First Drive: 2019 Cadillac XT4

The 2019 XT4 is Cadillac's new entry-level luxury SUV, with a price starting at $35,000.

2019 Cadillac XT4

Cadillac finally the small luxury SUV fight to rivals like the Lexus NX, Volvo XC40, Mercedes-Benz GLA, and Audi Q3. Does the Caddy come out as the new champ?

By Nick Kurczewski, Contributor, | September 2018

The 2019 Cadillac XT4 is a small SUV with a huge job ahead of it: To make the American luxury brand a contender in the red-hot market for compact SUVs that are big on safety, style, performance, and technology.

What is this vehicle?

The 2019 Cadillac XT4 is a small SUV that fills a huge gap in the American luxury brand’s lineup of vehicles. Until now, Cadillac had only two SUVs on offer, the midsize XT5 crossover and the full-size Escalade SUV. Neither one was an ideal fit for the automotive world’s hottest craze, the premium compact sport-utility. While rival brands offered pint-sized SUVs – like the Mercedes-Benz GLA, Lexus NX, Audi Q3, and BMW X1 – Cadillac was left outside looking in, at least until now.

Powered by a turbocharged four-cylinder engine and available with front- or optional all-wheel drive, the XT4 carries an aggressive starting price of $35,790 (including destination fee) and streamlines the shopping experience into three main trim levels: Premium, Premium Luxury, and Sport. No matter which you choose, the powertrain remains the same, and adding all-wheel drive costs an additional $2,500 across the board.

While the turbo engine does a fine job of hustling this handsome little SUV down the road, Cadillac’s highly-anticipated small SUV does have a few dynamic quirks that stop it from scoring an easy win against the competition.

Who is this vehicle for?

The 2019 XT4 is designed for car shoppers who want the driving feel and performance of a sedan, wrapped in a compact SUV package that offers great visibility and extra space for passengers and cargo. In this regard, the spacious rear seat of the XT4 is a welcome break from many other small SUVs that skimp on legroom and comfort. Sitting in the second row of the XT4 doesn’t feel like you’ve been subjected to some leather-lined penalty box. Better still, outward visibility for all occupants, including the driver, is a step above many competitors.

After all, paying to have the more commanding road presence of an SUV doesn’t make sense when your view of the outside world looks like you’re peering out a tank’s turret.

The XT4 is a nice blend of stylish design – the LED headlights and tail-lamps are really sharp looking – combined with true practicality, strong fuel economy, reasonably sporty driving dynamics, and a price that’s highly competitive within its segment. Safety is also important in this category and, with this in mind, the XT4 comes standard with automatic emergency braking, rearview camera, eight airbags, and rear park assist.

Why is this vehicle important to you, the buyer?

Variety is a good thing, especially in the compact premium SUV segment. Car buyers seemingly can’t get enough of smaller SUVs that can be loaded with tons of available safety and tech features. This is why it was vital for Cadillac to finally bring the XT4 to market, before its rivals had the entire segment all to themselves. The XT4 makes a great first impression, at least when it comes to exterior design. The shape is familiar to anyone who’s up-to-date with Caddy’s recent preference for sharp body lines, large amounts of LED lighting, and pert proportions. This is an attractive small SUV, and it avoids blending in with a crowd of forgettable me-too designs.

Cadillac is also reaching out to SUV shoppers who are fatigued with fussy options and confusing trims. There is only one choice of engine in the XT4, along with one gearbox, a nine-speed automatic that will send power to the front or all four wheels (if you pay extra for all-wheel drive). For anyone living where weather can turn nasty, the additional outlay for AWD makes a lot of sense. It remains to be seen how buyers like the choice of only three trims though, on paper, the idea is refreshingly simple and could make the dealership experience much less stressful.

Interesting facts about this vehicle!

Cadillac wants to drive home the point that the XT4 is brand-new, from the chassis to the engine. This is an extremely important vehicle for the brand, so it couldn’t afford to skimp on details.

  • The 2019 XT4 rides on a completely new platform. Ahead of our test drive in Seattle, Washington, Cadillac reps told us this platform is extremely rigid and has been built to give the XT4 sharp handling characteristics. To be honest, some of the engineering details Cadillac described might leave even an MIT-grade engineer reaching for a second (or third!) cup of coffee – maybe this explains the caffeine-friendly setting for our first drive? Whatever the case, Cadillac wants you to know this is a stiff, solid, and safe platform from which to build a compact SUV. Point made, thanks Caddy. Keys please!
  • Like we mentioned earlier, you don’t have to worry about choosing among multiple engines and transmissions. The 237-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder and nine-speed automatic are your sole option. All-wheel drive can be added to any of the three available trim levels for an extra $2,500.
  • The base Luxury trim level starts at $35,790 and comes standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, LED headlights and tail-lamps, driver selectable drive modes, 18-inch alloy wheels, leather seating, 8-way power driver’s seat and 6-way power front passenger seat, and an updated version of Cadillac’s CUE infotainment system using a 8-inch screen and command dial on the center console.
  • Stepping up to the Sport or Premium Luxury trim levels costs the exact same price: $40,290 (including destination fee). Differences between the two are primarily cosmetic, though the Sport is available with adaptive dampers and a suspension that’s been tuned for slightly quicker responses. In practice and on the road, however, the differences in driving feel are minimal.
  • The Sport trim level rides on its own unique set of 18-inch alloy wheels and comes with exterior trim that favors a gloss-black effect, versus the chrome and satin metal trim on the Luxury and Premium Luxury trim levels. There is also an additional 20-inch twin five-spoke alloy wheel exclusive to the Sport model, though 20-inch alloys can also be added to the Luxury and Premium Luxury trims.

