I'll just say it. The 2014 Cadillac CTS is easily the best sedan General Motors has ever built. Ever.
(Full Disclosure: Cadillac wanted me to drive the 2014 CTS so bad that they gave me considerable seat time in both the 2.0T and the Vsport. I also definitely didn't go on a dirt road and slide it all over the place at one point. Nope. That certainly didn't happen.)
When Cadillac started reinventing itself, the CTS was the workhorse in its lineup. It was positioned to compete with both BMW 3-series and BMW 5-series sized competitors. And other than the glorious CTS-V, the hard working Caddy suffered for it. They compared it to the 3-Series at some times, the 5-Series at others, which meant that the CTS didn't have a defined identity. It had to be all things to all people all at once.
Sure, the last generation car looked pretty great, but it was too small to be a real 5-series competitor and too bloated to compete with the 3-series. It fell into some weird sports sedan purgatory where it just couldn't thrive. It also hurt Cadillac from within. The CTS was too close in size to the STS, and it was the better car. It made the STS totally redundant.
Then the brilliant Alpha platform came along, and with it Cadillac introduced the ATS, a car which was a true 3-series/A4/C-Class competitor. It also made the CTS the sad old dog in the Cadillac lineup. For a while I thought the ATS would kill the CTS like the CTS killed the STS.
GM made the Alpha platform bigger and said a new CTS would grow longer, lower, and leaner, ready to fire a shot straight at ze midsize Germans. The new car is five inches longer, which moves it directly in line with the 5-Series/A6/E-Class. It has three engines, including an all new 3.6 liter twin turbo V6, gorgeous interiors and probably the prettiest face in the business.
The real story here is the development of American luxury, and just how differently our two biggest automakers have gone about revamping their marquis brands. Ford's Lincoln has been lost in a terrifying horror forest for the last 15 years, and instead of getting closer to the tree line they've been going deeper into the darkness. The MKZ is an economy car in a funky tuxedo, but at its heart it's still an economy car.
GM has taken a measured, long term approach with Cadillac. There's a clear vision for the brand, they know what they want it to be, and the vision is finally culminating. Cadillac was Season One of Seinfeld just a few years ago. It wasn't funny and it should have been cancelled. But some people saw the vision, they knew where it could go, they caught some brilliant moments, they understood. Now we're entering season four. The brand is hitting its stride. It's Cadillac's Summer of George.
Pictures don't do the new Caddy justice. From the front it's imposing and aggressive, with narrow LED accents, a huge gaping grille, and some very distinct character lines. There is absolutely no mistaking the new CTS for any other car in the class or any other car on the road. The Vsport also rides on attractive anthracite 18-inch wheels, which is as hard to write as it is to believe.
Wait, you're sure they aren't 38-inch wheels? You mean they picked an appropriately-sized wheel?
But there is a detriment to smaller wheels in the appearance department. The CTS has quite a few character lines running at an angle towards the back, it accentuates the height of the car. This makes the rear wheels look exceedingly small.
I'm also a bit blasé about the rear end of the car. It's like they spent all the time designing the front end, then ran out of time and drew something that looked like a Cadillac for the back. Or perhaps they only decided to distribute styling to the front, because the rear is a bit more on the boring side and looks rather XTS-ish.
Cadillac has eight interior environments for the CTS. Yeah. Environments. But don't let that marketing speak send you screaming into the moonlight. This is a gorgeous interior, especially the sport... environment.
There you have black and red two-tone, with real carbon fiber trim that has a bit of red in the weave. I do prefer brushed aluminum or a dark wood to carbon fiber, but this actually looks rather tasteful. It also has well bolstered seats that are nice and tight and quite comfortable. It's not a recliner like Caddys of old.
One of the CTSes I drove had a more luxury-oriented environment, which means less bolstered seats and more wood and chrome in place of the carbon fiber. It's more traditional Caddy than new school performance, but it's all beautifully put together.
The 2.0T is the 270 horsepower engine you know and love from the ATS, except now it has a considerable amount more torque, like 50 pound feet. My Timex ass timer gave me a 0-to-60 time of about 5.5 seconds, but apparently official numbers put that closer to six seconds.
For the Vsport, Cadillac throws in its all new, 3.6 liter, direct injection, twin-turbo V6 with 420 horsepower. This is a quick car. It's not CTS-V levels of fast, but it is BMW 550i levels of fast. It's a responsive engine, with great punch in the mid-range and little discernable turbo lag.
