There’s just something about a third row. Folding up those back seats to haul a gaggle of kids is a benefit gargantuan SUVs have, but they usually come with more real estate than some folks need or want. That rear bench isn’t usually an option with smaller car-based crossovers. So, to feed the American need for third rows—which has become a bona fide search filter—Cadillac rolled out its second iteration of the XT6 midsize SUV. GM handed over the keys for a 900-mile New York to Virginia family road trip. Here’s what we learned about the 2021 Cadillac XT6 Sport.
Day 1: That third row
While it might seem mundane to start at the third row, it’s an important distinction with the XT6. The Cadillac’s rear seat is roomier than you’d expect. Our Sport trim tester had a middle row of captain’s chairs instead of an optional bench. This reduces the total seating from eight to seven, but provides ample leg room. Still, this orientation makes it much easier for kids to get in and down a center aisle. Once they get into the back, they’ll have just about the most headroom in the class. Taller adults can squeeze back there too without feeling claustrophobic.
Controlling the rear split bench is easy. Switches on the rear doors and in the trunk give you access no matter where you are. Everyone in the rear has access to charge ports and their fair share of the HVAC. Where things can get tight is the cargo space behind that third row. At about 12 1/2 cubic feet, it’s enough for three carry-on suitcases, a mid-week grocery store run, or maybe some baseball gear from little league. That all changes if you fold both rows down. Then you can easily toss in a mountain bike—not that you’d want to muddy up a Cadillac’s interior, but the principle is nice.
My wife and I are night packers. We folded the rear seats down the evening before our early-morning start and had enough room for two carry-on bags, a full-size duffle, a few totes of odds and ends, snacks, gear for the dog we were dropping off along the way, and even a fan (we’re serious about sleep hygiene, OK?).
Day 2: Settling into the styling
The XT6 is right at home with the same aggressive styling stretched across Cadillac’s 2021 lineup. Those modern, clean lines are all over the exterior. However, it’s most predominant upfront with the wide grille, slender horizontal headlights, and vertical fog lights. The rear end is less dramatic though it does a clever job tucking the windshield wiper up into the spoiler. The glossy black accents and dark paint inside the 20-inch wheels—which also help visually fill the wheel well—give the car a very street-forward look from the curb.
Inside, the design and seating is very comfortable—even seven hours in. An intuitive front console makes controlling the 8-inch infotainment screen a snap. The XT6 syncs with Apple and Android pretty seamlessly and USB ports are sprinkled throughout the cabin; there’s also a handy wireless charger port. Controlling the infotainment is a well-positioned click wheel. It’s in perfect striking distance for those who like to hang their right hand down off the padded center armrest to spin, shift, and press away. While the color and graphics are crisp, and the information is easily visible (aka not cramped), it’s common to see screens upwards of 12 inches in this class.
The soft surfaces like the seats, wheel, and dash are a buttery leather with contrasting stitching. Our Sport tester had carbon fiber accents spread around the cabin. The large two-pane glass roof stretches almost entirely over the middle row, introducing plenty of sunlight. A retractable sunscreen takes the edge off hard mid-day sun, and temperature-controlled seats keep everyone comfortable in a more personal way than dual climate controls can.
We found the interior to be quiet when humming along at highway speeds, and our tester came fitted with 16 Bose speakers (instead of the standard eight), which performed well with decent clarity and bass.
Day 3: Hitting the open road
For 2021, Cadillac paired the XT6 with either a four-cylinder engine or the V6, which powered our tester. The smaller engine is new for 2021 and is only available in one of three trim levels. Our guess is that it helps bring the starting cost down. But an SUV of this size needs the 3.6-liter V6, which gets the XT6 to 60 mph in 7.3 seconds. Compare the specs and that’s decent for a ride of this size, but it’s far from a speed demon. You can find more nimble options in this class. It’s also not something you’ll want to take off-roading. For one, the front end might scrape pulling out of some suburban driveways. There’s an AWD option, but it requires manual implementation when you think you’ll need it in snow, ice, or rain, instead of automatically adjusting at a luxury ride’s price point.
On the I-95, our Sport tester did well easing the dingy road surfaces for a supple ride. There was a touch of bounce in the cabin we could see being a comfort issue, but it proved cushy for cruising around town and long stretches of windy backroads. Are there seats with more adjustments on the market? Yes, but the XT6 had enough lumbar support to keep us happy. It has enough guts to pass at highway speeds to boot. If you spin the dial to sport mode and mash on the pedal, there’s a pleasing amount of throaty feedback. Visibility is excellent as well, with a suite of cameras covering every angle.
In areas where the XT6 lacks compared to the domestic and imported third-row segment—like towing, infotainment screen size, what might seem like an underwhelming drivetrain—it makes up for with safety tech. As parents are the likeliest buyers of the XT6, that carries a lot of weight. The Cadillac’s an IIHS top safety pick and earned a five-star NHTSA rating for front and side crash rating. Our tester came with Cadillac’s standard bag of safety tech including cruise control with distance assist, automatic emergency braking, and cross-traffic alert. The distance control feature was a snap to adjust from the steering wheel’s controls. But there’s an optional Driver Assist package (about $1,300 extra) if you want features like adaptive cruise control with braking down to zero, high-speed automatic emergency braking, and rear automatic emergency braking.
Bottom line: The XT6 has top-notch safety features, comfortable seats, and more room in the third row than you’d expect. But topping out at about 310 horsepower, we wish GM fitted the XT6 with a punchier engine. It starts at $56,890 and the Sport trim we tested clocked in at over $72,000, which puts it in a class with German imports and Lincoln.