Now in its third generation, the Cadillac CTS once again attempts to go shoulder to shoulder with some of the other great sports sedans of the world. We've heard it all before, but this time something seems different.
Loaded with technology and features not necessarily found in rivals, the CTS has moved upmarket to properly compete with the BMW 5-Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class. And, for the first time ever, it isn't intended to be a high value alternative. Skip to the end of this article and you'll find that, at $46,000 to start, the CTS is on par with its German competition.
Things tend to improve with age; does the CTS have what it takes to make Cadillac the genuine "standard of the world" once again?
What is it?
Longer, leaner and now decidedly more upmarket, the CTS remains a four-door, five-passenger rear-wheel-drive (or all-wheel-drive) midsize sedan. Our Premium trim tester is motivated by the CTS' first four-cylinder ever, a 2.0-liter turbocharged and direct-injected unit rated at a solid 272 horsepowre and 295 lb-ft. of torque mated to a six-speed automatic gearbox.
The CTS is based on the architecture of baby brother Cadillac ATS, meaning it uses a MacPherson strut front suspension and a five-link kit at the rear. Like GM's Corvette, it uses high-tech magnetic shock absorbers to firm up or soften the ride as needed. Handling ain't for squat if there is not a proper set of brakes included. Here, too, the CTS doesn't disappoint, featuring Brembo front brakes on all trim levels.
Using the BMW 5-Series as a benchmark, the CTS has undergone a weight-reduction to the tune of around 310 lbs., pushing its curb weight to a downright lithe 3,600 lbs. Cadillac proudly boasts that the CTS checks in at 200 lbs. lighter than arch-rival BMW 528i. Achtung indeed!
While our tester included the 2.0-liter turbo unit, a pair of V6s - one naturally aspirated and one twin turbocharged - are on offer. The 321-pony 3.6-liter V6 should be enough for most people, but the king of this hill is the 420-horsepower Vsport. All-wheel-drive is optional on the 2.0 and 3.6-liter models, but not the Vsport.
A quartet of trim levels are on offer: Standard, Luxury, Performance and Premium. Our tester was the latter, which adds nearly every luxury conceivable - 20-way power seats, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, front and rear automatic braking and even the ability to parallel park itself.
At nearly $65,000, our tester was not cheap - but it was on par (and maybe a little cheaper) than any overseas rival.
What's it up against?
Competitors in this segment include models from the finest European and Asian manufacturers, with only the CTS waving the American flag. Turbocharged four-cylinders have found their way into the Jaguar XF, Audi A6 and BMW 5-Series, while naturally-aspirated V6s serve as the gateway into the Mercedes-Benz E-Class and Lexus GS ranges.
How does it look?
Designed with input from GM design studios in California, Michigan and the United Kingdom, the CTS takes the automaker's Art & Science design philosophy and stretches it with a longer wheelbase, a lower roof line and longer overhangs.
Stylish LED illumination sets off the swept-back headlamps, which usher in a more aerodynamic shape made possible by what Cadillac calls a "trapped hood" that surrounds the grille opening rather than hanging over it.
The sleek windshield lays down more in an effort to cheat the wind. Its shape blends through to the C-pillar for a swoopy appearance. Elsewhere, a feature line draws the eye of the beholder from front to rear in one glance. On the whole of it, we find the CTS a more engaging shape that will stand the test of time better than its edgier predecessors.
And on the inside?
If you plan to engage and defeat the enemy, you had better bring your A game with you. In this case, we think Cadillac has mostly succeeded.
More refined than the outgoing CTS, this latest model ups the ante with even nicer materials and way more technology.
We remain less-than-enamored with Cadillac's CUE infotainment system, which dominates the center stack with a touchscreen. Though our tester's screen seemed less laggy than others we've sampled, we were dismayed with the steering wheel-mounted controls that operate kind of like touch pads. Intuitive after an acclimation period, the buttons are prettier than they are genuinely effective. So too the capacitive switches located all over the CTS' center stack, which offer a degree of haptic feedback. Tap your finger on a button and you'll get a brief pulse to tell you you're in the right spot.
A return to some hard buttons and knobs would go a long way toward helping drivers stay focused on the road, but we did eventually adapt to the system's nuances.
Yet that's where our complaints stop; the interior's hardware is essentially impeccable. Aside from large A-pillars, the CTS offers excellent visibility and its highly-adjustable front seats proved comfortable for longer treks. Rear seat riders won't want for space, although the backrests were noticeably upright.
But does it go?
Thanks to the CTS' diet regime, this four-cylinder engine punches above its weight class. Sprightly acceleration - enough to chirp the rear tires with the pedal mashed - help it sprint to 60 mph from a stop in the mid-6 second range. Frankly, we wonder who would opt for the naturally-aspirated 3.6-liter V6, especially since the CTS is rated at a solid 20/30 mpg (23 mpg combined).
Perhaps the 2.0T doesn't have the great growl of its Vsport big brother, but engine sounds actually pumped through its Bose audio system proved at least the notion of a commanding presence underhood.
So the sounds might be fake, but there's no way to hide the fact that our CTS Premium's ride quality was stellar. Tap through the magnetic suspension's modes and you can tart up the sedan from gentle Touring to more aggressive Sport. We preferred the latter with its firm ride and remapped throttle, which only got better when we used the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters to enhance the driving experience. A subtle pop from the system when downshifting only quickened our pulse.
Though the CTS has joined its rivals in offering electrically-assisted power steering, no four-door in this segment offers as much road feel. Toss any soft-riding, sloppy-handling Cadillac pretenses out the door; this sedan not only handles with the best of them - it sets the pace.
On the other hand, the old Cadillac virtue of silence has given way to a subtle tire noise on coarse surfaces. You win some, you lose some - and we're more than willing to overlook that tiny demerit.
Technology was not confined just to power and handling but also to things like the adaptive cruise control system that not only slowed the car or sped it up as necessary, but was also capable of bringing it to a complete stop if needed.
With all these Jetsons-like technologies, it's clear that Cadillac's Art & Science mantra applies to more than just the look of the brand.
Leftlane's bottom line
Cadillac is on a roll, offering a CTS sedan that manages to surpass the hype. Making no excuses for itself, this new CTS is at home on the autobahn as it is on the interstate.
The luxury sports sedan segment's new standard-bearer has arrived.
2014 Cadillac CTS base price, $45,100. As tested, $64,770.
Premium Package, $16,700; 19-inch polished wheels, $1,050; Red Obsession tintocat paint, $995; Destination, $925.
Photos by Mark Elias.