Review: 2014 Cadillac CTS

By Drew Johnson
Thursday, Apr 24th, 2014 @ 12:48 pm
Performance. Cadillac.

Just a few years ago, those were two mutually exclusive terms. While BMW was busy developing the ultimate driving machine, Cadillac was consumed with designing the ultimate mobile sofa for its typical octogenarian clientele. But then a funny thing happened - Cadillac discovered that it too could make fun-to-drive cars.

With that, Cadillac established its V performance division and set about turning everyday cars into everyday supercars. That operation has been going strong for the last decade, prompting Cadillac to expand the scope of its V brand.

Enter the 2014 CTS Vsport.

Although not the full-on CTS-V, the Vsport promises plenty of performance upside thanks to a twin-turbocharged V6, rear-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic transmission. But is that enough to uphold the V badge? Come with us as we find out.

What is it?
A bridge between the more relaxed CTS and the fire-breathing CTS-V that is expected to bow in the not-too-distant future, the CTS Vsport is Cadillac's answer to V8-powered sport sedans from Germany. Impressively, the CTS Vsport goes into battle with just six cylinders, but a pair of turbochargers more than make up for that two-cylinder deficit.

What's it up against?
Now fully grown up, the CTS Vsport competes directly with vehicles like the Audi S6, BMW 550i and Mercedes-Benz E550. Eco-conscious buyers might also cross-shop the CTS Vsport against the all-electric Tesla Model S.

How does it look?
Arguably the most successful version of Cadillac's Art and Science design philosophy to date, the CTS Vsport looks like a thoroughly modern sports sedan.

Up front the CTS Vsport wears the laster version of Cadillac's corporate face, which is also shared with the smaller ATS. However, unlike the ATS, the CTS has a long hood, allowing for a more steeply-raked front end. As a result, the CTS looks more hunkered down than its ATS counterpart.

We're admittedly not huge fans of LED accents in general, but Cadillac did a good job with the units on the CTS. More than just eye candy, the CTS' LEDs actually improve the car's overall look.

The CTS Vsport's styling isn't extraordinary when viewed in profile - no Mercedes CLS-like roofline here - but C-pillars that widen at the base give the car a sense of forward motion. We're quite fond of the CTS Vsport's wheel design, but at "just" 18 inches they look a little small to our eyes.

Around back the CTS features Cadillac's signature vertical taillights and a V-shaped tail section. The lower portion of the CTS' bumper incorporates the vehicle's reverse lights and integrated dual-exhaust outlets.

The Vsport's styling might not be radically different from the regular CTS', but that's just fine in our book. The CTS is a handsome sedan, with the Vsport's subtle tweaks only adding to the four-door's good looks.

And on the inside?
The CTS Vsport's interior follows the same general design language laid out by the ATS, but with a high-tech edge.

In place of a standard gauge cluster, our uplevel CTS Vsport Premium tester uses a 12.3-inch reconfigurable LCD screen. There are offers three basic cluster themes - including one setup for performance - but the driver can also customize the display to show things like a navigation map or individual tire pressure.

The CTS Vsport Premium also features a full-color head-up display to help keep the driver's eyes focused on the road ahead.

The sedan's CUE infotainment system, however, isn't quite as successful in reducing driver distraction. Though beautiful to look at, we found CUE to be difficult to operate, particularly when on the move.

Unlike the touchscreen we reviewed in the Cadillac ATS, we found the unit in the CTS Vsport to be fairly responsive and accurate, although we did encounter a few instances of lagginess. The setup, however, was just as infuriating.

Hot buttons for features like HVAC and navigation are aligned along the top of the CUE touchscreen, but disappear when the system is not being used. The buttons reappear when CUE senses a nearby finger, but at that point you have to glance away from the road to see where the button you want to push actually is.

We were also frustrated with the way CUE separates different vehicle functions. For example, if you're on the satellite radio screen, there is no display to tell you what temperature the climate control is set to. In order to view that information, you have to click on the HVAC icon (after waiting for it to magically appear, of course). And once you're in the HVAC section of CUE, there is no way to see what radio station you're tuned into on the main screen. A frustrating loop, for sure.

The center stack is no picnic to operate, either. Relying exclusively on haptic buttons, we found basic vehicle functions like changing the fan speed to be far more challenging than they should be. In fact, the volume slider was downright disobedient.

Luckily the CTS Vsport has some redundant steering wheel controls, which we found ourselves using most of the time for simplicity's sake.

We had few complaints with the rest of the interior, which offers comfortable and supportive buckets up front and a roomy bench in the rear. Materials - which include genuine leather and Alcantar accents - and fit and finish are on par with any luxury vehicle on the market today.

The driver sits low in the CTS Vsport, but we never had any issues with visibility, save for the crack that appeared in our tester's windshield during our week-long evaluation.

But does it go?
It may technically be a V-Series light, but the CTS Vsport still goes like an all-out performance car.

Equipped with Cadillac's latest twin-turbocharged V6, the CTS Vsport makes 420 horsepower and 430 lb-ft of torque. In order to make the best use of that power, the sedan uses an eight-speed automatic transmission rather than the six-speed found in some lesser CTS models.

At idle the CTS Vsport doesn't have the most pleasant rumble, but the mill makes all the right noises at speed. And with that kind of power, speed comes quickly. We weren't able to officially conduct tests on a closed track, but we fully believe the mid 4-second zero-to-60 mph times that other rags are reporting.

Cadillac's new eight-speed works well with the turbocharged engine, providing quick and smooth shifts. Paddle shifters are also available, should you feel the need to take things into your own hands. As with most modern multi-speed gearboxes, it was a challenge to get eighth gear to engage during normal driving, but Cadillac promises the extra cog delivers better MPGs at highway speeds. However, the CTS Vsport isn't exactly an efficiency machine, returning 16 mpg in the city and 24 mpg on the highway.

The CTS Vsport is able to scrub off speed just as quickly as it can build it thanks to excellent Brembo-sourced discs. Steering is also very good, although we wouldn't be opposed to a little more on-center feel.

As impressed as we were with the CTS Vsport's superb drivetrain, we really fell in love with the car's Magnetic Ride Control suspension. With its tiny flakes of metal constantly changing the viscosity of the fluid in the shocks, MRC provided a ride that was a near perfect balance between comfort and performance. Whereas most sports sedans crash over larger road imperfections, the CTS Vsport simply soaked them up. And when we wanted to have a little fun, MRC firmed everything up and provided extremely flat cornering. If there's a better dual-purpose sedan for sale today, we haven't come across it.

Leftlane's bottom line
The 2014 CTS Vsport is proof again that Cadillac is fully capable of making a world-class performance sedan.

Although not the full-boat CTS-V, the CTS Vsport doesn't disappoint with its turbocharged drivetrain and superb suspension. It's just a shame that CUE detracts from the overall driving experience.

2014 Cadillac CTS 3.6 TT Vsport Premium base price, $69,070. As tested, $69,995.
Destination charge, $925.

Photos by Drew Johnson.

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