Behind the Wheel

2021 Cadillac XT5 Review: Upgraded elegance and tech make the model worth cross-shopping

The Cadillac XT5 was recency updated to become a finer-looking stallion. (2020 XT5 shown.)

Photo courtesy of Cadillac

It's not on sale yet and its pricing has yet to be publicly released, but Cadillac gave AutomotiveMap the keys to the 2021 Cadillac XT5 Premium Luxury and invited us to give it an extensive test drive. Over 2,000 miles were put on the SUV over two weeks, giving plenty of time to peel back the onion on the model and brand that is seeking to re-establish itself as a premium powerhouse.

The XT5 was refreshed for the 2020 model year. Then, it got 40 upgrades including a new engine option, revised styling, and enhanced technology. The exterior of the SUV got more snub-nosed while standard LED lights at the face and back show the model's corners with slimline detail. Twenty-inch wheels are standard. The SUV looks bigger than it is, for better or worse.

2021 Cadillac XT5The Cadillac has slimline lights at the front and back showcasing the edges of the beefy two-row SUV. (2020 XT5 shown.)Photo courtesy of Cadillac

Inside, it's clear that the SUV is a premium category contender but not a luxury level model. Its interior design and styling are more upscale than its sister vehicle in the General Motors lineup, the Chevrolet Blazer, but the XT5 is more elegant than any Cadillac other than the Escalade. Its cut and sewn leather, and natural wood and carbon fiber accents exude the level of finery Cadillac shoppers have been unable to find on their dealer's lot for much of the last two decades.

The XT5 came to be tested with the available 3.6-liter V6 engine that gets 310 horsepower and 237 pound-feet of torque. Power is sufficient, but the Caddy could benefit from some additional low-end torque, which would inspire more confidence getting off the line.

The engine is paired with a nine-speed automatic transmission. The transmission was smooth when upshifting but was clunkier when downshifting. When switching to the available Sport drive mode, the shifts were more jittery going up and down.

2021 Cadillac XT5Shifting is done via a simple controller that requires very little effort. (2020 XT5 shown.)Photo courtesy of Cadillac

With the automatic start-stop technology engaged at start, the system shuts down the climate controls when the vehicle is pauased. Thankfully, a quick tap of the off button for that function keeps the engine running smoothly. If you decide to leave the stop-start system engaged, you'll find very little of the jittering back to life previous Cadillac engines were known for.

Disengaging the functionality is designed to decrease fuel efficiency. However, during testing, with the start-stop tech disengaged nearly all the entire time, the vehicle achieved 25 mpg combined. That's far more than the EPA-estimated 21 mpg combined.

The model tested came with all-wheel drive. It stood firmly planted giving assurance throughout the drive - that includes when the SUV encountered an adventurous raccoon who sought the wrong time to trek across the road.

Right now, General Motors commercials are highlighting their Night Vision technology. It's a $2,000 upgrade on the XT5 Premium Luxury but if you're in foggy areas or frequently travel where there is a large amount of creatures roaming at night, it may be worth the splurge. The weather and wildlife conditions presented the opportunity to try it out on numerous occasions and it can be reported that the tech exceeded expectations, especially in the fog at night.

2021 Cadillac XT5The interior of the XT5 is elegant enough for its premium positioning. (2020 XT5 shown.)Photo courtesy of Cadillac

Where the XT5 failed most prominently wasn't in its tech, though manually seeking SiriusXM channels is a chore, but instead in its functionality for everyday life. The bottoms of the front seats are too hard for comfortably undertaking hours upon hours behind the wheel. There is very little small item storage. The wheels create bump outs in the cargo area that greatly diminish the space for transporting luggage and boxes, in addition to the high load floor.

The car came standard with an eight-inch infotainment touch screen that worked as advertised and connected with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay with ease.

Pleasantly, the SUV's safety features weren't nanny-like in their functionality and worked as advertised. Win-win.

As tested, the mid-grade 2021 Cadillac XT5 has as standard starting price of $48,795. General Motors added on a number of packages driving up the cost. The Platinum Package ($4,850) gives the model the refinement that drives the car's to luxe levels: semi-aniline leather seating, leather-wrapped console and door trim, microfiber sueded headliner, premium carpeted floor mats, real-time damping performance, and illuminated door sills.

