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2020 Cadillac XT5

Cars.com photo by Christian Lantry

The Cadillac User Experience — or CUE — infotainment system in modern Cadillacs has been much maligned by both automotive journalists and Cadillac owners, the latter consistently giving the system low ratings in various consumer surveys. With the introduction of the new Cadillac XT4 came a new interface that brought back some conventional, mechanical controls. Now we’ve seen that system in action on the refreshed 2020 Cadillac XT5 SUV, so how does it stack up?

Related: 2020 Cadillac XT5 Could Be End of CUE Touch Controls (Pretty Please?)

Physical Buttons

Chief among the complaints about CUE was the absence of physical controls like volume or tuning knobs where, instead, a haptic surface or touchscreen served those functions. The new CUE now includes a volume knob on the center console behind the gear selector that doubles as a track change toggle, and there are conventional buttons for track changing and shortcuts. There’s also a rotary knob for navigating the touchscreen if you’re averse to, well, touching it. 

The controls are intuitive enough and, bless Cadillac’s heart, the track change buttons change the satellite radio station by one station instead of cycling preset stations. We share test cars here and I am loath to add radio presets if I only have a car for a day or two, so I appreciate any function that lets me more easily change the radio station. The rotary knob controller is relatively pointless for me, but some might prefer it or find it easier to reach and use than tapping the screen.

Response Time Still Lacking

Another CUE complaint was its slow response time — users would touch a function on the screen, wait, get frustrated, touch the function again, and suddenly CUE would register two separate actions, according to Cadillac. The new CUE is certainly faster than the old system, but its responsiveness still seems slower than some infotainment systems from other manufacturers. Lincoln’s Sync 3 is more responsive, but probably on par with Cadillac’s for intuitiveness. German manufacturers — BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi — offer more modern-looking screens that respond more quickly but offer layers of complexity and multiple screens that can be frustrating. Cadillac’s new CUE is definitely preferable to the older, non-touchscreen Lexus infotainment systems, but Lexus just added touchscreen functionality to the RX line of SUVs, a key competitor of the XT5. An additional issue with the XT5 is Cadillac’s insistence on using haptic buttons for key controls in the SUV, most notably climate control. Gone — thankfully — is the haptic volume slider, but using vague buttons that lack consistent feedback, particularly for such frequently used features like climate control, is frustrating. Whether this is worse than Audi or Jaguar Land Rover’s switch to touchscreens for climate controls is up to the user.

Glare Reduction

We’ve often complained about glare on older CUE systems, even the version in the XT4, but in the XT5 it didn’t seem to be much of an issue. Sun didn’t wash out the display while I was driving it. According to Cadillac, the screens in the XT4 and XT5 are physically identical, but the trapezoidal screens are oriented differently. The XT4’s has the long side at the bottom and the XT5 places the long side on top, which might have contributed to my more positive experience.

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Ultimately, the new CUE is much improved over the old system, offering a fairly intuitive interface that can now be operated through traditional controls that help drivers keep their eyes on the road. CUE is still not a class-leading infotainment system, but it’s no longer at or close to the bottom. If Cadillac can improve responsiveness even more, and possibly make the display a bit bigger — it’s weird that an 8-inch diagonal display is starting to look small — things can improve even further.

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