It’s been decades since Cadillac produced the “Cadillac” of anything. However, when car buffs dismiss the only American luxury brand left, they fail to see Cadillac’s march forward. 2002 brought the first RWD Cadillac since the Fleetwoood. A year later the XLR roadster hit, followed in 2004 by Cadillac’s first 5-Series fighter, the STS. Not everything was rosy. The original CTS drove like a BMW but lacked charm and luxury fittings. The XLR was based on a Corvette, which made for excellent road manners, but the Northstar engine didn’t have the oomph. The STS sounded like a good idea, but the half-step CTS wasn’t much smaller and ultimately shoppers weren’t interested in a bargain option. That brings us to the new ATS and CTS. Ditching the “more car for less money” mantra, the ATS has been created to fight the C/3/IS leaving the CTS free to battle the E/5/GS head-on. Can Caddy’s sensible new strategy deliver the one-two punch fans have hoped for? I snagged a CTS 2.0T for a week to find out.
I found the outgoing CTS a little discordant, but 2014 brings an elegant more aggressive refresh. GM’s Art and Science theme has matured from “cubism gone wrong” to shapes that flow and jibe with a larger grille and softer creases. The 5-Series continues to go for elegant and restrained, I find the XF and A6′s design a mixture of plain-Jane and snazzy headlamps while the Infiniti Q5o and Lexus GS are going for flowing elegance.
The demur side profile continues with a simple character line to draw your eye from front to rear. One thing you’ll notice during that eye-movement is the distinct RWD proportions that separate the CTS, E, 5, GS, XF and Q50 from the long-nosed Audi A6 and near-luxury FWD options. Out back the CTS’ rump is a bit less exciting but employs all the latest luxury cues from hidden exhaust tops to light piped tail lamps. I was hoping Caddy’s fins would be further resurrected, but the “proto fins” on the XTS are absent. Pity. Obvious from every angle is an attention to build quality absent from earlier generations with perfect panel gaps and seams.
Unfortunately, the first thing you’ll notice out on the road is the coarse sound from under the hood. GM’s 2.0L engine is no less refined than BMW or Mercedes’ four-bangers, but the difference is you can hear the engine in the CTS. In fact, based on the overall quietness of the cabin (a competitive 67 dB at 50 MPH), I can only conclude that Cadillac designed the engine to be heard. I don’t mind hearing the 3.6L V6, but most luxury shoppers would prefer not to be reminded they chose the rational engine every time they get on the freeway. On the bright side, because GM does not offer start/stop tech, shoppers are spared the inelegant starts and stops that characterize 528i city driving.
While I’m picking nits, the 6-speed found in the 2.0T and most 3.6 models lacks the ratio spread and shift smoothness of the ZF 8-speed automatic found in most of the competition.
The reason I label those flaws as mere nits is because of how the CTS accomplishes every other task on the road. Acceleration to 60 happens a 4/10ths faster than an E350, a half-second faster than the 528i, a full second faster than a GS350, and practically years ahead of the A6 2.0T. Part of this has to do with the engine’s superior torque curve and higher horsepower numbers, but plenty has to do with curb weight. At 3,616 lbs, the CTS 2.oT is 200lbs lighter than the BMW or Lexus, 400lbs lighter than an E350. The comparable Audi A6 would be the front-wheel-drive 2.0T model with the CVT at 3,726. If you think that’s an unfair comparison, the 2.0T with Quattro is 3,900lbs and does little to correct the A6′s front-heavy weight balance.
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