2012 Cadillac SRX 3.6: GM Gets the Luxury Crossover Right Just as the Genre Starts to Age Out

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Though the Escalade remains in many eyes, the top-of-the-heap Cadillac — especially for those repelled by the wholly impolite 568 horsepower and abysmal economy of the rather glorious CTS-V — the SRX may be the most fully-realized Cadillac since the brand’s embrace of the slash-rhomboid Art & Science design language. And while the first iteration, based on GM’s rear-drive Sigma platform, was a hit with critics, the second-gen car has built up some serious sales mojo. It’s the wreath-and-crest division’s bestselling model and in its segment, it’s second only in units-moved to Lexus’ golden-goose RX.

So when it came time for an early-cycle refresh, Cadillac’s engineers stuck with what worked and refined the bits that didn’t. Amidst the havoc raining down on General Motors back in 2009, the mid-luxury crossover’s development timetable was pushed forward and the model shipped with the choice of a naturally aspirated 3.0-liter V6 or a turbocharged 2.8 developed largely by Saab. Which isn’t entirely surprising, given that the SRX and the new Saab 9-4X share GM’s Theta Premium architecture. Whether that’s enough to save the beloved, beset-on-all-sides Scandanavian brand is beyond the scope of this story.

What’s pertinent is that the 2.8 turbo was pulled from the lineup last year and now both engines have been replaced with a rather nice 3.6-liter DOHC V-6 updated with direct injection and a focus on weight-saving — to the point that the cylinder heads now feature exhaust manifolds integrated into the castings. A headache, perhaps, for the tuner set, but really, who’s going to be hot-rodding a front-wheel drive-based mom-mobile?

Compared with rivals like the upcoming Mercedes-Benz M-Class and the similarly-priced BMW X3, the Cad delivers a much nicer interior than the Bimmer — even if the seats are slightly flat for our liking — and a few smidges less refinement than the freshly re-engineered Benz. And while a loaded ML starts a tick above $47,000 and can hit 75k if one goes all Gorilla Monsoon checking off options, the full-Liberace SRX tops out just over 55k, only slightly more than a loaded AWD Lexus RX350. As one would expect, the driving dynamics aren’t Munich-spectacular, but neither can they reasonably be compared to those of a wallowing pig. The car felt planted and reasonably communicative, with no tricky habits or bugaboos. Saying “It handles well” isn’t damning it with faint praise. It just, well, handles well — no standout qualities, no bad stuff. We did, however, manage to get outdragged by a late-‘90s Ovoid Taurus in a part-throttle uphill passing situation. Which, you know, was pretty embarrassing. It also probably wouldn’t have happened had we been in an X3 xDrive35i, which cranks out similar power numbers but feels far more eager to accelerate.

The SRX is a compelling proposition — if you’re into that sort of thing. The value’s there. It doesn’t feel like a cynical exercise in badge-engineering like so many upmarket GM products of yore. When we were asked by a Cadillac engineer what we thought of the brake pedal feel, we responded immediately, “It feels like old GM, only good!” There’s something to be said for that feeling of unadulterated Americanness done right. Given its sales success, even without the improved powerplant, people clearly like the SRX. So why were we left feeling lukewarm, despite the pleasant metallic induction snarl of the 3.6?

The problem isn’t with the Cadillac. It’s with the whole genre. Here’s the thing about crossovers — especially midsized, entry-level-luxury crossovers. They’re fuddy-duddy. They’re not as good off-road as real SUVs. They can’t haul as much as a minivan. They’re not as nice to drive as a station wagon. And in today’s anti-status climate, where billionaires are pledging to die penniless in service of the greater good, one might consider a vehicle like the Toyota Sienna. You know, the very sort of conveyance mid-luxury crossover buyers are trying desperately not to be seen in. The thing is, the market’s reached the same sort of saturation point the minivan had when the Ford Explorer showed up and kicked off the ute craze in the ‘90s.

True, the Sienna’s inside-and-out design aren’t quite as gee-whiz as the Cad’s, but it’s 10 grand cheaper fully loaded, is available with a very nice V6, rides like a dream, has prodigious people-and-cargo room and Toyota’s seen fit to imbue the interior with a dab of that ineffable Japanese space-wagon cool that’s been missing in people-movers from Nihon for too long now. The real choice for the status-interested parents with a bit of extra dosh isn’t one between the RX and the SRX, it’s between the SRX and the Sienna XLE AWD. Upon further consideration, perhaps the problem with the slow-selling Mercedes R-Class is that Daimler has simply tried to hang on to too much ute language. After all, with the Olds Silhouette long out of the picture, somebody’s gotta claim the “Cadillac of Minivans” mantle, no?