To destroy your enemy, you must find him, face him, and then... become him. That’s a tagline from what most film critics agree is the greatest movie ever made, Face/Off. It’s also a good way to sum up everything Cadillac has been up to in the last few years, and why the 2016 Cadillac CT6 is so different. And different in a good way.
(Full disclosure: Cadillac needed me to drive the CT6 so badly they flew me to sunny Los Angeles, paid for my food and booze, and gave me a couple helicopter rides so I wouldn’t have to deal with LA traffic. At last, I have found an urban transportation solution that truly works.)
When our man Jason Torchinsky drove the new CTS-V, he couldn’t help but be blown away by that car’s incredible 640 horsepower supercharged V8 and M5-humiliating performance. But he also lamented how far it was from the Cadillacs his grandfather drove. Cars with lavish comfort. A smooth highway ride for cruising. Presence. An air of success. Resplendent American luxury, some might call it.
The all-new CT6 is a return to those Cadillac ideals, but done in a very smart, innovative, and high-tech way. See, the hallmarks of the modern Cadillac renaissance, the CTS and ATS and their V variants, may be fantastic choices, but they’re ones that follow a script distinctly written by German automakers. German sizes, German expectations of performance. BMWs and Benzes by way of Detroit. (Or New York.)
The CT6 seems to be an attempt to be refreshingly American. It’s the most Cadillac Cadillac sedan to come along in forever. It definitely falls more on the “comfort” side of luxury. No more becoming Germans in order to fight them. This is Cadillac doing Cadillac. It’s even built in Hamtramck, Michigan. (Also China, later, and the hybrid version made there will make it to our shores too.)
It’s also not the Seville you drove in college because you inherited it from your dead grandpa. It’s so far from that they almost don’t deserve the same badge.
There are many misconceptions around the CT6. I don’t think Cadillac has done a great job explaining how its revised lineup will work. This sedan is not a CTS replacement. It rides on a different platform, called Omega. It’s the first car under Cadillac’s new number-based name system—the XT5, which replaces the aging SRX, is the second.
If anything it’s more a replacement for the set-to-die-eventually XTS, that hallmark of second-tier livery companies and a few random old people in Florida. It’s also not the top-ranking flagship like we all thought it was at first. That’s yet to come.
At least from the outside, it has that presence and gravitas that Jason’s grandpa used to roll in—it just takes a while to see it. It’s a conservative design that, at first glance, doesn’t look too different from a CTS or an XTS. Stare at it long enough and you start to drink in the details, like the muscular rear haunches, the sloping roofline and tall beltline, the big wheels.
It’s not excessive, but it is clean and handsome and classy. A ton of modern luxury car designs (looking at you, Mercedes) have a tendency to be way overcooked. Conservative works here.
What’s important is what’s under the skin anyway. Liberal use of aluminum in the body construction, spot welding, front suspension and body panels keep the CT6 pretty svelte for this segment. Cadillac says the CT6 starts, in base model form, at 3,657 pounds—that’s about 1,000 pounds less than an S-Class, A8 or a 7 Series, yet with what they say are driving dynamics from cars a class smaller.
And while it’s clearly more aimed at those cars than their smaller siblings, the CT6 is an odd size that slots between most of the Germans’ predetermined sedan sizes. It’s two inches shorter in length and wheelbase than an S-Class, about a foot longer than an E-Class—yet priced about in line with the latter. Like I said, something different.
Cadillac president Johan de Nysschen warned us the CT6s we were testing were pre-production prototypes with fit-and-finish that may not be up to snuff. That guy’s nuts, because all the CT6s I drove in LA had impeccable interior quality—the best I’ve seen from Cadillac so far. Stitching, materials, comfort, tech, all of it was top notch. It is the height of opulessence.
What is opulessence, you ask? It’s a word I made up just now to describe the essence of opulence. That’s certainly how I felt from the back seat, which is comfortable as hell even in base form and can be equipped with heated, cooled and massaging, as well as video screens on the backs of the two front seats. It’s fairly awesome back there, a great place to be chauffeured around in.
Up front Cadillac has dumped the confusing seat controls, once operated with the CUE infotainment system, for Mercedes-style buttons on the doors. In fact, the whole interior including CUE has been overhauled to address how annoying the piano black haptic touch panel was in the CTS and its brethren.
Look! Actual buttons on the steering wheel! The center panel lives on, but it’s been dialed down considerably. The updated CUE system is also much faster and more responsive (and less infuriating) than before. The haptic buttons that remained still aren’t perfect, but overall the car is far easier to operate than previous Cadillacs have been.
Offset by the 10.2-inch HD screen, laid into the dash, the whole interior is quite tasteful, unlike a lot of new luxury sedans, which look like CES threw up inside them. Also, nobody is going to complain about this digital gauge cluster—it’s fantastic.
Cadillac does lose points for the mouse-style controller below the gearshift. I don’t think it’s well suited to navigating CUE’s menu layouts for the driver or passenger; Audi’s buttons and BMW’s knob still have it beat.
