That said, this third generation of Cadillac's CTS –- the model that originally helped bring the brand back from the brink of extinction –- puts Detroit firmly in contention with the best of the German competition.
Cadillac is carrying the flag for American luxury – given that Lincoln's revival is a long way off, if it happens at all – and this mid-size sedan is the newest and best effort yet from GM's premium brand.
The first generation CTS tried awkwardly to cover two bases at once by sizing itself midway between the established compact premium sedan segment, epitomized by BMW's 3 Series, and the middleweight division, long the territory of BMW's 5 Series, Mercedes E Class and Audi A6.
With the arrival last year of the smaller Cadillac ATS, the CTS has grown up and properly addressed the challenge of competing in the heart of premium market. Read on to learn just how successful Cadillac has been in its mission to tackle the world's leading luxury cars.
The BasicsSticker Price: $46,025 - $59,995
Engine: 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder; 3.6-liter V-6; 3.6-liter V-6 twin turbo
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Performance: 2.0-liter turbo: 272 horsepower; 3.6-liter V-6: 321 horsepower; 3.6-liter V-6 twin turbo: 420 horsepower
Fuel Economy: 2.0-liter four: 20/30 mpg estimated; V-6: 19/28 mpg estimated; V-6 twin turbo: 17/25 mpg estimated
Seating: 5 people
Exterior Design"We want to be the most dramatic and emotional luxury brand," said Brian Smith, exterior design manager for the 2014 CTS.
It's a noble sentiment, but one echoed by virtually every aspiring premium nameplate on the market. From Acura to Infiniti, all the wannabes outside the German triumvirate of BMW, Mercedes and Audi will say how the Teutonic designs are too stern and lacking emotion. Meanwhile the German automakers laugh all the way to the bank.
What's true is that Cadillac has gained some traction with its vertical light signature head and tail light designs. And on the latest CTS, the hard planed surfaces of the previous model have been subtlety softened to produce a genuinely eye catching design.
We agree with Smith that the front corner of the CTS is its best aspect. Striking and distinctive, you won't mistake this Cadillac for any other car on the road.
InteriorThere's no question Cadillac's interior designers have raised their game with this CTS, which offers a rich combination of leather and wood finishes. There are eight distinct color choices and some very attractive options such as 'open pore' wood trim on the dashboard and door panels. The overall effect is sophisticated and luxurious enough to give the German rivals in this class a proper run for their money.
One notable characteristic is the car's overall refinement. There's a pleasing absence of annoying road noise, partially due to an active noise cancelation system, which uses the car's speaker system to cancel out unwanted sounds. This system also accentuates desirable tones by amplifying the sound of the motor, which sounds particularly entertaining in the twin-turbo model.
Passenger And Cargo RoomA longer wheelbase on this generation CTS results in more legroom for passengers, notably those in the rear, than in its predecessors. But with a lower roofline, the rear headroom is only just sufficient for a six-footer. The rear compartment features a split-folding seat that opens to a large, wide trunk space.
Driving DynamicsThe CTS's most outstanding quality has to be its handling and road holding. Put simply, this is a mid-sized sedan that drives like a compact one, with crisp steering, taut but pliant suspension and all-round dynamic competence that makes it fun to throw around challenging backroads.
If you start as we did with the base 2.0-liter turbo four model in rear-wheel-drive form (all-wheel drive is available on most versions), you will find spirited performance at least off the line, with 0-60mph in 6.1 seconds; that's 1.5 seconds quicker than the last CTS. Opt for the 18-inch wheels (in place of standard 17-inch rims) and you get magnetic ride control as standard, a suspension system that reacts extremely fast to road bumps and dips and produces a remarkably smooth ride. Only a few other cars, such as Audi's exotic R8 sports car, offer the magnetic ride system.
From the four-cylinder you can step up to the 3.6-liter V-6 for more seamless acceleration, especially at higher speeds, but the real thrill comes in the twin turbo V-6 Vsport version. With 420-horsepower, this motor takes advantage of the car's relative light weight (200lbs lighter than a BMW 528i, for instance) to produce thrilling, V-8-like performance.
The only drawback is that once you have tasted the fast, tied down feel of the Vsport, it's hard to go back to the more sedate companion models.
Tech And InfotainmentThe fly in the ointment for the CTS driver has to be the CUE, or Cadillac User Experience, infotainment system. A good idea on paper, but poorly executed in practice, the system would be better named miscue. The designers attempted to take navigation, entertainment and climate system controls to the next level with a slick, haptic feedback, touch screen. Among the many flaws are 'slider' controls for the volume and fan speed. They look cool but are impossible to operate with the precision that simple rotary knobs provide. The graphic rendering on the navigation screen looks several generations old, and is far outclassed by that on a Lexus or Mercedes. And CUE's much trumpeted intuitive voice command system repeatedly fails to produce desired results.
If you can see past CUE's failings (not easy), the rest of the CTS technology package is impressive, with an excellent audio system, and a raft of safety systems that while not at level of Mercedes' E and S class sedans, still ticks most of the boxes for available driver aids.
Bottom LineSince putting Cadillac back on the map in 2002, the CTS has matured nicely and now gives up very little, if anything, in comparison with other mid-sized luxury sedans, even those from Germany.
Appealing design, a comfortable, well-equipped interior and truly competitive ride and handling makes the CTS worth taking very seriously. And while the exciting Vsport is currently the top of the CTS line, it's no secret that a full-blown, pulse racing V model is on the way. That should really ruffle some feathers on the other side of the pond.