Still wondering whether Cadillac can take on the Europeans in the ever-escalating luxury war? Take a look at the CTS. It doesn’t matter how skeptical you are or how loyal to a competitor you remain; this midsize Caddy will at least earn your respect.
I’ve now spent three separate weeks in three unique CTS models since it grew larger to better compete in the D-segment, and each one impressed me. The first was a performance-oriented 2014 CTS VSport, the second a 2015 CTS 3.6L AWD, and most recently a 2016 model finished in near identical CTS 3.6L AWD spec. While the latter two are seemingly the same car, a number of significant upgrades made this year’s retest important.
Exterior and interior design
Other than new wheels throughout the range, don’t look for any styling modifications to verify changes. Cadillac had already cleaned up the grille surround and added its new, simplified badge to last year’s CTS, with the overall look very appealing. The brand’s distinctive, vertically stacked LED daytime running lights look particularly nice on this model, while the subtle chevron shape of its rear deck lid and the way all other backside elements culminate at the rearmost central point are truly unique. Still, look to the CTS’ optional satin-silver illuminated exterior door handles for a design highlight that one-ups all rivals, these bordering on automotive jewelry.
Once inside, a well-equipped 2016 Cadillac CTS delivers a sense of occasion many competitors lack. First, designers added a variety of solid and perforated leathers plus ultra-suede throughout my tester, all seemingly handmade with bespoke-like attention to detail. Such soft, padded surfaces covered most every panel, including the lower portions of the dash under the front occupant’s knees. Likewise, all four doors received the soft-touch treatment right to their lower extremities, even including the hidden portions that get shut within the frame, as did the sides of the centre console.
Additionally, attractive dark chromed metal and open-pore natural elm hardwood complemented my test car’s interior design. There was also plenty of piano black plastic, which I found especially nice on the steering wheel spokes and centre stack where touch-sensitive controls made for a higher-tech look and flush feel. Cadillac even went so far as to cover the console-mounted dual cupholders with a stitched leather lid that powers open and closed. Truly, few rivals finish their cabins as nicely.
It wasn’t all to my liking, though. I’m not a big fan of the Kona Brown colour chosen for my tester’s otherwise wonderfully soft, semi-aniline full leather upholstery, as its caramel hue reminded me of the cheap Naugahyde that covered kitchen chairs and old men’s briefcases when I was a kid. I’d rather have black, beige, cream, or some other version of brown, but I accept this may just be a personal taste issue.
Ergonomically speaking, the Cadillac CTS was spot on. Its memory-equipped, multi-way adjustable driver’s seat and powered steering column made for comfortable command of the road, while the cluster of gauges framed by the steering wheel was packed full of graphically stimulating, state-of-the-art, configurable TFT goodness. The colours and design change depending on which drive mode you’re in (blue for Tour and Snow/Ice, red for Sport), while different graphics (a checkered flag, snowflakes, etc.) and information pop up when informing of weather, fuel economy, and more.
Likewise, Cadillac’s standard 8” CUE infotainment system delivers high contrast, rich colours, and stunning graphics. It’s been upgraded with haptic feedback, proximity-sensing interactive gesture control, and a 360-degree camera for easier, safer parking, plus the addition of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for better smartphone integration. The system also incorporates OnStar 4G LTE with Wi-Fi hotspot capability, while its navigation guidance was accurate, SMS text messaging function proved useful, and upgraded Bose audio delivered superb sound.
An 8-speed automatic transmission is found across the entire 2016 Cadillac CTS line, from the base turbo 4-cylinder and mid-grade 3.6L V6 to the VSport’s twin-turbo V6. Mated to my current tester’s 321 horsepower and 275 lb-ft of torque, it’s a much more entertaining package than last year’s 6-speed unit. With Sport mode engaged, it produces quicker, yet wonderfully smooth shifts that are more precisely focused on the engine’s sweet spot (from 4,800-6,800 rpm). Sport mode also quickens throttle response and firms up the ride for more athletic handling, adding some edge to an already agile sedan.
The CTS is already one of the lightest cars in its class; add a well-engineered, sport-tuned suspension, and you get a level of quiet, controlled confidence in corners that won’t have anyone missing their Teutonic sedans, although the ride is very firm. You can feel every wrinkle in the road, and when a bigger bump arrives it hits with a thud. Still, I just loved driving this car. It begs you to go faster, with a really energetic pull off the line, great engine and exhaust notes that only get better as the revs climb, and brilliantly fun handling. At the same time, it’s a superb highway cruiser.
The 2016 Cadillac CTS doesn’t hold back on fuel-friendly features, either. Along with the new 8-speed gearbox that’s responsible for a 5% saving, it gets auto start/stop, cylinder deactivation that shuts down three cylinders under light loads such as coasting, and a real-time fuel economy indicator. It all helps the CTS 3.6L AWD achieve an impressive 11.0L/100km combined rating, whereas the same car with rear-wheel drive posts a 10.7 average. By the way, the 2.0L turbo 4-cylinder mentioned earlier is good for 9.9L/100km combined with RWD or 10.6 with AWD while still producing a considerable 272 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. On top of all this, my tester only needed regular gasoline, which meant a 10% cheaper bill at the pump.
Equipment… and a complain
Content included cornering and auto-leveling HID headlamps with auto high beams, rain-sensing wipers, and a rear-view camera, not to mention power heated side mirrors with driver-side auto dimming and ground illumination, proximity access, push-button ignition, a heated and leather-wrapped steering wheel with paddle shifters, a garage door opener, all the CUE infotainment items commented on before, a comfortable and accommodating rear seating area, and split-folding rear seatbacks with a centre pass-through to expand on the large trunk’s usefulness.
Specific to my $72,315 tester were the unique grille insert, 12.3” reconfigurable gauge cluster, alloy pedals, 20-way power driver and front passenger seats highlighted by manual cushion length adjustment and power side bolsters, full leather upholstery, ventilated front cushions, optional 19” wheels, and more.
Safety was covered by front and rear automated braking, a safety alert seat, side blind zone alert, lane change alert, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, forward collision alert, rear cross-traffic alert, and the usual assortment of airbags plus front knee blockers and rear side-thorax airbags. Also, you should know the car earned a 5-star crash test rating from the NHTSA.
This Cadillac CTS review won’t be entirely good news, mind you. The great-looking panoramic sunroof unfortunately creaked and groaned non-stop. It never leaked, thank goodness, but the constant noise hardly builds confidence in the car’s overall quality or structural rigidity, even though it feels absolutely rock-solid when pitched hard into fast-paced corners. Still, Cadillac should fix this problem as it’s been going on too long.
While not hitting all marks, the 2016 Cadillac CTS’ sharp styling both inside and out, superb material quality and execution, impressive load of standard and available features, and remarkable performance make it a strong competitor in the midsize luxury segment. Its most recent mechanical and infotainment upgrades pull it even further into contention.