1st Place: 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T
Pros: Dynamically gifted, refined ride, attractive and high-quality interior
Cons: Thrashy engine note when revved, odd-shaped trunk, Bluetooth hiccups
Verdict: A bonafide sport luxury sedan, excelling at both “sport” and “luxury”.
As a fan of Cadillacs since the beginning of this century (and the marque’s Art & Science era), I was both excited to drive and review the CTS but concerned any inherent bias might cloud my judgment and cause me to overlook crucial flaws in Cadillac’s mid-sized entry. I needn’t have worried: the CTS has flaws but they are minor and detract little from an excellent car, one that shades the Lexus GS350 F-Sport in almost every area bar engine refinement and sheer space.
My tester was a 2.0T Luxury, a step above the base CTS. While the base model comes standard with Brembo brakes, keyless ignition and entry, dual-zone climate control and 8-way power front seats, the Luxury model adds a sheer glut of features. These include heated/ventilated front seats, heated steering wheel, back-up camera, adaptive xenon headlights with auto high-beam control, forward collision alert (with Cadillac’s vibrating ‘safety seat’), lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. The MSRP for this 2014 model was $51,000, around $1,500 more than a base 2014 528i. However, with the Bimmer you have to add option packages to match the CTS Luxury’s high level of feature content.
That feature content includes a bevy of safety features. Perhaps because Brandon and I are safe drivers, we barely noticed any of it. The forward collision alert was set off once by a sudden stopper ahead and it was a curious experience. Red lights flashed in the gauge cluster and the seat vibrated to alert us of danger. Fortunately, the feature was well-calibrated and wasn’t set off incessantly as you may find with, for example, parking sensors.
The adaptive xenon headlights battled with the climate-controlled seats and heated steering wheel for the title of most desirable gadget. This system switches on the high beams when it is dark and switches them off at an appropriate time, avoiding he blinding of other motorists. This is one very welcome bit of technology that makes things more convenient for the driver but also safer for others.
Speaking of technology, reviews of recent Cadillac products invariably turn into screeds against the Cadillac User Experience (CUE). I approached CUE with trepidation. “What if it requires too much tapping? What about unsightly smudges?” I asked myself as I stepped into the CTS for the first time. In action, the touch-capacitive controls work commendably. Haptic feedback is good and somehow the piano black trim didn’t smudge as much as anticipated. Unfortunately, it was the other electronic systems that needed fine-tuning.
Brandon was aggravated by a faulty Bluetooth connection. The system would stream music from his iPhone successfully for hours but then stop, while still claiming the phone was connected. This was eventually solved the old-fashioned way – disconnect and reconnect – only for the issue to occur again later. The voice recognition system also wasn’t terribly effective. Turn-by-turn navigation was provided by OnStar (a traditional screen setup is optional) and this system was accurate, although personally I prefer to have an image on screen as well. Is it worth the extra cash, though? Probably not. A standard feature on all CTS sedans is an electronic cupholder cover. Simply tap the lip and the cover slowly slides open. It’s a nice detail and is elegantly executed but it strikes me as being just a tad pointless.
The CTS’ interior, overall, is classier than that of the GS despite lacking the Lexus’ leather-wrapped dash top and console. Soft, high-quality materials abound, including from the top to the bottom of the doors, with no signs of cost-cutting. Those doors also close with a refined “thunk”, as in the Lexus. The front seats are comfortable and supportive, being neither too firm nor too soft. While not as soft and enveloping as the Lexus’ pews initially are, they offer more lasting support and superior long-distance comfort. Where the Lexus has the edge is in the infotainment screen: the GS350 has a more attractive and clear presentation, a more driver-friendly position in the dash, and a greater size (12.3 inches versus 8 inches in the Cadillac). Alas, the Lexus has a more fiddly interface.
The Sapele wood trim is beautiful to behold although it is hard to adequately capture this on camera. The wood, along with some metallic highlights, help liven up the black-on-black interior, an interior color choice I usually criticize for being too funereal. It’s worth noting that, in addition to brown, red and gray seating options, Cadillac has also offered entirely blue and entirely cashmere interiors on the CTS line.
The gauge cluster isn’t especially attractive when the car is switched off but, once started, the gauges are well-lit, crisp and legible and are accompanied by a useful, full-color driver information display. A more modern and upscale set of gauges is available on more expensive CTS models, as is a head-up display.
Rear seat room and trunk space fall behind the GS, although at 5′ 11” I could comfortably sit behind myself. The trunk is more of a concern, however, being rather oddly shaped like the letter “T”. Fortunately, on certain CTS models – including my Luxury tester – the rear seats split and fold. Other CTS models receive only a trunk pass-through.
