Thursday, December 12, 2013
By SCOTT WASSER
It was just a collection of mostly tiny bits and pieces accompanied by one larger, injection-molded plastic shell. But it represented so much more.
The sharp-edged styling of Cadillac’s SRX distinguishes it from other midsize crossovers while giving it a strong family resemblance to other Cadillacs.
NUTS AND BOLTS
WHAT IS IT? 2012 Cadillac SRX AWD Performance model, a luxurious midsize crossover.
WHAT DOES IT COST? Starting prices range from $36,360 for a front-drive base model to $49,960 for an AWD Premium. AWD Performance test car's starting price of $46,340 climbed to $48,610 with options and destination charge.
WHAT I LIKED BEST: New engine is a noticeable upgrade and styling still thrills.
WHAT I LIKED LEAST: Funky feeling brake pedal and restricted rear visibility.
WHO'S IT FOR? Anyone in the market for a luxurious midsize crossover.
IMPORTANT NUMBERS: 3.6-liter, 24-valve V-6 produces 308 horsepower, 265 lbs-ft of torque. 6-speed automatic. 110.5-inch wheelbase. 4,442-lb curb weight. 16 city/23 highway mpg (EPA). 29.2/ 61.2 cubic ft. cargo space behind second/first-row seats. 0-60 in 7.2 seconds (stopwatch).
When assembled with special glue and painted with enamel dipped from the tiniest glass jars known to man, it would become a 1/24-scale representation of the height of American automotive engineering.
The illustration on the box into which all the plastic parts were stuffed at the factory but would never fit again showed a 1932 V-16 Cadillac Dual Cowl Phaeton.
To most observers it was simply a model car kit. To the youngster painstakingly gluing, painting and doggedly following a zillion assembly steps, the box represented 50-year-old magic.
The magic of a 16-cylinder engine. The magic of a car company that, thanks in part to that engine, had every right to proclaim itself and its products "the standard of the world."
Yet by 1980, when a nephew assembled that model kit I'd purchased for him, Cadillac had become more a symbol of things that were wrong with the American auto industry than automotive excellence.
Now the pendulum has swung back the other way. Cadillac is enjoying a resurgence of reputation and product. One of my favorite Cadillac products -- and one of the best examples of the company's resurgence -- is the 2012 SRX midsize crossover.
The first thing you notice about the SRX is, well, that you notice it. In an automotive world inundated with stylish but similar-looking curvy crossovers, the SRX is a standout of edges and angles. It demands your attention.
I love the styling. The SRX looks like it's going 90 when it's just sitting in the driveway. But there's a small price to pay for the design. Broad D-pillars and tiny portholes behind the second-row seats made me thankful that a rear view camera and front/rear parking sensors are standard on all but the base SRX trim level.
The other three SRX trim levels are called "Collections." My test car was an AWD Performance Collection model, distinguished from the Luxury and Premium models by its sport-tuned suspension and shiny 20-inch aluminum wheels.
Since I drove only the one model, I'm not sure how much those items contributed to its handling. But I liked the way the test car behaved. The SRX enjoys being tossed through turns despite standing 5-foot-6, weighing 4,500 pounds and having 7 inches of ground clearance.
It won't be confused with Caddy's sizzling series of CTS-V hot rods, but its responsive steering, good grip, and suspension components that automatically react to driving conditions make the SRX Performance version one of the sportier utilitarian vehicles available.
Oh, except for the brakes. They appear to bring the SRX to a halt well enough, but it takes an unusually long push on the pedal before slowing begins. And brake feel isn't as sharp as the SRX's styling or handling.
Or its new-for-2012 3.6-liter V-6 engine. Bristling with engineering accoutrements (direct injection, dual overhead cams and variable valve timing and air intake), the engine delivers more horsepower (308) than either last year's standard 3.0-liter or optional 2.8-liter turbocharged V-6s.
It's a smooth operator that never feels strained, whether climbing hills, passing on the interstate or getting up to speed on a highway entrance ramp.
The engine's 265 pounds-feet of peak torque may not sound like a lot, but it is delivered at just 2,400 rpm and remains available through nearly all of the rev range. Consequently, the SRX delivers power when you want it.
The other noteworthy piece of the SRX's appealing powertrain is its six-speed automatic transmission, which features four modes. Drivers can put it in "D" and forget about it, or shift up and down manually. There's also a sport mode that lets the engine rev higher between gear changes.
Finally, the driver can press an "Eco" button on the console that adjusts the gear shift logic for maximum fuel efficiency. Cadillac says this can boost fuel economy by about 1 mile per gallon.
I never touched the "Eco" button and averaged just over 19 mpg during my week behind the wheel. That's an OK number for an AWD midsize luxury crossover.
A more impressive number is the SRX's price, which starts at $36, 360. The $46,340 base price on my test vehicle, which was loaded with high-end standard features, seemed like a bargain for everything it included.
Goodies such as a navigation system and two-row power moon roof mean nothing, however, if the vehicle delivering them is suspect. The SRX is far from that. It is a sporty, comfortable, and refined luxury crossover that is helping Cadillac claw its way back to the top of the automotive world.