The CTS plays in a very prestigious field littered with brilliant cars such as the 5 Series, E-Class and A6. The German triumvirate would put the frighteners on any others in the luxury midsize saloon segment — but not this Cadillac. That’s because this third-gen model just happens to be the most ‘German’ American car that I have driven, one that is bursting with style, power, comfort and superb driving dynamics. Didn’t we normally associate all this with brands from Deutschland? Yes. We did.
Even when it hit the scene back in 2002 it was the first properly modern Cadillac in decades. Far tauter than its land-barge predecessors, its angular styling and much improved build quality put it on the map and there’s been an evolution of this — and its powertrains — with each successive update. Now, this 2016 CTS can almost stand shoulder to shoulder with its European rivals as it isn’t just the most refined and high-tech version yet — it’s also excellent to drive.
It wasn’t always this way; General Motors floundered during the Eighties, Nineties and early Noughties while its rivals kept on producing the goods. But you don’t play catch-up forever; eventually, there comes a time when all of the good work you’ve quietly been doing puts you neck and neck with the opposition once again, and that time is now for Cadillac. Aesthetically, the CTS really stands out; its long, lean body rides on 18in polished wheels and gets longer headlights and a larger, dark trapezoidal grille with the revised Cadillac logo proudly sitting in the middle. Around the back, the sharply raked window, thick chrome trim and dual exhaust tips round off what is a very handsome and sharp-looking exterior.
It’s as attractive on the inside too and far better than the previous generation in terms of fit and finish; the materials used are more upscale now, there are lots of soft-touch surfaces and quality stitching all-round along with just the right amount of leather, wood and aluminium trim. The seats are comfortable and supportive and there’s more than enough leg- and headroom in the front row — but it’s a tad less roomy in the back.
On the tech front, it features a large 8.0in touchscreen with Cadillac’s Cue infotainment system, which is intuitive to use (and there’s a 5.7in TFT screen between the gauges) but the haptic feedback buttons are a little hit and miss and the more you fumble around with them, the more grubby fingermarks you leave on the piano black centre console. However, it’s easy to pair your smartphone up, the sat-nav is crystal clear and the rear view camera’s image doesn’t become grainy at night, unlike others I’ve tested. You also get a very quiet ride — typical of Cadillac — thanks to a noise cancellation system meaning road and wind noise are, er, cancelled out. On the safety front, it has eight airbags, a surround-view monitor (it shows you the curb on all sides of the car) and there’s a standard driver-awareness package (it includes a blind-spot monitoring system, lane-departure warning system, rear cross-traffic alerts, and rain-sensing wipers) so, it has a good looking body, very smart cabin and some clever tech too. That’s enough to impress most but where this CTS really shines is on the road.
This one makes mincemeat of all those old notions that American cars cannot handle; with a Macpherson-type front suspension and independent rear and most important of all a Magnetic Ride Control suspension that maintains precise body control (it can adjust to the road up to 1,000 times per second), it looks forward to the corners and tackles them with real gusto. It’s able to change direction quickly and with a light-footedness thanks to a direct-acting stabiliser bar that helps to sharpen the feel of the steering. It doesn’t ponder or throw a tantrum like cars hailing from the US used to once upon a time when presented with anything but a straight road. It just shrugs its shoulders and gets on with the job at hand.
With a weight distribution that is almost 50/50 (it’s built on a lightweight aluminium frame) it is extremely well balanced and very stable. There’s no doubt it will appeal to enthusiasts — the product planners at GM would have had an eye on those who relish a thrill behind the wheel, and even though the all-new 3.6-litre V6 is getting on a bit, it compares favourably with its rivals in terms of power. With direct injection and dual overhead cams, the sixer makes a healthy 335 horses and 386Nm of torque. It’s mated to a new eight-speed automatic transmission (with steering mounted paddle shifters) that offers crisp shifts and is always in the right gear. The CTS offers three drive modes (Touring, Sport, and Snow/Ice) and the second option stiffens up the steering and suspension and improves throttle response and it’s in this mode that the Caddie proves the most fun to drive. It accelerates hard, darts from left to right and remains planted to the road.
And this is just the rear-wheel drive variant; I’d imagine the all-wheel drive car would be even more fun to throw around.
Overall, the CTS has some very well-established models for company — which cost quite a lot more than it — but it has no reason to feel out of place. And, it doesn’t.