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DAN NEIL

The ghosts of Swedish Christmas ne'er to be

The sporty, top-shelf Cadillac SRX Turbo shares the sibling Saab's running gear: a 2.8-liter, 300-hp turbocharged V-6, six-speed automatic and Haldex-supplied all-wheel-drive system.

December 25, 2009|Dan Neil
  • The 2010 Cadillac SRX 2.8L Turbo might have been a runaway reindeer but feels a little like an anemic caribou. It weighs a mildly horrifying 4,595 pounds -- among the heaviest in its segment -- and it's this weight that dulls the edge of handling and straight-stick acceleration.
The 2010 Cadillac SRX 2.8L Turbo might have been a runaway reindeer but feels… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)

By now you're sitting alone near the fire in your Scandinavian bentwood chair, in the cable-knit sweater your Swedish girlfriend gave you when you were at Oxford, and you're halfway through a bottle of Aquavit. Or is it Aqua Velva? Perhaps you're trying to take your mind off things -- catching up on back issues of Dwell, or firing off a strongly worded letter to the New Yorker: I object to Joan Acocella's rough treatment of Peter Ackroyd's translation of Chaucer. . . . You've barely touched your moose sandwich.

For Saab enthusiasts, this is a dark Christmas. Or Yule. Or whatever. According to various reports, GM has rejected a final bid by Dutch supercar-builder Spyker to buy the quirky carmaker, based in Trollhattan, Sweden. Unless something extraordinary happens -- say, the arrival of a tall Nazarene -- Saab will report to the gates of oblivion beginning in 2010.

By way of consolations, I have two.

First: Being unemployed in Sweden isn't anything like the food-for-wolves experience it is in the United States. The state provides living assistance as well as free medical care. Those folks in Trollhattan will be OK. We call that civilization.

Second: You will still be able to buy a wee piece of Saab. It will just be called a Cadillac.

This is not going to be easy to explain, and the only justification for the explanation at all is to demonstrate just how deeply weird the global car business currently is.

Here goes: GM is all tooled up to build the Saab 9-4X at its sprawling facility in Ramos Arizpe, Mexico, alongside the car's platform mate, the second-generation Cadillac SRX crossover, which hit the market earlier this year.

Although the base model of the SRX has a 3.0-liter, 265-hp V-6 -- which is a little soft in the pantalones, according to most reviews -- the sporty, top-shelf SRX shares the sibling Saab's running gear: a 2.8-liter, 300-hp turbocharged V-6, six-speed automatic and Haldex-supplied all-wheel-drive system.

Saab has been building riotous, roguish turbocharged engines for three decades now -- indeed, turbocharging is part of the brand covenant -- so the bottlefly buzz of a turbo V-6 makes perfect sense for the 9-4X. Cadillac is generally associated with a more gracious and refined delivery of large-displacement horsepower from V-6s and V-8s. Still, the turbo Saab engine is a good one, and it made for good economy of scale down there in Mexico. GM product planners said stick it in.

Now Saab is entering its existential twilight, leaving the Mexico-built Cadillac SRX 2.8L Turbo as the only new model with any Swedish character. This is surrealism worthy of Buñuel.

Here's the good news about the SRX: It looks grand, a large-caliber, Baccarat-glass slug aimed at the heart of the Lexus RX350, which rules the luxury crossover market.

If the two-row, five-passenger upscale trucklet segment were only a beauty contest, the other contestants -- the Audi Q5, Mercedes GLK350 and BMW X3 among them -- could just go take a Roman bath.

Another spot-on expression of Caddie's art and science design idiom, the SRX sheet metal is charged with big vectoring strokes of energy and a cool and glowering masculinity. The turbo-equipped model I tested came with huge, 20-inch wheels. Nifty.

Other good things: The interior is almost a duplicate of those in the CTS vehicles (sedan, wagon, coupe). The dash design is handsome, well-organized and thematically consistent. The French-stitched leather and pleather stand up to skeptical scrutiny. The switch gear is sturdy and appealing.

The SRX cabin ambience is as muffled as fresh snow. To be sure, the SRX cannot touch the Lexus in terms of tactile and material refinement or technological sophistication. Still, this is a well-sorted interior. The multifunction touch-screen LCD -- which levitates out of the central console as if summoned by a snake charmer -- takes some patience to learn, but it works well.

Perhaps the thing that buyers in this segment least care about -- dynamic performance -- is what Cadillac has spent the most time fiddling with. The turbo-equipped car is upfitted with a sport-tuned suspension, variable-ratio steering, 20-inch wheels and the asphalt-hungry all-wheel-drive system.

This AWD unit features an electronic limited-slip differential in the rear. Although not quite "torque vectoring" -- the system will not overdrive the outside rear wheel like Acura's SH-AWD system -- it will help null out understeer in a hot corner. I assume it works well in inclement conditions, but those are rather hard to come by in California.

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