- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 10, 2006

Spreading throughout the automotive industry like some sort of mutating virus, SUVs and crossovers have infected virtually every manufacturer.

Only the smallest production houses have remained immune. Luxury brands that even 10 years ago wouldn’t have had a station wagon — let alone truck-shaped vehicles of some sort — in their lineups now hawk all manner of utility wagons and trucks. The proliferation is relentless.

Although Cadillac waited longer than the bulk of luxury marques to plant its flag in the growing SUV segment, the impact of the Escalade was huge and immediate. But something more was needed: a softer, more sedanlike wagon — a Lexus RX fighter. Enter the SRX.

Import loyalists might find the SRX a bit rough around the edges when compared with the RX 330, but it delivers outstanding performance, drivability and comfort. Its interior might not be quite up to snuff when compared with the RX 330’s cabin, but otherwise it gives the Japanese import a real run for its money. Its strengths lie in its exterior styling, beefy engines and sporty handling. You may think of it as a well-disguised CTS station wagon, but anyone having driven a CTS sedan won’t consider the association negative.

The SRX shares its chunky styling with the CTS. It’s yet another example of what the stylists at Cadillac refer to as “art and science” design. Flat surfaces and square corners characterize the look. While it borders on futuristic, it’s not so far out there as to be dated in a year or two. Although its overall height is about 11 inches taller than the CTS, the SRX doesn’t sit all that much higher off the ground for ease of entry and exit. In fact, Cadillac claims SRX has the best stepover (19.2 inches) in its class, yet it still manages 8.2 inches of ground clearance.

Each of the two SRX models has its own engine. A 260-horsepower 3.6-liter V-6 provides go to the base version. An adaptation of Cadillac’s iconic Northstar V-8 powers the up-level edition. It displaces 4.6 liters and produces 320 horsepower (more than the Infiniti FX45). Both engines use a five-speed driver-shiftable automatic transmission to transfer output to either the rear or all four wheels. The V-6 retails for a very respectable $39,995, while the V-8’s base price is $47,995. Opting for all-wheel drive will set you back another $1,900.

Even in its base form, the SRX delivers spirited acceleration. Providing plenty of grunt off the line, the V-6 still has power to draw from when passing at speed. If your goal, though, is to be able to transport seven persons or the equivalent in cargo from point A to point B faster than just about any other midsize SUV on the planet, the SRX V-8 is the ticket. Capable of shooting from a standstill to 60 mph in less than seven seconds, it’s a breathtaking thrill ride.

Incredibly the independent suspension has no problem coping with the challenge of this much power combined with the extra height of an SUV. Remarkably nimble in its handling, the SRX corners with a neutrality usually reserved for road-hugging two-seaters. While passengers probably won’t notice the suspension’s balance, they will appreciate the high degree of ride comfort. It is an almost perfect compromise of ride quality and handling.

As with other high-performance luxury SUVs, fuel economy takes it on the chin in both SRX versions. The RWD V-6 posts an Environmental Protection Agency rating of 16 miles per gallon in the city and 23 on the open road, while the RWD V-8 mpg is rated at 15 city/21 highway. Adding AWD drops efficiency by a mile an hour across the board. These numbers, however, are on a par with the V-8 versions of the FX and BMW X5.

Roomy and versatile, the cabin accommodates loads of cargo and/or people. The optional power-operated third-row seat comes as part of a $1,100 package that also includes rear air conditioning, trailering equipment and heavy-duty cooling system. It replaces a reconfigurable storage system. A combination of superfluous conditions must be met before using the power button to stow or restore this seat, but once engaged, it operates smoothly. It also has a power-operated recline feature. As technologically clever as the third seat is, it is tough to reach and is really only adequate for kids.

Cargo capacity is another story entirely. With the third seat in place, there is 8.4 cubic feet of cargo space and it jumps to 69.5 cubic feet with the second and third-row seats folded down.

Front-seat and second-row passengers are treated to comfortable seats and plenty of space. The instrumentation is neatly arranged and user friendly. There is nothing to send owners scrambling for the operations manual. A seven-speaker audio system with CD player and XM satellite radio (with three months’ free service) is standard, as is dual-zone automatic climate control. Other luxury features include auto-dimming inside rearview mirror, rear park assist, leather seating, power rear lift-gate and OnStar with one year’s directions/connections plan.

Side-impact air bags for front-seat passengers and air curtain air bags protecting all three rows of seats are standard. There are cupholders at all seating positions and a bevy of storage cubbies stashed around the cabin.

Fit and finish inside the cabin of the V-6 provided for this evaluation was very good. The only issue that might be taken is with the choice of some interior materials. The rather sporty dimpled surface covering much of the dashboard and door panels seems a sharp contrast to the uplevel wood accents. Otherwise, the interior is well executed.

Although pricey, the SRX V-8 is about as much fun as you can have in a midsize, car-based SUV. It can run with the big dogs of its segment and does so with style. Now, bring on the SRX-V.

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