The SRX, the Cadillac of crossover sport utility vehicles, gets smart improvements for 2012 _ notably, a better engine and an "eco" mode to try to maximize fuel efficiency.
The new, five-passenger Cadillac SRX also retains a pricing edge vis-a-vis the segment-leading Lexus RX 350, and the mid-size SRX now is a recommended buy of Consumer Reports magazine.
Timing couldn't be better.
Even before the arrival of the 2012 model in August, the SRX had tallied sales gains in calendar 2010 and through the first eight months of 2011.
In fact, SRX sales of 34,960 through August this year put it second behind the 51,813 sales of the Lexus RX 350 during the same time period. Better yet for Cadillac, the RX sales numbers are down from last year.
Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, for the 2012 SRX $36,060.
This is for the base model with two-wheel drive and 308-horsepower V-6 and compares with the starting retail price, including destination charge, of $39,950 for a 2012 RX 350 with two-wheel drive and 270 horsepower.
Prices for the SRX can go beyond $50,000 for upper-trim, 2012 SRX models, and the starting retail price for a 2012 SRX with all-wheel drive is $42,415. Buyers must move up to the SRX Luxury model to get all-wheel drive.
In comparison, the 2012 Lexus RX 350 with all-wheel drive has a starting MSRP, including destination charge, that is lower _ $41,350. Another competitor in the luxury mid-size crossover segment is the 2012 BMW X5 with 300-horsepower, gasoline six-cylinder engine that has a starting retail price of $48,075. The X5 comes standard with all-wheel drive.
The new SRX developed from the last couple of years of steady improvements. For the 2010 model year, Cadillac downsized the SRX, changed its ride to more car-like and cut the price some $7,000 so it could better compete with the Lexus RX 350.
The RX has been the longtime sales leader in the premium, mid-size SUV segment.
The changes helped boost SRX sales by 150 percent in 2010, even as some automotive enthusiast magazines remained unimpressed by the SRX's 2.8-liter, turbocharged six cylinder.
So, this year, both the turbo six and the SRX's 3-liter V-6 are gone, replaced by a 3.8-liter, double overhead cam V-6 with direct gasoline injection that already made a strong statement in Cadillac's smallest sedan, the CTS.
The engine works well in the heavy SRX, which can top out at 4,442 pounds with all-wheel drive and luxury options added on.
The test SRX, a top-of-the-line Platinum AWD model, moved swiftly and was smoothly powered by the new engine. I merged into traffic easily and got up to speed without fuss. And when I needed to pass other vehicles, the power was there and ready. Torque peaks at 265 foot-pounds at 2,400 rpm and carries on past 5,000 rpm, which is an impressive and usable range for around-town driving and highway.
While the shifts in the six-speed automatic transmission were always smooth, I could hear the engine at the high revs just before shifting.
Part of the time, I drove around in eco mode, which is activated via a push button. In eco, the transmission uses a slightly different shift pattern to maximize mileage.
During the test drive, in combined eco and non-eco driving on both city and highway roads, I managed 17.1 miles per gallon, which is less than the 18 mpg combined rating put out by the federal government. It's worth noting, though, that the SRX only needs regular fuel and is fine with E85 fuel, too, a mix of gasoline and 15 percent ethanol that's often found in the Midwest.
The SRX rode with heft. There's not a sprightly feel to this five-door, 5.5-foot-tall vehicle, and I noticed the shifting of weight and mass from one side of the vehicle to the other as I maneuvered through curves.
My passengers and I heard road noise coming through from the Premium model's 20-inch Michelin tires. But wind noise was nonexistent.
The SRX is sized fine for those who rarely carry a back seat of people and a lot of cargo. But anyone thinking that this is a large SUV will be disappointed. Back-seat legroom is just 36.3 inches, which is a half inch less than what's in the back seat of the RX 350. Even the back seat of last year's Honda CR-V measured 38.5 inches of legroom.
Cadillac says the SRX cargo room, with rear seats folded, maxes out at 61.2 cubic feet. The RX 350 offers 80.3 cubic feet of space in back.
The cargo floor is up a good bit from the pavement, so heavy items have to be hoisted inside. Small items can be neatly tucked into a hidden storage spot in the cargo floor. I wished, though, that the SRX had hooks for grocery bags.
While the test SRX with large, "ultraview" power sunroof felt airy and open, rear shoulder room can feel a bit pinched. It measures 56.3 inches, which is less than what's in the RX 350.
I liked that rear-door windows were good sized, even if they didn't go down all the way. There's scarcely any hump in the middle of the rear-seat floor.
The speedometer is well illuminated, but the center circle is so large, it leaves only a little room at its perimeter for the red needle indicating the speed the SRX is traveling. So, I wound up tuning the digital display in the instrument cluster to show via large numbers what my speed was.
Standard safety features include air bags, stability control and traction control.