Cadillac CTS Review

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta

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.

Sajeev Mehta
Sajeev Mehta

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  • Durask Durask on Sep 27, 2007

    I see. More about Lexus - not too long ago we looked at the GX470 and if you look closely you realize that it looks very nice and expensive in places where you are more likely to look, in other places - cheap plastic. Very smart. It's all about creating an appearance. With many US cars it's the complete opposite. A good example is the Buick Enclave - overall good quality materials, but a few jarring cheap bits stare you right in the eye and ruin the whole impression.

  • Sajeev Mehta Sajeev Mehta on Sep 28, 2007

    Durask: having spent time with a Lexus ES and the CTS, there's no doubt in my mind that the CTS wins on interior craftsmanship. Aside from the glaring omission of Bluetooth, they nailed it. And its more stylish than an Audi. Lexus has a new benchmark to benchmark.

  • CFS I can’t believe these comments aren’t 100% in favor of CarPlay/Android Auto. They don’t add much for music and other audio that you don’t get with just a Bluetooth connection, but they make navigation so so much better. Why is it better? Because inputting the destination address is so much easier. And I don’t need to think about updating my car’s maps. Plus, I can switch between Google Maps, Waze, Apple Maps, or whatever else seems best suited for my trip. Hands-free calling features are OK, but not such a big deal for me.
  • TheEndlessEnigma I've owned a VW in the past and learned my lesson. Any kind of repair was absurdly expensive which I understand is typical of VW nowadays.
  • TheEndlessEnigma Interesting how Stellantis (and can we take a moment to acknowledge how piss-poor a company name this is - it invokes....what....MBA marketeers failing at their job) is pursuing cuts to reduce costs instead of, oh I don't know, designing-building-marketing vehicles people *WANT* to buy? What has Stella done with what was Chrysler? Suck off the cash flow generated by Chrysler brands, essentially kill the Chrysler brand by cancelling successful models, eliminate any market advantage Dodge had by killing successful models (G Caravan was the #1 minivan until it was killed, Charger & Challenger *were* profitable, etc,) and progressively and continually neuter Jeep all this while ignoring component and build quality. What's done in return? Push Fiat as the new and exciting brand then watch as it fails in North America (did you know ONLY 603 Fiats were sold in the US in 2023). All new Stellantis releases in North America are Euro designs......that then fail in North America because they are not design for our market. The Stellanis solution? Fire Fred, Hank, and Jim and replace them with Apu, Jose and Bernardo. Yup, that will work.
  • 3-On-The-Tree To say your people are total monsters is an unfair statement. You can judge the Japanese government but to say the citizens are culpable or responsible is wrong. That’s like saying every Caucasian person in the U.S is responsible for slavery or the civil rights era of violence and discrimination against African Americans and are benefiting from it. That’s 79 years ago, the average Japanese citizen born during WWII has nothing to do with what happened. Even my Japanese grandmother who was living in Yokohama whose home was firebombed was just trying to survive with 3 kids and a husband fighting in the war. Just like every war the citizens suffer, I saw it in Iraq. You can’t judge the people from the misdeeds of their government, my mom was born after the war, you really think she is responsible for what happened?
  • Irvingklaws Was a must have for my wife's new car. After years of windshield mounts, trying to keep the sun off the phone, wires running across the dash, etc...it's been a welcome upgrade. Don't have it in my current (old) car, just a stock stereo with the aforementioned windshield phone mount and wires...which is fine enough for me. But if I upgrade the radio with an aftermarket unit, the first thing I'm looking for, after separate volume and tuning KNOBS, is Carplay. Note, I've yet to find an aftermarket head unit meeting these basic qualifications. The infotainment in my '17 GTI had both of these and was near perfect, I'd be happy with that unit in any car.
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