Cadillac Off To A Strong EV Start With 2023 Lyriq

Jean J. Sanders

Back in January 2019, at an event where Cadillac took the wraps off its then-new XT
6 three-row crossover, the real news was about the future of the brand. Then-president of Cadillac Steve Carlisle announced that the brand would be leading GM’s electric transition. Fifteen months earlier GM had announced plans to launch 20 new electric vehicles by 2023, and Carlisle showed renderings of what was supposed to be one of the first, a new Cadillac crossover. Things haven’t quite gone according to plan in the three and a half years since with the GMC Hummer ending up first to get to customers, but the Cadillac Lyriq is finally here and we’ve had a chance to drive it.

Over the course of millions of years, many species including humans have evolved the ability to differentiate and recognize faces. It’s one of the ways that infants bond with the parents that they are entirely dependent on for survival. Facial recognition is so important to humans that we have come to apply “faces” to machines as a means of identification. The automobile is a prime example and designers have used that to great (and sometimes downright hideous) effect for decades. Vehicles need headlights so we can drive in the dark and internal combustion engines required grille openings for cooling.

Since electric vehicles now only need much smaller openings to cool the battery, the question arises of how to provide an EV with a face when much of the functional need is gone. Some designers, most notably those at Tesla
have simply given up on the idea, leaving cars with a completely blank flat surface. At the opposite extreme is BMW which has retained its now super-sized twin-kidney grille, but blanked off the openings.

An alternative approach being adopted by Cadillac and others is to integrate signature lighting patterns into the front surface and animating them to provide a welcome greeting. Lincoln’s recently revealed Star concept follows a similar approach. The Lyriq marks the debut of a new design language that will be coming to other electric Cadillacs including the flagship Celestiq sedan.

When off, the fascia is mainly black with pinstripes emerging sloping down and the sides from the central crest. But as you approach with a key, it wakes up into an animated smile and then the light cascades down the vertical running lamps and headlamps. The “grille” panel is painted on the back and the pattern is then laser ablated away. An electronically controlled LED backlight array similar to a local dimming flat screen TV provides the motion. Over time as design is refreshed, with different patterns, no new tooling is required, just a reprogramming of the laser.

The overall profile of the Lyriq is sleek and athletic with a long hood and sloping backlight. The C-pillars are another of the new signature Cadillac elements. Slim red hockey stick taillamps run horizontally forward and up behind the rear doors. Just above that is a scalloped section. The Celestiq is expected to have a similar feature. Instead of a rear wiper, there is a flow-through slot in the spoiler at the top of the tailgate that directs airflow across the rear glass to keep it clear.

Like the exterior, the interior has stayed surprisingly close to the original show car revealed in the summer of 2020 while we were all still locked up. A curved 33-inch touchscreen LCD spans from the driver’s side pillar across the center of the dash. Like the current Escalade, the left end lets the driver select between gauges, power flow, map or a clean minimal interface for the cluster area. Off to the right is the infotainment area which like other new GM vehicles is powered by Android Automotive.

GM has opted to use Google
Automotive Services (GAS) which includes maps, assistant, contacts and the Google Play store. Drivers don’t have to log in, but if they do enter their Google account credentials, they will have access to their contacts, calendar and be able to download a selection of apps directly to the system such as Pocket Casts, Spotify and more. Logging in isn’t necessary to use navigation with Google maps though. For those that prefer to use an iPhone, the Lyriq system does include support for wireless CarPlay as well.

The infotainment was generally responsive and the GAS apps work well. However, some of the underlying user interface was a bit confusing. For example, while there is a row of physical switches below the touchscreen to manage climate control, some other functions are only in the touch interface, most notably, opening the glovebox. If you were to get pulled over and had to reach for your registration and insurance, the Lyriq would have to be turned on, then press home, controls and finally the glovebox open icon. Similarly, adjusting the one-pedal drive settings or the drive mode takes multiple screen taps,. Fortunately all of this can be updated via an over-the-air software update and Cadillac’s user interface design team should perhaps take another stab at making sure some controls are more easily surfaced.

There is a slide out tray just below the climate controls that might be a better place to stash that license and registration as well as other small items. Overall other controls have a very premium look and feel including the knurling on the central control knob and volume roller as well as door handles and seat controls.

With only two rows of seating, the Lyriq’s 121.8-inch wheelbase which is 6.5-inches longer than the Audi e-Tron and 5-inches more than the Tesla Model X, there is ample room in all seating positions. The rear seats are particularly comfortable and while the fronts feel good overall, the bottom cushions are a bit short for those with long thighs and they lack adjustment there. The fronts are, however, heated and cooled.

Behind the seats is a nicely shaped 28.0 cubic foot cargo area that should accommodate four roller bags and assorted other gear. However, what you won’t find is any storage under that hood. Frunks are a controversial topic among many EV fans. The absence of an engine should leave storage space, but Cadillac opted not to make that space available in the Lyriq. GM is including a frunk in the Hummer and Silverado EVs, but not on smaller vehicles like this Cadillac.

We popped off the plastic cover and found that there was unused volume that could probably hold a couple of cubic feet of stuff. However, chief engineer Jamie Brewer explained that they opted to move some electronics that would otherwise be in the sides of the rear cargo area up front and they also needed space for the larger 19.2-kW on board charger. Other staff also acknowledged that they might be package protecting for other future equipment that needed that space. The reality is that unless a frunk has a means to open it from the outside such as the power hood on the Rivian R1T or F-150 Lightning, it actually has limited usefulness if you have to reach inside to open it like a traditional hood. For smaller items like a backpack or briefcase, it’s often easier to just put it in the back seat.