The power of the Vsport is mighty impressive, but my money would go to the 2.0T. It's better than you'd expect and is definitely the secret sauce in the CTS recipe. Though it is the base engine, which I guess makes it less of a secret sauce and more like a tasty bottle of three cheese marinara.
Really solid brakes, great pedal feel, and you have Brembos up front. The new CTS is also around 200 pounds lighter than the last gen car, so it's just that much more responsive and solid under braking.
It feels very old school BMW, which is a good thing.
Magnetic Ride, you beautiful bastard. I've professed my love for MRC before, and it still holds true here in the CTS. Tour mode is the soft, do anything mode, and it's spectacularly comfortable. But it's also controlled and solid, which means it doesn't float like a Cadillac of old. You're connected.
The smaller wheels add to the ride quality, which makes it less harsh over bumps and you don't run the risk of bent wheels and popped tires every time you hit a pothole. Maybe that's a note to take, German luxury car makers...
You can also put the MRC in Sport, and in the Vsport, there's a Track mode, which just stiffens it up and makes it kind of uncomfortable. But if it didn't have a Sport or Track setting, people would complain that it isn't a real sport sedan because it doesn't have those buttons. And that's probably because people just don't want to accept that the Cadillac is as good as it is, so they'll find a reason to shit on it.
Try it. You won't shit on it.
Everything you like about the ATS is just as good or better in the CTS. The handling here is about the same, which is no small achievement since the ATS is a fun little car. The CTS is a fun midsize car. Steering is also direct and nicely weighted, with enough feedback to let you know that you aren't navigating a yacht.
There are two gearboxes on offer in the CTS. One is a six speed auto, the other is an eight speed. Both are quick and crisp, and make a nice little pop on shifts. In a change, the eight speed isn't the ubiquitous ZF gearbox that is in basically every great car these days, but is instead an Aisin developed box. It's not quite as good as the ZF in all situations, but it's still fast enough that Herbert B. Cadillac Drivist won't complain.
The paddle shift is also fast and responsive, with nicely matched downshifts and quick upshifts. It does do the first-to-second upshift for you in manual mode, which I don't care for. But I also doubt that most people will use the paddles or care that it does that.
SThe Bose stereo sounds great. My 90s rock selections came through loud and clear, the Gin Blossoms sound just as good in the Caddy as they do live.
The V6TT and I4 both sound throaty, aggressive, and vaguely like Janis Joplin in the mid-range.
Cadillac has also made a bit of an interesting decision by piping sounds into the cabin depending on what mode you're in. What it does is take elements of real engine noise and then send it through the speakers to make you feel extra sporty, I guess.
I tried to tell the difference in the engine note when I was in tour, sport, and track, and I couldn't really pick up on any changes. It must be really subtle. Or maybe I'm going deaf? Or perhaps I'm going blind? Maybe I'm out of my mind?
It has every single toy you'd expect in this class, like a reconfigurable digital dash on some models, lane departure warnings, radar cruise, collision warnings, Bluetooth, satellite radio, and all the other bibs and bobs you want.
Then it has CUE, Cadillac's sometimes maligned, sometimes beloved, infotainment system. Certain parts are great, like the voice recognition. I also dig the haptic touch interface. It was slow to load my iPod and respond to searches on there. The navigation system also couldn't find a nearby train station, which was a bit of a concern since those are fairly large landmarks.
If you know how much an E-Class, A6, or a 5-Series costs, then you know how much a CTS costs. It's worth every penny.
It's a great looking, great driving car that I'd put against basically anything on the road today. Every person I drove in the car was impressed, and it consistently impressed me. The CTS is that high school student that was in all honors classes, was friends with everyone, and played varsity sports. Only a few people in school hated that kid. And those kids are BMW, Mercedes, and Audi.
Cadillac has been promising that they'd be the standard of the world for more than a decade now, and it's finally true. This is the best car in the Cadillac lineup, I think it's even the best car in its class.
When did you think you'd hear that?
Engine: 3.6L Turbo V6
Power: 420 HP at 5,750 RPM/ 430 LB-FT at 3,500 RPM
Transmission: Eight-Speed Automatic
0-60 Time: 4.4 seconds
Top Speed: 172 mph
Drivetrain: Rear-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight: 3,952 LBS
Seating: 5 people
MPG: 17 City/25 Highway
MSRP: $59,995 (Vsport base price)
Photo Credits: Raphael Orlove