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Inside the 2013 Cadillac XTS – LA Auto Show

There are lights in the door handles.  The 2013 Cadillac XTS, unveiled to the world for the first time at the 2011 LA Auto Show, has lights…in its door handles.

“Customers in the luxury segment already have most things,” said Taki Karras, a member of the XTS design team. So they appreciate it when carmakers go the extra mile (so to speak) with touches like these. And to add to the theatrical element, the lights don’t merely turn off and on, but grow dimmer when the doors are locked, and gain in intensity when they’re unlocked.

The XTS is Cadillac’s latest sedan whose creators are pitching it against such giants as the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class. It might well cause a few sleepless nights in Germany, because if the devil is in the details, this is one hell of a car.

For example, the wood trim isn’t just any wood trim. It’s made from layers of wood then cut in a certain way to produce a pleasing effect. The contrasting purple stitching on the charcoal leather seats might sound somewhat garish, but it’s actually quite subtle.

The big deal, though, is the Cadillac User Experience, or CUE. This is an infotainment system that makes the XTS feel like an iPad with all-wheel drive and a V8, plus a touch of sci-fi to accompany the WiFi.

“It’s proximity based,” said Karras, meaning infrared sensors pick up a user’s hand movements. When it approaches the touchscreen (a substantial eight-inch item), a set of icons suddenly appears. This is in keeping with the intention that the system will have a lot of information, but won’t bombard the driver with it until instructed.

And that’s just the center console. Not one conventional gauge can be seen in the instrument panel behind the steering wheel. Instead, it’s another screen (12 inches wide in this instance) that can be configured to show just the basic readouts or become by turns more complex. It allows for clever use of space, such as putting a navigation display in the center of a speedometer, an area that would otherwise be not much more than a black expanse in a normal dial.

Karras said the marque’s “Art & Science” design philosophy has favored the rational side in previous efforts. The styling of the XTS is meant to swing more to the creative. But there’s always something of a juggling act between what the designers dream up, what the engineers can achieve, whatever safety regulations may dictate, and how much influence the laws of aerodynamics have.

“We wanted to achieve a balance of interior space and exterior proportions,” said Karras. Job done: the rear quarters offer four more inches of legroom than a BMW 5 Series or Mercedes-Benz E-Class. At 18 cubic feet, the trunk is also is bigger than the Audi A8’s, a sedan from the next size up.

To clarify: the illuminated door handles are part of the car’s top-level Platinum trim (which also includes things like speakers set into the “shoulders” of the front seats), but the CUE system is in all versions.

See more LA Auto Show news.

Colin Ryan
Colin Ryan specializes in writing about new cars. But he has also covered trucks, vans, 3-wheelers, even the occasional motorbike. That’s the kind of thing that happens while contributing to the Los Angeles Times, Autotrader, Kelley Blue Book, Popular Mechanics, Variety, Mazda and Lexus customer magazines, as well as many enthusiast sites and publications. He was also a staff writer at BBC Top... Read More

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