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2021 Cadillac XT6 Sport AWD Road Trip Review

2021 XT6 cadillac

With a new family member fast approaching, a Bestcovery staffer takes the 2021 Cadillac XT6 on one last road trip for a babymoon.

My dad always said that the right tool makes all the difference when working on a project. Something as simple as a leveler when hanging a picture or the right knife when preparing a meal will make the experience more pleasant and ensure it was done right the first time. A vehicle can be thought of in the same way. Sure, a Jeep Wrangler can be used as a daily commuter and drive on pavement all its life, but it’s loud, uncomfortable, and not the right tool for the job. Likewise, a Corvette is a blast to drive on paved roads, but won't get very far when tarmac gives way to rocks and dirt hills. Both the Wrangler and Corvette can be used for a road trip as well, but it's clearly not something either was designed around.

My wife and I decided on taking a last mini vacation, called a babymoon, before our little guy arrives in February. We planned a trip from Orange County, CA up the coast to a pleasant seaside city called Carmel-By-The-Sea, made famous by Clint Eastwood being elected mayor in 1986. It is a 7-hour drive if you take the scenic route that is the Pacific Coast Highway, which everyone should experience sometime in their life. Rather than the soulless slog up the Interstate 5 freeway, it takes you up along the California coast with some of the country's most beautiful scenery of water meeting land.

Our tool for the trip was the 2021 Cadillac XT6 Sport AWD. It's Cadillac’s latest 3-row crossover SUV competing with the likes of the Lincoln Aviator, Audi Q7, and Lexus RX L. Base price for the Sport is $57,195 but ours was loaded up with the Platinum Package ($3,700), Enhanced Visibility and Technology Package ($2,350), Night Vision ($2,000), Driver Assist Package ($1,300), and other miscellaneous options bringing the SUV up to $72,165 including the destination charge.

Competitors:

  • Lincoln Aviator
  • Audi Q7
  • BMW X5
  • Volvo XC90
  • Lexus RX L
  • Mercedes-Benz GLE

Disclosure: Cadillac provided Bestcovery.com with a 2021 Cadillac XT6 Sport AWD to evaluate for a week.

Quick specs:

  • Starting MSRP excluding destination: Luxury FWD $47,995, Luxury AWD $49,995, Premium Luxury FWD $52,795, Premium Luxury AWD $54,795, Sport AWD $57,195
  • As tested price: $72,165
  • 3.6L 6 cyl engine 310 horsepower/271 lb-ft torque
  • 9-speed automatic transmission
  • 235/55R20 all-season tires, 20” alloy wheels
  • 1st row/2nd row/3rd row Headroom (Inches): 39.8/39.1/37.2
  • 1st row/2nd row/3rd row Legroom (Inches): 41.2/39.1/29.5
  • Cargo volume behind 1st row/2nd row/3rd row (CU.FT.): 78.7/43.1/12.6
  • Fuel Tank (Gals): 22.0
  • Fuel Economy (City/Highway/Combined): 18/25/21
  • NHTSA Overall Safety Rating: Not yet rated as of publishing

Like most modern Cadillacs, the XT6 is an attractive-looking vehicle. The first thing you notice about the $1,225 Crystal White Tricoat paint option beyond its price is how striking it looks in person. It’s hard to see the effect of the paint in pictures, but it's an attention grabber when seen in person - especially in direct sunlight. We started calling the XT6 "Stormtrooper" in reference to its paint and contrasting gloss black accents that are part of the Sport option line. The XT6 Sport also include uniquely-styled 20” wheels with dark-finished pockets, and they fill out the wheel well nicely. The Luxury and Premium Luxury option lines take an altogether different approach, with more traditional brightwork applied to the window surrounds, grille, and bumpers. The Luxury/Premium Luxury models are elegant in their own way, but the XT6 Sport proudly carries its ultra-modern, avantgarde design while being readily identifiable as a Cadillac.

Whereas the exterior of the XT6 is pleasantly cohesive across all of its available trims, the interior is somewhat of a mixed bag. All the materials look and feel luxurious, especially when the XT6 is equipped with the Platinum Package like our tester. This $3,700 option adds semi-aniline leather, microfiber suede headliner, and carbon fiber trim, though it's a shame that Cadillac doesn't allow the pairing of a lighter-colored matte wood to brighten up the mostly monotone interior. Second and third row passengers are treated to the same high-quality interior materials as well, and those two rows offer a power folding function in case more cargo space is needed.

Cadillac’s latest iteration of CUE looks nothing like the first attempt, and that's definitely a good thing. The system responds to inputs quickly, and the crisp graphics and high screen resolution lend an appropriately premium vibe to the experience. Wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are on board, and the system pairs quickly and unobtrusively upon starting the engine. The only real criticism comes from the size of the screen - while the 8" display is fine on its own, many of Cadillac's competitors come with significantly larger screens that measure closer to 10-12 inches. Also, as mentioned in the CT5-V review, an all-digital gauge cluster would have been more class-competitive. The gauge cluster in the XT6 is highly legible and laid out in a very logical manner, but comes across as last-gen equipment considering how Audi introduced a similar design a decade ago.

