Where does the smallest Cadillac fit into the luxury market?

With so many Americans rushing from cars into crossover SUVs, only the strongest sedans are surviving. That’s not good news for Cadillac. Its huge, decadent luxury sedans were once desired all around the world. But while its Escalade SUV is still an international icon and its crossovers are fairly successful domestically, Cadillac failed to establish itself among the leading luxury-sedan brands today. The few remaining luxury sedan buyers more often turn to Audi, BMW, Lexus, or Mercedes-Benz. Some will try out critically acclaimed but unconventional options like Volvo and Genesis. And a growing number are choosing all-electric Teslas over any traditional luxury sedan.

It’s into this backdrop that Cadillac has overhauled its two luxury sports sedans: the midsize CTS and compact ATS. They wear new styling and new names: CT5 and CT4, respectively. This 2020 Cadillac CT4 delivers a sophisticated rear-wheel-drive sports sedan platform at the price of the Germans’ subcompact front-wheel-drive sedans. We recently spent a week in the new CT4 to see whether that’s enough to earn a second glance from the people who still want a luxury sports sedan. Prices start at $32,995.

2020 CADILLAC CT4 - EXTERIOR DESIGN

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The Cadillac ATS debuted in 2013 wearing Cadillac’s vertical headlights and taillights, the “Art and Science” design theme the brand has since backed away from.

The new CT4 wears the crisper lines that Cadillac debuted with the XT6 crossover.

The headlights are more horizontal and connect to the grille, though they retain a vertical spear at the outside edges. The taillights also remain more vertical, part of an arguably busy rear design: The narrow trunk opening forces the trunk lid away from the taillights, making the bumper larger.

The most notable aspect of the CT4’s exterior is that it’s bigger and more upright than most sedans at this price point. It stretches 187.2 inches long — 4.2 inches longer than the ATS and a foot longer than an Audi A3. It’s even longer than a Mercedes C-Class or BMW 3 Series, and the same length as the Audi A4. This makes the CT4 statelier than most similarly priced luxury sedans and gives it more presence, especially when you also see its clean, crisp front end.

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Cadillac CT4 exterior dimensions
Wheelbase (in. / mm): 109.3 / 2775
Overall Length (in. / mm): 187.2 / 4756
Overall Width (in. / mm): 71.5 / 1815 (w/o mirrors) 77.7 / 1974 (w/ mirrors)
Overall Height (in. / mm): 56 / 1423
Track (in. mm): 60.3 / 1532 (front) 61.7 / 1568 (rear)

2020 CADILLAC CT4 - INTERIOR DESIGN AND COMFORT

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Although the CT4 got bigger, its interior dimensions stayed right where the ATS was — petite.

Rear-wheel-drive architecture is always a known drag on space efficiency, and the CT4 suffers worse than most. There’s ample space up front and generous fore-aft seat travel, but adults will struggle to wedge themselves into the backseat. Similarly priced European subcompacts are generally similar, but don’t count on the CT4’s extra size to yield a practical benefit. The same applies to the Cadillac’s small 10.7-cubic-foot trunk, which is shallow and awkwardly shaped. That said, the Genesis G70 — another rear-wheel-drive sports sedan that’s only slightly smaller and slightly more expensive than the Cadillac — has a similarly small rear seat and trunk.

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While space didn’t improve from the ATS to the CT4, the new model does have a modernized dashboard design with more user-friendly controls. Its 8-inch touchscreen is now more separated from the rest of the dashboard, though not perched all the way on top like in some other modern cars. This isn’t a high-tech or extra-opulent cabin, but it at least avoids glaring ergonomic or quality flaws. The side-by-side volume and tuning knobs look tacked-on just below the touchscreen, but it’s still better than the luxury cars that bury these functions — as the ATS did. (The CT4 also provides redundant controls on the center console between the front seats.) We’d have liked a more precise feel to the turn-signal stalk, but dashboard buttons feel great.

