(Everybody say HAYYYYYYY to our guest reviewer du jour, Danger Girl! â€”jb)
The creaky old 737-300, lacking wi-fi and assigned seating but chock-full of oversized roller luggage, touched down in Queen City at about 9:40 p.m. on a Monday night. My hopes for what I would find in the Charlotte Douglas International Airport Executive Emerald Aisle were about as high as the hopes Iâ€™d had when I ran from gate A8 to B15 at BWI, knowing my connecting flight had been boarding for a solid 15Â minutes. Which is to say: lower than low. To my surprise, this was not the case at the Executive Emerald Aisle. I’d expected the automotive equivalent of my back-cabin center seat, but this was more like the delightfully unoccupied space on the aisle side of the exit row.
I walked past the Tahoes, the Escalades, and a Cadillac XTS thinking I was in some alternate universe known as the Elite section, or that “Hertz Dream Car” area Jack sometimes rents from. I was looking for the standard 300C, Challenger, or base Mustang to which I’ve become accustomed. An agent happened to walk by me. In an effort to pinch myself and make sure this was really happening, I asked him if the XTS was, in fact, part of the Executive Emerald Aisle. â€œSure! Take it!â€� he said.
Well, alrighty then.
The moment I relaxed into the Medium Titanium driverâ€™s seat of the Phantom Gray Metallic XTSÂ with 3,895 miles on the odometer, I was beyond pleased with my choice. My intra-gate version of the Baltimore Marathon had angered my sacroiliac joint and this seat provided much needed and welcomed relief. All pressure points faded and I felt as though I could skip the hotel and just sleep in the car.
After adjusting my seat and mirrors, I began the sometimes arduous task of pairing my phone. This is my least favorite part of renting a car. Each make/model has a different path to success even though the basic concept should always be the same. Navigating the menus (do I pair from “Settings”? “Media”? Or just plain “Phone”?) then figuring out if you need to use buttons or knobs to move from selection to selection is infuriating, especially when you donâ€™t get the desired response and have to start over. If it takes me more then two attempts to pair my phone in a car, I blame the OEM.
Most people don’t have to drive as many different vehicles as I do, however, and I’d imagine most people tend to pair their phone in their daily driver (sometimes with the help of the salesman selling them the car) and go on with life, rarely needing to duplicate the process until the arrival of a new car or a new phone. That being said, I still consider the amount of time and energy I expend pairing my phone a large determinant in whether I end up happy with my rental car choice. I should not need to Google how to do it, nor should I need to get the manual out. In short, it should be intuitive. And thatâ€™s just what the Cadillac CUE system is. I paired my phone in three touches of the screen. In addition, the feedback that the screen gave me when I provided an input was refreshing and akin to Jackâ€™s Unicomp mechanical keyboard. This car won my heart before I ever put it in Drive.
After stopping at the appropriate booth on my way out â€” I endeavor not to steal rental cars anymore â€” I decided to test out the sound system. The bass was turned all the way up and treble was at an all-time low. The fade was set towards the back and this just wouldnâ€™t do. Again, the Cadillac CUE system didnâ€™t fail me. I was able to find the equalizer with ease and reset the sound system while navigating away from the airport. The Bose Premium eight-speaker sound system played Miike Snow no better than the Bose system in my 2009 Tahoe, but no worse, either.
My short drive to the hotel in Uptown Charlotte afforded me a brief chance to do some acceleration testing. The automatic shifts to second and third were throaty, aggressive and fun. However, the next shift produced such a lull that I had time to look down at the tachometer and ask myself if there was something wrong with the car before it finally grabbed fourth and propelled me to end of the on ramp. The moral of the story: as long as you don’t go above 60 mph, this is a quick car. How many XTS owners go faster than that anyway, between their gated homes and the country-club parking lot?
There’s ambient lighting in the cabin of the XTS, but I prefer the lighting of the Mercedes C63S or even my little Fiesta ST by a wide margin. One gets the sense GM was just trying to tick that particular box for comparison-shopping purposes. The lighting is there. Cadillac can say it’sÂ done it. But itâ€™s not done particularly well. It just is.
Although I’d gotten off the plane perfectly willing to pay four figures for a helicopter ride if it would’ve gotten me to bed 10Â minutes sooner, I was no longer in much of a hurry by the time I got the hotel. The XTS was easy to drive. Given that it had Florida plates, I thought about the person whoÂ had driven to NC from Florida. I longed to take it on a road trip to see how enjoyable it was. But it was well beyond 10 p.m. at this point and my meeting was early the next morning, so there would be no cruising the streets of Uptown Charlotte for me. I bid the car adieu as the valet drove it away. Until tomorrow.
On my way back to the airport the following afternoon, I put the car in manual mode and used the paddles to shift. I must say the paddles were disappointing. Instead of the aggressive “here I am” paddles that I’ve loved on the Lotus Evora, C7 Corvette, and Lexus RC-F, the shift selectors of the XTS were kidney-bean-shaped buttons. Really big buttons at that. They were missing any discernible seat for my fingers. At first, I wasnâ€™t even certain they were, in fact, meant to control the transmission. I thought they must be additional buttons on the back of the steering wheel to control volume and change songs. I realize that most Cadillac owners won’t use them, but what’s the point of offering the feature if you aren’t going to deliver something worthwhile? Like the ambient lighting, it’s just a bit half-assed.
The drive during daylight also allowed me to take in more of the aesthetics of the car. I did not care for the wood trim in the interior. It was so dark, you almost couldnâ€™t make out that it was wood of any kind and it wasnâ€™t metal or straight black plastic. Apparently the trim color is meant to match the seats, but if I were to build my own XTS, I would have to go with Kona Brown to make a statement — or, perhaps, Shale, so that I didnâ€™t. This mystery-wood trim with Medium Titanium seating just wasnâ€™t right. I would have preferred metal or just black plastic here.
As I returned the XTS to the airport, I was genuinely disappointed that I didnâ€™t get to spend more time with it. Given the opportunity to rent one again, I’d definitely take it. Would I buy it? That’s a different question. Iâ€™ve now driven the XTS, CTS-V, and the ATS-V, but Iâ€™m still not convinced enough by Cadillac to purchase one. To me, they are still cars for retirees. Will there even still be people like that by the time I’m ready to join their ranks halfway through the 21stÂ century? Probably not. But if there is, and somebody wants to make me one of those sweetheart early-retirement deals, then maybe they’ll also be able to sign me up for a Cadillac. It would be nice to stop traveling for a living. It would be nice to, finally, pick my own seat.