Dramatic style sets 2010 Cadillac SRX SUV apart

General Motors' Cadillac luxury brand has dumped its conservatively styled, seven-passenger SRX crossover SUV and replaced it with a new version of the SRX designed to be like the Lexus RX 350 SUV.

The RX dominates luxury, midsize crossover SUVs, selling three times as many through August this year as its nearest rival among upscale five-passenger crossovers, the Lincoln MKX: 48,176 vs. 14,874, according to industry sales tracker Autodata. Caddy sold just 5,904 of the old SRX in that period.

The old SRX also is on Consumer Reports' "worst of the worst" list for perennial reliability problems, which hurts.

The remade 2010 SRX comes in two versions, differentiated only by the drivetrain. The one that Caddy says nine of 10 buyers will choose has a 3-liter V-6, GM six-speed Hydra-Matic automatic transmission and front-wheel drive (FWD) or all-wheel drive (AWD).

The high-end version, due in 30 to 60 days, comes only with AWD and lots of accessories. Its strong selling point: a 2.8-liter, turbocharged V-6 and Aisin Warner six-speed automatic. This powertrain also is used by Saab (once owned by GM) and Opel (about to be sold by GM). It boasts 300 horsepower and 295 pounds-feet of torque vs. the 3-liter's 265 hp and 223 lbs.-ft.

The 3-liter/Hydra-Matic combo is bad. The 2.8-liter/Aisin is very good.

A preproduction 2.8/Aisin test car delivered crisp shifts, up or down, without jarring or waiting. That made it immeasurably more pleasant to drive than the regular-production 3-liter test vehicle with its stumble-shift, wait-a-minute operation.

Caddy's 2.8 turbo V-6 rolled out sweet, unending force. It's tuned to deliver the turbo's full measure of power-increasing boost at just 2,000 rpm and hold it through 5,000 rpm. No lag, no sag. Yum.

The 2.8's additional hustle was a bonus, but you needn't want the extra power to prefer the 2.8. You only need to favor a drivetrain that works right.

Exact pricing isn't set, but expect the 2.8 turbo model to start at about $49,000, about $3,000 more than a similarly equipped 3-liter vehicle, says Bob Reuter, global chief engineer for GM's compact crossover SUVs, including the Chevrolet Equinox, last week's Test Drive.

GM considered basing Equinox and SRX on the same platform but chose a separate chassis for SRX because it wasn't certain GM could make a Caddy with Chevy underpinnings, Reuter says.

Reuter predicts the 2.8 will get the same highway and combined city/highway mileage ratings as the less-powerful 3-liter and be rated just 1 mpg lower in city driving. But the 2.8 turbo engine requires premium fuel, while the 3-liter takes regular.

Regardless of drivetrain, the new SRX is:

•Stylish. Stubby-sexy, and the taillights form a vestigial tailfin in a nod to Caddy's fin-filled heritage.

•Trim-fitting. Room for just five now, in two rows, rather than seven in three rows, and not a lot of knee room in back. The rear seat doesn't slide fore-aft as the Lexus' does.

•Endearing. Has nifty storage area below cargo floor and track on the floor to hold accessories. The iPod connection, buried in the console, is white for easy visibility. Navigation screen disappears into the dashboard, rises when you turn it on. Power tailgate opens with a touch on the gate handle, the remote key fob or a button inside. It lets you adjust how high the gate opens, in case you're short or park under low ceilings. Nice array of little things that make a big difference.

•Dramatic. You can't fail to stare at that chrome faux fender vent, exclaim at the enormous sunroof (standard on all except the base) or marvel at the (optional) sport mode that changes not only suspension firmness, but also steering, engine response, shifting.

Still, it's less than the sum of its parts.

Optional 20-inch wheels and short-sidewall tires on both testers brought unwanted chop to the ride.

Does-all command center never seemed as intuitive as Caddy promised. More rational than in a German car, but not as handy as, say, Honda's setup.

Seats weren't very comfy, particularly on long treks.

Navigation, oh, dear. Navi Girl said keep going on the current road when there was no choice, no intersection or even a rest stop. And she ordered some turns where there were none. The concept of rerouting once the driver chose a different way en route seemed foreign. The same bad advice was a problem in last week's Chevrolet Equinox. GM needs navi work.

You could overlook a lot in the 2.8-liter/Aisin model because it drove so very nicely. But gaffes were harder to forgive in the clumsy-shifting 3-liter/Hydra-Matic.

SRX is good and will attract a lot of interest. But despite using what seems the right formula for the segment, SRX isn't a world-beater.

Driven back-to-back with the Lexus RX, SRX clearly boasts visual drama the RX lacks and delectable power delivery from the optional, 2.8-liter/Aisin drivetrain. But it wasn't as refined, classy or comfortable. Lexus RX is a better overall machine.

More about the 2010 Cadillac SRX

•What? More-stylish, smaller, five-passenger, four-door, crossover SUV replacing the previous seven-passenger version. Available with front-wheel drive (FWD) or all-wheel drive (AWD).

•When? Since August.

•Where? Made in Ramos Arizpe, Mexico.

•Why? The old one wasn't even a blip on the sales charts.

•How much? Starts at $34,155 including $825 shipping. Well-furnished AWD tester: $45,820.

•How many? Caddy won't be specific but says it could build enough to beat rival Lexus RX 350.

•How potent? 3-liter V-6 rated 265 horsepower at 6,950 rpm, 223 pounds-feet of torque at 5,100 rpm, mated to GM 6T70 Hydra-Matic automatic transmission.

Optional, on sale in 30-60 days: 2.8-liter, turbocharged V-6 rated 300 hp at 5,500, 295 lbs.-ft. at 2,000, mated to AF40 Aisin Warner six-speed automatic.

•How big? 3 inches longer, 1 wider than RX 350 with similar room for people, less cargo space. The Caddy is 190.3 in. long, 75.2 in. wide, 65.7 in. tall on a 110.5-in. wheelbase. Weighs 4,224 lbs. (FWD) or 4,307 lbs. (AWD). Carries 1,243 lbs. Tows up to 3,500 lbs. Passenger space: 100.6 cubic feet. Cargo: 29.2 cu. ft. behind second row, 61.2 cu. ft. when folded. Turning circle diameter, 40.3 ft.

•How thirsty? 3-liter rated 18 miles per gallon in town, 25 highway, 21 combined (FWD) or 17/23/19 (AWD). GM forecasts the 2.8-liter turbo will rate 16/23/19.

AWD 3-liter tester recorded 20.7 mpg (4.83 gallons per 100 miles) highway, 18.8 mpg (5.32 gal./100 mi.) in mixed driving. Preproduction 2.8, 16.3 in short, frisky drive. 3-liter uses regular, 2.8-liter needs premium. Tank: 21 gal.

•Overall:Saucy-looking contender that needs more work.