Cadillac CT6 vs BMW 7 Series vs Mercedes-Benz S-Class

Cadillac has a new flagship and it’s ready to take on the establishment. Can the CT6 really give the 7 Series and S-Class something to worry about?
By Imran Malik, Features Writer
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July 01, 2016
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Of the three, the CT6 boasts the most striking looks, although like most Cadillacs, it could divide opinion.
Of the three, the CT6 boasts the most striking looks, although like most Cadillacs, it could divide opinion.(8/25)
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The exterior design of the 7 Series is clean and elegant but isn’t significantly different from the previous model.
The exterior design of the 7 Series is clean and elegant but isn’t significantly different from the previous model.(10/25)
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The S-Class continues to be the benchmark in the segment with its luxurious cabin and super-smooth ride quality.
The S-Class continues to be the benchmark in the segment with its luxurious cabin and super-smooth ride quality.(18/25)
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The ‘Standard of the World’. That’s a great slogan, and there was a time when Cadillac could back it up with the biggest, most luxurious and most potent models in the market. In the Fifties, it was the go-to brand for those wanting cars with prestige and power. Things began to change, however, when the Mercedes-Benz 600 came along in the Sixties and when the strict emissions regulations hit in the Seventies, it spelled big trouble for the brand. American carmakers found adhering to the new policies tough. General Motors made clumsy modifications to its cars robbing most of them of their power, and ever since, Cadillac has found itself trailing the Germans in the premium segment. Mercedes and BMW have been ruling the roost for years with the S-Class and 7 Series, respectively, while Cadillac’s image took a battering by building weak cars for an ageing demographic. Their products have been criticised for lacking quality and for falling short of the competition but Cadillac hasn’t been standing still, literally or metaphorically. It moved from Detroit to New York’s trendy Soho neighbourhood in a bid to help reinvent itself and with recent models such as the ATS and CTS, it seems to be back on track. It even got a new slogan, ‘Dare Greatly’. Now, it wants to truly reestablish itself with its new flagship — the CT6. It’s expected to take the brand back to a segment that it hasn’t focused on in years, but can it really compete with the world’s finest luxury saloons? It sure won’t be easy; the S-Class is arguably the finest car Stuttgart has ever made and the 7 Series is right up alongside it. Both pack some amazing technology, superb interiors and they float effortlessly down the road. With such esteemed company, how will the CT6 fare?

Very well indeed, and that is because the all-new flagship has lots going for it — but most pertinently, it costs far less than the Teutons.

Very well indeed, and that is because the all-new flagship has lots going for it — but most pertinently, it costs far less than the Teutons. Sure, those in the market for a big luxo barge don’t even consider factors such as price. They buy whatever they feel is the best, but when the entry-model CT6 starts at Dh235K, and the range-topper with all the bells and whistles can be had for Dh298K, you have to ask yourself if the S-Class is really about Dh280K better or the 7-Series is really roughly Dh180K better — because for the privilege, that is what you have to pay over the American.

Underpinned by Cadillac’s all-new Omega architecture and with a front fascia that borrows styling cues from the recent Ciel and Elmiraj concepts, the CT6 is by far the most striking looker in this group. The vertical headlights frame, the distinctive grille on which sits a great big ‘Cadillac Crest’ and the family resemblance to the CTS and ATS in particular is clear. Its profile is just as attractive as the bold front end, what with the rising beltline, which leads you to the rear and which is typical of modern Cadillacs i.e. a lack of chrome. The 7 Series and S-Class have a strip that stretches all the way across the back and you’d have thought Cadillac would have had the same because historically, they were chrome laden. Not this one. They all have a long profile and that is emphasised by the sloping roofline that tapers off into the boot — but this is more exaggerated on the CT6, which also doesn’t have any unnecessary lines to disturb the clean, angular styling. Its short front overhang help highlight the model’s classic luxury-car proportions.

The BMW’s exterior is more evolution than revolution over the previous design, but it looks much tighter and crisper. The large kidney grilles give it all the identity it needs while the bonnet is lower and leaner, making for a more aggressive look than the other two — particularly the Merc, which takes a more subtle approach to styling. The 7er’s profile flows better than the previous generation did and the signature Hofmeister Kink is as prominent as ever. Moving on to the S-Class, it has long been the face of class and sophistication, and it still is. It combines an upright version of the corporate Mercedes grille flanked by a pair of sharp headlights (comprised entirely of LED units) and to save weight, every panel is made from aluminium. The CT6 is 62 per cent aluminium, while the BMW has a Carbon Core, which saves 130kg.

It’s an attractive bunch but when grouped together as they are in these photos, the CT6 stands out in terms of aesthetics. It commands the most attention thanks to the angular design. Its cabin is swathed in rich leathers, metals and wood, and has some nice design cues, too. Speaking of cues, the Cadillac CUE infotainment system sits far better in the CT6’s large interior than on some other models, and it also gains a touchpad on the centre console to control it. It has an industry-first virtual mirror system that displays an image captured by the rear-mounted camera on the overhead mirror, and another first — the surround-view video recording system. The enhanced Night Vision helps you to identify people or large animals via heat signatures on a display in the driver-information centre, and it has a Pedestrian Collision Mitigation system that activates automatic braking. It is loaded with tech, but in comparison to the other two, it comes across as rather basic when you swing open the doors of the Teutons to reveal airplane-like cockpits. But, the fact of the matter is that the CT6 is very well appointed and very comfortable (it’s pin drop silent, too, when you’re on the move) but it lacks the excitement and moreover, the opulence you find in the 7er and S-Class. The former has an array of leather, wood and aluminium, and even though our tester was finished in brown, it still managed to feel bright and airy in there. On the tech front, it blows the competition away; the iDrive system utilises touchscreen inputs, and best of all, Gesture Control. It’s all about advanced technology for the BMW, which also has a more modern feel about it than the other two. But the S-Class, with its supple leather, exquisite wood and genuine metal trim creates an air of old-world opulence, which buyers of prestige cars would surely appreciate. However, don’t be tricked into thinking this is an old timer with nothing more to offer. Like the BMW, it’s very much a star of the 21st century. The two 12.3in TFT screens that sit in front of the driver ram home that point; the left-hand unit replaces a conventional analogue instrument cluster, while the right-hand screen displays climate, entertainment and Google maps-integrated navigation info. It also has a touch-sensitive telephone keypad in addition to a concierge service, location-based traffic and weather updates plus automatic collision notification.

