Rating: 8.8
Bottom Line:
The 2012 changes make the SRX the vehicle it should be. The 3.6-liter V6 is a better choice than either of last year’s two engines, and the suspension tweaks provide a softer ride without sacrificing handling. It may not be as sporty as a BMW X3 or even the first-generation SRX, but it’s better suited to what the market wants.
Pros:
  • Controlled handling
  • Versatile cargo area
  • New engine is an improvement
Cons:
  • No third-row seat
  • There are sportier options
  • Confusing control layout

Auto reviewers generally liked the first generation of the Cadillac SRX, but with its clumsy looks and rear-drive architecture, it didn't resonate with car buyers. With that in mind, Cadillac changed the formula in 2010, switching to a front-drive platform, following the leader in the luxury crossover segment, the Lexus RX. The change worked, and the SRX moved from ninth in total sales to second in a very crowded and competitive segment.

Still, Cadillac did err several years ago by offering two unsuited engines: one underpowered and one inefficient. For 2012, Cadillac is correcting that mistake by switching to the brand's best V6 engine while making some other tweaks along the way.

All of the changes combine to make the SRX an even more appealing vehicle. But are the changes enough to dethrone the class-leading Lexus RX 350 or sporty BMW X3? Maybe.

Model Lineup
The 2012 Cadillac SRX is offered in four trim levels: Base, Luxury Collection, Performance Collection and Premium Collection. The base trim is front-wheel-drive only. The others are offered in front- or all-wheel drive. The $35,485 base trim comes standard with vinyl upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, Bluetooth cell-phone link, Bose AM/FM/CD radio, XM satellite radio, USB port, auxiliary input jack, automatic headlights and P235/65R18 tires on alloy wheels.

The $40,015 Luxury Collection is loaded with features such as leather upholstery, front and rear park assist, heated front seats, power-adjustable pedals, heated steering wheel, keyless access and starting, sunroof, rearview camera, remote starting, universal garage-door opener and a power rear liftgate. The $42,510 AWD version also gets a limited-slip rear differential. The $43,830 Performance Collection comes with a navigation system, 10-speaker Bose 5.1 surround audio with a 40-gigabyte music hard drive, adaptive xenon headlights and P235/55R20 tires. The $46,640 AWD version also adds a sport suspension. And finally, the top-of-the-line Premium Collection ($46,275 FWD, $49,085 AWD) model gets rear climate and radio controls, heated and ventilated front seats, and heated rear seats. Options over and above the Premium trims include a trailering package (for towing up to 3,500 pounds) and dual rear DVD entertainment screens.

Under the Hood
The 2012 Cadillac SRX replaces two mediocre engines with one good one for 2012. Gone are the 3.0-liter V6 and turbocharged 2.8-liter V6 engines. In their place is an updated version of General Motor's LFX direct-injected 3.6-liter V6 engine. In the SRX it makes 308 horsepower and 265 lb-ft of torque and can run on E85 ethanol. The lone transmission is a 6-speed automatic with manual shift capability. Environmental Protection Agency fuel-economy estimates are 17 mpg city/24 mpg highway with front-wheel drive and 16/23 mpg with all-wheel drive.

The SRX's all-wheel-drive system features an electronic limited-slip differential that uses clutches to send up to 85 percent of torque to the rear wheels with grip. It can also send more power to the outside rear wheels in turns to help rotate the vehicle.

Inner Space
The SRX features the latest Cadillac interior environment, which is quite rich and attractive. Soft-touch surfaces with stitched accents adorn the dashboard, instrument panel, door panels and center console. There is a bit of cost-cutting in the base trim, though, as it is the only one to lack the Sapele wood trim and substitutes vinyl for leather upholstery.

The center screen pops up from the dashboard, and the controls are grouped below it in a jumble that will require a learning curve for most owners. With so many controls to handle, a layout like this is the only option if you want to avoid the central control knobs used by Audi, BMW and Mercedes. Those systems can be confusing, but they make the layout cleaner.

The SRX makes good use of its space. Front seat room is plentiful and the seats are comfortable and supportive. The rear seat is especially comfortable. It has lots of room for tall adults and a standard fold-down armrest aids comfort while also adding two cupholders and a decent-size storage bin.

The rear cargo area isn't as large as some competitors. However, it has several clever features that make it a highlight. There is 29.2 cubic feet of space behind the rear seat, about the as much as a good-size hatchback. The seat folds flat 60/40 to expand capacity to 61.2 cubic feet, which is about the same as the Infiniti FX but far short of the Lexus RX's 80.3 cubic feet. The rear seat comes with a center pass-through so you can fit rear passengers and skis at the same time. There is also lockable under-floor storage to hide purses and the like. This storage bin has a top that can be propped up and used to secure groceries on several built-in hooks. It's a neat feature for anyone who's ever had apples rolling around in the rear of their SUV because the flat floor provided no way to keep grocery bags upright.

But that's not all. Cadillac also provides a rear cargo fence that that can be placed in several positions within an in-floor track. This is another way to secure cargo or to separate stuff like groceries from muddy sports equipment. We appreciate such thoughtful amenities.

On the Road
The SRX doesn't shoot for the sporty character of a BMW X3. Instead, it is aimed directly at the more luxurious segment leader, the Lexus RX. While that vehicle serves its owners well, it isn't known for sharp handling or quick moves. The good news is the SRX is better controlled, more agile, and it provides more feedback.

The steering is fairly light and not particularly quick, but it does transmit some welcome road feel that the Lexus lacks. The throttle and braking response are also quicker than in the Lexus, both with a linear feel. While the SRX doesn't beg to be tossed into turns, handling is surprisingly direct. The SRX stays fairly flat in turns and changes directions with relative ease. It's far more engaging than the rather dull Lexus.

The suspension does a good job of soaking up bumps and ruts, even sharper ones. Still, with more road feel, it's not as smooth as the Lexus RX. If you're looking for absolute isolation, go for the Lexus. But if you want more engagement, the Cadillac is the choice.

Cadillac should have employed the single-engine strategy all along. This engine features direct injection, a revised intake, a new exhaust system that comes close to dual exhaust, and a flatter torque curve. The result is a torquey, responsive engine that moves the vehicle better than either of last year's choices. The 3.6-liter is strong from a stop, emitting a bit more rasp when pushed than we'd expect in a Cadillac.

The engine is well-matched to the 6-speed automatic transmission, which provides shifts that are quick enough to make passing easy. The transmission can be shifted manually through the gearshift, but we would also like a pair of steering-wheel paddles. Cadillac feels its customers aren't ready for them. Too bad.

Right for You?
Small families and empty-nesters alike will find that the 2012 Cadillac SRX fits their needs. Older folks will like the step-in height and all-around luxury, while younger families will find the space useful, the cargo area versatile and the ride smooth and controlled. Buyers interested in the Lexus RX will find the SRX a viable alternative, but those looking for a sportier feel should go with the BMW X3.

(As part of an automaker-sponsored press event, Cadillac provided MSN with travel and accommodations to facilitate this report.)

Kirk Bell has served as the associate publisher for Consumer Guide Automotive and editor of Scale Auto Enthusiast magazine. A Midwest native, Bell brings 18 years of automotive journalism experience to MSN, and currently contributes to JDPower.com and Kelley Blue Book's kbb.com.