2021 Cadillac XT5The cabin appears elevated compared to many other GM vehicles and right in line with what you can expect from a modern Cadillac.Photo courtesy of Cadillac

The Enhanced Visibility and Technology Package ($2,275) adds HD Surround Vision, a rear camera mirror and washer, 8.0-inch gauge cluster, rear pedestrian alert, head-up display, automatic parking assist with braking. Night Vision is available for an additional $2,000.

Twenty-inch split six-spoke wheels add $1,700 to the vehicle and a Garnet Metallic paint job was another $625.

The Driver Assist Package ($1,300) adds high-tech safety features like adaptive cruise control, enhanced automatic braking, reverse automatic braking, and automatic seat belt tightening. Getting tri-zone climate control, ventilated front seats, and an air ionizer requires the purchase of the Comfort and Air Quality Package for an additional $1,200.

Bose Performance audio and a navigation system add $1,025 to the SUV as part of a bundle. The upgraded V6 engine is the final option box the tester checked, adding $1,000.

Cadillac charges an additional $995 for delivery, bringing the total cost of the XT5 as tested to $65,765. Let's be honest. That's a bit much.

2021 Cadillac XT5The XT5 has a movable bar that can hold luggage and boxes in place. That's one of its better cargo space features. (2020 XT5 shown.)Photo courtesy of Cadillac

It is in its pricing where the Cadillac falls flattest. Four of its main competitors all do something better. The Acura RDX is priced lower at every turn and has better-usable passenger and cargo space. The Infiniti QX50 is more comfortable. The Lexus RX 350 delivers a more engaging drive. All are cheaper than the XT5.

The XT5 is head and shoulders above its closest competitor- the Blazer. And priced not too dissimilarly if you pare down some of the packages and negotiate a dealer discount.

That all being said, it's still easy to see why buyers would be willing to pay a bit more for the XT5 Premium Luxury - maybe just not $65,000.

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The Hemi Orange package brings unqiue style to the Durango.

Dodge

The Dodge Durango isnt the newest or most refined SUV on the market, but it offers great comfort, good tech, and a handful of raucous powertrian options. The long-running family hauler is due for an update, but in the meantime, Dodge has given it a new Hemi Orange package with unique styling touches.

Dodge already offers the Hemi Orange package fo the Challenger and Charger, and now it's available for the three-row Durango. The package is available for the R/T trim, which comes with a 5.7-liter V8.

Dodge Durango Hemi OrangeDodge offers four exterior colors with the package. Dodge

Much of the Orange package's content comes on the outside, where Dodge adds orange and gunmetal hod stripes, black taillights, and grey/orange badging. The SUV rides on black 20-inch wheels, and Dodge offers different black "Lights Out" 20-inch wheels. Four exterior colors are available: Destroyer Grey, Diamond Black, Octane Red, and White Knuckle. Inside, the Durango gets orange sticthing and unique patterns in the upholstery. Dodge says the stitching extends throughout the interior, including to the gauge cluster, armrests, console lid, and steering wheel.

Two upgrades are available for the Hemi Orange Durango. The first is the Orange Plus Package, which adds a power sunroof, a 19-speaker Harman Kardon sound system, and a load of driver aids. The Tow N Go package is available for four-wheel drive models, and brings the 20-inch Lights Out wheels, orange brake calipers, and a Bilstein high-performance suspension system.

The Durango R/T Hemi Orange is available now. It carries a price tag of $1,995. The Orange Plus package costs $4,500 and the Tow N Go package costs $5,095.

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The CX-50 is surpsingly capable off-road.

Mazda

I have driven all of the Mazda vehicles that have been sold in the US market over the past three decades. On everyday roads and on racetracks. I’ve appreciated their “zoom-zoom”. Good power. Punchy torque just where it was needed. Well-balanced and sporty handling. A bit of growl for the versions that called for it. Plus, tasteful-but-modest styling and more or less elbow room, depending on the model. Mazda’s have been made for sports-car enthusiasts and to ferry families. But, I had never known a Mazda called an “overlander”. Until now.

2023 Mazda CX-50Towing capacity extends to 2,000 pounds.Mazda

The 2023 Mazda CX-50 moves this traction-sophisticated automaker into the lands where the pavement ends and now takes the brand ‘off-track’. Although it’s not a new thing for many of today’s carmakers to add a backcountry model or two to their lineup, it’s new for Mazda. I traveled to Santa Barbara, California to check out this all-new crossover built on Mazda’s seventh-generation small SUV platform that is shared with the smaller CX-30. This 5-passenger utility is longer, lower and wider than the CX-5 that rides on the previous generation’s underpinnings. The CX-50 has been crafted with a roomier second row and more cargo room for the goods and gear that weekend warriors and adventurers want to carry.

