, with lane guidance, but also gave turn-by-turn directions on the instrument cluster and head-up display, while voice prompts included street names.
A big problem with CUE is how slowly it operates. After you turn on the car, the main LCD shows an application load screen for a number of seconds before showing the main interface. I found this load time frustrating when I wanted to program in a destination right after hopping in the car. When I hit some of the onscreen buttons, there was noticeable lag while waiting for the system to respond.
The audio interface in CUE is every bit as ambitious as the navigation interface. It controls satellite radio, HD Radio, devices plugged into the car's USB ports, and the CD player. That last piece of equipment, a standalone unit in the glove box, seems like an afterthought in the XTS, old media just about obsolete. When using the XTS' stereo, I gravitated toward the USB ports, plugging a thumbdrive into one and my iPhone into another.
Instead of making me choose either of these USB sources, the CUE interface shows a common music library drawn from each, a particularly cool feature. In the Album category, for instance, CUE showed all the available music from each source in one list. Even better, its voice command let me select music by album, artist, track, or genre without me having to specify the source.
The stereo also supports Bluetooth audio streaming, and offers Pandora integration. The Pandora interface looked good and was fully functional, letting me select any one of my customized stations and give songs a thumbs-up or thumbs-down. Oddly, Cadillac puts the Pandora icon off in a different menu than the stereo interface.
Music plays through a 14-speaker Bose audio system, which includes 4 small speakers mounted in the shoulders of the front seats. The quality of the sound reproduction was excellent, and I was impressed to hear some quieter layers I had never before noticed in a few well-worn tracks. For example, La Roux's "In for the Kill" apparently has a cowbell track, which gets completely trampled by lesser systems. I did feel the bass, though adequate, could have been stronger with this system.