Less is less: 2021 Cadillac XT6 struggles for premium midsize crossover legitimacy

2020 Cadillac XT6 Sport

By Chuck Giametta

What changes will make the 2021 Cadillac XT6 different?

A new color choice or two and maybe some feature-shuffling, but nothing likely to redeem this underwhelming premium midsize crossover. With three rows of seats for up to seven passengers, the XT6 launched for model-year 2020 as Cadillac’s answer to similarly sized rivals like the Acura MDX, Lincoln Aviator, and Lexus RX 350L.

A debonair front end and a checklist of upscale necessities are highlights. But the 2021 XT6 seems destined to continue as a stopgap after being rushed into showrooms without the pedigree to be a class leader. Indeed, this crossover shares its underskin architecture with the Chevrolet Blazer and uses an engine found in a variety of General Motors products, including the Chevy Camaro and GMC Acadia.

Built on a front-wheel-drive-oriented, car-type platform, the 2021 XT6 will again slot into Cadillac’s lineup between the larger rear-drive-based, body-on-frame Escalade and the brand’s best-selling vehicle, the XT5 premium-compact crossover. Note that conclusions in this review derive from test drives of 2020 XT6s furnished by Cadillac. Where the ’21 might be different, we withhold judgement.

Should I wait for the 2021 XT6 or buy a 2020?

2020 XT6 Sport

Buy a 2020. The ’21 isn’t apt to change any way worth waiting for, although it’ll almost certainly cost more. Discounts on the ’20 model are a sure bet, too: Cadillac was offering $1,500 cash back soon after the XT6’s introduction, unusual for a brand-new nameplate. 

Some interesting alterations may be in this crossover’s future. Sources speculate it might exchange its alpha-numeric designation for a real name, for example. And a performance-tuned V-Series version is possible. But don’t expect those sorts of changes sooner than the midcycle refresh anticipated for model-year 2023. And a transformation to the competitive rear-drive platform it deserves would be a year or two beyond that.

The 2021 XT6 should return two trim levels, comfort-oriented Premium Luxury and slightly more agile Sport. Their only engine will again be a 310-horsepower V-6 linked to a nine-speed automatic transmission. Expect the ’21 Premium Luxury model to again come with front-wheel drive and offer all-wheel drive (AWD) as a $2,000 option. The Sport should return with AWD standard.   

Will the styling be different?

2020 XT6 Premium Luxury model

No. The side view will again be refreshingly free of folderal, though critics will dismiss it as midsize-crossover anonymous. Same for the tail. The 2021 XT6’s main distinction will remain the front end’s clean forms and blade-like LED lighting, a tasteful riff on Cadillac’s design theme. Expect the Premium Luxury model to again be identified by bright exterior accents and 20-inch wheels while the Sport gets darker trim, a V-inspired mesh grille, more aggressive fascia, and should remain available with optional 21-inch wheels, at $1,000.

Standard amenities will again include perforated leather upholstery and your choice of real wood trim in a variety of finishes or in optional bronze carbon fiber. The dashboard is well laid-out and the Cadillac User Experience infotainment interface uses a center-console rotary controller in combination with buttons nearby and on the steering-wheel.

2020 XT6 Sport

Still, the cabin seems drab in design and dour in décor. The wood and the padded and stitched surfaces are nice but no longer exclusive to the luxury segment. The carbon-fiber’s bronze sublayer catches the light like a sharkskin suit. And while the infotainment controls are user-friendly, the 8-inch dashboard screen (the only size available) is behind the times in look and dimension.

The 2021 XT6’s biggest deficit, however, isn’t likely to again involve opulence but interior volume, specifically, width. It has significantly less shoulder room and hip room than competitors like the Aviator, MDX, and Infiniti QX60. It’s even narrower than its corporate-cousin Buick Enclave in those metrics, by a shocking 4.1 inches and 3 inches, respectively.

2020 XT6 with second-row captain’s chairs

The result is a closeted feel unworthy of a premium midsize crossover. Three adults on the second-row bench get little breathing room and only one fits if a child safety seat is aboard. Optional are captain’s chairs ($800 for 2020) that reduce capacity to six, although no dedicated second-row center console is available. The cramped third row best suits limber adolescents, but that’s the rule in this segment.

At 12.6 cubic feet behind the third row, 43.1 with it folded, and 78.7 max, cargo volume is competitive with three-row rivals. Buttons on the cargo wall automatically fold the second- and third-row seatbacks but don’t raise them. A hands-free power liftgate is standard and an illuminated Cadillac crest conveniently projects on the pavement as a marker for the kick that triggers it.   

Any mechanical changes?

2020 XT6 Sport

Not likely. The ’21 XT6 will continue to buck the trend toward turbocharging and electrification by sticking with GM’s ubiquitous 3.6-liter naturally aspirated V-6 as its sole engine. It should again make 310 horsepower and 271 pound-feet of torque, output matched or exceeded by most every competitor.

Don’t expect the ’21 XT6 to feel underpowered, however. Acceleration off the line and for merging and passing is more than adequate but relies largely on the transmission’s ability to choose the best gear for the situation. That it does with satisfying precision. The downside is persistent shifting in changing traffic patterns and with most throttle applications, annoying principally because the V-6 emits an unseemly roar at anything more than modest rpm.

Also indecorous is poor isolation from sharp bumps and road roar, even with the standard 20-inch tires. The automatic damping suspension that should return as standard on the Sport and optional on the Premium Luxury acts mostly to quell unwanted body motions. The XT6 is a stable cruiser, with meaty steering feel and unflustered cornering as long as you’re not overly aggressive. Road manners are honed by degree in the Sport, which comes with quicker, heavier steering and a torque-vectoring rear axle that sharpens turn-in.

