Cadillac CT6 Plug-in Hybrid: We answer the question, “Why?”

It’s all about Cadillac being a global brand and meeting the demands of other markets

Published: June 28, 2017, 6:35 AM
Updated: May 17, 2018, 1:56 PM

The just-released plug-in hybrid version of Cadillac’s CT6 flagship sedan costs about $9,000 more than its gasoline-powered equivalent. That’s a lot of money to spend to save on gas. So why is Cadillac doing it?

China, that’s why.

The CT6 Plug-in is built at General Motors’ plant in Shanghai, and its major market will be China, where GM hopes to sell about 2,000 of the big cars each year. That’s more than three times the 600 it hopes to sell in North America, including a dozen or so in Canada.

The math just doesn’t add up for the $85,995 price of the car, but the incentives make sense in China. The Chinese government gives priority to vehicles that pollute less, and it can be nigh-on impossible to obtain a new provincial registration for a conventionally-powered car. Some Chinese cities even forbid non-electric cars in their downtown cores on certain days. But if your car is even partly-powered by electricity, it’s “Come on in! Go to the head of the line!”

The big Cadillac is sold in only a handful of secondary markets outside China and North America, and General Motors is in no hurry to expand that – it wants to prove itself first. Once it’s established as true competition for the much-desired Mercedes, BMW and Porsche, however, it’ll be game-on.

“It really comes down to Cadillac being a global brand and the demands of other markets,” says Eric Angeloro, the CT6 Plug-in’s Launch and Lifecycle Manager. “For us to be a true global player, we need to start offering vehicles like this. It’s something we have to do and want to do, to grow as a global luxury brand.”

But for now, in Canada, the Plug-in will be very much a niche vehicle that appeals to drivers willing to pay extra to reduce their environmental footprint, and there are precious few of them. Even in Ontario, which offers the most generous rebates available in North America to electric vehicles, the CT6 only qualifies for $3,000 back from the provincial government.

The Plug-in is roughly equivalent in its standard features to the $77,000 3.0L twin turbo Premium Luxury trim level, although it has roughly half the trunk space and is only available in rear-wheel drive – there just isn’t the room to fit any more hardware around the batteries. There isn’t even room for the 34 speakers of the optional Bose sound system, or for the rear seats to recline. An environmental conscience costs more than just dollars.

In fact, there is only the one trim level and there are no additional options available for it, other than the colour of the paint and the leather. Every nook and cranny has already been filled with technical wizardry.

This does not mean the CT6 Plug-in is cramped – far from it. Leg room is about midway between a regular BMW 7 Series and the long-wheelbase 7 Series, and Cadillac insists there’s still room for two golf bags in the trunk.

It is a fair bit heavier, thanks to its 181-kg Lithium-Ion battery pack, but its performance is similar to that of the 3.0L turbocharged car. The combination of a 2.0L four-cylinder engine with a 120 kW battery creates an estimated 335 hp and 432 lb-ft of torque; zero-to-100 km/h surges by in a claimed 5.2 seconds.

It’s fun to drive, too, if you want to do more than just coast back and forth to work in the HOV lanes. Paddle shifters on the wheel change the regenerative power of the brakes, similar to the paddles in the far-less-expensive Hyundai Ioniq hybrid, and they slow the sedan as they work harder to reclaim energy from the forces of deceleration. If it slows too quickly, the brake lights will come on, even though the pads aren’t touching the discs.

The transmission is General Motors’ own Electric Variable Transmission, which uses two electric motors to move three planetary gears with an infinite ratio of synchronous shifting. It takes away the “stepped” feel of a conventional gearbox while avoiding the whine of a continuously variable transmission. Suffice to say, I never noticed it while driving, but the big sedan always seemed to have plenty of overtaking power without needing to find a lower gear.

There are three drive modes: Tour, Sport and Hold, which allow regular driving, “spirited” driving (no yahoos in the Cadillac, please), and gasoline-only driving. This last mode lets you save your stored electric power for some later time, such as when you get into a city. That’s where you really want clean, emission-free driving, after all – in city traffic. The battery never fully depletes – when it gets low, it keeps its energy in storage for when it’s really needed, and boosts its charge through dynamic regeneration.

Fuel consumption is definitely improved over any of the standard CT6s, with an official “e-rating” of 3.6Le/100 km. Your consumption will vary, depending on how far you drive in a day. If you drive less than a few dozen kilometres, you could use no gas whatsoever.

The available electric-only range is 50 kilometres, which doesn’t sound like much in a time when pure electric vehicles have battery power for more than 200 kilometres, but it’s generous for a plug-in. In fact, it’s the same as the Porsche Panamera 4 E-Hybrid PHEV, and double that of both the BMW 740e PHEV and Mercedes-Benz S550e PHEV.

And when it comes right down to it, there’s the real reason for the Cadillac’s existence: the Germans are doing it and doing it well, so the Americans need to prove they’re every bit as capable. The Chinese, with their love of all things American, are rooting for them, after all.

Not only that, but the CT6 Plug-in is tens of thousands of dollars cheaper than those three competitive cars, especially once they’re optioned with some of the Cadillac’s standard features, like adaptive cruise control, night vision and heads-up display. In fact, the Mercedes and Porsche cost almost half as much again.

None of those German marques will sell many plug-in vehicles in Canada, either, but that’s not the point. The world is changing and its market demands are already very different from just a few years ago. For luxurious electric cars, it’s all about China and we’re just tagging along for the ride.

2018 Cadillac CTS Plug-in Hybrid