The last Cadillac SRX I drove had a lot going for it, but it had two fundamental weaknesses: the engine and the gearbox. The then standard 3.0-litre V6 only started exhibiting some torque at around 5,100 revs. But when you did a kick down you’d land at around 2,000 revs, which meant every time you wanted power it wasn’t there. In short, the engine was underpowered and the gearbox didn’t mate with it properly.
Fortunately, the 3.0-litre and the turbocharged 2.8-litre V-6 – which was plagued by turbo lag and nonlinear power delivery – has been consigned to the scrapheap. The 2012 SRX comes standard with a new 3.6-litre direct-injected V-6 with continuously variable valve timing that delivers 308 horsepower (230kW) and 359 Nm of torque. Even better news is that peak torque is achieved at a low 2,400 rpm and continues through to 5,300 rpm. That’s a definite improvement on the old 3.0-litre engine with its output of 265 horsepower (197kW) and 302 Nm.
I didn’t have to drive more than 500 metres to make up my mind that the 3.6-litre engine is miles better than its predecessors. Acceleration is smooth, continuous and the revs aren’t shy of red lining at 7,200 rpm. The six-speed automatic has been carried over from the previous 3.0-litre V-6, but its computer has undergone a thorough reeducation. The transmission now upshifts and downshifts predictably, always landing in the sweet spot as far as power is concerned, with the net result that the SRX now inspires the driver with a confidence that was lacking in previous models.
The six-speed automatic has four modes. There’s ‘normal’ for everyday use, while moving the shifter to the left accesses sport mode. In sport, the transmission holds gears longer, downshifts earlier, and resists moving into the top gears. Manual control is also available, if sport mode isn’t to your liking. The fourth transmission mode is accessed by a button marked ‘eco’, which sits next to the gear lever. In eco the transmission switches to a fuel-conscious algorithm that gears up early and resists downshifts. Sport mode definitely increases performance, but I didn’t note much of a decrease in eco mode.
The SRX has always had its suspension set on the right side of sporty, and although it’s been tweaked for a smoother ride you’ll be disappointed if you’re expecting a super cushy limousine ride. Hit a rut hard and you’ll feel it, but in normal conditions the ride is comfortable, smooth and never sloppy. The four-wheel independent suspension system makes for good cornering at speed, with little body roll, aided by the standard all-wheel drive. The rack-and-pinion hydraulic steering system – which offers a variable-effort, speed-sensitive steering system as an option – is biased towards sport sedan-style driving. The steering resistance requires an ounce of effort, the feedback is good and the SRX goes exactly where you’re aiming it. The SRX’s cornering ability is beyond reproach for a crossover vehicle.
Stopping power is handled by the StabiliTrak electronic stability control that works in concert with the standard four-wheel-disc/four-channel-ABS braking system. No problem with the stopping power, but the brake pedal feels fairly lifeless, something I noticed on the Camaro as well.
The cabin is well insulated from the outside world, with little wind noise and tyre noise is absent except on some of the rougher tar roads. As for the interior, the Cadillac designers have applied the maxim if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. In other words the 2012 SRX looks the same as the previous model. The dash still features Cadillac’s familiar pop-up navigation, the cargo area still has the U-Rack storage setup, and the sound system is still the potent eight-speaker Bose unit. However, interior door lock switches have been added to the door panels (and retained on the centre console) and Bluetooth is now standard on the base model.
In fact, the SRX puts some of its competitors to shame with an array of standard equipment that includes leather-trimmed seating, keyless access, rear-view camera system, front bucket seats with eight-way driver’s adjustment, power sunroof, and a rear floor console with audio controls and climate controls.
The exterior is Cadillac’s most expressive ‘art and science’ design to date with some fine attention to detail such as its vertical tail lamps that are actually small fins, a fine touch of nostalgia without being kitsch. Cadillac’s iconic vertical headlamps dominate the front along with a chromed-out grille that comfortably straddles the line between glam and gangster. The hunched rear end gives the SRX an aura of menace. The base SRX comes standard with 18-inch wheels, while the 20-inchers on the Luxury Collection model have a new machined-face finish.
In the US the Cadillac SRX has moved from number nine in its segment to number two behind the Lexus RX. In fact, this luxury crossover has been a certifiable hit for General Motors that has brought in new buyers from all sorts of desirable demographics. When I drove the previous SRX I thought close but no cigar. But now, thanks to the new engine, the General Motors folks have every reason to be grinning like Cheshire cats. The SRX is a major league contender for anyone who has upwards of $50,000 to spend on some good wheels.