The 2020 Cadillac XT6 settles for second-best

The Cadillac lineup has exactly one spot for a no-compromise SUV. That slot belongs to the Escalade. It’s powered by a V-8, not some dinky turbo-4. It answers the critics who say it’s too long with an even longer-wheelbase model. Take that! In an era of underplayed modernist design, it showers itself in chrome and glitz and applies some to its wrists and ankles after it’s toweled off, just for good measure.

You do you, Esky. But not everyone wants a leather-lined, two-ton towing appliance that’s ready to serve the Secret Service after a round of up-armoring. 

Enter the 2020 XT6, Cadillac’s other three-row SUV, the latest addition to a General Motors family that sprawls from the Chevy Blazer and GMC Acadia up to the Buick Enclave and Chevy Traverse. The XT6 lies in the middle of that clan, in overall length and interior space, but caps it with a price that soars past $60,000 in top-drawer trim. Less expensive, almost as spacious and more conservative with fuel, it’s no junior Escalade—for better and at times for worse.

We’ve given the 2020 XT6 a rating of 6.6 here at The Car Connection, with strong showings in features and comfort—and before the safety overlords have given it their blessing. It’s above average, in other words—but it’s still ranked lower than less expensive vehicles such as the Kia Telluride, Hyundai Palisade, and the Ford Explorer.

In the plus column, the XT6 wears a better rendition of modern-era Cadillac styling than does the upcoming CT5 sedan. The vertical LED lighting stamps drama all over the front end, and needs to since the rear roofline wears an everyday, off-the-rack look. It’s dressed up with stickpin taillights and chrome bands, but the XT6 can’t keep the suave pace of Kia’s Telluride or the new Lincoln Aviator. The cabin’s also good, but not great: The swaths of diagonal-grained wood look fab but the screen’s locked into an 8.0-inch width until a redesign and already looks dated.

GM sorts out powertrains better than almost any automaker, and the XT6’s 310-horsepower V-6 ripples expensively at speed, thanks to some low-key active noise cancellation. Its 9-speed automatic shifts almost imperceptibly—a phrase never uttered about any 9-speed we know of. It’s not extraordinarily powerful in context, though, and while it’s quick, it’s not rapid-fire quick—and it’s only able to tow 4,000 pounds, a low mark on its spec sheet. 

A Sport edition boasts more steering feel and tauter suspension settings through the small miracle of adaptive dampers, but the base vehicle with the same hardware isn’t as fluid and steers with less precision—not that a 7-passenger luxury SUV driver would care, unless they absolutely needed more chairs than their Cayenne could offer.

The XT6 does its duty and more in creature comforts. The bucket seats pocket passengers deeply in rows one and two, and Cadillac carves out 78.7 cubic feet of space behind the front passengers. Only 12.6 cubes exist behind a raised row three, and those dinky seats force a knees-up ride that won’t make any passenger want to ride in the wayback for long.

Cadillac finally delivers standard automatic emergency braking in the 2020 XT6, and pairs it with a natty leather interior, a surround-view camera system with recording capability (it’s like “Big Brother”for Russia), 14-speaker Bose audio, and LED lighting. But drivers will have to pay for anything other than silver paint—while they’re already in for $10,000 more than those convincing non-luxury crossovers mentioned above.

Within the Cadillac lineup, the XT6 has to settle for second-best, so long as the Escalade keeps turning in profits and turning out high fashion looks. The problem for the XT6 is it also plays second fiddle to a host of new three-row crossovers bristling with premium feel and confidence, and without Cadillac’s history. They don’t need no badge, stinkin’ or otherwise.

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