DETROIT — The second time around was better. The whining noises that marred a previous drive through the Allegheny Mountains were gone. The weight that once seemed more albatross than potentially protective benefit was mitigated by an increase in power — 308 horsepower in the 2012 Cadillac SRX wagon driven for this column, up from 265 horsepower in last year’s SRX V-6.
It’s a cliche in automobile manufacturing to say that the only good horsepower is more horsepower. But more, in this case, was a definite benefit in moving something as weighty as the 2012 Cadillac SRX, at 5,467 pounds, across mountain roads.
It’s funny how life works.
A couple of years ago, when I drove here from my home in Northern Virginia, I was more worried about fuel economy than I was about power. Money was tight. Gasoline prices were high. On paper, a Cadillac with a 265-horsepower V-6 engine seemed like a good compromise — enough power and comfort for a long road trip, with minimum fuel costs.
It turned out to be a delusional drag fest — a fancy, sharp-edged, totally luxurious Cadillac wagon with the heart and soul of a Hyundai Elantra economy sedan. Driving it was like spending a night in a castle without light, heat or food.
Leaving that first SRX parked in Detroit was both blessing and epiphany. I was glad to be done with it, and I was hoisted on my own intellectual petard.
I have long been among those automotive journalists who have argued for more fuel economy and less horsepower. Worldwide, the automobile industry has been trying to deal with the same argument.
But it’s a difficult issue. More fuel economy sounds good when you are driving short distances, when you don’t have much to carry or when you have seemingly forever to get where you are going. But it’s a sop of a concern when what you really need is power.
I discovered as much on my latest drive to Detroit in the 2012 Cadillac SRX. The extra 43 horsepower in the new engine seems to have made all the difference in the world — no whining, no straining, just a smooth, steady ride up and down hills and around curves, the kind of vehicle performance that takes the stress out of long-distance driving.
Thanks to advances in drivetrain technology — engine and transmission — fuel consumption in the 2012 Cadillac SRX (the performance model) was not much different from that in the 2011 model — about 17 miles per gallon in the city and 24 on the highway.
The bottom line is that the 2012 Cadillac SRX wagon feels like a Cadillac, but with a bit of an environmental twist. There is now enough power there to make it a serious contender with the Audi Q5 and other luxury crossover-utility wagons. There certainly are enough amenities. It could use a diesel engine, or perhaps some form of hybridization, to further increase its now-marginal fuel economy.
But after being pulled through the Alleghenies with zest and gusto, and not worrying about how the new SRX would handle steep inclines, I’m willing to live with the so-so fuel economy a bit longer.