The Cadillac User Experience (CUE) is GM’s best shot at catching up to Ford Sync and MyFord Touch. In the newCadillac XTS, CUE comprises a glass cockpit with touchscreen, voice control, three USB jacks plus an SD slot, and some different bells and whistles than Ford or Lincoln offer. The Cadillac and Ford/Lincoln interfaces are pretty close in desirability (details below). CUE and Sync/MyFord Touch both need a couple hours of training before the user feels comfortable. That’s whyCadillac includes an iPad 3 with the XTS owner’s manual and a CUE simulator: so you can study up. Who’s better? It doesn’t matter. Here’s why: On ease-of-use and functionality, the GM and Ford offerings are more alike than different.
Neither Cadillac CUE nor Ford Sync come close to matching Apple Siri for conversational voice control that requires zero training. Cadillac and Ford/Lincoln both cover the basics with USB connectors and Bluetooth audio, and bells and whistles such as Pandora. Both automakers are in love to a fault with capacitive touch. Still, the big Cadillac sedan has plenty of other intriguing tech including an all-LCD instrument panel — the so-called glass cockpit — that you can reconfigure; electromagnetic shock absorbers; and that capacitive touch center stack. You get safety alerts via a haptic feedback (vibrating) Safety Alert Seat.
Cadillac vs. Ford: What Caddy brings to the game
The Cadillac User Experience is new this year with the XTS luxury sedan, which ships in a couple of weeks, and then on the new ATS compact sports sedan and revamped SRX crossover. On the XTS, CUE comes standard on all but the entry model. There’s an 8-inch LCD touchscreen (800×480 resolution) in the center stack with a capacitive touch panel immediately below with just 14 buttons, probably a record for modern-car low button count. There are also mechanical buttons for flashers and engine start. The LCD display icons can be moved around, favorites promoted to the top row, and non-favorites demoted or removed.
The CUE instrument panel is a 12.3-inch, 1280×480 LCD panel (base model excepted, which has traditional gauges) with four basic themes: Simple, Enhanced, Balanced, and Performance. Within the themes you can have some choice in what’s displayed where and how big that you change around while the car is stopped. You can have a secondary navigation display in the middle or off to the side but you cannot have it big. Pictured above, the navi display set into the speedometer ring is less than 3 inches across, about the same size as navigation on a five-year-old cellphone. GM couldn’t offer me any plausible reason, noted thousands of hours of research went into the CUE interface, and said CUE is an evolving interface. As for designing any instrument panel you want in your XTS, as long as it has a speedometer and doesn’t show movies, then transferring the layout to the car: fuggedaboutit.
You can use swipe and pinch gestures on the center stack to zoom the display or flick one piece of information over to be shown on the instrument panel. For an unskilled CUE user familiar with smartphone and tablet gestures, it’s natural to try them out. Good move by Cadillac.
What’s in Ford Sync and MyFord Touch
Ford brought out Ford Sync in 2008 in conjunction with Microsoft. Sync provides a USB connection for playing music from an iPod, USB flash drive, or other music player; and Bluetooth hands-free audio for your phone and streaming Bluetooth audio. It was introduced at $395, now costs $295, and is standard on upper trim levels. An enhancement to Sync called MyFord Touch became available with 2011 models that added an 8-inch touchscreen; a WiFi hotspot; and a media hub with two USB 2.0 jacks, an SD Card slot (available for navigation or media playback), and RCA jacks. Sync-equipped cars can send unassisted mayday calls at no charge as long as the driver has paired Bluetooth phone running. Navigation costs just $795, an industry low until the recent Hyundai Azera(standard) and Nissan Altima ($595); GM now matches Ford’s $795 price on cars where GM offers SD card navigation.
Users dinged the ease of use of MyFord Touch, as did Consumer Reports, which recommended not buying most Fords and Lincolns with MyFord Touch or MyLincoln Touch. In the year after MyFord Touch came out, satisfaction in the J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Survey plunged from fifth to 23rd; Lincoln fell from eighth to 17th in that 2011 survey. Ford a) said MyFord Touch isn’t really that hard to use and then b) hustled up several fixes including increasing the on-screen font sizes, simplifying the interface, stamping out bugs that made Sync crash, and speeding up response time. The fixes weremailed to owners on an 8GB USB key they could install themselves in about an hour, or have a dealer do the upgrade.
