- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 6, 2003

Alphabet soup must be good for the automotive soul.

Since Cadillac started renaming its new cars with triple-letter designations, it’s gone on a roll of escalating sales. We now have the CTS four-door sedan, in addition to the earlier Seville SLS and STS models, the de Ville DHS and DTS, the Escalade ESV and EXT, the new XLR two-seat luxury roadster, and the subject here, the brand-new SRX luxury utility vehicle.

Anyone can be forgiven a degree of bemusement. But it’s the future for Cadillac, which is working mightily to regain its stature as “the standard of the world.” And if the 2004 SRX is any indication, the future looks bright. It is, quite simply, a fine execution of the largely unfulfilled concept of a midsize luxury/sport utility vehicle with sport wagon performance characteristics.

Heretofore, Cadillac’s luxury utility vehicles have been little more than variations on a General Motors truck theme. The big Escalade is based on the same truck chassis as the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon, the bigger Escalade ESV is a posh version of the Chevrolet Suburban and GMC Yukon XT, and the Escalade EXT is a revamped Chevrolet Avalanche.

But the SRX is a totally new vehicle that owes nothing to anything already out there. It’s car-based on a rear-drive platform, with all that implies for balanced handling and performance. It sits high off the ground, like a proper SUV should, but not so high that it’s hard to enter and exit, and it’s available with all-wheel drive as well as the standard rear drive. But its demeanor is more like that of a lavishly appointed and tautly sprung station wagon.

The design comports with the recent sharp-edged styling Cadillac first introduced on the CTS sedan. Like it or not, the SRX doesn’t look like any other midsize SUV on the road. Coming or going, you won’t mistake it for anything else.

There are four versions: V-6 power with rear-wheel or all-wheel drive, and V-8 power with either drive system. Prices start around $40,000, but that includes a high level of standard equipment. Included are antilock brakes, magnetic ride and traction control, automatic climate control with rear air conditioning, leather upholstery, heated front seats and outside mirrors, an auto-dimming inside mirror, GM’s OnStar communications system, garage-door opener, audio system with six-disc CD changer, adjustable pedals with memory, fog lights and genuine burl walnut wood trim inside.

Of course, there are plenty of options to bump up the sticker. The tested V-8 model with all-wheel drive had a base price of $46,995, and with options including a navigation system and what is likely the world’s biggest motorized sunroof, the suggested delivered price came to $55,940.

The sunroof deserves a mention. Made of glass, it opens up to provide 5.6 square feet of open space — more than twice that of most sunroofs. It extends all the way to the back seat.

Up front, the power-adjustable bucket seats are deep, broad, wide and comfortable, with plenty of torso support for long distances. Outboard back seat passengers fare almost as well, and even the fifth passenger in the middle gets some deference.

Behind the second seat, there’s a middling cargo area of 32 cubic feet. The permanently installed window-shade-style cargo cover reels out from right to left, eliminating the need to remove it when hauling larger items. A child-size third-row seat is available as an option, bumping the passenger capacity to seven, but that cuts the cargo space to just 8 cubic feet.

The engine on the test vehicle is an upgraded version of Cadillac’s 4.6-liter V-8, which the SRX shares with the $75,000-plus XLR roadster. It delivers a rousing 315 horsepower, enough to propel the 4,430-pound SRX to 60 mph in well under seven seconds. The new 3.6-liter V-6, shared with the 2004 CTS sedan, makes 260 horsepower.

Though the SRX’s ride is fairly cushy, it doesn’t give up much in handling. With its car-based chassis and a profile that is lower than most SUVs, it corners and handles as well as some sport sedans.

Though you could take the all-wheel-drive version off road, it’s unlikely anyone would risk the attendant dings and scratches. Nope, this Cadillac will spend its time on boulevards, at upscale shopping centers and in country club parking lots, where it will be easy to find because it stands out.

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