TORONTO, ON – As it continues to push for recognition as an aspirational brand for enthusiasts, Cadillac has developed a third generation CTS aimed specifically at the BMW 5-Series. In presentations here during the unveiling of the 2014 CTS, brand executives repeatedly referred to the German car as the benchmark, pointing out where their new product excelled.
Cadillac may still be a long way from garnering the same degree of international respect afforded the Bavarian brand, but after hundreds of kilometers at the wheel of the new CTS I can report it will help close that gap.
Longer, lower, lighter
The 2014 Cadillac CTS is longer, lower, lighter and equipped with the technology and dynamic prowess associated with high-end European sports sedans. While based on the same architecture as the ATS, that beneath the CTS has been tweaked and strengthened to provide an extremely rigid platform upon which to hang some pretty sophisticated and well-sorted suspension components.
Power comes from a trio of engines providing a minimum of 272 and as much as 420 horsepower. Big ventilated Brembo brakes are standard equipment, capable of erasing the speed those engines are capable of delivering. The new CTS is the best handling Cadillac in the brand’s lengthy history and, equipped with the top engine, among the fastest in a straight line. The combination makes for a well balanced and extremely capable luxury car.
The styling is the latest evolution of the brand’s “Art & Science” theme. But instead of the diamond-cut edges and sharp angles of the original it has morphed into a leaner, more athletic shape. The vertical lights at both ends remain but those crisp edges have been rounded somewhat. The new CTS is 90-mm longer overall, the wheelbase up by 30-mm, height down 19-mm and the cowl or base of the windshield almost 20-mm lower than the outgoing model.
The most significant part of the development of this new Cadillac was the attention to weight loss. Every single nut, bolt, stamping and component was put under the microscope resulting in a dramatic 200-kilo reduction.
The CTS has gone from being among the heaviest in the class to the lightest. As any engineer will tell, you cutting weight is the most effective way to improve everything about a vehicle from handling and braking to performance and fuel economy.
Dramatically different inside
The changes are equally as dramatic inside. The interior team deserves an award for transforming a car that was previously outclassed to one that may well lead the class. The design and execution are both exemplary with fit, finish and material quality of the highest level.
There are a number of combinations available including real wood, real carbon fibre and real aluminum. Exposed stitching and perforated leather cloak the tops of the doors and instrument panel.
The instrument panel is among the sharpest and most legible I have encountered. Cadillac’s CUE infotainment system, which dominates the centre stack and has its own big touchscreen is less impressive. The haptic feedback controls that work as you come within a certain proximity often do things you diddn't intend, thus creating added distraction.
The standard front seats can be adjusted 20 ways. I needed only a few to find a good driving position in coordination with the power tilt and telescope steering wheel.
The additional wheelbase has resulted in more space for rear seat occupants and the trunk commodious with a flat floor but relatively narrow opening.
There are a number of active and passive safety features standard or available, among them a Driver Awareness package that includes Cadillac’s Safety Alert Seat system, which vibrates under the appropriate side of your butt should you wander out of your lane.
Smaller, lighter engines
As mentioned above, the removal of all that weight allowed the development team to specify smaller, and lighter engines to achieve the same or improved performance available from the outgoing CTS with fuel economy improvements across the range.
The base engine is a 272-horsepower, 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder driving the rear wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission. The next step up is a normally aspirated 321-horsepower, 3.6-litre V-6 with the current leader of the pack a twin-turbo version of that six putting 420 horsepower to all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic.
That same all-wheel-drive system and eight-speed combo is also available with the other engines.
On the road the surprise wasn’t the stout performance of the blown six (sub five-seconds to 100 km/h), it was that of the base four. Only at idle, where characteristic four-cylinder vibration occurs, are you aware it is a four.
Acceleration is more than acceptable as are passing and hill climbing. If the thought of a four-cylinder Cadillac puts you off, don’t forget the base model of the target - BMW 5-Series - is similarly equipped but with fewer horses to cope with more weight.
The mid-level V-6 is a treat; sonorous and silky smooth it is one of GM’s better engines. The turbocharged edition is a hot rod with instant oomph at any speed and just as the torque curve starts to fall off, the horsepower begins to peak with seamless power well past ticket territory.
All engines benefit from a standard Bose audio system that incorporates noise cancellation and enhancement technology, cancelling unwanted noises and emphasizing those from the engine deemed pleasant.
Balanced and composed
The one impression I took away from a day with a trio of these new Cadillacs over a wide variety of road surfaces and types was the car's balance. The new light-weight CTS is remarkably composed over nasty surfaces, has a firm but not unpleasant ride and responds to steering inputs with an alacrity the old and heavier vehicles simply cannot accomplish.
The base price of the 2014 Cadillac CTS, with the 2.0-litre engine, six-speed auto and rear wheel drive is $50,895 in Canada. But the tab escalates quickly with the addition of different driveline and trim choices.
The “luxury” package adds $4,000, the “performance” package more than $10,000 and the “Premium” package almost $16,000. The top-line Vsport Premium with the mega engine and AWD is $74,495.
That’s serious territory where it will be even harder for Cadillac to earn a place at the table. But in the $55,000 - $60,000 range the new CTS is more than competitive and likely to accomplish the desired goal of attracting new folks to the brand.