After hours of presentations, including a demonstration of the optional 34-speaker $3,700 Bose Panaray audio system, which you should definitely splurge for because it provides an overwhelming tidal wave of sound that makes the best home theater system sound like the ratty old AM radio my dad keeps in his garage, I finally got a turn behind the wheel. And the driving experience did not disappoint.
Like I said earlier, this is more luxury sedan than sport sedan. Its ride is smooth and impeccable. It’s quiet enough to completely drown out the noise of tires and traffic and the general sense that the world around you is rapidly going to shit, which is what a luxury car should do.
Yet it lacks what I thought would be light, floaty, Lexus ES-style steering; instead the electric rack is tight, precise and has a good weight to it. Body roll is far less than expected. Since this car had to have been built with Chinese tech oligarchs who will never see the front seats in mind, it’s a surprisingly good driver’s car too. Jason’s grandpa’s Caddies were never this good at cornering.
Now, the CT6 is a long sedan, and not a true canyon-carver, but it’s surprisingly nimble; it drives like a smaller car. Two reasons for this: one, the low weight, and two, the all-wheel drive equipped with the four-wheel steering system called Active Rear Steering. That meant the back wheels got involved with turning and direction changes too. Turn it to sport mode, and up to 80 percent of torque goes to the rear wheels. It’s a clever setup that vastly trumps the base rear-drive, non-four-wheel steering models.
The CT6 packs three engines: a new and Cadillac-exclusive 3.0-liter twin turbo V6 with 404 horsepower, the familiar naturally aspirated 3.6-liter V6 with 335 HP, and a 2.0-liter turbo four with 265 HP. All are mated to an eight-speed automatic. (If those aren’t disco enough for you, a twin-turbo V8 is on the way too.)
The CT6 may be light, but until that V8 comes along, the big turbo six is the one worth splurging for. Its power delivery is effortless and abundant, and it puts forth a great sound when you call for its services.
I didn’t get to try the NA V6, but I found the turbo four a bit wanting. And thrashy. And unpleasant to listen to. This is a damn luxury sedan and you’re an American, don’t go with the base engine.
Evidently, those pre-production gremlins Johan mentioned crept into the gearbox, or the transmission is in need of tuning. It’s a GM unit, still not as quick or smooth as the ZF8 you find on everything else, and at times it felt harsh and had trouble finding the right gear. On the four-cylinder car, I got some weird rev-hanging in sport mode. I’ll give the car the benefit of the doubt and assume this will be smoothed out by the time it goes on sale, but it was no Standard of the World.
Pricing starts at $53,495, which was close to the very basic 2.0 model I drove with no options and felt ambivalent about. I would much rather have the well-equipped TT V6 AWD model with Panaray and other goodies that came in at $74,570. You can option one up to $90,000 or so, but that $75k one felt like the sweet spot to me.
It’s better with more boxes checked, basically. Which brings us to...
The CT6 has a lot of neat stuff on it. Stuff like the aforementioned Panaray sound system, which is like being waterboarded by music; an array of cameras that turn it into a giant dashcam, which I’ll discuss more in-depth in another story; that trick all-wheel drive and four-wheel steering setup; General Motors’ excellent magnetic ride suspension; night vision in the center display; automatic parking; and a rearview camera option for the mirror.
Yes, we’ve finally gotten to the point where cameras are replacing glass. (As much as current regs will allow, of course.) Flip a switch and the rearview mirror becomes a rearview camera with a 300 percent better field of vision.
Using it is... jarring. It works, but it takes some getting used to when you look up at it and expect a mirror, like on every car you’ve ever driven before. But I can’t argue with the increased visibility, or how quickly it streams. I’d love the chance to experiment with it more.
And next year, the CT6 will be the first GM car to get Super Cruise, which will be autonomous driving that doesn’t require you to have your hands on the wheel. Engineers told me it will be ready when it’s ready, when they’re sure it’s not a beta test on customers (a not-so-thinly-veiled dig at Tesla) and highly unlikely to go rogue and declare war on humanity.
Did I like the CT6? Yes, very much. It’s stylish, high-tech, comfortable, pleasing to drive, and forward-thinking on Cadillac’s part. Will it sell?
That’s a tougher call to make. Divorcing luxury buyers from their BMW and Mercedes leases is a tall order; ask Jaguar how that’s going for them. Cadillac’s people will say the game’s not about market share and sales figures, it’s about brand-building and profit margins. I feel like that’s a good bit of spin, something they wouldn’t be saying if the ATS and CTS were flying out of showrooms.
But Cadillac’s product is solid, this one especially. It’s marketing challenges Cadillac has to conquer. The CT6 is a fantastic machine, easily supplanting the CTS as GM’s best sedan yet. More than that, it’s something that takes old ideals of American luxury and updates them for a new century, not another German pretender.
More like this, please.