It’s been over a decade since Cadillac launched its first CTS. And while its intro didn’t send Audi, BMW, or Benz back to their respective drawing boards, the then-new Art and Science design language – and relatively competent dynamic – single-handedly revived a moribund Cadillac. And while breathing life into the Caddy franchise this new midsize essentially created a one horse race in America’s domestic luxury face-off. Cadillac became ‘it’, while Lincoln was – for all intents and purposes – sh*t. A decade later, and one full generation removed from that first CTS, Cadillac regains its stride with the launch of the 2014 edition. With the newest CTS the Cadillac team places the brand in rarefied territory – and gives it a price point to match.
Having eleven years to digest the edgy, angular architecture introduced in 2003, it’s all-too-easy to forget the impact on the domestic car scene made by that first CTS intro. And while I was never completely comfortable with the visual balance of Cadillac’s 1st-gen (a little too over-the-top for these eyes), all was forgiven with the launch of the 2nd-generation for 2008. Sheetmetal that seemed slightly discordant in 2003 had been melded into a truly unified form five years later. And the arrival of V-Sport, Coupe and Sport Wagon variants made the CTS (your pick) either more appealing or increasingly irrelevant. Despite its tunnel-like interior I was all about a V6-powered wagon, while never growing fully accustomed to the more rad architecture of the coupe. But both derivatives served to underscore the importance Cadillac execs place on the CTS. (And where, guys and gals, were your plans for a convertible?)
That, of course, was then. And this (you guessed it…) is now. With the launch of the smaller ATS Cadillac now has a credible 3-Series competitor; to that end the CTS no longer needs to straddle the ‘gap’ as a competitor to both BMW’s ‘3’ and ‘5’. So, the CTS grows slightly (longer, lower and leaner in PR-speak), and via one of Cadillac’s ‘Fast Facts’ we know the CTS is now roughly 200 pounds lighter than BMW’s 5-Series.
With an all-new platform (closely related to that of the new ATS) comes a revised powertrain strategy. With a CTS V-Sport still waiting in the wings, the CTS offers at launch a standard 2.0 liter turbocharged four (similar in spec to BMW’s 528i), a normally aspirated 3.6 liter V6 (good for 321 horsepower and 275 lb-ft of torque) and a Twin-Turbo 3.6 liter V6 (with – are you sitting down? – 420 horsepower and 430 lb-ft of torque). In a drive of the last-gen CTS Coupe, and this much more recent test of the ’14 sedan, we found the normally aspirated V6 all you would need or ask for in a performance-oriented, midsize sedan. And with an estimated 18 City/29 Highway/22 Combined, we can make a reasonable argument for both its tractability and efficiency.
A walkaround of the new sheetmetal provides little in the way of surprise (we’ve been exposed to the basic language for over a decade), but for fans of the architecture quite a bit of delight. The CTS’ edginess and angularity remain, but are softened by an increase of five inches in length, a 1.2 inch increase in wheelbase, and a roofline/cowl height reduced by one inch.
We like the CTS’ shape best from the ¾ rear, and perhaps least in profile. There, the 18-inch rims are fine, but the 245/40 tires fitted to them appear to need more section height. No, we’re not advising a visit to DUB’s world headquarters, but we would like to see a little more tire and a little less air. We felt the same in our evaluation of the ATS – great grip on the road, but simply not that gripping in the visual.
On the road, the CTS’ combination of responsive V6, smooth 6-speed automatic, fully independent suspension and (available) Magnetic Ride Control create a compelling argument for sixty monthly payments or, more likely in this demographic, a 36-month lease. The platform is extremely rigid, allowing for a controlled-albeit-compliant ride/handling balance. The electric rack-and-pinion (supplied by ZF) delivers a reasonable amount of both feel (important) and direction (very important), and the standard Brembo calipers up front give you both stopping ability and bragging rights.
Of course, ‘on the road’ is experienced from inside the CTS, and there we had some issues. What Cadillac describes as ‘performance’ front seats, which are standard on our Premium Collection CTS, leave more than a little to be desired, even for those of us well within the ‘norm’ for U.S. adult sizing. Initial impressions suggest a seat much too narrow for most Wal-Mart shoppers, and much too firm for anyone carrying even a wallet in a back pocket. That, in combination with complaints regarding headrest adjustability, makes the performance seating a non-starter.
And while you may ultimately adjust to the CTS concept of bucket seating, we’ll never attain a comfort level with Cadillac’s CUE (Cadillac User Experience) technology. To its credit the Nav aspect is intuitive, but everything you do on the touchscreen requires far more effort – and tactile dexterity – than should be needed in 2013. Again, we had the same criticism in our drive of the ATS, and we’re not alone; national outlets have regarded it derisively. What – exactly – is wrong with using knobs for audio, heating and cooling?
With all that the CTS enjoys on the positive side of the ledger, we go to Cadillac.com to ‘build our own’. And it’s there where we suffer the most significant disconnect…its window sticker. To be sure, most things have gotten more expensive, especially in the luxury segment. But simply because BMW can command $50K for a 3-Series and over $60K for a 528i doesn’t suggest – at least to us – that Cadillac’s CTS should come in at $68,000 (that’s THOUSAND).
We looked at the car, drove the car and enjoyed the car, but never in a lifetime of tests would we have assumed this car’s pricing would be the equivalent of a smallish Dallas-area condo. Once again, it appears the marketing team at GM have put the cart before the horse, attaching a premium price tag on a vehicle that has not yet achieved a premium perception.
Obviously, we hope Cadillac arrives there, but it’s not – in our admittedly limited purview – ‘there’ yet. You pay your money and you make your choice. Our choice would be a 2014 CTS Sport Wagon (built on the old platform), and selling for around $45K. And we’d be (maybe) the third to buy one this year…