Until recently, Cadillac followed a relatively traditional path, focusing almost exclusively on sedans and coupes, its meager SUV lineup almost an afterthought.
That began to change with the rollout of a long-delayed Escalade replacement, and a procession of all-new models, ranging from the compact XT4 to the new, three-row XT6 just rolling into showrooms. Now, what has been the most important model in its shift to utility vehicles, the midrange XT5, is about to get a major update.
The brand's best-selling SUV, the Cadillac XT5 has been as much a flagship as the massive Escalade, and the 2020 makeover will be a critical step forward for Caddy as it steps up its game – and the reach of its SUV lineup, according to industry analysts who have seen the new model.
Caddy offered a handful of news outlets – including CNBC – a sneak peek at the updated utility vehicle this week while they also got a chance to drive the all-new XT6.
What's coming for the XT5 is what industry types like to call a "midcycle refresh" of the two-row utility vehicle. Traditionally, that has meant just some modest exterior styling tweaks, and the addition of a few new features. In fact, the 2020 model update is more than what initially meets the eye, said George Peterson, head of California-based consulting firm AutoPacific.
"What Cadillac is doing is making the product more competitive and giving it a more logical position within the expanding Caddy SUV lineup," he said after getting a first look at the 2020 XT5.
Visually, the changes to the XT5 are modest, with bigger wheels and revisions to the grille and other trim pieces meant to pick up on the styling cues adopted by the newer XT4 and XT6 models. There are also modest interior updates, as well as new color choices.
More significantly, the 2020 XT5 gets a second engine option, a 2.0-liter turbo-four making 237 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. The SUV also retains the bigger 3.6-liter V-6 that punches out 310 horsepower and 271 pound-feet. Both engines are paired with a newer, more fuel-efficient nine-speed transmission for 2020.
Since the XT5 originally hit the market three years ago, Cadillac has adopted what it calls a "Y" product strategy. Here, that begins with a base model at $45,090, and then two distinctive alternatives, the Premium Luxury edition focused on customers who want lots of comfort and style, and the Sport edition for those who want a more dynamic driving experience. The Sport model, for example, adds a twin-clutch, all-wheel-drive system and more aggressively tuned suspension and transmission.
Whichever model, Cadillac is adding an array of new tech features, including an upgrade to the XT5's infotainment system, with a new, rotary control knob, as well as an assortment of now-standard safety features. That includes new LED headlamps, low-speed front auto-braking, lane departure warning, lane-keeping assist and blind-spot detection. There's also an array of optional safety gear, as with newer Cadillac models.
And while not yet available, Cadillac officials hinted that Super Cruise, the semiautonomous system going into the new XT6, likely will follow on the XT5, as well, before it's time for a complete makeover of the crossover utility vehicle in three or four years.
With the updated XT5, "they're doing a good job at developing continuity" between models, and providing a clearer "price walk," said Peterson. The brand's entry SUV, the XT4, starts at $35,695, while the XT6 debuts with a starting price of $52,695.
For many potential buyers who don't need a three-row SUV, the newly updated XT5 will be a logical alternative to the bigger XT6, according to Jason Sledziewski, Cadillac's director of product marketing, especially when the smaller model is loaded up with all the available options.
If he's right, said Peterson, that should help the 2020 XT5 remain Cadillac's bestselling product line. And it should make it an even more competitive alternative to imports like the Acura RDX and Audi Q5.
Disclosure: Paul Eisenstein is a freelancer for CNBC. General Motors paid for his transportation and lodging.