BADWATER BASIN, Calif. -- The back-door route into Death Valley, California's bleak desert in a deep trough just west of the Nevada border, zigzags over Jubilee Pass before descending on a sand-swept strip of pavement into a wilderness defined by a flat salt plane -- the Badwater Basin -- stretched between peaks like Funeral and Telescope.
Steering the 2017 XT5, Cadillac's all-new mid-size luxury sport crossover wagon, we push the agile CUV hard over the severe course consisting of tight curves, whoop-de-do bumps, flats for speed and long grades to power up.
And XT5 responds to all of our road challenges with a can-do attitude in a demonstration of exacting car control.
Beefy Michelin P235/55R20 rubber and a sophisticated independent suspension with ZF continuous damping control enable the low-slung machine to carve a precise path along the warped roadbed as if rooted in asphalt.
Meaty torque from a 3.6-liter V6 delivers instant response from the accelerator, while the transmission -- a malleable 8-speed Electronic Precision Shift automatic (the first electronically controlled transmission shifter for a Cadillac) -- allows an aggressive driver to add selective controls from the handy paddle shifter.
And in the cushy 5-seat cabin, the driver and companions strap into leather-clad luxury with cut-and-sewn panels, trimmings in optional carbon fiber and aluminum or wood, plus assistance from an arsenal of electronic driver-assist gizmos and safety apparatus.
Did we mention that XT5 is a new concept for Cadillac?
The 2017 XT5 (translation: Crossover Touring 5) replaces the mid-size SRX in Cadillac's crossover line and is based on a unique chassis and lightweight structure. Put a tape measure to the former STX and new XT5 and you'll find the two vehicles are similar in length-width-height although XT5 has two inches added to the wheelbase length and another inch to broaden the wheel track. That means the wheels are pinned outward toward the corners of the rectangular platform and thus set up XT5's pavement-hugging stance.
Cadillac offers the 2017 XT5 CUV with traction choices of standard FWD (front-wheel-drive) or on-demand AWD (all-wheel-drive) for four trim levels: Base, Luxury, Premium Luxury and over-the-top Platinum.
Sole engine for XT5's North America issues is a redesigned aluminum 3.6-liter V6 rigged with dual overhead cams, direct injection, variable valve timing, Active Fuel Management cylinder deactivation and Cadillac's new stop/start technology that automatically stops and starts the engine when the vehicle is at rest in traffic stops.
The V6 generates 310 hp at 6700 rpm, with torque peaking to 271 lb-ft at 5000 rpm.
Add the new AWF8F45 8-speed paddle-shift electronic automatic and the XT5 earns EPA fuel economy scores of 19/27 mpg city/highway in the FWD edition, or 18/26 mpg city/highway with the AWD equipment.
The optional new advanced on-demand dual-clutch AWD system continuously and automatically manages torque distribution to all wheels to provide consistent traction through various pavement conditions -- wet, dry or icy.
Suspension elements with pliable independent components consist of front MacPherson twin-tube struts plus direct-acting stabilizer bar and an isolated subframe. The independent rear design is a 5-link arrangement with twin-tube shocks, tri-ball joint configuration, tuned coil springs and a hollow stabilizer bar plus optional cradle.
The 4-wheel disc brakes use big dual-piston calipers and link electronically to an anti-lock brake system (ABS) and traction control system (TCS) plus GM's StabiliTrak 4-channel vehicle skid controls.
Cadillac's new Rear Camera Mirror system debuts on the XT5. The system installs a video display over the conventional inside rearview mirror. A high dynamic range camera records wider images behind the vehicle, streams images to video processing software which erases obstacles such as the roof and rear pillars, then projects the broad unobstructed view to a Liquid Crystal Display.
XT5 also brings 4G wireless connectivity with a standard integrated Wi-Fi hotspot and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for easy in-car phone integration.
The rear liftgate on XT5 provides hands-free operation, opening or closing via gestures below the bumper.
Cadillac prices the 2017 XT5/FWD Base at $38,995, while the XT5/AWD Platinum caps the series at $62,500.