The reasons for this have a lot to do with the sheer brand recognition, and the image, of the German competitors. You can't really lay that all at GM's feet, but what you can do is critique the uninspired drivetrain selection. The 3.6-liter V6 is a crude implement, making its 335 horsepower roughly. The BMW's equivalent inline six makes its power smoothly, with modern forced induction. There's no directly comparable E-Class sedan until you get into the V-Sport versus E43 situation, but the turbo four is smooth. And the interior? No question. The Mercedes is jaw-slacking. The story for the CTS's turbo four is largely the same.
Some blame also has to be leveled at the first- and second-generation CTS sedans, which adopted an odd strategy: sell a slightly larger sedan to folks looking at 3-Series, A4, and C-Class, but at about the same price. Folks weren't interested in a larger car for the same money. Despite the third-gen CTS's growth into the 5-Series size class, the CTS still seems like an odd in-betweener in the sport luxury segment – psychologically, if not physically.
CTS sales are in the toilet in 2017, and GM is smart to shake things up. So with the announcement that Cadillac head honcho Johan de Nysschen has finally been allowed to kill off underperforming models, the CTS is toast. (As is the ATS, and much more importantly, the XTS – a shambling dinosaur of a sedan.) What's next is the CT5, and that's what we're interested in now.
Cadillac has until 2019 to figure out what the CT5 actually is. That isn't a lot of time, so our money is on it being a repositioned, rationalized CTS. The platform's not bad; it's heavier than the larger CT6, but it's fairly modern. Sadly, it's unlikely that any of the standard powertrain options will get a revamp, but maybe some additional sound deadening or an active engine mount system to reduce NVH will quell the V6's bad habits.
More importantly, Cadillac will get a chance to work on the interior look, almost certainly aligning it more closely with the much improved CT6. That'll help a lot. Secondly, the company could rationalize the pricing structure a bit. It might sound counterintuitive, but representing a great value in this segment can actually hurt a car. Some of a luxury car's prestige is tied into its cost. Instead of undercutting the 5-Series, matching it on price and then beating it on content might be the impetus a buyer needs to consider it an equally desirable vehicle.
What seems highly unlikely is the CT5 shrinking to an in-betweener size, or being an ATS-sized vehicle. The ATS has never sold well, and in our opinion a sub-XT5 crossover to cash in on the CUV craze would be a much smarter move. That means the ATS, perhaps the most dynamically interesting Cadillac ever, is probably well and truly dead.
Will a CT5 succeed if it's a revamped, more luxurious, better-positioned CTS? That's the multi-million dollar question. The thing is, Cadillac really doesn't have much of a choice but to try it, do they? The lineup's too thin without something to compliment the CT6 and XT5. And de Nysschen appears to have a lot of autonomy, and he'll likely need to use it to avoid the sort of corner-cutting and compromise that have doomed promising GM projects in the past.
A wild guess? It won't be enough to win on a tactical level. But Cadillac needs to play a long game here. The development cycle is short compared to the sort of energy it takes to move public opinion on brand identity. It took Audi literally decades to repair the damage done by the unintended acceleration crisis of the late 1980s. As long as Cadillac can convince the accountants to think about how the CT5 will help them in 10 years or more, that's a win.
Now, we'll sit back and see how this all plays out.