Life, Liberty and the Pursuit… of Acura? Infiniti? BMW? The Cadillac brand’s been sliding downmarket for so long it’s hard to know whose tailpipes they’re chasing. Back in ’02, the CTS offered genuine hope that Caddy could recapture some long lost ground. Although the Sigma-platformed mid-sizer was too small for the brand’s aging aficionados, it was a credible throw down to Japanese and German sports sedans. In a few short years, Caddy’s competition caught up– and left CTS sales in the dust. Now, a refreshed CTS returns to the fray. Is it good enough to put the deeply damaged Cadillac brand back in the running?
The CTS’ reworked exterior is certainly up to the challenge. The new model’s combination of refinement and muscularity kicks the competition in their collective crotch. While plagued with the same sky-high hemline and buffalo butt of the previous iteration, the new CTS benefits from two inches extra length at both ends. The cutlines– complete with muscular edges, fat flares and hot-rod pipes– harmonize more tunefully than a motorcoach of drunken Divas.
There are some jarring notes. The CTS’ headlights emulate the rear’s subtle tail-finning– unknowingly echoing the uneven panel gaps of Regan-era Fleetwoods. Though the CTS’ grille and deck lid trimmings look suitably Lexian, their childishly incorrect proportions mar otherwise admirable restraint. The CTS looks even more nose-heavy than before; an effect that’s somewhat hidden by the affectation du jour (side portals) and the grill’s XXL orthodontia.
GM Car Czar Bob Lutz has been trash-talking non-trashy interiors since he assumed the throne in ’02. Word! From the CTS’ perfectly executed dashtop stitching to its quality polymers, soft touch buttonage and rich leather hides, Caddy-inhabiting sybarites can finally relax. Combined with intuitive ergonomics and minimal electronic interference, the CTS cabin tells its technocratic competition to take a hike– unless their denizens are looking for Bluetooth connectivity. (Oops.)
Optional woodgrain, white accent lighting (cough, Lexus) and a panoramic roof with a mesh-textured shade kick it up a notch. The BOSE upgrade gets the party started with a 40-gig hard drive, while the navigationally challenged get Pimp C’d with an eight-inch TV screen jumpin’ out the dash. Put it all together and you know why Cadillac is the artist formerly known as the “Standard of The World,” and why Hip-Hop heroes never lost faith in the first place.
Crisply-tailored sheetmetal. An automotive interior that makes a mockery of sterile Japanese and dour German cabins. All the CTS needs is a set of driving dynamics as relaxing as a weekend at a Scottsdale spa and it'd be mission accomplished. And we’d pronounce the CTS ready to lope to the head of the pack. Sigh.
Obviously, hardcore corner-carvers need not apply. Even when equipped with the Nürburgring-fettled “Summer Tire Performance Package,” the CTS doesn’t have the goods to entice performance-minded drivers out of Bavaria’s finest. Not that the sportiest of CTS handles poorly; its meatier gumballs and firmer underpinnings make for quick and controllable transitions. The steering provides reasonable progress reports. And the posi-traction axle enables fast exits.
That’s fine as far as it goes– which isn’t as far or as fast as BMW's 335i. But it’s exactly what the doctor didn’t order. Realtors and such will opt for the CTS sitting on all-season 17’s, a relatively mellow suspension and no LSD (don’t know, don’t ask). Here the CTS lacks confidence-inspiring responses and overlooks the stress-killing ride normally associated with the brand. The base CTS isn’t skittish but the aluminum-intensive suspension’s bump absorption feels… cheap.
In terms of forward progress, the CTS’ direct-injected 3.6-liter powertrain offers one forward gear for every combustion chamber. It sounds plenty poke-intensive on paper: 304hp and zero to 60mph in under six seconds can’t be all wrong. But it feels wrong. What’s required: effortless wafting. What's presented: endless frustration. The CTS struggles to build steam under its 3900 lbs. frame.
Combined with a lazy cog swapper and slow tip-in, the V6 feels soft on the bottom, mushy in the middle and timid up top. Factor in a power peak above 6000rpm and the CTS is a disappointment for a brand internationally known for massive torque and turbine-like acceleration. While this $47k whip hits all the other buttons for a proper American luxury car, it’s begging for a destroked and detuned LS3 V8 to round out the package– and the fuel economy wouldn't be significantly worse.
The Cadillac CTS is a beautiful, well-appointed machine with its heart in the wrong place. Once again, the brand’s guardians decided to chase highly-tuned European sports sedans instead of returning to the simple values that made Cadillacs– including the Escalade– American icons. Still, no question: the CTS represents genuine progress for the Cadillac brand. Minus the engine and suspension mistakes, they're right where they should have been 15 years ago.