We named the Cadillac CTS-V our car of the year for 2009, so we’re probably going to already be bias in favor of the V6 version. We are practical people at TopSpeed (sometimes), so we should be fine with trading 552 hp engine and Magnetic Ride Control for 304 hp and about $20K more cash in our pocket (starting at $39,885), right?
The outside of the car is unmistakably Cadillac. The “Art and Science” design language has really matured on the second-generation CTS. Just like the rest of the Cadillac lineup, the entire exterior is based off of hard edges and long creases. Where the old one looked distinctive, this one looks distinctively aggressive.
The design is not a copy from the Europeans, but GM did borrow the theme: family-familiar face, minimal body chrome, and only quality pieces.
All rear ends of Cadillac cars still carry the tailfin design. No longer do Cadillacs have a tail so large it almost feels like another car is always following, but the rear lights are vertical and as tall as the trunk. This love-it-or-hate-it element is at least brought into the modern age with its bright LED light technology.
Cadillac took its time developing the interior. Where BMW and Mercedes put ergonomics above all else, the CTS went for a different approach. While the layout is still logical, overall this was an exercise in styling. The hard edge look of the exterior is continued to inside. The center stack goes for the same tall, vertical look as the tail lamps, including the center air vents that are now mounted straight up in the middle of the stack.
We had about $10K worth of options that included nice touches like a sat nave screen, heated and cooled leather seats, LED ambient lighting, and a sunroof that runs almost the full roof of the car.
The touch screen sat nav system has one of the most logical layouts we’ve ever seen. The directional function is just as good as other cars, including pointing out gas stations, restaurants, attractions, and local traffic. But best feature is when the full screen is not in use. Three fourths of the screen will retract back into the dash, and the last quarter will still functions as logical radio controls. Cadillac has figured out what no other car company has: drivers listen to multiple forms of music. In most cars the switch from AM to FM to satellite radio requires a switch to one single format. The memory in the CTS’ radio allows for any mix of media to be set into the six presets. It’s a little thing, but it makes a huge difference on a morning commute.
The Cadillac’s real test is how it feels on the road. The CTS is competing in a market with young buyers whose idea of luxury comes from what they know about German cars. The CTS does a good job of translating the feel of the road. The suspension is not built for as much all-out performance as the European rivals (that’s what the CTS-V is for), but that also means the ride isn’t as harsh in the large bumps. In other words, it still fell like American luxury, just spoken with a heavy German accent.
There are three performance levels with the CTS, but only two engines. Without the 6.2-liter supercharged V8 of the CTS-V, the only other unit is a 3.6-liter V6. Because ours had direct injection, we were sitting on a respectable 304 hp – that’s 4 more hp than the BMW 335i and 36 more than the Mercedes C350 (although both are a couple hundred pound trimmer.)
When get in our fleet, it’s our job to find its handling limits. While most CTS owners won’t have intentions of going for a track day with a CTS, we like to know what it can do in everyday situations. Our CTS easily pulled ahead at the stoplights, and more importantly, we had a hard time making the tire howl. Drivers who want the rear end to break loose during hard cornering and acceleration will need to do a lot of work.
Overall the CTS was impressive. The last generation CTS was an alternative to BMW’s 3-Series and Mercedes C-Class because it offered similar power in very different packaging. This CTS still is considered an alternative to the Germans, but now because it offers similar performance with flair.
The CTS doesn’t stick to the road like gum in the same way the 3-Series does, but its touch-screen is a monumental triumph over BMW’s iDrive. The CTS doesn’t have the all the options of the Mercedes C-Class, but the Mercedes doesn’t offer all-wheel drive with the larger engine. In total, the CTS has the right alternatives to fit in the spaces for the drivers who can’t find the right fit with the Germans.