Cadillac and Lexus aren’t known as performance brands. Their luxury vehicles are better known as smooth and quiet, not zesty and fun to drive.
Both, though, have been working to add spice to their lineups. That’s what you’ll find in their respective compact crossovers: the all-new 2019 Cadillac XT4 and the recently updated 2019 Lexus NX 300.
Edgy styling and agile handling fight off any thought that these vehicles might be snoozers. The XT4 and NX do each have some notable drawbacks in a market segment that’s bursting with standout competitors, but both can be worthy options for the right buyer.
We’ll start with the new XT4, which is Cadillac’s first entry in this class. The XT4 slots below the midsize XT5 (formerly called SRX), and it’s priced from $35,790. The two models have similar styling, with vertical headlights and taillights that allude to Cadillac’s historical tail fins.
But there’s little similarity between the two from behind the wheel.
There’s little verve to the XT5, while the smaller XT4 has an appealing spunk. Even its less powerful 237-horsepower four-cylinder engine feels livelier than the XT5’s big V6, while the XT4’s well-weighted, responsive steering makes an even bigger difference. It’s not the sportiest premium crossover you can buy, but it keeps its composure admirably even when you drive it like a sedan instead of an SUV.
Importantly, the XT4 also rides smoothly, even on the tested vehicle’s huge 20-inch alloy wheels. That’s impressive, given that big wheels typically lead to harsh slams over potholed streets. And it’s important that Cadillac avoided this problem, given that you need the big wheels to get valuable safety equipment like emergency automatic braking — a system that’s standard equipment in many competitors.
Inside the cabin, the XT4 has a mostly pleasant, comfortable ambiance with more user-friendly controls than some recent Cadillac vehicles. However, rear seat room and cargo volume trail some competitors, and some of the interior’s plastics feel rough and basic for a vehicle that can top $50,000.
Overall, the XT4 is a solid choice in its segment for buyers who won’t be packing their crossover with people and cargo. It strikes an appealing balance between comfort and driving enjoyment, and it boils the distinctive Cadillac style into a city-friendly size.
The Lexus NX, meanwhile, is a more established presence in the compact premium crossover segment. It’s been on sale since 2015, and it benefited from a mechanical and technological update for the 2018 model year.
With crisp, edgy styling, the NX is decidedly sporty, and that comes across clearly in its driving experience. Its handling is more responsive than the Cadillac’s, though its ride quality is also stiffer, making the Lexus feel harsh over D.C. potholes.
The NX also suffers from more complicated controls than the XT4, with a remote touchpad rather than a straightforward touchscreen. If you ever wanted to operate a laptop while driving, the NX provides a decent simulation.
This year brought the addition of Apple CarPlay, a system that lets the NX’s infotainment screen handle some iPhone functions. However, it’s still missing the equivalent Android Auto for Google-based phones, while the XT4 and many other competitors support both systems.
The tested NX F-Sport model does boast extra-supportive front seats, along with a more accommodating rear seat than the XT4. And unlike the Cadillac, the Lexus comes with a long list of advanced safety features as standard equipment rather than extra-cost options.
There’s also an NX hybrid with a stellar 33 mpg in city traffic and 31 mpg in mixed driving, compared with 22 and 25 mpg, respectively, from the NX with the tested turbocharged four-cylinder engine. That said, the hybrid’s comparatively sluggish responses and loud, harsh-sounding engine note are key drawbacks; the smooth, peppy turbo is a better fit for a luxury vehicle with sporty looks and handling. Prices for the 2019 NX start at $37,510.
Both the XT4 and the NX square off against a pair of supremely well-rounded models: the newly redesigned Acura RDX and the slightly smaller Volvo XC40. As we wrote in December, both are spacious and comfortable, yet also fun to drive. And the Mazda CX-5 we reviewed last week also reaches nearly luxury levels with its polished design, appealing driving dynamics and peppy new turbocharged engine.