Who has the advantage: Cadillac CUE, or Ford Sync and MyFord Touch?
Here’s how Cadillac CUE stacks up to Ford Sync and MyFord Touch in a breakout of the component parts and features.
In the center stack, the screens are the same size. Ford uses a structured layout that puts the four main functions in the corners of the display: Phone and Navigation top left and right, Entertainment and Climate bottom left and right. CUE (pictured below) has bigger icons and fonts and an interface that appears less cluttered, even after Ford simplified MyFord Touch and increased font size in response to user and Consumer Reports complaints. After 15 seconds of not fiddling with CUE, the center stack screen drops back to even simpler interface, then awakens when a sensor notices your hand drawing near. Cadillac claims that’s an industry first, ignoring that Bose built just such a system five years ago for the Ferrari 612. You’re forgiven, Cadillac: It’s an election year and facts are malleable. Advantage: Cadillac CUE
Cadillac says it’s first with capacitive touch in a passenger car, although Ford and Lincoln have them already as part of MyFord Touch and MyLincoln Touch. Ford does have some knobs and physical buttons still, where the CUE center stack is all-capacitive. In both cases, when you press a “button,” which can also be the area around the button, the touch panel provides feedback that feels like a cross between a button clicking into the down position and an electronic vibration. A pox on both their houses: Capacitive touch is cool in the showroom, hard to use on the road,impossible to use accurately on bumpy roads. A big rotary knob beats the silly capacitive volume and (on Lincolns, fan) slider any day. The Cadillac CUE panel is on a motorized faceplate that is going to malfunction on somebody’s car (it did on an early production sample I drove) and will probably cost $1,000-plus if it’s an out-of-repair warranty.Advantage: Irrelevant
Ford has a traditional mechanical speedometer in the middle flanked by a pair of 4.2-inch color displays (pictured above) that show the same kinds of navigation and infotainment information as Cadillac (pictured below) with its fully reconfigurable (up to a point) big LCD display. Give Ford credit for developing a more affordable solution. But the glass instrument panel is the wave of the future. Advantage: Cadillac CUE
Steering wheel controls
For additional control of infotainment features, both cars have lots of steering wheel buttons, both sized for fingers when you aren’t wearing gloves. Both use five-button rocker switches (up, down, left, right, plus select in the middle), the same as found on non-touchscreen cellphones. Advantage: Draw
MyFord Touch vehicles have two USB jacks, one SD slot that is used for map data on navigation equipped cars, and a set of RCA jacks for video. The XTS has three USB jacks and an SD card slot that isn’t co-opted by map data. Advantage: Cadillac CUE
Customer tech training
Both Cadillac and Ford are setting up geek-in-the-showroom programs that embed one savvy person in each showroom to help explain to buyers the tech stuff that the salesmen stumble over. (They also train the salesmen.) Both offer training on how to use CUE or Sync, usually at no charge, for buyers as they take delivery. Buy an XTS and Cadillac throws in a basic iPad 3 (WiFi, 16GB, no cellular) with a CUE simulator. Advantage: Cadillac CUE
Read and memorize the list of approved words and their synonyms, press the steering wheel voice button, issue your command, and either car will do your bidding. Probably. They’re limited because commands are parsed within the car, rather than in the cloud with its attendant lag of 2-3 seconds. Ideally, the car would handle commands such as “Next Track” and hand off “Directions to Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco” to the cloud. It doesn’t work that way yet. Smartphone voice recognition and control is much better. Advantage: Apple Siri (and it’s not even close)
Cadillac has OnStar standard, but it’s twenty bucks a month, for remote door unlock (nice) and emergency crash notification (rare but very nice). Sync lets you connect any Bluetooth phone and that enables 911 Assist, free. OnStar people huff and puff about 911 Assist probably being less safe, but so far they’ve come up with zero evidence that many Bluetooth phones lose their connections in crashes, and OnStar crash notification is only as good as your most recent monthly payment. Call that part a draw. MyFord Touch lets you create a WiFi hotspot inside the car; just bring your own mobile data device. With OnStar standard, GM could have offered mobile data, too. Advantage: Ford Sync/MyFord Touch
CUE/Sync for the masses
Cadillac starts with CUE on a vehicle that costs $50,000-$60,000 and with ATS and SRX drops down to cars priced $30,000-$50,000. Ford and Lincoln have Sync available across the line and MyFord Touch and MyLincoln Touch are on mainstream as well as premium cars. GM hasn’t yet said if some variant of CUE will be offered on mainstream brands such as Chevrolet and Buick. GM may want use CUE to showcase Cadillac’s premium positioning, and if so it risks $15,000 Fords having better infotainment control than a $35,000 Buick. Advantage: MyFord Touch/MyLincoln Touch
Count up the breakout wins and Cadillac CUE wins. Actually, they’re more alike than different. CUE is not as easy as Cadillac would have you believe, but it does seem newer and fresher. Still, the overall advantage lies with Cadillac CUE.
