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.

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]

Tim Healey
Tim Healey

Tim Healey grew up around the auto-parts business and has always had a love for cars — his parents joke his first word was “‘Vette”. Despite this, he wanted to pursue a career in sports writing but he ended up falling semi-accidentally into the automotive-journalism industry, first at Consumer Guide Automotive and later at Web2Carz.com. He also worked as an industry analyst at Mintel Group and freelanced for About.com, CarFax, Vehix.com, High Gear Media, Torque News, FutureCar.com, Cars.com, among others, and of course Vertical Scope sites such as AutoGuide.com, Off-Road.com, and HybridCars.com. He’s an urbanite and as such, doesn’t need a daily driver, but if he had one, it would be compact, sporty, and have a manual transmission.

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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.

  • Probert A few mega packs would probably have served as decent backup.
  • Lou_BC Lead sleds. Now-a-days GM would just use Bondo.
  • Jrhurren This is a great series. Thanks Corey
  • Tane94 Not as stylish as the Soul which it is replacing but a practical shape and bonus points for EV only.
  • Ronin What is the magical white swan event in the foreseeable future that will suddenly reverse the trend?Success tends to follow success, and likewise failure. The perception, other than among true believers, is that e-cars are a lost cause. Neither government fiat, nor government bribery, nor even the promise of superior virtue among one's peers have been enough to push past the early adapter curve. Either the bust-out is right now for e-cars, or it doesn't happen. Marketing 101.Even subtle language-manipulation, such as deeming those possessing common sense as suffering from some sort of vague anxiety (eg, "range anxiety") has not been enough to induce people to care.Twenty years from now funny AI-generated comedians will make fun of the '20s, and their obsession with theose silly half-forgotten EVs. They will point out that, yes, EVs actually ran on electricity generated by such organic fuels as coal and natural gas after all, and then they will perform synthesized laughter at us.