Key still the key, in new Cadillac XTS

January 28, 2013 by
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Features, Autos 

Graceful sloping rear pillar sets off the classy new Cadillac XTS .full-size sedan.

By John Gilbert

My son, Jack, and I had to take a little trip, and since I had two test-drive cars at my disposal at the time, I chose the one that would get better fuel economy. That meant we were going to leave behind a Cadillac XTS Platinum Collection sedan.

Now, most people might figure that was a bad move, because the XTS is the new full-size car from Cadillac, coming out as a 2013 model in a year that is big — and about to get bigger — for Cadillac, with the new compact ATS on the verge of winning the North American Car of the Year award in a few weeks. And who could mind being pampered in all that super-luxury of the XTS?

In General Motors version of downsizing, the XTS replaces the STS and all Caddies larger than that, including the DeVille, topping the new stable that is led by the CTS, with the new ATS eagerly joining on the bottom end.

Nevertheless, equipped with GM’s corporate 3.6-liter V6, with 304 horsepower and264 foot-pounds of torque, the front-wheel-drive XTS can be figured to get mid-20s fuel economy at best, and with the all-wheel-drive option, probably less. So we left it behind, in all its plushness, and drove away. I left word for my wife, Joan, who drives everything that comes into the driveway of the Gilbert Compound, that she should drive the XTS as much as possible and let me know her impressions when we returned.

Among its many features, the XTS has keyless entry, and, of course, push-button ignition. I have expressed my opinions frequently about push-button ignitions, as a solution for which there is no problem. I like the idea of being able to unlock your doors with a touch of the key-fob, but once inside the car, it seems to me that since you need the key to be with you in order to activate the push-button start, then you might as well use the key in the ignition. Besides, when you don’t need the key, it’s easy to let someone accompany you to a destination and turn over the driving responsibilities while you go your merry way with the key still safely in your pocket. But I digress. Actually, though, it is not a digression.

So there we were, driving across Wisconsin, when my cell phone rang. It was Joan. We’ve got a problem, she started, with one of those veteran-marital “we” collectives that meant she had a problem, but was more than eager to share it.

In FWD, or AWD, the new XTS shares a family similarity from the front.

Because of the keyless ignition, and her concerns about leaving the key someplace, she set it in the cup-holder of the XTS and prepared to drive into town. Joan is pretty active, and she often goes for brisk walks along the North Shore of Lake Superior. She thought she’d probably take a walk on her way back, so she went back to the house to get her walking shoes. When she returned to the car, she thought she’d put her shoes and her jacket, in the trunk. Good move. She slammed the trunklid down, and it closed with a nice, classy “thunk.” Bad move.

As she heard the trunk close securely, she walked around to the driver’s door — and found it was locked. So were all the other doors.

Incredibly, she realized, closing the trunklid automatically and electronically locked all four doors. And the trunk. She was locked out, and the keys were safely inside, in the cup-holder.  That’s when she called me. For a few miles, we wracked our brains, but could come up with no solutions. Then I thought of OnStar — GM’s exclusive customer-nanny that could direct you anywhere by GPS.

I’d used OnStar several times, with great and amazing results. I asked Joan to go back in the house and get the XTS information sheet, which had OnStar’s number, and also to write down the VIN number off the little tag near the windshield.

I called OnStar on my cell-phone and a woman answered. I wondered, I told her, if someone sitting so securely in her large office room in Detroit could offer a solution to save someone in Duluth, Minnesota. She said she wasn’t in Detroit, and further questioning disclosed that she was in Manila. As in the Phillippines. I painstakingly explained all that happened, and that the XTS in question, with that VIN number, was a GM vehicle that was sent out for media test drives, which is how I ended up with it.

She was very helpful, or at least tried to be, without disrupting protocol. I wondered if she might have some magical electronic signal capability that might unlock the door of the XTS in question. She could, she said, as long as I could provide her with the name of the car’s owner.

The car is owned by General Motors, I explained again. She insisted on a name. Then she demanded a name, and I kept telling her the corporation itself — you know, the company that sends you a paycheck? — was the owner of the car. She put me on hold.

In silhouette, the XTS sets a new standard, even for Cadillac.

Miles of Wisconsin scenery passed by our window, while Joan stood there in our Duluth driveway, awaiting word. I advised Jack to call his mom, and talk to her on his cell while I was engaged with the Phillippine office of OnStar. My Filipino helper finally returned to the phone, saying she had talked to her supervisor, who also insisted on an owner’s name before they could help. I gave her my name, where I worked, what I did for a living, and everything I could think of, then I explained again how and why media types like me wound up with cars from companies like her’s. And I couldn’t help her any more because I was driving in Wisconsin, a couple hundred miles away from where the XTS was parked.

Finally she consented, and before she could even tell me she had flicked the switch, Jack said, “She’s in!” Joan had let out a whoop when she heard the little electronic click that meant the doors were unlocked.

I mentioned to several people later about the whole situation, and said I knew some companies have an electronic blocker that won’t allow the doors to lock when the key is inside without a person, inadvertent or not. I wondered why any company would set up their car so that it could be locked, keys inside and all. Everybody said that it would be easy to program it to respond differently.

That’s not the point, I submitted. What I wanted to know was what possible motivation would there be to have any programming option that would allow — or cause — the car’s four doors to all lock when the trunk is slammed shut. In Minnesota? A lot of times you’re driving home in wintry conditions and you stop to buy some gasoline. You are supposed to turn off the ignition when refueling, but I can’t lie; Minnesotans tend to leave their cars running with the heater on when it’s real cold and they need to refuel. If they do shut off the vehicle, they probably leave the keys for the keyless operation in the cup-holder.

