2010 Cadillac SRX Turbo

Cadillac's second generation SRX abandons the market niche of whatever the original was playing in for a more traditional segment.

The car industry, despite the marketing rhetoric, is a place of evolutionary, not revolutionary, change. The upheaval that alternative fuel strategies are causing notwithstanding, vehicle redesigns tend to be about an inch here, a tuck there and a horsepower or kilometre per gallon improved. It is the nature of the business with radical leaps forward punished as often as they are rewarded.

So it is that this second generation of midsized Cadillac SUV breaks the mould, not for any radical technology, but quite literally for completely abandoning whatever market niche the original was attempting to play in for a more traditional segment currently occupied by the Audi Q5, Mercedes GLK and X3 BMW. For where the previous SRX tried to be all things to all people, offering seven seats to accommodate the minivan crowd, a V8 to please those performance-oriented and avante garde styling for the trendy, the second generation is much more focused. Oh, sure, it's still wrapped up in the latest "Art & Science" sharp-edged Cadillac garb, but the SRX now makes do with six cylinders and five seats, both typical of the midsized luxury SUV.

It is hardly a retreat, however, since its competition represents the best some very accomplished foreign car makers have to offer. And, indeed, the SRX is very competitive, some might even say class-leading, in an even more hard-nosed marketplace than it used to occupy. That is, with one caveat. While GM is obviously hoping that the base version and its 3.0L naturally-aspirated V6 will attract shoppers with its lower price, I'd highly recommend the upscale but slightly smaller (2.8L) turbocharged edition that sits atop the SRX range.

It's not that the 3.0L is particularly slow; its 265 horses are adequate. Nope, it's just that its 302Nm of torque is a little short for such a heavy vehicle and mostly concentrated at the upper end (peak torque is at 5,100rpm) of the V6's rev band. So, even though the 3.0L is never actually slow, it does sometimes sound winded. It's amazing what the addition of a turbocharger can accomplish, however. Though the jump to 300 horsepower doesn't seem like much, the boost to 400Nm does, especially since most of that increase occurs low in the engine's powerband (in the turbo's case, peak torque is available as low as 2,000 rpm). What it means to the average driver isn't so much that you can peel more rubber but that the more powerful engine has the effortless urge that one expects from a luxury vehicle. I think that even those normally not influenced by performance as a purchase criteria may be better off with the turbocharged engine simply because its adds as much grace as pace.

That caveat aside, I wholeheartedly recommend the SRX. Its comportment is far superior to its predecessor, the sharp handling for which Cadillac is becoming known achieved without spoiling the ride. Cadillac's exterior styling, once so controversial, is now much more appreciated - a combination of consumers coming to appreciate what is now far less radical and Cadillac softening the edges so that what once was really radical is now more accessible.

What most impresses about the new SRX, however, is that its interior no longer looks like a refugee from a Chevrolet camp dressed up in some hand-me-down leather. Long a weakness while Cadillac was getting its chassis/powertrain/styling house in order, the SRX is another in a line of recent Caddys (the CTS-V is another) with a dramatically better cabin. The centre console, for instance, doesn't look like a mish-mash of disparate bits thrown in so the brochure can boast the latest gadgets. Cohesive, ergonomically-sound and stylish, the SRX's audio/air conditioning control faceplate may not be the stylistic tour de force of an Audi, but it's definitely in the game.

Ditto for the gauge set which, in Cadillac designs, has long been an afterthought. Now, there's trendy black numerals on a white background, and the centre of the speedo is occupied by a round, full-colour TFT dial that displays vehicle information in a bright and cheery manner. There's also a pop-up LCD screen for the navigation system and, my new favourite gadget, an adjustable height limiter for the rear liftgate, so that little people too can reach the door-close button.

But having said all that, here's the unfortunate part, at least for residents of the UAE: there are two trim levels available for the SRX here, and both come with just the 3.0L V6. You'll still enjoy the car, but thanks to us, you may be left with a niggling feeling of wondering what could have been. motoring@thenational.ae