Longitudinally mounted V6, rear wheel drive-based AWD system, double-wishbone front suspension, car-based unibody platform, strut tower brace, huge “Ultraview” moonroof, seven-passenger seating, and luxury touches everywhere. The first-generation Cadillac SRX seemed to have it all.
What Luxury SUV Buyers Want
So what went wrong? Why was the first generation only mildly popular while the second generation SRX is the second largest selling mid-sized SUV, even seven years after its introduction? Well the first answer of course is that the average buyer is different from the enthusiast, and seems to want conventional looks, a conventional platform, a promise of luxury, and, it seems from looking at the successful mid-sized SUVs on the market, a fastback shape!
What Car Enthusiasts Want
But what do we enthusiasts want? We want to combine the attributes of a performance sedan and a minivan. In our minds, we need performance, but we also need maximum space or else we’d choose a sportwagon or a sedan. For us the fastback shape just robs cargo and third passenger space.
When the 2004 Cadillac SRX came out, the automotive press praised it highly. I remember reading Car & Driver’s choice of the SRX V8 over the VW Toureg, Infinity FX45 and Porsche Cayenne S, and I was immediately a fan. I loved the “Camaro SUV” looks and recommended to my buddy that he purchase an SRX. He lived in California, so I never got to ride in it, but I remember how he loved the car. He eventually replaced it with an Escalade, however, because the SRX was a little small.
Time passed, and through the magic of layoffs, I found myself out of a job and decided to sell Cadillacs. It took a while, but eventually we took in a white-diamond-over-shale-interior 2009 Cadillac SRX AWD V6 with the premium grille and 18″ wheels with 49,950 miles. It just made it under the 50,000 mile cutoff for a certified car, and my wife and I traded her 2004 Infiniti G35 Coupe in for the SRX as we were expecting our first baby, and I already had 3 older kids.
By 2009, the final year for the SRX, the interior had been upgraded into quite a beautiful place to be. I’ve never been into paying for all the bells and whistles, but the heated seats, wood and leather heated steering wheel, Bose stereo, power pedal and “Ultraview Sunroof” were certainly very nice!
Power Third Row Was Truly Small
So what’s the second answer to the question above: What went wrong? The first generation SRX, despite many strengths, was just a little bit less than the sum of its parts. For example, the power-folding third row was truly tiny. Almost no foot room and a very thin seat cushion. And it took up almost the entire way back, leaving the roof as the only option for luggage on trips.
And since this was a rear-wheel drive platform, the drive-shaft tunnel was quite large, rendering the middle seat best for a short legged child. Since my oldest daughter needed an opening window as she would tend to throw up in the way back, and my middle daughter was the best fit for the middle seat, and my youngest daughter was in a car seat, that left my growing teenage son to ride in the way-back, and it was quite uncomfortable for him on trips.
Shock Tower Brace Couldn’t Completely Compensate for the Sunroof
Next up on the list of not quite perfect was the structural integrity of the car. By historic standards, this was a stiff and quiet car, but it was a large, heavy, unibody vehicle with a huge hole in the roof for the sunroof, and as such, the creaks and rattles after 50,000 miles were ever present, despite being very minor and quiet.
255 horsepower at 6,500 rpm, 254 lb-ft of torque at 2,800 rpm
Third, the GM Hi-Feature V6 was a torque-y mill, but a bit breathless over 4,000 rpm. When accelerating through the gears, the 5-speed auto was perfectly matched, and half to 3/4 throttle would work each gear from about 2,500 rpm to about 3,750 and then shift up, and it was a seamless and fun drive. Pushing the engine hard, however, was less rewarding. Holding gears above 4,000 rpm made quite a lot of noise, but not nearly as much thrust.
So how was it to drive? Awesome on the highway, very nice on a twisty road, and easy to place and control in moving traffic. Around town the steering was very slow and required more turns lock to lock that you would expect, but the payoff was steering on the highway and the back roads that was very precise, and yet completely unflappable. Small movements of wheel would not adversely affect the line you had chosen. The flip side (please forgive the near pun) was that the vehicle was not quite what you would call toss-able. You could set your line and drive it, but it required a fair amount of steering and usually both hands on the wheel on the twisty roads.
3.6 V6 Timing Chain
Over 2.5 years we put 30,000 miles on the SRX and loved it, but we did have things go wrong, both little (a persistent rattle in the sunroof when open) and big (stretched timing chain, replaced under warranty) and there were also a few nagging items that I could feel but not diagnose myself and that my dealer couldn’t quite identify or fix. (One of the problems turned out to the a bad transfer case in the AWD system.)
The Best Way to get the Space of a Minivan, is to get a Minivan!
As the end of my certified warranty approached, it was decision time. I got a trade in value for my SRX from my dealer that was ok at best. I decided to go to Carmax and see what they offered. They offered me $4,000 less and said the AWD system was no longer operational! So I went back to my dealer, got a little bit more for my trade, and leased a new 2015 Toyota Sienna minivan. The space in the Sienna is incredible, the ride is supple, the engine is powerful, the steering is nice, and the turning circle is better than any car I’ve owned.
I don’t regret owning the SRX, but I’ve learned that you can’t have it all (minivan space and sports sedan performance) and sometimes the crowd is right!
(The postscript to the story, is that at trade time, I was able to get my car fixed under warranty, and then once the SRX was ready for sale, I had the pleasure of being the salesperson who sold it to the next owner, at a small profit, and fully sorted.)