Henry Payne: Road tripping to a Georgia race track in the Cadillac XT5 | cars

BRASELTON, Georgia — Three years ago here at Road Atlanta Raceway, I watched a blood-red, V-8-powered Cadillac DPi-VR prototype pull out of the first turn in front of a grunting pack of IMSA race cars en route to a convincing win at the Petit Le Man’s 10-hour endurance race.

The Cadillac was the class of the field.

This year I returned to Road Atlanta with an XT5 SUV, the best-selling Caddy in the luxury maker’s lineup. There is an undeniable similarity between the DPi-VR and XT5. They share Caddy’s signature teardrop headlights, vertical taillights and the brand logo on the nose. And that’s about it.

These are the bookends of the Cadillac brand: the single-seat, 600-horsepower, championship-winning race car and the entry-level five-seat luxury utility vehicle. They’re part of Caddy’s multiple identities shaped by navigating the crazy, shifting winds of the auto industry over the past decade.

How crazy? Consider: The DPi-VR is the V-8-powered halo for the soon-to-be-retired V-Series CT4 and CT5 Blackwing sedans as Cadillac goes all-electric later this year with the Lyriq — the model that will replace the XT5. Still, Cadillac’s racing program will live on with a new, V-8-powered hybrid race car coming in 2023, the same model year as the battery-powered Lyriq. The race car will be the fiercest V-8 this side of a 2023 Cadillac Escalade-V.

Confused? Join the club. But as I drove through the gates of Road Atlanta in the XT5—the ute loaded with four family members and our luggage—it had an undeniably cool factor.

Like a Porsche Macan or a BMW X3 or an Audi Q5, the Cadillac cherishes the glow of its brand’s successful racing heritage.

That’s a good thing, because SUVs are really hard to tell apart. Indeed, my favorite compact SUV is the Mazda CX-5. Fill it with all-wheel drive, head-up display, 250 horsepower turbo-4 and leather seats, and it’s a $42,000 bargain. And its streamlined styling echoes that of the Mazda RT24-P IMSA race car that, ahem, once competed with the Cadillac DPi-VR

At $70,365, my Caddy tester was packed with similar features – plus.

My family and I were at Road Atlanta because we have a team of three sport racers who compete in amateur motorsports. “The Mitty” at Road Atlanta is one of the country’s most famous gatherings of classic race cars competing in classes from our 2-liter sports car class to open-wheel Indy Lights cars.

We loaded four cabin bags, a suitcase and a backpack under the rear hatch with room to spare. The three of us Payne boys are all north of six feet and were able to sit comfortably behind us – although I resisted the backseat due to the limited headroom caused by the panoramic roof.

Our weekend trip to the northeastern Atlanta suburb of Braselton would cover some 350 miles, a preview of Cadillac’s challenge to go all-electric this decade, spearheaded by the 500-mile Lyriq. Our Best Western hotel did not have charging points. The only hotel in the area that did was a La Quinta with two 240-volt Level 2 chargers. On a busy weekend’s race schedule, only overnight charging made sense.

But with a 462-mile gas range and gas stations everywhere, we didn’t give a second thought to the Caddy XT5’s fuel needs as I merged into the 80 mph Atlanta interstate traffic for our 65-mile drive to Road Atlanta.

With a 3.6-liter V-6 under the hood, the XT5 Sport model puts out a healthy 310 horsepower (an upgrade from the stock car, 235 horsepower turbo-4). But the motor is EV-quiet—an unobtrusive feature I came to appreciate when I broadcast my car radio show on 910 AM-Detroit from the interior of the Caddy. On Saturday. In the middle of a noisy race track.

The silent cabin made an excellent radio studio.

On the road, the XT5 is competent, but has no DPi VR DNA inherited. Which is a good thing considering the groceries we’ve stashed in the back – and the shopping bag we’ve tucked into the handy storage area under the XT5’s console.

Wireless Apple CarPlay proved clunky during our trip, so we wired the phone up for navigation. The dashboard design is tasteful, although it won’t impress those looking for fashionable, elaborate dashboard screens. The small 8-inch console screen came in handy for tight parking spaces in the Road Atlanta paddock.

The $2,275 tech package offers a bird’s-eye view of the SUV and sharp front and rear cameras. Racers tend to leave body parts on the ground – tires, car noses, power drills – so the cameras came in handy when parking in the paddock.

In addition to the track action, the Road Atlanta grounds attracted thousands of spectators – some lined up in Shelby Cobras, Acura NSXs, Porsches, Corvettes and so on.

I saw a classic, bling-tastic 1950s Cadillac Eldorado – an icon that aims to emulate the lovely Lyriq. The XT5? Not so much. It will never reach the legendary status of Eldorado, but it offers a comfortable everyday driving experience. . . so you can go check out Cousin DPi-VR when it comes to your local racetrack.

2022 Cadillac XT5 Sport

Vehicle type: 4-wheel drive SUV with 5 passengers

Price: $57,090 including $1,195 destination fee ($70,365 AWD Sport as tested)

Powerplant: 3.6-liter V-6

Power: 310 horsepower, 271 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 9-speed automatic

Performance: 0-100 km/h, 6.5 seconds (engine trend estimate); towing capacity, 3,500 pounds as tested

Weight: 4,338 lbs

Fuel Economy: EPA 18 mpg city/26 highway/21 combined; Range of 463 miles

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