General Motors has said that 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 is the Cadillac Lyriq, a crossover SUV that’s one of the best Cadillacs I’ve driven in a long time.
Two days driving the Lyriq around Utah mountain roads revealed a promising start to what will be major changes for the brand. An industry-wide switch to electric drive, and Cadillac’s commitment to be among the first to go all-in, could provide an opening, if done right, for the American luxury brand to move ahead.
The electric turnaround starts with the Lyriq, an electric crossover SUV with a starting price around $60,000. It is the best crossover SUV Cadillac has ever made, but that’s not really saying all that much, to be honest. Crossover SUVs, for some reason, have just never been Cadillac’s best thing while they’ve been the industry’s hottest item for almost 20 years. Cadillac’s crossovers have, 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 luxuriously appointed truck-like SUV. Even so, Cadillac’s been going up against well-established German luxury brands like BMW and Mercedes and has, generally, been competitive, at best, when it needs to give buyers reasons to try a Detroit brand, maybe 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. (Headroom inside is just fine, though.) It’s when the sun goes down that the design really shines, literally. The “grille” is a solid piece through which light shines at night to make patterns that move as the SUV turns on and off. Inside, intricate patterns inside the doors are made from metal so thin that colored light – pretty much any color you choose – can glow through it at night.
Beyond that, the interior is elegantly designed with lots of patterned metal and a large curved screen that houses both the gauges in front of the driver and extends into a touchscreen both front occupants can reach. Cloth and wood surfaces look and mostly feel nice. Unlike a lot of other electric luxury vehicles, there are plenty of knobs and switches so the driver isn’t required to dig 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 slightly vibrate when moved.
The only disappointments lie in the feel of some parts. The door opening pulls allow you to feel the ratcheting gears underneath and air vent knobs look metallic but feeldistinctly plastic when used. The door handles are also annoyingly clever. Instead of a simple handle you can pull, to open the front doors I had to press a chrome handle-shaped button then move my hand to pull on a fin-shaped handle above it. The back doors require a pull on the inside edge of the door where there is, at least, soft plastic.
With its flat floors and big storage bins, the Lyriq also makes excellent use of the extra space that electric vehicles allow thanks to their small motors and lack of transmission. There’s no front trunk, since GM designers said they wanted to package electrical and mechanical equipment under the hood to make for more room elsewhere.
The shift to electric vehicles could provide the opportunity Cadillac needs to set itself apart. The Lyriq genuinely looks and drives like a luxury crossover. On the road, it’s smooth, controlled and quiet. Press on the accelerator pedal and there’s more than ample power. It hustles without feeling rushed.
The Lyriqs GM provided for test drives were among the first built. GM executives hurried the model’s introduction, beating its original deadline by almost a year, but some features won’t go into production until later. All-wheel-drive, for instance, won’t be available for some months because the additional front motor that will provide that feature is still being tested and refined. So the Lyriq I tested was rear-wheel-drive. Similarly, GM’s Super Cruise hands-free highway driving system is still being tested for this model. It will be available later either on new Lyriqs as they’re 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 extra motor will bring — the rear-wheel-drive Lyriq gets 340 horsepower from its one motor vs. 500 from the two-motor version — the Lyriq is very nice to drive. As with most luxury vehicles these days, the driver can select different “modes” that alter the accelerator pedal response and steering quickness, plus, of course, the artificial motor sound. The suspension firmness, however, cannot be changed. GM engineers say it responds automatically, using sophisticated fluid relays, to the needs of the moment, firming up when more body control is needed for turns but softening at other times to absorb bumps.
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 wasn’t really enjoying myself. The Lyriq feels faster in Sport Mode and the steering responds more quickly but, driving at high speeds through a curve, the suspension feels like it’s being asked to do too much. The body rolls to the side a good bit and it generally feels like the SUV is steering faster than the rest of the vehicle is ready for. 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 surely 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 turns, taken at a reasonable pace, make for a lovely afternoon’s drive. The electric motors are quiet and noise cancellation technology, nothing new but very well done here, absorbs things like tire noise.
If you think the Lyriq looks nice, GM designers say, wait until you see the Cadillac Celestiq that will be revealed next month. That entirely hand-built electric car is expected to put Cadillac back into the running with Rolls-Royce and Bentley, a market Cadillac hasn’t catered to in a long time. This could mark a turnaround that’s far more impressive than just switching from gas tanks to batteries.