In such circumstances, it’s possible the refueler might remember that his favorite down vest, or heavy gloves, had been left in the trunk for just such circumstances. Open the trunk, pull out the vest, but when you slam the trunklid, be aware. You might have just locked yourself out of your car.

Other than that, and after we became conditioned to securing the key on our person whenever we drove the XTS, we liked almost everything about the XTS.

At $60,385, the “Platinum Collection” model came equipped with pretty much everything. So much, in fact, that the $920 destination fee was the only add-on, making the as-tested price $61,305.

In Cadillac’s field of cars, the ATS and CTS are front-engine, rear-drive, and the bigger XTS is front-wheel drive — making it the easy favorite in snow-belt regions. All three have special models that come with all-wheel drive, and the test XTS had that feature. It also had GM’s 6-speed automatic transaxle, and the test car had magnetic ride control with rear air springs, with high-performance front suspension, and 4-wheel disc brakes, with Brembo brakes on the front. Not sure why the cheaper imitations on the rear. The car had 20-inch polished aluminum wheels and Stabilitrak with traction control.

Inside, the plush leather seats with perforated inserts were comfortable and added to the stable ride quality with power adjustment on both front buckets, and 4-way power lumbar support. Both front and the two outboard rear seats are heated — another feature that might be meaningless in southern climes, but is almost mandatory Up North.

A mini-nav screen is imbedded into the center of the XTS speedometer.

What is called uplevel wood trim adds to the interior aura of class. Cadillac’s new CUE system, which stands for Cadillac User Experience, is an effort to upgrade the navigation system and audio into a contemporary new arrangement. Ford’s competitors all slam Ford for the complexities of its SYNC system, then they scurry to try to catch up and come up with complex systems of their own. The CUE deal might be in that ballpark, although I never had enough time to play with it to discern if it was better than Ford’s or not.

OnStar, the car’s brochure said, offers automatic crash response and turn-by-turn navigation, although I always ask if there is any other kind of navigation, other than turn-by-turn? A rear-view backup camera and all the possible airbags are on board as well. The Bose sound system is impressive, with surround sound coming through 14 speakers, controllable through CUE, once you’ve figured it out.

Usually, reviewing a new car starts with exterior styling and worked inside. In the case of the XTS, we’ve gone the other way. The exterior shares the new Cadillac signature grille, which means very similar to the popular CTS, with its horizontal egg-crate styling, and the large Cadillac emblem in the middle. Nothing wrong with that nose, but once you get around to the side, and then the rear, you find the true beauty that sets the XTS apart from its smaller and less-expensive siblings.

That long, sleek body won’t hurtle around corners or accelerate with the explosiveness of the ATS, or the CTS particularly the “V” model, but if you want a Cadillac to transport you and your family or friends to someplace where you want passers-by, or at least the valet, to snap to attention, the XTS is the one. But I might suggest a spare key, to be kept in your pocket at all times.


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  • About the Author

    John GilbertJohn Gilbert is a lifetime Minnesotan and career journalist, specializing in cars and sports during and since spending 30 years at the Minneapolis Tribune, now the Star Tribune. More recently, he has continued translating the high-tech world of autos and sharing his passionate insights as a freelance writer/photographer/broadcaster. A member of the prestigious North American Car and Truck of the Year jury since 1993. John can be heard Monday-Friday from 9-11am on 610 KDAL( on the "John Gilbert Show," and writes a column in the Duluth Reader.

    For those who want to keep up with John Gilbert's view of sports, mainly hockey with a Minnesota slant, click on the following:

    Click here for sports

  • Exhaust Notes:

    More and more cars are offering steering-wheel paddles to allow drivers manual control over automatic or CVT transmissions. A good idea might be to standardize them. Most allow upshifting by pulling on the right-side paddle and downshifting with the left. But a recent road-test of the new Porsche Panamera, the paddles for the slick PDK direct-sequential gearbox were counter-intuitive -- both the right or left thumb paddles could upshift or downshift, but pushing on either one would upshift, and pulling back on either paddle downshifted. I enjoy using paddles, but I spent the full week trying not to downshift when I wanted to upshift. A little simple standardization would alleviate the problem.

    The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution has the best paddle system, and Infiniti has made the best mainstream copy of that system for the new Q50, and other sporty models. And why not? It's simply the best. In both, the paddles are long, slender magnesium strips, affixed to the steering column rather than the steering wheel. Pull on the right paddle and upshift, pull on the left and downshift. The beauty is that while needing to upshift in a tight curve might cause a driver to lose the steering wheel paddle for an instant, but having the paddles long, and fixed, means no matter how hard the steering wheel is cranked, reaching anywhere on the right puts the upshift paddle on your fingertips.

    Even in snow-country, a few stubborn old-school drivers want to stick with rear-wheel drive, but the vast majority realize the clear superiority of front-wheel drive. Going to all-wheel drive, naturally, is the all-out best. But the majority of drivers facing icy roadways complain about traction for going, stopping and steering with all configurations. They overlook the simple but total influence of having the right tires can make. There are several companies that make good all-season or snow tires, but there are precious few that are exceptional. The Bridgestone Blizzak continues to be the best=known and most popular, but in places like Duluth, MN., where scaling 10-12 blocks of 20-30 degree hills is a daily challenge, my favorite is the Nokian WR. Made without compromising tread compound, the Nokians maintain their flexibility no matter how cold it gets, so they stick, even on icy streets, and can turn a skittish car into a winter-beater.