It’s an attractive bunch but when grouped together as they are in these photos, the CT6 stands out in terms of aesthetics.

But the Bose Panaray audio in the CT6 is simply terrific — in fact, it’s better than what the other two offer in terms of clarity of sound. You’d expect as much what with 34 speakers scattered throughout the cabin. All three have recline and massage functions built into all four seats, but the 7er does the best job in relieving those aches and pains. When it comes to legroom, the CT6 falls a tad short. There isn’t sufficient space for your feet under the front seats and it also doesn’t offer as much headroom as the other two.

But it does drive really well. Powered by a 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6, it makes a very healthy 404bhp and is mated to an eight-speed automatic, which directs the grunt to all four corners. The ride is super smooth thanks to the Magnetic Ride Control-suspended chassis, which irons out imperfections on the road, but crucially, it doesn’t detach you from the driving experience either. And, with a precise and well-weighted steering, the CT6 almost feels nimble for something that is 5,200mm long and which weighs 1,853kg.

However, it comes in at third place in terms of dynamics with the S-Class second best. The latter has a 3.0-litre V6 tuned to produce 333bhp, mated to a seven-speed automatic sending the power to the rear wheels, and is the smoothest of the lot and the most relaxing to be in. That’s down to the brilliant Magic Body Control system, which scans the road and prepares the chassis so you never feel those potholes or humps. It rides like butter, but the best to drive has to be the ‘Ultimate Driving Machine’; the 7er isn’t just the most pleasant when cruising down the highway, but the way it changes character when you switch it to Sport Plus is incredible. It hurtles along like a sportscar, and it’s easy to forget you are piloting a massive saloon. It feels like the 3.0-litre turbo inline-six has way more punch than 320 horses — in fact, it feels like it matches the brawny acceleration provided by the 750i’s twin-turbo V8. The eight-speed automatic, which powers the rear wheels, is never flustered, always in the right gear, and eager to change quickly and smoothly. And like the Merc, it too has a camera-based system that scans the road for bumps and automatically adjusts the suspension.

Powered by a 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6, it makes a very healthy 404bhp and is mated to an eight-speed automatic, which directs the grunt to all four corners.

Cadillac has changed a lot in recent years and the models it is producing now are certainly not designed for old folk anymore. A younger, more hip crowd is what the current line-up is targeting. But in spite of all the progress that’s been made, the brand has a little way to go in really competing against the Europeans. Not in terms of actual products — it has them and the CT6 is the best of the lot — but in changing perceptions. That’s the big issue it faces. Cadillac still lives in the shadow of the great V16s, huge tailfins, and just plain saloon bigness of the past. It can’t turn the clock back to the Fifties — but the new flagship can undercut the Germans. And it does so without looking out of place amongst them. That’s a very impressive feat. The CT6 isn’t even the real challenger to the S-Class or the 7-Series (we’ll have to wait for the CT8 for that) but it is the best Cadillac you can buy today. And when compared to the best Mercedes and BMW, it more than holds its own. Those with money to burn will go straight to the Germans, but a large percentage should be taking home the Caddie, and they’ll have a pocket full of money to spare.

Will this become the standard practice of the world? You never know…

Specs and rating

Model:740Li

Engine:3.0-litre six-cyl turbo

Transmission:Eight-speed auto, RWD

Max power:320bhp @ 6,500rpm

Max torque:450Nm @ 1,380rpm

Top speed:250kph

0-100kph:5.6sec

Length:5,238mm

Width:1,902mm

Height:1,479mm

Wheelbase:3,210mm

Weight:1,845kg

On sale:Now

Highs:A technology powerhouse, great blend of luxury and driveability.

Lows:Doesn’t look significantly different from before.

Specs and rating

Model:S400

Engine:3.0-litre V6 turbo

Transmission:Seven-speed auto, RWD

Max power:333bhp @ 5,500rpm

Max torque:480Nm @ 1,400rpm

Top speed:250kph

0-100kph:5.3sec

Length:5,116mm

Width:1,900mm

Height:1,496mm

Wheelbase:3,165mm

Weight:1,925kg

On sale:Now

Highs:The benchmark in flagship luxury, ultra-smooth, quiet ride.

Lows:Beginning to look dated.

Specs and rating

Model:CT6

Engine:3.0-litre V6 twin-turbo

Transmission:Eight-speed auto, AWD

Max power:404bhp @ 5,700rpm

Max torque:542Nm @ 5,100rpm

Top speed:250kph

0-100kph:4.6sec

Length:5,184mm

Width:1,879mm

Height:1,472mm

Wheelbase:3,109mm

Weight:1,853kg

On sale:Now

Highs:Great looks, comfortable cabin, smooth ride.

Lows:Tight rear-seat foot and headroom.