Now in its third generation, the Cadillac CTS is no longer a "tweener" intended to simultaneously do battle with compact and midsize competitors. Instead, it's a genuine rival for the BMW 5-Series, Mercedes-Benz E-Class and other midsize models in terms of space, luxury, technology and performance, as well as price.
The CTS received a handful of upgrades for the most recent model year, including a revised V6 with active fuel management, an all-new eight-speed automatic transmission, a surround-vision 360-degree camera system, auto stop/start technology on turbocharged models and an updated CUE system featuring Apple CarPlay and (late availability) Android Auto.
It's been a while since Cadillac has truly been able to deliver on the promise of its "Standard of the World" tagline. The athletic ATS sedan comes close on the handling front, but it's the polished, well-rounded CTS that really has what it takes to match - and sometimes exceed - what the best luxury cars from all corners of the globe can offer.
It all begins with an exterior that's at once elegant and assertive, sophisticated and sporty. Separate but aligned LED running lights in the swept-back headlights and lower front fascia provide a unique bit of flair, while a broad grille and elongated hood hint at the sedan's handling capabilities, which were honed on the Germany's challenging Nurburgring course.
The cabin blends a modern design with high-quality furnishings, with trim choices including anodized aluminum, carbon fiber and numerous selections of wood. None need be qualified by an "imitation-" prefix - they're the real deal. Soft semi-analine leather is available, as are a wide variety of upholstery colors. A conventional instrument cluster with a 5.7-inch information screen flanked by analog gauges is standard, and a 12.3-inch reconfigurable TFT gauge cluster can be spec'd for a more high-tech and customizable experience.
As with all modern Cadillacs, the CTS is fitted with the controversial CUE infotainment system, which is operated through an eight-inch touchscreen interface in the center stack along with capacitive-touch controls. Similar to tablet devices, it lets users tap, flick and swipe to control Bluetooth connectivity, entertainment and navigation functions while also providing access to weather information, local fuel prices, Pandora internet radio and more.
However, the system has faced criticism for delayed responses to control inputs, confusing design elements and a lack of conventional buttons for frequently-accessed functions. At least a natural voice recognition system provides an intuitive alternate means of controlling CUE, allowing users to place hands-free calls, enter navigation destinations and select songs without clunky and cumbersome memorized phrases. CUE now also supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility is coming later in the model year.
The CTS provides stretch-out space for front occupants, though it should be noted that the rear seats and 13.7-cubic-inch trunk are slightly small for the class.
Power and Performance
The CTS is underpinned by General Motors' rear-wheel-drive-based "Alpha" platform, the same sturdy yet lightweight platform that forms the basis of the sporty ATS. The sedan was developed with an extreme emphasis on weight reduction, with care taken to shave mass wherever possible in order to improve acceleration, handling and efficiency. The result is that that the base CTS burdens the earth with just 3,616 lbs., or around 200 lbs less than a BMW 528i.
Three different engines are available with the CTS. Standard on all trims but the Vsport is a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that produces 268 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. Midlevel CTS trims can be spec'd with a 3.6-liter V6 that's good for 335 horsepower and 285 lb-ft. Both are mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission
Intended to compete with V8-powered models like the BMW 550i and Mercedes E550, the Vsport features a twin-turbocharged 3.6-liter V6 with 420 horsepower and 430 lb-ft of torque - enough for a claimed zero-to-60 mph sprint time of just 4.6 seconds.
All-wheel-drive is an available option on 2.0-liter and 3.6-liter models to boost foul weather traction. The Vsport and rear-wheel-drive 3.6-liter model shift through an eight-speed automatic, while the 2.0-liter and all-wheel-drive variants get a six-speed auto.
Updated fuel economy figures have not yet been released.
A crisp handler in base form, the CTS can be made more agile - as well as more comfortable - with an optional Magnetic Ride Control system that adjusts the dampers to ensure flat cornering as well as a smooth ride.
More than just a powerful engine, the Vsport includes a host of other upgrades intended to turn the already agile CTS into a seriously responsive sport sedan. These include Brembo disc brakes, a driver-selectable track mode for the standard Magnetic Ride Control system, an electronic limited-slip differential, a heavy-duty track cooling package, a quickened steering ratio and 18-inch wheels shod with Pirelli summer tires (19-inchers with all-season rubber are available).
Trim Level Breakdown
The CTS is offered in no less than six different trim levels: Standard, Luxury, Performance, Premium, Vsport and Vsport Premium.
Available only with the 2.0-liter motor, the CTS Standard is equipped with an 11-speaker AM/FM Bose surround system with three USB ports, an aux input and HD radio, CUE with an eight-inch touchscreen, leatherette upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, rear parking sensors, remote start, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a 5.7-inch instrument cluster info screen, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, auto on/off headlights, heated exterior mirrors, Bluetooth connectivity with streaming audio, and 17-inch alloy wheels.
The CTS Standard can be luxed up with an optional Seating Package, which adds leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel with power tilt/telescoping, a glovebox-mounted CD player and a split-folding rear seat.
The CTS Luxury includes all of the Seating Package's features as well as a rearview camera, adaptive xenon headlights, lane-departure warning, forward collision alert, blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. It offers the availability of the more potent 3.6-liter six.
Optional on the CTS Luxury is a panoramic sunroof, a power rear sunshade and manual rear side shades, 18-inch wheels and Magnetic Ride Control. The CTS Standard and CTS Luxury can both be equipped with a navigation system that's packaged with two additional speakers for the Bose sound system.
The CTS Performance brings navigation, tri-zone automatic climate control, heated rear seats, automatic parallel parking assist, a head-up display and 110-volt power outlet. The available Driver Assistance Package adds front and rear automatic braking systems and adaptive cruise control. Twenty-way front sports seats and a 12.3-inch TFT gauge cluster are also optional.
The CTS Premium includes the Driver Assistance Package's goodies as well as expanded leather upholstery and an advanced theft deterrent system.
The CTS Vsport features the convenience and luxury items of the CTS Performance in addition to the twin-turbo V6, Brembo disc brakes, a driver-selectable track mode for the standard Magnetic Ride Control system, an electronic limited-slip differential, a heavy-duty track cooling package, a quickened steering ratio and 18-inch wheels shod with Pirelli summer tires.
The CTS Vsport Premium throws in the CTS Premium's extra interior and safety content.
The CTS comes standard with dual front, front side and full-length side curtain airbags in addition to traction and stability control systems.
An extensive array of safety technologies are optional, including a lane departure system that warns the driver if the CTS begins to wander into an adjacent lane; forward collision alert; rear cross-traffic alert; front and rear automatic braking that uses sensors to identity potential low-speed crashes and autonomous applies the brakes if the driver doesn't react; and blind-spot monitoring.
The CTS is aimed directly at the cream the midsize luxury sedan crop, including the BMW 5-Series, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Audi A6, Jaguar XF and Infiniti Q70.