Since day one, the Cadillac SRX was a desperate underdog looking to dethrone the Lexus RX: Middle America's CUV of choice. But the SRX was a muscular macho machine and the Lexus is an overstuffed Camry Wagon. Now, with a more mundane blueprint, Cadillac believes their latest SRX utility is the new standard for luxury crossovers. Plus, as the promotional material claims, it's also the Cadillac of Crossovers. Whoa dude: what standard are they holding themselves to, and does anyone still believe Cadillac is the ultimate word in luxury?

Starting from the greenwashed Provoq concept of 2008, the SRX is the nicest interpretation of the brand's jarring Art and Science aesthetic. The bumper's pronounced wedge flows logically into Cadillac's corporate grille and stacked headlight clusters. The fastback roofline drops behind the B-pillar, yet passenger ingress/egress isn't affected. And while the large D-pillar and tailfin-esque rear lighting pods are undoubtedly Cadillac, something looks wrong.

GM Theta Platform uber alles: the wrong-wheel drive architectural hard points mean last year's muscle makes way for clumsy and un-American. The side profile's swage line works, until it draws you to the solid ventiports that don't bother with a misleading grille. Even worse, it sports a GM Mark of Excellence logo that won't come off with a screwdriver and WD-40. The tall front fenders are pure import-wannabe, with fake greenhouse extensions giving the illusion of a vehicle with a more unique blueprint. At least the optional 20-inch, six-lug hoops provide a tough stance, even if the dual exhausts look better than they sound.

2010_cadillac_srx_rearBut go inside, getting back to Cadillac's new standard for the CUV-genre. The center stack is an upscale affair, even with DNA shared with lesser GM products. Too bad adjusting the long toothed vent registers creates more flex than the sails on a vintage racing boat in a typhoon. The door's rich wood paneling is denied access to the dour dashboard and overwrought, plasticized console. Yet the SRX's front buckets truly disappoint: the driver's seat bottom has respectable bolstering and an M-series worthy pull out thigh support, but the passenger gets a hunk of foam with the consistency of a half-melted marshmallow. Then I clocked the badge on the tiller: this is supposed to be a Caddy?

But the SRX occasionally raises the bar: witness the multi-information panel in the speedometer. The HDMI-worthy resolution screen, clear interface and beautiful graphics at start-up are a clear winner for any car, at any price. The jeweled edges to the cluster double as redundant turn signal indicators: the green arrows of conventional wisdom meet their match, even if Cadillac retained them for the un-intuitive.

While the 3D graphics on the (optional) navigation system are ergo-friendly and work sans i-Drive interface, the BOSE beat box lacks the imaging qualities of the Lincoln MKX's bullhorn-esque rear THX tweeters and the awesome thump of Lexus' Mark Levinson-fettled cabins.

Not all is lost elsewhere. The SRX shines on the open road, though safe passage in a parking lot is no small feat with forward leaning, thick A-pillars blocking views of curbs, strollers and subcompacts. Smooth roads exploit negligible body roll at sane speeds. The whole experience is Teutonic, with less tendency to understeer than a car, much less the roly-poly Lexus RX. But the hydraulic based steering gear was a surprise: excellent on-center feel and brilliant communication in fast sweepers. So Cadillac made quite the corner carver. You know, for a CUV.

2010_cadillac_SRX_intAnd the excuses continue underhood, as the 3.0L direct-injected V6 makes adequate thrust, provided stoplight drags with the RX350 aren't in your future. On the plus side, torque steer (with 223lb-ft) on the 4300lb Caddy is a non-issue. While a smaller displacement, turbocharged and all-wheel drive alternative is en route later this year, Cadillac is going about this incorrectly: why go smaller and busier when a V8 is the logical choice?

Oh, that's right: global designs, cost savings and all that jive. So the SRX makes due with everyone else's engineering, rearing its ugly head in ride comfort. While road noise is Lexian at speeds, the big wheels, firm dampeners and clumsy CUV stance make for a crude ride on pothole-soaked urban roads. Forget about wafting like a real Caddy, the SRX has nothing on the RX350. And this grip/comfort trade off is reverse Viagra for the average CUV buyer.

Plus, with nearly a 20 cu-ft deficit in cargo space, the Lexus RX's perennial success remains untouchable. Cadillac is a brand in desperation: from the standard leatherette interior to the gutless engine, the SRX looks for signs of life via blueprints from the best (worst?) intentions of others. So GM's top brand is doomed to live in a Lexus-shaped shadow until they grow a pair, investing in a unique platform. And sweat every last detail in the process.