What Impressed Us / Top Likes:

The Cadillac XT4 doesn’t reinvent how a small SUV is built, but it doesn’t have to. Simply being competitive against the likes of Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Lexus, all of whom already have compact sport-utes for sale, means Cadillac has done the job it needed to do: Get into the business of selling a well-equipped, small sport-utility with an attractive price.

  • The power from the 237-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder is fine for city and highway driving. We never felt like this Cadillac was under-powered, or struggled when making quick passes on two-lane roads. This is an entirely new engine, and it’s telling that the first place it finds a home is in Cadillac’s small SUV.
  • The handling proved nimble when maneuvering in downtown Seattle. It’s easy to get comfortable with the power and handling in a short period of time – an important factor for anyone who makes a car buying decision based on a dealership test drive.
  • Cadillac has definitely made some worthwhile improvements to Cue, the brand’s infotainment system. Previous generations could be exceedingly complicated when trying to complete minor tasks, or saddle you with confusing menus that appeared (or disappeared) at the worst possible moment.
  • Cargo room hasn’t been squandered. Some small SUVs offer much less luggage space than a typical sedan, partly in the name of sportier design and tapering tail-ends. The XT4 is a relatively rectangular vehicle, especially when viewed from the side, and this pays off with an available 39.5 inches of rear legroom, along with 25.2 cubic feet of cargo room behind the second row seat.
  • We’ve said it a few times, but it’s nice to see Cadillac make safety such an important aspect of the XT4. Standard on the Premium Luxury and Sport trim are front and rear park assist, blind spot monitors, and rear cross-traffic alert.
  • This SUV is pretty good on gas, too. When equipped in front-wheel drive format, the XT4 returns 24 mpg in city driving and 30 mpg on the highway. When equipped with all-wheel drive, economy dips only slightly, to 22 mpg city/29 mpg highway.

Items to Make Better (Least Favorite Things):

Before our test drive, Cadillac representatives spent several minutes talking about the brand’s long history of innovation. The problem is, the XT4 doesn’t break the mold when it comes to a modern compact SUV. There isn’t one piece of technology that really sets this Cadillac apart from its rivals. While this is still a very good SUV, the the talk of being an innovator seemed an odd fit here.

  • One tech item Cadillac singled out for mention was the XT4’s electro-hydraulically controlled brakes, which (in theory) are more efficient than traditional hydraulic-only units. Except the feel they provide is numb. I personally called them “video-game-like” in their feedback, no matter the speed or situation. They don’t feel unsafe, they simply lack the progressive feel offered in many rivals. Hopefully this can be fixed via reprogramming of the system’s software.
  • Power is fine, though not overwhelming. It would be nice to see Cadillac offer a high-performance variant with upward of 300 horsepower. This might knock overall fuel economy down a notch, though it could provide the XT4 with extra sporting credentials.
  • The handling, like the brakes, feels disinterested in providing any real feedback. That’s not to say the XT4 doesn’t go where you point it. In fact, the ride is nicely composed and quiet, especially on the highway. The problem is that many rivals deliver quicker reflexes and a higher degree of involvement once the road starts to get twisty. No one is buying a small luxury SUV to go tearing around a race-track. We just wish the XT4 had a more playful demeanor and fun-loving personality.
  • The black interior of our Premium Luxury test car was black and kind of dreary. We’d have loved some color on the dashboard, to break up the acres of black leather and plastic. Later, we drove a Sport model that had a much brighter and cheerier tan-colored cabin. And while Cadillac has made some great strides, the XT4 still has some cost-conscious trim and materials scattered throughout the cabin.
  • Avoid the optional rear video monitor at all costs! Not only is this an expensive option, it’s of dubious use and caused both myself and a colleague to feel queasy when it was activated. Basically, the system turns the rear view mirror into a rear camera. This sounds fine, except the motion of the screen is like having someone put their smartphone in the center and top of the windshield. It’s distracting and annoying. Thankfully, you can turn it off.

Segment and Competitors:

The compact luxury SUV field has no shortage of competition. Cadillac is getting into the fray a little late, considering at least one key rival (the BMW X1) is already in its second-generation.

  • BMW X1
  • Audi Q3
  • Mercedes-Benz GLA
  • Infiniti QX30
  • Lexus NX
  • Volvo XC40
  • Jaguar E-Pace

Cadillac isn’t exactly arriving as the SUV party is packing up to go home, however. Several models on this list – like the Lexus NX, Volvo XC40, and Jaguar E-Pace – have only been on-sale a short period of time.

Unique Specifications:

The simplicity of the XT4 range could be one of its strongest assets. There are three trim levels, with the upper two (Premium Luxury and Sport) costing exactly the same amount. When fully-loaded, an XT4 in Sport trim level can cost about $54,000. This includes almost every available option, including premium paint, panoramic sunroof, heated and ventilated front seats, driver and passenger seat massage function, rear camera mirror, wireless smartphone charging, forward and reverse automatic braking, adaptive cruise control, and 20-inch five-spoke alloy wheels, to name just a few. You can’t really fault the Cadillac for having a moving price-tag once you start adding lots of options. A fully-loaded BMW X1 will cost you roughly around $47,000, while a top Mercedes-Benz GLA can exceed $50,000.

Pricing and Availability:

The 2019 Cadillac XT4 in Luxury trim starts at just over $35,000. Order books are officially open and first deliveries should be arriving at dealerships within the next few weeks.

2018-09-24T20:23:42-04:00Sep 2018|Car Reviews|