Gripping the thin-rimmed steering wheel of the 2019 Cadillac XT4 for the first time, we were immediately reminded of the exquisite, thin-rimmed wheel in the Alfa Romeo Stelvio 2.0T, a crossover sitting just one rung up the size/price ladder from the subcompact XT4 and one that is delightfully entertaining to drive, despite ostensibly being a utility vehicle. That tactile experience marks the end of the similarities to be drawn between the Cadillac and the much sportier Alfa Romeo.
The XT4’s edgy styling had us hoping that Cadillac’s subcompact crossover—like its ATS, CTS, and CT6 sedans—had been engineered to impress driving enthusiasts. But during the day we spent hustling the XT4 along the picturesque rural roads circumscribing greater Seattle, it became clear that Cadillac has instead aimed for more traditional entry-luxury crossover stuff: quietness, sumptuousness, and user-focused technology.
Sure, it’s too bad that the honey of an engine, which revs so smoothly you’d swear its cylinder liners were spun silk, must work through a transmission that positively neuters its output with lackadaisical responses. But the competent yet uncommunicative suspension and steering? That’s par for this class. The rest of the baby Caddy’s package has plenty of good stuff to look forward to.
The XT4’s new engine, for starters, makes a good first impression. Producing 237 horsepower at 5000 rpm and 258 lb-ft of torque from 1500 to 4000 rpm, this turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four is so smooth and quiet we found ourselves regularly checking the tachometer to see if it was running. And even at full throttle, it is almost disconcertingly quiet and vibration free. Cadillac’s estimates of a 7.0-second zero-to-60-mph time with front-wheel drive (and 7.2 for AWD models) are only midpack for this segment, but turbo lag is virtually unnoticeable. The engine—code-named LSY—weighs 15 pounds less than the 2.0-liter four used elsewhere in Cadillac’s lineup, despite boasting a bevy of technologies such as a dual-scroll turbocharger with an electronic wastegate, an electronic purge pump, a continuously variable oil pump, and a variable valve-timing and -lift system with three cam-lobe profiles, including a no-lift profile for two of its cylinders during cylinder-deactivation events.
Cadillac’s new nine-speed automatic transmission has a wide ratio spread that includes a supershort first gear, enabling satisfyingly quick launches, and an extratall top gear to help it achieve what Cadillac claims is the best efficiency-to-horsepower quotient in its class. You have to be really listening for the shifts to notice them, and even when aggressive driving prompts the transmission to raise its shift points and alter its shift logic, the gearchanges remain relaxed. Want quicker shifts? That won’t happen—not in Sport mode, which uses different shift points and logic but no change in shift character, and not when shifting for yourself with the steering-wheel paddles. Rev-matched downshifts also are off the menu.
The XT4s we drove were optioned with an on-demand all-wheel-drive system—a $2500 upcharge—capable of decoupling the driveshaft to improve fuel economy. Its rear axle features two clutches, one for each half-shaft, allowing for mechanical torque vectoring. Such a torque transfer was never obvious, but the XT4 proved quite capable of keeping our intended line through the twistier sections of the route, prompting little interference from the stability-control system.
Turn-in is quick and high-speed stability is Teutonic-grade, particularly with the XT4 Sport’s optional adaptive dampers. And both models ironed out bad pavement at least as well as Cadillac’s full-size CT6 sedan. But a buttery ride quality combined with lifeless steering left us feeling disconnected from the experience, issuing commands that we had no idea that the car could heed until after it had done so. For example, when charging into one particularly tight, banked corner only to see the road flatten in the middle of the turn, we held on and braced ourselves for a possible slide—which never happened. The car remained glued to the road with nary a squeal from a tire. The XT4 never got sloppy or untidy—indeed, it was quite the opposite—we just wish we weren’t so surprised.
Design and Amenities
Of course, most subcompact-crossover buyers probably care less about throttle-blipped downshifts and finger-tickling road feel than they do about things such as the operation of the infotainment system, the quality of the interior materials, and whether their friends can fit inside. On those fronts, the XT4 excels. Despite the Cadillac’s compact dimensions (it’s an inch shorter overall than a Lexus NX, but its wheelbase is nearly five inches greater), six-footers can sit in the front and rear seats in reasonable comfort. Standard on all XT4s is Cadillac’s new supplemental rotary controller mounted in front of the armrest, which allows the 8.0-inch infotainment display to be controlled without hunting and poking at the screen. That screen is nestled in the center of a tastefully contoured dashboard, bringing the screen within easy reach of the front-seat passengers, and two thin rows of buttons below make for easy adjustments of climate controls, seat heat/ventilation, parking sensors, and the like. The interior décor is convincingly upscale both in terms of material quality and aesthetics. A paucity of brightwork keeps the cabin from looking like a casino, and the dash and door panels feature more “cut and sewn” bits than an episode of Project Runway.
The XT4’s exterior styling conveys a greater level of sophistication and complexity than one might expect of such a stubby shape. Even the $35,790 Luxury model, the lowest rung on the XT4 hierarchy, rides on 18-inch wheels and features front and rear LED lighting. For $40,290, the Premium Luxury version gets different 18-inch wheels, aluminum roof rails, silver accents on the bumpers and body sides, and a button-style grille vaguely reminiscent of a 1958 Buick Limited. It also adds leather upholstery (versus leatherette in the Luxury and Sport models), aluminum or wood trim, ambient lighting, and more. The XT4 Sport model, priced at an identical $40,290, brings a gloss-black finish to the mesh grille, window trim, roof rails, and bumper garnishes for some visual edge; the Sport also gets clear LED taillights in place of the red lenses of the other XT4s. Inside, the Sport model gets its own color schemes that include body-color contrast stitching as well as available carbon-fiber trim.