2020 Cadillac CT5 Premium Luxury AWD Review - Close, Yet Far

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey
Fast Facts

2020 Cadillac CT5 Premium Luxury AWD Fast Facts

3.0-liter twin-turbocharged V6 (335 horsepower @ 5,600 rpm; 400 lb-ft @ 2,400-4,400 rpm)
Ten-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel drive
18 city / 25 highway / 21 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
13.3 city, 9.3 highway, 11.5 combined. (NRCan Rating, L/100km)
Base Price
$40,695 (U.S) / $42,798 (Canada)
As Tested
$52,155 (U.S.) / $55,593 (Canada)
Prices include $995 destination charge in the United States and $2,200 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can't be directly compared.
2020 cadillac ct5 premium luxury awd review close yet far

The automotive press, ourselves included, has been hard on Cadillac in recent years. But the brand is making strides back to respectability.

Unfortunately, the journey is long and incomplete.

For evidence, I submit the CT5. There’s a lot to like about it. But every day I spent with it revealed more and more flaws.

Mostly minor flaws, to be sure. But the kind of flaws that most of the other luxury brands – especially Genesis and the Germans (good band name) and Acura and Lexus – generally manage to avoid.

For example, the dashboard materials above the beltline look and feel luxurious. Below? Decidedly downmarket. And hard, in places that should be soft (giggity). Just ask my right knee – it’s been quite some time since the car passed through and yet I can still feel the hard plastic under the dash. The plastic that slapped my knee whenever I took a left-hand turn aggressively.

Of course, maybe my knee wouldn’t slap the center-stack if the car better controlled its body roll.

To be fair, the CT5 present in this guise is more luxury sedan than sports sedan, and the body roll was well controlled until I pushed it. But it’s one thing to expect body roll. It’s another to get banged up because the bean counters decided that hard plastics could be used where they couldn’t be seen.

That sums up my overall experience with the CT5 – it felt like a pretty good luxury car that answered a lot of Cadillac’s critics, until examined more closely. Dig a bit, metaphorically speaking, and you’d find materials that weren’t quite on par with the competition, but always in places that only car reviewers and the most diligent owners would look or touch.

It wasn’t just materials. As I said, the car’s behavior in hard cornering seemed pretty good at first. But push just a wee bit harder, and the experience would be a letdown compared to the competition.

It’s true that the competitive set includes the BMW 3-Series and Audi A4, and those taut Teutonic sedans set a sporting bar that can be hard to clear. And it’s perhaps true Caddy buyers won’t care that the CT5 doesn’t get there. But if the 3-Series, A4, and Mercedes-Benz C-Class can strike a nice balance between sport and luxury, why can’t Cadillac? Especially considering what it managed with the ATS and the CTS, which preceded the CT5. Sure, a brand could choose to prioritize comfort over sport – and perhaps Cadillac did – but if you can successfully combine both, why not do it?

At least the ride is acceptably compliant, if not best in class. Furthermore, the 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged V6 provides power a plenty, at 335 horsepower and 400 lb-ft of torque. It’s got guts enough for your commute, even with the extra curb weight that all-wheel-drive adds.

Steering feel is similarly a positive – GM got it mostly right in this application.

Another positive is the shift away from the Cadillac User Experience of yore. While CUE remains the nomenclature for the infotainment system, all the weird sliders and haptic touch controls are gone, replaced by conventional knobs and buttons, including a large control knob aft of the shifter. It’s a much more user-friendly, well, experience.

I’m not sure I can say the same about the cabin’s aesthetics – it’s just not quite visually appealing. Not ugly, necessarily, though the tacked-on infotainment screen doesn’t look classy. The colors and shapes seem a bit thrown together.

The CT5 bases at a reasonable $40K and change, including standard features such as 18-inch wheels, split-fold rear seat, leather seats, LED head- and taillights, LED ambient interior lighting, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and starting, remote start, Bluetooth, wireless phone charger, CUE, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, satellite radio capability, rear cross-traffic alert, forward-collision alert, automatic emergency braking, front pedestrian braking, and lane-change alert with blind-spot alert.

Start checking options boxes and the price adds up. The turbo V6 is $3,500 and AWD is $2,000. Navigation and Bose audio add $1,500. A package including lane-keep assist with lane-departure warning and head-up display is another $1,300. Heated seats and steering wheel plus cooled seats add $1,090 while the Garnet metallic paint added $625. Cornering lights and sill lighting added 600 more bucks. Grand total, with fees? $52,155.

What is notable is that there are popular features that one would need to keep ticking even more boxes to get.

The CT5 is one of those cars that is pretty good in a vacuum. But as always, that’s not good enough. Cadillac needs to present a compelling case for the CT5. Why should buyers look away from the imports, or even Lincoln, which technically speaking still offers sedans for the moment? Not to mention Chrysler’s 300, which offers AWD and a fair amount of the same features for less money.

Thing is, Caddy had been doing that in recent years with the ATS and CTS. The CT5 needed to take a leap forward, or at least maintain that baseline, and it hasn’t. It’s still likable. But that isn’t enough.

The sooner Cadillac and GM get that, the sooner the brand will back in the conversation.

[Images © 2021 Tim Healey/TTAC]

Join the conversation
3 of 52 comments
  • Akear Akear on Apr 21, 2021

    Cadillac was in much better shape 5 to 10 years ago. For the money, they produced the best performance sedans in the world. In those days the press even gave several Cadillac’s the prestigious North American Car of the year award. Now it seems the press has turned on Cadillac. The downfall probably started with the introduction of the castrated Cadillac sedan lineup of 2019. The final nail on the coffin was the cancellation of the Black-wing V8. Nobody is going to buy Cadillac’s upcoming electric vehicles so they might as well continue to improve their sedans. There is some good potential here for Cadillac.

    • FreedMike FreedMike on Apr 21, 2021

      Yeah, but no one wanted those sedans, and they came out right as the market for sedans tanked.

  • DOHC 106 DOHC 106 on May 06, 2021

    I think the exterior is nice from every angle, but the interior doesn't look like a $60K car. The performance numbers seem good, otherwise you are paying for the powertrain...thats it.

  • MaintenanceCosts Where's a gas inline six, for that torque and nice sound without all the diesel stink? Oh, that's right; GM being GM, they prematurely canceled it.
  • FreedMike I nominate the 1980 Thunderbird as the worst malaise car ever. My brother got one used and promptly totaled it out. In retrospect, that was a mercy killing.
  • Vulpine Regretfully, rather boring. Nothing truly unique, though the M715 is a real eye-grabber.
  • Parkave231 This counts for the Rare Rides installment on the Fox Cougar and Fox Thunderbird too, right? Don't want to ever have to revisit those......(They should have just called them Monarch/Marquis and Granada/LTD II and everything would have been fine.)
  • DM335 The 1983 Thunderbird and Cougar were introduced later than the rest of the 1983 models. If I recall correctly, the first models arrived in January or February 1983. I'm not sure when they were unveiled, but that would explain why the full-line brochures for Ford and Mercury were missing the Thunderbird and Cougar--at least the first version printed.The 1980 Cougar XR-7 had the same 108.4 inch wheelbase as the 1980 Thunderbird. The Cougar coupe, sedan and wagon had the shorter wheelbase, as did the Ford Granada.