Cadillac’s mid-size saloon almost matches its illustrious rivals, writes Kevin Hackett.
Road test: 2014 Cadillac CTS
About 18 months ago it happened. An epiphany of sorts, the realisation that America had engineered and designed a car that could compete with the best from Europe; that it could make a car that handled and was fun to drive, even on a race circuit. You know, one with actual corners. The venue was Yas Marina, the car was Cadillac’s then all-new ATS. What an excellent car that is and, to be honest, the GM products that I’ve experienced since have all impressed on certain levels – Detroit has done its homework and buyers are infinitely better off because of it.
And now comes the larger CTS. Its smaller sibling is Cadillac’s alternative to a BMW 3 Series, Merc C-Class or Audi A4, but this is here to take on the 5 Series, the E-Class and the A6 – a tough battle for anyone, never mind a manufacturer that’s found it, thus far, impossible to compete in this quality-laden sector of the market. The dominant models have carved their own particular niches by dint of being truly well-built, beautifully engineered and designed prestige cars that have always had sales reps drooling at the prospect of promotion to management level, just so that they could park one of their own outside the office. For the CTS to claw away these deeply ingrained buying habits from the German giants will take some doing.
The CTS has been around for about 12 years now and the original model introduced the world to Cadillac’s “Art and Science” styling – something that still seems fresh today. And the new one, the third generation, sticks with this tried-and-tested design language. It still looks modern, is still as sharp as a bayonet and proves that mid-size saloon cars need not be dull to look at. But, at just shy of five metres in length, the wheels of the CTS can tend to look a bit lost on such an enormous side profile. Apart from that, there’s very little to pick holes in and the front lamp treatment, which I thought at first was a bit gimmicky, turns out to be anything but. It’s a handsome beast, make no mistake.
This physical attractiveness continues to the CTS’s innards, where gorgeously supple leather and other premium materials cover practically every surface. Gone are the cheap plastics, the hopelessly dated digital displays and the messy instruments. In their place are the polar opposites – the CTS is blessed with a stylish, well-appointed and luxuriant cabin that reeks of money well spent. The only downside to my test car is a shiny black centre stack and console, which is nice to the touch but too easily smeared with fingerprints.
Instrumentation is now completely computerised. In front of the driver, behind a lovely thick-rimmed steering wheel, is a 12.3-inch LCD display that is adjustable to four different layouts – it both looks lovely and is simple to read, even when the UAE’s sunshine is pouring into the cabin. Safety kit is here in abundance and there’s an intuitive and user-friendly infotainment system with a large touch-screen, along with a rather splendid Bose sound system that actually wages war on unwanted cabin and power-train noises by sending out non-audible frequencies via the speakers to counteract them. It’s luxe central in here, the only criticism is a snugger-than-expected rear quarters, especially considering the CTS’s exterior proportions.
At the business end, a 3.6L V6 pushes 321hp and 373Nm to the rear wheels (four-wheel drive is an option, but probably pointless in this region), and this is via an eight-speed automatic with lovely metallic paddle shifters on the wheel for that extra sense of involvement.
In operation, the drivetrain is as slick as it gets. Put down the power and the delivery is like pouring honey – smooth, steady and beautifully controlled. It’s no autobahn stormer (that attitude will no doubt come later with the inevitable “hot” variant), but it’s no slouch, either. It feels fast enough and that might have something to do with the fact that the CTS has been on a diet, losing more than 90 kilograms since its last inception.
The ride and handling, while unable to fully disguise the car’s girth, is fine, too. It’s fitted with magnetic active suspension, which does a fine job of maintaining composure on the road but, oddly, low-speed manoeuvres over speed humps reveal some lack of finesse in the set-up. The powerful brakes are by Brembo and they, too, keep the CTS on the straight and narrow.
So it’s all fine and dandy, but is it enough to tempt buyers away from the European establishment? I will stick my neck out and say not quite, but it’s getting close. The thing is, get inside a BMW, Merc or Audi and there’s an indefinable air of quality and class that still can’t be matched by anyone else – and, when it comes to driving dynamics, the 5 Series is sharper and the A6 boasts an interior that’s a class above anything else. But we’re talking extremely small degrees here, and that, as much as anything else, proves just how things have changed for some American cars these days.
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