Cadillac XT5 SUV a study in minimalism

With only the midsize XT5 and the truck-like Escalade in Cadillac’s inventory of utility vehicles, a lot is riding on the new compact XT4.

As one of the smallest and least-expensive Cadillacs — and as four-door sedans have fallen out of favour with buyers — it will likely become the volume leader for the brand. But that doesn’t mean this General Motors’ luxury division has cut any corners building it.

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The design team has wrought a clean and appealing shape, with an angular front end and mesh grille that appears jauntier than the nosepieces of other Caddys. The rest of the sheetmetal is a study in minimalism. There are no signs of wretched excess here, only a tautly scribed shape that abruptly ends behind the rear wheels. That’s where a pair of tall hockey-stick-shaped LED taillights borders the liftgate.

The XT4’s stylists also restrained themselves in crafting the cockpit. The leather-trimmed dashboard, console and door panels display a distinctly modern look, as does the steering wheel (also wrapped in leather). The 20-centimetre touchscreen is positioned low on the dashboard so it doesn’t block the view ahead.

A toggle-style console-mounted shifter handles the gear selection, while various control-panel and steering-wheel-located switches and a rotary knob next to the shifter take care of seat and cabin ventilation, as well as infotainment selections.

The rest of the interior literally measures up well against the competition (Mercedes-Benz GLA, Lexus NX, BMW X1, to name a few). The XT4 provides up to 13 extra centimetres between the front and rear wheels, which could fool those seated in back into thinking they’re in a much larger vehicle. Those occupying the well-bolstered front buckets might think likewise.

The XT4 is built on a platform that was originally developed for the 2016 Chevrolet Malibu. It combines light weight and stiffness, according to Cadillac.

The XT4 gets a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder that puts out 237 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. The engine includes a program that cuts out two of the four cylinders when operating under light loads or when coasting, which helps to save fuel. The engine is rated at 9.8 l/100 km in the city and 7.8 on the highway (8.9 combined). Premium fuel is recommended.

A nine-speed automatic transmission with manual shift mode completes the powertrain.

Cadillac claims the front-wheel-drive XT4, which tips the scales at about 1,680 kilograms, can accelerate to 100 kilometres per hour from rest in about seven seconds. All-wheel-drive variants are a touch slower to get there.

The on-demand AWD system decouples from the rear wheels when not needed, to save on wear and tear, and also to conserve fuel. A torque-vectoring system can distribute all the available twisting force to the outside rear wheel when turning for better traction and steering precision.

Pricing for the base XT4 Luxury trim starts at $36,500, which gets you a reasonably complete model equipped with dual-zone climate control, power-adjustable front seats and a key fob with remote start.

The mid-level Premium Luxury adds leather seat covers, a power liftgate and front and rear park assist that warns as you approach another vehicle or object).

The XT4 Sport comes with fancier exterior and interior trim (your choice of wood or carbon fibre), dark metallic wheels, thicker sport steering wheel and bare-metal-trimmed pedals.

Most notable is the content that’s not included in any of the three grades, but available at extra cost. The list includes a sunroof, navigation system, up-level Bose audio system, 20-inch sport wheels and a full suite of active-safety tech designed to prevent or mitigate unintended contact with people or objects.

With plenty of competition between other luxury-compact wagons, the XT4 has a lot to prove. Its key assets — style, spaciousness and performance — should be enough to attract buyers who might otherwise take a pass on the Cadillac brand and shop elsewhere..

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