Spending nearly 1,000 miles on the road in any vehicle will eventually reveal its advantages and flaws, including things that may not be so obvious during a brief test drive. Happily, the XT6 excels on the open road and feels the most at home cruising for hours on end. Most trims of the XT6 come equipped with a stout 3.6L V6 with 310 horsepower and 271 lb-ft of torque, and we wholeheartedly recommend spending the extra bucks for this engine over the newly-introduced 2.0L turbocharged 4-cylinder available in the base Luxury trim only. On a side note, a version of the 3.6L V6 is also found under the hood of the Camaro; despite being installed in a 3-row crossover, much of the engine's sporty car characteristics filter through during the driving experience. Though some may disagree with the choice of a free-revving naturally aspirated V6 in such an application, it endows the XT6 with a great sound above 3,500 RPM all the way to its unusually high (for the category) 7,000 RPM redline. Passing power is ample, and the 9-speed automatic transmission makes the most of the available power when tackling curvy roads and hairpin turns like you'd find nestled into Big Sur's cliffs. This powertrain combination is good for EPA estimates of 18/25 MPG city/highway and 21 MPG combined, and the XT6 reported 23.0 MPG average for the entirety of the trip which consisted primarily of highway driving with frequent stops on the side of the road or exploring downtown Carmel-By-The-Sea. That's a truly remarkable figure for a large, 3-row SUV with a gross weight rating that exceeds 3 tons.

There's one complaint that we'd be remiss to not mention. The refinement of the powertrain highlights one particularly jarring flaw: the auto stop/start system. It's hard to find a single instance of such a system being executed flawlessly in a non-hybrid vehicle, and the XT6 is no different. The engine promptly cuts out upon coming to a stop, but the system's reaction time to lifting off the brake pedal consists of a noticeable delay before the engine fires back up. This is compounded by the fact that the engine isn't fully restarted before the gas pedal can be depressed, resulting in an unpleasant surge/jerk forward as the rest of the powertrain tries to keep up. There's also no way to disable this system permanently, so most drivers will likely adapt by learning how to press the corresponding button to disable the system every time the vehicle is started.

While the XT6 may share its basic mechanical package with other three-row crossovers in GM's lineup, it hardly drives like the Chevy, GMC, or Buick platform-mates. The suspension tuning can take much of the credit for the XT6's distinct road manners, soaking up all but the biggest potholes and uneven expansion joints. What's remarkable is that the XT6 manages to provide such a serene ride without the land yacht "float" that historical Cadillac cars were so famously associated with, feeling very buttoned-down even at higher cruising speeds. The XT6 isn't designed to chase BMWs down on a canyon road or race track - that's what Cadillac's sport sedans are for. Rather, it leans heavily into the modern defintion of a luxury car, providing a supremely comfortable highway ride without sacrificing secure handling.

Driver aids are an essential part of any modern car, and the XT6 doesn't disappoint in this regard. Out on the open road, most of these systems worked unobtrusively. Adaptive cruise control (part of the Driver Assist Package) functioned flawlessly without drawing undue attention to itself, smoothly braking to reduce speed when approaching slower-moving traffic in front. In stark contrast to many other systems on the market that apply jerky inputs in response to changing conditions, the XT6 performs like a natural driver when vehicles move in and out of the radar’s path. The blind spot monitoring system also provides an alert if the turn signal stalk is activated when another vehicle is present, and the lane departure warning system is paired with a lane keep assist function that subtly brings the XT6 back in line if an inadvertent lane change remains unnoticed. The XT6 Sport comes standard with low-speed driver aids as well, including front pedestrian braking, front and rear park assist, and rear cross traffic alert. While most systems were relatively transparent in operation, the pedestrian detection proved hyperactive in a few instances. A few times while driving the 17-Mile Drive at Pebble Beach, the XT6 would detect a pedestrian taking a photo on the side of the road and would audibly and visually alert the driver, culminating in an automatic brake application despite the "pedestrian" not being anywhere near the path of the vehicle. Ultimately, it's a minor nuisance for a piece of technology that provides real-world benefits as well as driver peace of mind.

Cadillac equips the XT6 with a long list of comfort and convenience features, many of which were truly welcome during our trip. For starters, our starting point was from Southern California, where the weather is noticeably warmer compared to the Northern half of the state. Even with the afternoon sun blazing down, the ventilated seats paired well with the climate control system to keep everyone nice and comfortable. The temperature began to drop as we climbed closer to Big Sur, with a light shower in the forecast. The rain was on-and-off, with heavier patches interspersed with periods of no rain at all. The XT6 features Rainsense wipers as standard equipment in the Premium Luxury and Sport trims, and they performed well despite the intermittent rain. It may not seem like a big deal to have the car automatically adjust the windshield wipers, but not having to constantly interact with the wiper stalk in the erratic driving conditions was a subtle but luxurious touch. The temperature each morning hovered around the low 40s, which somehow manages to feel much chillier than the number would suggest. Remote start not only fired up the engine to get the heater working, but it also switched on the heated seats and steering wheel. The cabin warmed up quickly and we were both comfortable in no time, allowing us to focus on finding a quaint mom-n-pop breakfast place to start our day. Being that my wife is pregnant, comfort is of the essence. Not once did she complain about her back hurting. Instead, she complimented the supportive seats, which is a testament to the XT6’s ability to road trip.

The right tool for the job can make all the difference in the world. Sure, a rugged Wrangler or 4Runner could theoretically take you from Southern California to Carmel just the same, but comes at the expense of poor gas mileage, loud cabin, and white-knuckle handling characteristics around mountain roads. The Cadillac XT6 was the perfect tool for this road trip, and it proves once again that your parents are always right.

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