The electric Cadillac Lyriq is the company’s best SUV yet



CNN

General Motors has said Cadillac, its luxury brand, will lead the automaker into the electric future. It will be the first GM brand to go all-electric and its first EV model will be the Cadillac Lyriq, a crossover SUV that is one of the best Cadillacs I’ve driven in a long time.

Two days of riding the Lyriq on mountain roads in Utah was a promising start to what will mean big changes for the brand. An industry-wide switch to electric powertrain and Cadillac’s commitment to be one of the first to go all-in could, if done right, provide an opening for the American luxury brand to move forward.

The electric turnaround begins with the Lyriq, an electric crossover SUV with a starting price around $60,000. It’s the best crossover SUV Cadillac has ever made, but that’s not saying much, to be honest. Crossover SUVs, for some reason, have never been Cadillac’s hottest thing when they’ve been the hottest item in the industry for nearly 20 years. Cadillac crossovers, aside from their sharp exterior designs, seemed largely ordinary compared to luxury rivals. Cadillac has been much better at making compelling cars and, of course, the hulking Escalade, a lavishly appointed truck-like SUV. Still, Cadillac takes on established German luxury brands like BMW and Mercedes and has generally been competitive, at best, when it comes to giving buyers reasons to try a Detroit brand, perhaps for the very first time.

From the outside, the Lyriq looks like a fairly typical crossover SUV, but with sharp edges and a low roofline. (The headroom inside is fine, though.) It’s not until the sun goes down that the design really shines, literally. The “grille” is a solid piece that light shines through at night to create patterns that move as the SUV turns on and off. Inside, intricate patterns in the doors are made of metal so thin that colored light – pretty much any color you like – can shine through at night.

Furthermore, the interior is elegantly designed with lots of patterned metal and a large curved screen that houses both the gauges for the driver and extends into a touchscreen that both front seat occupants can reach. Fabrics and wooden surfaces look good and, above all, feel good. Unlike many other luxury electric vehicles, there are plenty of buttons and switches so the driver doesn’t have to scroll through touchscreen menus for basic things like setting the air conditioning. Even the graphics are nicely detailed, like the temperature numbers that scroll and arrows that vibrate slightly when moved.

By day, this grid of triangles in the door of the Cadillac Lyriq looks like metal on metal.  At night, colored light glows through the thin metal back.

The only disappointments lie in the feel of some parts. The pull of the doorway lets you feel the rattling gears underneath, and the vent knobs look metallic but feel distinctly plastic when used. The door handles are also annoyingly clever. Instead of a simple lever you can pull, to open the front doors I had to press a chrome lever-shaped button and then move my hand to pull a fin-shaped lever above it. The rear doors require a pull on the inner edge of the door where there is at least soft plastic.

With its flat floors and large storage bins, the Lyriq also makes great use of the extra space electric vehicles offer due to their small engines and lack of transmission. There’s no trunk in the front, as GM’s designers said they wanted to pack electrical and mechanical equipment under the hood to make more space elsewhere.

The interior of the Cadillac Lyriq is beautifully designed and finished, although some parts don't stand up to the competition.

The shift to electric vehicles could provide Cadillac with an opportunity to differentiate itself. The Lyriq looks and drives like a luxury crossover. On the road it is smooth, composed and quiet. Step on the throttle and there’s more than enough power. It fizzes without feeling rushed.

The Lyriqs GM envisioned for test drives were among the first to be built. GM executives rushed the model’s release, pushing back the original deadline by nearly a year, but some features won’t go into production until later. All-wheel drive, for example, won’t be available for several months as the additional front motor that will provide that feature is still being tested and refined. So the Lyriq I tested had rear-wheel drive. Likewise, GM’s Super Cruise hands-free highway driving system is still being tested for this model. It will be available later on new Lyriqs as they are built on the assembly line or as a software download for vehicles already in customers’ driveways.

Even without all the features and all the power that an extra engine will bring – the rear-wheel drive Lyriq makes 340 horsepower from its single engine versus 500 from the twin engine version – the Lyriq is very nice to drive. As with most luxury vehicles these days, the driver can select different ‘modes’ that change throttle response and steering speed, plus, of course, the artificial engine sound. However, the firmness of the suspension cannot be changed. GM engineers say it responds automatically, using advanced fluid relays, to the needs of the moment, firming up when more body control is needed for cornering, but softening at other times to absorb bumps.

In standard Touring mode, the Cadillac Lyriq rides smoothly and handles well.

The Lyriq feels at its best in Touring Mode with everything set to its most relaxed and languid. I used Sport mode mostly in my professional capacity – I had to test it – but I didn’t really enjoy it. The Lyriq feels quicker in Sport mode and the steering is more responsive, but when you’re cornering at speed it feels like the suspension is being overworked. The body rolls a bit to the side and it generally feels like the SUV is steering faster than the rest of the vehicle can handle. Yes, the Lyriq can go fast on a tight mountain road, but there are probably better electric vehicles for it. And, knowing Cadillac’s history, there will certainly be future versions of the Lyriq for those interested in carving tight corners.

In Touring Mode, the Lyriq feels at peace with itself. The steering feels quite nice, the ride is smooth and those winding roads and tight corners, taken at a reasonable pace, make for a lovely afternoon drive. The electric motors are quiet and noise reduction technology, nothing new but done very well here, absorbs things like tire noise.

If you think the Lyriq looks nice, GM designers say, wait until you see the Cadillac Celestiq to be unveiled next month. That completely hand-built electric car is expected to put Cadillac back in the running with Rolls-Royce and Bentley, a market that Cadillac has long failed to serve. This could represent a turnaround much more impressive than just switching from gas tanks to batteries.

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