Ground clearance is a relatively modest 6.7 inches and the AWD system works best as a traction-enhancer on slippery pavement or gravel paths. Cadillac gives the driver a button that locks an AWD XT6 into front-wheel drive, a seldom-seen feature designed to save fuel.

Will fuel economy improve?

2020 XT6 Premium Luxury

With no powertrain changes, look for 2021 XT6 EPA ratings to mirror those of the 2020 model. That would again put this crossover slightly below par within its three-row premium midsize competitive set, although premium-grade 91-octane gas is required or recommended for most rivals while Cadillac will again specify less expensive 87-octaine for the XT6.

Expect ’21 XT6 EPA ratings of 18/25/20 mpg city/highway/combined with front-wheel drive and 17/24/20 with AWD.

Will there be new features?

2020 XT6 Premium Luxury

Caddy could add, subtract, or mix features among options packages, but adding new ones to the XT6’s already extensive equipment roster isn’t likely. We’d advocate that it make standard instead of optional driver assists such as autonomous emergency braking operational forward from all speeds and in reverse at parking speeds, and adaptive cruise control that also works in stop-and-go traffic. For 2020, these useful features were part of the $1,300 Driver Assist Package.

Most vehicles in this class include them as standard. Doing so for every ’21 XT6 would expand a standard safety suite that for 2020 included autonomous emergency braking that worked from around-town speeds to mitigate a frontal collision with another vehicle, object, or pedestrian. It also included blind-spot and rear-cross-traffic detection and lane-maintaining automated steering correction.

Figure Cadillac will keep other driver assists optional. These should include infrared night vision ($2,000 for 2020), along with the $2,350 Enhanced Visibility and Tech package. The latter should again contain a head-up instrument display, an inside rearview mirror that doubles as a rear-vision camera, automatic parking with steering and brake control, and surround-view cameras that assist in tight quarters and also record and store video of traffic encounters and collisions.

2020 XT6 Sport

In addition to those already noted, returning standard features on all ’21 XT6s should include a heated steering wheel, heated power front seats with memory and power lumbar, power tilt/telescope steering column, rain sensing windshield wipers, moonroof, automatic highbeam headlamps, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, tri-zone automatic climate control, and wireless phone charging and six USB ports.

Imbedded navigation that can provide real-time GPS mapping in the absence of a cell signal was a $1,000 option for 2020; it used the standard 8-inch screen.

Will 2021 prices be different?

2020 XT6 Premium Luxury

They’ll almost certainly increase, although probably not by much. For reference, here are 2020 XT6 base prices, including the manufacturer’s $995 destination fee.

The 2020 XT6 Premium Luxury started at $53,690 with front-wheel drive and at $55,690 with AWD. Base price for the ’20 XT6 Sport, with AWD standard, was $58,090.

Even a modest increase would leave the ’21 XT6 priced higher than such three-row rivals as the MDX, RX 350L, and QX60 and about even with comparable versions of the Audi Q7, Mercedes-Benz GLE 350, and Volvo XC90. It’d also be priced about the same as the just-as-luxurious Avenir edition of the roomier Buick Enclave, which shares the Caddy’s powertrain.

Still, 2021 XT6 base prices will remain thousands below those of the Tesla Model X and European-brand midsize premium crossovers available with a third-row seat, such as the BMW X5 and Range Rover Sport. However, expect Cadillac to again structure ’21 XT6 pricing so some desirable options require you also spring for additional packages. That would easily send the sticker for a well-equipped 2021 XT6 past $70,000.

For example, to outfit a 2020 XT6 Premium Luxury with the Platinum Package added $4,900 to upgrade all three rows with semi-aniline leather, wrap the instrument panel in leather and the headliner in sueded microfiber, trim the cabin with the bronze carbon fiber or Fineline Calico wood, and fit the adaptive suspension.

2020 XT6 Sport

But to get those Platinum Package enhancements, you had to also order the aforementioned $2,350 Enhanced Visibility and Technology Package, the $1,300 Driver Assist Package, and the $1,000 navigation system — plus the $800 Premium Headlamp system (triple LED projectors), and the $750 Comfort and Air Quality Package (ventilated front seats, heated outboard rear seats). That’s an $11,100 hit. And you had to pay for all that to add the $2,000 Night Vision system, which displays in the instrument cluster a ghosted video image of people or animals beyond the headlights’ reach.        

Among other extras of note expected to repeat for 2021, any exterior color other than Radiant Silver Metallic should cost extra: $625 for most other metallics, such as Manhattan Noir and Dark Mocha; or $1,225 for tricoats Crystal White or Red Horizon. The 20-inch wheels should remain available in Midnight Grey for $2,295 or in Ultra Bright Machined with Pearl Nickel Pockets for $2,095. The $2,995 Radiant Package should again include polished 20-inch wheels, a bright-finished grille, and an illuminated cargo sill plate.

Look for the $1,995 rear-entertainment option to again include a DVD player with dual 8-inch front headrest screens; multiple inputs, including SD, USB, HDMI; wireless connectivity to brought-in devices; a remote control, and wireless headphones.

When does it come out?

2020 XT6 Premium Luxury

Expect a 2021 Cadillac XT6 release date in the third quarter of 2020.

Best competitors

Acura MDX, Audi Q7, BMW X5, Infiniti QX60, Lexus RX 350L, Lincoln Aviator, Volvo XC90, Mercedes-Benz GLE, Range Rover Sport, Tesla Model X

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About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for HowStuffWorks.com, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]