The CX-50 comes with a choice of two engines: a 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder engine with cylinder deactivation that gets 187 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque, and Mazda’s Skyactiv-G 2.5-liter turbo-charged powerplant with 256 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque; both shift through a six-speed automatic transmission. The sport ute can tow up to 2,000 lbs. with the naturally aspirated motor and up to 3,500 lbs. with the turbo-charged mill and Intelligent Drive Select (Mi-Drive) that brings a tow mode as well as Normal, Sport and Off-Road. The newest Mazda model has been made for North America only and is built in Alabama. It is the first Mazda vehicle with auto start/stop that can be deactivated.

2023 Mazda CX-50Mazda is a master of upscale interiors. Mazda

The new crossover starts at $26,800 and comes in S, S Select, S Preferred, S Preferred Plus, S Premium, and S Premium Plus with the base motor. Turb-charged versions come in Turbo, Turbo Premium, and Turbo Premium Plus that tops out at close to $42,000. A long list of technology and safety features are standard or available. Mazda says that Meridian, a fourth turbo trim will arrive soon with even more off-road cred; it will be set up with 18-inch black wheels AT, hood graphics and other backcountry goodies.

When you look at the CX-50, the first thing you’ll notice is exterior styling that speaks to its adventure-ready mission. Muscular bodywork, such as extra cladding, wide fender flairs and larger, more aggressive tires mean that this crossover has been designed not only to give a nod to the looks of a rugged crossover but to provide enhanced traction and a tad more suspension stretch for motoring over uneven terrain and along bumpy dirt roads. Planted on its haunches with functional air vents, it eschews minivan styling with a low and wide footprint that allows owners to have easy access to high-strength roof rails for loading gear on top; the roof has been made stronger than other Mazda crossovers to accommodate heavier loads, such as a roof-top tent. A panoramic moonroof- a first for Mazda- and attractive antiglare hood graphics and are tasteful additions.

The interior is attractive and roomy, with horizontal lines and “cleanable” surfaces as a nod to outdoor endeavors. Our Turbo Premium Plus model had bright orange reverse stitching that popped the cabin that has been crafted with uplevel trims and materials and brought heads-up display. A 7-inch infotainment screen is standard, while the top models get a 10.25-inch version. A wireless charging pad and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard on all trims. Of note, is the rear power and programmable liftgate to the wide and deep rear cargo compartment, with a load floor that flush with the liftgate opening to help slide heavy items in and out of the back. An available line of cargo accessories makes stowage easier.

2023 Mazda CX-50The CX-50 is family roadtrip ready.Mazda

How did it handle over the 200-plus miles of our ride and drive? The Turbo Premium Plus CX-50 offers a lot like; many of its driving attributes are consistent with Mazda’s tuning and handling priorities across its product line. Traveling along coastal highways, carving mountainous twisties with tight turns and accelerating on flat and straight well-graded pavement, it has great Mazda manners: i.e., there is enough power and torque in the right bandwidth to move it well; precise steering with a slightly heavily-weighted leather-wrapped steering wheel and well-modulated brakes, especially with towing a 3,500-lb. load. We enjoyed using Sport mode for carving corners, as it brings elongated shifts from the six-speed automatic; a crisp response comes when sport shifting in “manual mode” and provides a quick throttle response.

We tried out the Off-Road mode on a course that included flat and uneven dirt roads, as well as hill climb and descent. Although there is no downhill descent control system, the brakes worked well, along with manual gearing. Of note, Mazda would be wide to add downhill descent engineering for steeper and slicker terrain. We were able to test the difference between Normal and Off-Road over a special section of the course with sandy corners and a winding track at a speed of 30 mph showing the improved traction in the Off-Road programming and the aid of Mazda’s G-Vectoring Control that brings a bit of magic to transfer torque to the wheels where it is needed to keep the intended track-think of it like an enhanced traction control program that helps with steering and yaw control.

2023 Mazda CX-50The CX-50 comes with off-road driving modes. Mazda

Other aids for off-road and backcountry travel are: the i-Activ All-Wheel Drive system that is standard equipment on all CX-50s, with a 50/50ish power transfer front to back; 8.6 inches of ground clearance; an 18-degree approach angle and a 24-degree departure angle; and an optional 360-degree camera system.

*EPA reports: base motor fuel economy 24 city/30 highway mpg, while the turbo option gets 23/29 mpg and can run on regular or premium fuel.

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