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Cadillac CT4 interior dimensions
Headroom (in / mm): 38.3 / 973 (front) 36.5 / 928 (rear)
Legroom (in. / mm): 42.4 / 1077 (front) 33.4 / 848 (rear)
Shoulder Room (in. / mm): 55.2 / 1403 (front) 53.9 / 1370 (rear)
Hip Room (in. / mm): 53 / 1346 (front) 52.5 / 1333 (rear)

2020 CADILLAC CT4 - DRIVING EXPERIENCE

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The CT4 is available with a choice of three four-cylinder engines.

A turbocharged 2.0-liter 237-horsepower four-cylinder is standard equipment, a 310-hp 2.7-liter turbo is a $2,500 upcharge on one trim level (Premium Luxury), and the CT4-V comes exclusively with a 325-hp version of the 2.7-liter.

The 2.0-liter engine pairs with an eight-speed automatic transmission while the 2.7-liters get a 10-speed. All-wheel-drive is optional on all models, typically costing $2,000.

Cadillac CT4 specifications
Type: 2.7L Dual-Volute Turbocharged I4 DOHC with Active Fuel Management, direct injection and auto. stop/start
Bore & Stroke (in. / mm): 3.63 x 4.01 / 92.25 x 102
Block Material: Cast aluminum
Cylinder Head Material: Cast aluminum
Valvetrain: Dual overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder
Fuel Delivery: Direct injection with electronic throttle control
Compression Ratio: 10:1
Horsepower (hp / kW @ rpm): 310 / 228 @ 5600 (SAE Certified) – Premium Luxury
Torque (lb.-ft. / Nm): 350 / 475 @ 1800 (SAE Certified) – Premium Luxury
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Our test car was a rear-drive Premium Luxury with the 310-hp 2.7-liter. It was easy to drive this car gently or to dig in for effortless acceleration with a pleasant growl. The engine didn’t always sound great at idle, though, especially right when we fired up the engine. The base 2.0-liter is also found in several other Cadillac models, and it proved decently peppy and quiet when we tested it in the XT4 crossover. Still, the CT4 is less powerful across the board than the ATS; the older Cadillac had come standard with a 272-hp 2.0-liter and offered two 3.6-liter V6 engines: a naturally aspirated 335-hp motor and a turbocharged 464-hp monster in the ATS-V. The ATS’s available manual transmission is also gone.

What’s more, the CT4 loses some of the ATS’s steering sharpness. It’s still a well-balanced, well-composed sedan that’s decent fun to drive. After all, the CT4’s platform also underpins the Chevrolet Camaro, which has become quite poised and agile in its latest generation. But the ATS came out when Cadillac thought its path to greatness was European-beating driving enjoyment. And because that gambit failed (due to the Cadillac’s name, design, interior quality, interior spaciousness, ergonomic shortcomings, and/or middling powertrains), the latest models are less sport-focused, with more of a disconnect between the driver and the pavement. Again, we don’t mean the CT4 doesn’t ride and handle quite well for its class; it’s just that the ATS proved that these bones had greater potential than the CT4 is delivering.

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The base 2.0-liter engine achieves EPA ratings of 23 mpg in the city, 34 mpg on the highway, and 27 mpg overall — about two mpg better than the base ATS. The 2.7-liter gets 20 mpg city / 30 mpg highway / 24 mpg overall, which is identical to the V6-powered ATS. The ATS V6 used regular-grade fuel instead of the CT4’s premium, too. All-wheel-drive costs about one mpg on both CT4 engines. The good news is that our 2.7-liter test vehicle handily beat the EPA ratings, topping 40 mpg on the highway and staying in the upper 20s overall.

2020 CADILLAC CT4 - PRICING

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The CT4 starts at $32,995 (plus a $995 destination charge) in its base trim, called luxury. It’s a solid deal, especially since you can get most basic luxury-car features without needing to upgrade to a pricier model. Options include a 14-speaker Bose sound system, a sunroof, heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, a navigation system, and a wireless smartphone charger. However, as is common on many General Motors products, you can’t get advanced safety features.