But that’s not all: Warnings via the seat of knowledge
CUE gets most of the attention on the Cadillac XTS but there are other useful tech features. The Safety Alert Seat is a haptic device, meaning it vibrates the seat on the left, right or both sides to indicate potential dangers picked up by Caddy’s two optional assist packages. It works the same as a steering wheel shaker but some drivers find a vibrating steering wheel to be unnerving; either one is better than audio alerts that alert the driver to the problem and the passengers to the driver’s bungling, such as on the otherwise superb Nissan Altima.
The Cadillac Driver Awareness package ($890) includes forward collision alert, lane departure warning, blind spot detection (side blind zone alert in Cadillac parlance) and rear cross traffic alert. If you drift across the left lane without using your turn signal, the left side of your seat vibrates. If you put your right turn signal on and attempt cross lanes when there’s a car on your right, the right side of the seat vibrates. Come up too close on another car and both sides of the seat vibrate. GM offers the LDW and collision alert features for $295 on some other vehicles such as the GMC Terrain. The Driver Assist package coming in the fall offers adaptive cruise control, automatic collision preparation, and front and rear automatic braking systems. GM calls the braking systems “virtual bumpers” for low speeds and work much like Volvo’s better-named Pedestrian Safety package.
Some XTS trim lines come with a color head-up display with several display choices: always your speed plus navigation prompts, current song and album, compass heading, or posted speed limit taken from the map database. The BMW HUD seemed brighter but both were readable in bright sunlight.
All XTS models come with MagneRide shock absorbers pioneered by GM’s Delphi subsidiary more than a decade ago: The shock absorber oil (trust us, that’s what in a shock absorber; that and a bunch of holes or orifices that the thick shock fluid passes through when you hit a bump) is filled with tiny grain-of-rice-shaped metallic particles that can be rotated up to 90 degrees by a magnetic charge and the more they turn the harder it is for them to get through the orifices and the stiffer the shock. Cadillac calls it “the world’s fastest-reacting suspension,” which may be argued by other automakers such as BMW that uses a 10-megabit bus to control the suspension. Regardless, they’re all microprocessor-controlled and so fast that at any speed the car drives, there’s enough milliseconds of time for the front wheels to tell the back wheels to adjust for a bump or pothole. The XTS will have a capless fuel tank filler spout; Ford has had that for years.
The Cadillac XTS: How desirable?
This is the best big American luxury/sports sedan because it’s the only one. (The Lincoln MKS is an upscale Ford Taurus and not quite in Caddy’s league. Likewise, Chrysler has nothing fully in the category.) It’s quite roomy inside, the trunk is huge, cockpit quality is good, and the power is adequate (one engine choice: 304-hp V6 with six-speed automatic and front- or all-wheel-drive). The price puts the XTS more in line with a midsize Audi A6 or BMW 5 Series, but at 203 inches long it’s more like a Mercedes-Benz S-Class or the soft-riding Cadillacs your grandparents yearned for. Cadillac’s modest emphasis on performance suggests that its real target is the Lexus LS full-size sedan or Lincoln buyers stepping up half a notch. If you like technology and like a car that handles well but it’s not the top buying consideration, the Cadillac XTS could be your car. I found the front-drive model handled perfectly well. Get the driver awareness package and consider the alert package.
Read more about GM’s Driver Awareness and Driver Assist safety packages