At launch, the Lyriq will only be offered with a satin steel metallic exterior finish and a choice of light gray or black interior. Brewer explained that since the program was pulled ahead by nine months from its original launch date, the team opted to focus on making sure they could maximize the quality. Color matching dissimilar materials such as plastic and steel is actually really difficult (as can be seen on many Tesla vehicles over the years). Rather than risk mismatches with the other color combinations, they went with only one for now. Others should start arriving by the end of 2022.

There is also only one trim level for the 2023 model year, the debut edition, which is available in single motor rear wheel drive form. That motor which puts out 340-hp and 335 lb-ft of torque is the same as those used on the Hummer although for now at least customers won’t get the three motor configuration of the massive off-road pickup. Later in the fall, Cadillac will add a 160-hp front motor bringing the total to 500-hp.

The 100-kWh battery pack is essentially one-half of the two-layer pack in the Hummer and provides the 5,610-lb Lyriq with 312 miles of range and the ability to charge at up to 190-kW. That’s fast enough to add 75 miles of range in 10 minutes. The Lyriq comes bundled with a dual voltage charge cord that will charge at up to 7.7-kW from a 240V outlet but it can be charged at 19.2-kW from an 80A wall charger for customers that want to install one.

That curb weight puts the Lyriq almost halfway between the heavier Audi e-Tron and the Tesla Model X although those are both dual motor EVs. The AWD Lyriq will probably end up closer to the Audi’s weight. Despite that ample heft, the Lyriq is quite responsive in any normal driving and even at highway speeds has enough reserve to quickly execute passes. It won’t push you back into the seat the way the four motor Rivian or the Performance versions of the Teslas do, but that sort of acceleration is way more than you need except at a drag strip or showing off for your friends. If 0-60 in a bit under 5 seconds isn’t adequate, the 500-hp AWD model in the fall should address those concerns.

In internal combustion vehicles, the engine does a lot to mask out a wide range of other sounds including wind, road and assorted resonances in the structure. That creates a whole new challenge for EV designers. The Cadillac team has done a great job on making the Lyriq an exceptionally serene place to spend time. The combination of a lot of computer aided engineering analysis of the structure, sound dampening material and a sophisticated active noise control system keep things nearly silent. That enhanced noise cancellation uses accelerometers mounted on suspension arms to measure road inputs before they get to the cabin and generate the opposing sound waves through the 19 speaker AKG audio system.

Since the Lyriq is not a modified version of an ICE platform like the Audi, it features an all-new suspension. At the front is a five-link short-long-arm layout that separates the steering axis from other wheel motions for good isolation. A separate multi-link layout at the rear also keeps things well controlled. For now at least, the Lyriq doesn’t have any adaptive damping or air springs.

On most of the roads we drove in and around Park City Utah, the ride quality was smooth and well controlled. However, when we did encounter some rougher pavement, the optional 22-inch wheels with 40 series low profile tires showed off the downside of this very heavy rolling stock with a stiffer feel. Those that live in regions with rougher pavement may want to stick with the standard 20-inch wheels.

As usual with EVs that have well over 1,000 pounds of battery under the floor, body roll was kept to a minimum in corners. Steering was generally precise but offered little feedback about what was happening at the wheels. Switching between touring and sport mode made the steering effort a bit heavier but didn’t impact the feel.

With one pedal mode engaged, the Lyriq will come to a complete stop and stay in place. Unlike the Toyota bZ4X and Rivian R1T which simply give up and provide no deceleration if the battery is too full to absorb any energy, GM handles this situation correctly. The in-house developed brake software converts the pedal position into a desired amount of deceleration. If the battery can’t absorb energy, the Lyriq brake controls will seamlessly blend in friction braking to achieve the same amount of deceleration so the response is always consistent whether using one-pedal mode or not.

Speaking of regenerative braking, that feature comes in very handy when driving in mountainous terrain. Driving down long grades can have a serious negative impact on a vehicle’s brakes, causing them to overheat and potentially fade. In an EV with strong regenerative braking, all of the potential energy from descending a hill goes back into the battery instead of heat. One of our drive loops took us from the hotel in Park City which is at an altitude of about 7,000 feet above sea level to Gaurdsman Pass at 9,700 feet. Coming back down it’s a 12.4 mile run on a very twisty mountain road. I only had to tap the brake pedal a couple of times, relying almost entirely on regen. At the top of the pass, the cluster reported an estimated range of 221 miles which grew to 229 miles by the time I pulled up to the hotel. That’s something you can’t do with an internal combustion vehicle.

Our test vehicles still had an older build of software that had a few software glitches such as the backup camera not turning on properly when reverse was selected. A over-the-air software update to correct this will be pushed out before customer deliveries start in the next couple of weeks.

The Lyriqs being built now are all coming from the factory with all of the hardware needed for the latest generation of hands-free Super Cruise. However, since GM is switching to an all-new Qualcomm Snapdragon Ride compute platform starting with the Lyriq, the software had to be rewritten, a process that isn’t done yet. That means we didn’t get to test it, and customers will receive an OTA update later this year to turn it on.

Overall, Cadillac is beginning its transition to EVs with an excellent product. It drives really well, looks great and provides an air of modern luxury that isn’t ostentatious, but also doesn’t feel bare bones like similarly priced or more expensive Teslas. While the 2023 model year of Debut Editions is sold out, Cadillac has opened the order book for the 2024 model. The rear drive variants will start at $60,000 and the all wheel drive at $64,000. While not cheap, that’s actually quite a good value compared to the Tesla Model Y, Audi e-Tron, Jaguar i-Pace and even the smaller Genesis GV60.

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