For those, you need the Premium Luxury, which starts at $37,495. In addition to automatic emergency braking, it brings genuine leather upholstery, a memory system for the driver’s seat and mirrors, and rain-sensing windshield wipers. This is also where you can start upgrading to the 2.7-liter engine, along with other driver-assistance gear like a lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, and adaptive cruise control. Equipped with those safety features, navigation, the Bose sound system, heated and ventilated front seats, and the 2.7-liter turbo (but not a sunroof or all-wheel-drive), our CT4 test vehicle came to $44,690. That sounds steep, but remember that this price buys you a 310-horsepower rear-drive sports sedan. And that’s right around the base price of a 288-hp Audi S3 with no options and less money than an equivalently equipped front-wheel-drive A4 with a piddly 188 horsepower.

Other trim levels include the Sport, $38,585, which is perfect for the handful of buyers who’ll want to pair sportier styling and stronger brakes with the base engine; the 2.7-liter isn’t available. For maximum 2.7-liter performance, the CT4-V ($44,495) brings the 325-hp 2.7-liter along with a sport-tuned suspension, adaptive suspension system, and limited-slip differential.

2020 CADILLAC CT4 KEY COMPETITORS

2020 Genesis G70

2018 Genesis G70
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Genesis is Hyundai’s luxury brand, and it blends Hyundai’s twin focuses of value and ambition — it’s affordable for what you get, and it aims to be a world-beater. The G70 is the brand’s entry-level model, and as we mentioned, it’s about the same size and about as roomy as the CT4. It’s a little more expensive, starting at $35,540, but it offsets that with extra standard features, including the safety gear that Cadillac is so stingy with. It also brings more standard horsepower (252 hp), sharper steering and handling, and a stronger optional engine: a 365-hp V6. Like the Cadillac, the Genesis doesn’t have quite the interior ambiance or technology of the European leaders, but it’s more user-friendly. Between these two sedans, the CT4 is more fuel-efficient, and because it has more standalone options (versus large, expensive options packages), it can be easier to tailor the Cadillac to precisely what you want.

Read our full review on the 2020 Genesis G70

2020 Infiniti Q50

2018 Infiniti Q50 High Resolution Exterior
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If you want to go fast on a budget, the often-overlooked Infiniti Q50 stands ready. It brings a 300-horsepower turbocharged V6 at its base price of $36,400, along with a roomier backseat and trunk than the CT4 or G70. The Q50’s never-stellar interior hasn’t changed that much since the model debuted in 2014, but if you’re not particular about that, the Q50 is comfortable, well-equipped, decently agile — and speedy.

Read our full review on the 2020 Infiniti Q50

2020 Mercedes-Benz A220

Mercedes-Benz A-Class Sedan
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If you’re looking for the tech side of luxury at a low price, rather than high-end driving dynamics, the Mercedes-Benz A220 might be the entry-level lux sedan for you. This front-wheel-drive subcompact sedan has cramped quarters and unremarkable ride, acceleration, and handling, but despite its $32,800 base price, it offers all-out Mercedes opulence inside and out. It also includes the dizzyingly advanced MBUX infotainment system, the opposite of the CT4’s straightforward, mainstream-grade 8-inch touchscreen.

Read our full review on the 2020 Mercedes-Benz A220

2020 Audi A3

The Audi A3 (along with its S3 performance model) isn’t the freshest subcompact luxury sedan you can buy, but especially if you step up to the S3, it’s the most fun to drive. Its interior is more high-tech than the CT4’s, if not as next-generation-amazing or meticulously finished as the A220’s. But while the A220 has Mercedes pizzazz and the CT4 has the stately proportions of a much larger vehicle, the A3 is quite clearly a subcompact — it’s stubby and tall rather than long and low.

Read our full review on the 2020 Audi A3

2020 CADILLAC CT4 IN A NUTSHELL

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It’s unclear whether many car buyers today are looking for a luxury sedan that’s small yet elegant, dynamics-focused without being exuberantly fun to drive, and more user-friendly than dazzling. Certainly, it seems to us like a small niche. But the Cadillac CT4 is an all-around-credible entry-level luxury sedan that sells at competitive prices. We hope it manages to find enough buyers who’ll appreciate such a vehicle.

Brady Holt
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