An elegant and high-quality interior is one crucial requirement of any good luxury sedan, as is a comfortable ride. The CTS delivers, impressing with a smooth, well-damped ride, even over the nastiest of ruts. There is no float or wallow, the CTS always feeling solid and planted. This is what a luxury sedan should ride like.
Taking the CTS onto a real driver’s road like Mulholland Drive quickly reveals the CTS also handles like a sport sedan should. The car shrinks around you and begs you to drive it hard. The 6-speed automatic is a smooth-shifting unit but on a road like Mulholland you’ll want to put it in manual mode and use the elegant paddle shifters. With 272 hp at 5500 rpm and 295 ft-lbs at a low 3000 rpm, the CTS has plenty of low-end grunt without any annoying turbo lag; the 2.0T also bests the BMW 528i’s 2.0 four by 31 hp and 37 ft-lbs, while weighing around 200 pounds less. This means the CTS is able to hit 60 mph in around 6 seconds, around 0.2 seconds slower than the GS350 and as fast as a CTS 3.6.
The steering is meaty and has plenty of feel, although it helpfully lightens up in low-speed maneuvers like parking. The transmission was never caught out of gear. The only demerit in the CTS driving experience is the sound of the turbo four while revving it in manual mode. Brandon and I agreed that chasing the redline summons some uncomfortably thrashy sounds from the engine. In regular driving, however, the car is serenely quiet. This is a vehicle that is built for both interstate driving and canyon carving. There’s no trick adaptive suspension or driving mode selector (although Magnetic Ride Control is available), just an extraordinarily well-sorted chassis.
Like the GS350 (and unlike the CTS 3.6), the CTS 2.0T requires 91-octane fuel. Disappointingly, the CTS has the same combined and highway EPA scores as the GS350 – 23 and 29 mpg, respectively – although the Cadillac’s 20 mpg score in the city is one mpg better than the Lexus. For comparison, the 2014 528i manages a combined 26 mpg.
Considering the CTS’ excellent ride/handling balance and high-quality interior, it’s puzzling to see that CTS sales volume decreased by 37% year over year from 2014 to 2015. Sales were always going to decline for the third generation, with the loss of the coupe and wagon variants and a repositioning and commensurate increase in price. Cadillac is also seeking higher average transaction prices rather than seeking to dramatically expand volume. Alas, sales figures continue to be on the decline and the presence of the larger, more formal CT6 near the CTS’ price range may prove a further hassle.
I hope buyers open their eyes to the CTS, as this American sedan is an equal of the Germans and superior to the Japanese offerings like our second-place finisher, the GS350. What makes the latest RWD Cadillacs so commendable is they haven’t sacrificed ride quality at the altar of performance and handling. There is still a proper luxury car ride, minus the old Cadillac float. There is also a distinctive design language that melds elegance and aggression, although the CTS’ rendition of Art & Science is more pleasing at the front of the car. With a few exceptions – the uninspiring XTS, for example – Cadillac is making its best cars yet. My advice to old-school Cadillac enthusiasts and sport/luxury sedan shoppers alike is to try the CTS. It will satisfy plush ride seekers and canyon carvers alike.
Future CC: 2014 Cadillac CTS-V Wagon – Born A Classic
Future Curbside Classic: 2014 Cadillac XTS – How To Say Fleetwood In The 21st Century
Plush ride and corner carving capable, is Cadillac building to Citroen levels suddenly?
So you have to spend more than $51K to get a modern-looking IP? Now, there are some gauges that look nice, but these just reek of parts-bin GM. GM should surprise buyers by having the upgraded IP in all CTS models, not just the even-pricer CTS models.
Perhaps this CTS is what the first one should have been, or even the Catera (gasp).
I’m just not convinced that buyers in this market at least will be wooed from the Germans or the Japanese. Meanwhile, the Koreans are approaching from the rear (objects in mirror ARE much closer than they appear – Genesis).
It will be interesting to see if this model will have improved resale value, a long-suffering negative for Cadillacs and Lincolns in general.
The gauges are the same as the ATS’s. What I find annoying is that the needles don’t point squarely at the outer marking on the gauges. My CTS, with the larger screen and reconfigurable gauges is completely different. I will try to post some pictures later.
These are a couple of seconds hand held so are not as sharp as they might be. first is the 1980’s style electronic digital gauge
this is the one I usually have
this is the same except the speedometer has a map in it
In the luxury market it is still about perception (sizzle) vs. reality (steak). Cadillac is good now. Some may say “great.” Some, if unbiased, say, as has the author, as good or maybe better than the Germans. But Cadillac slipped so far before recovering from being just a big Chevy that it will take a long time to convince the prestige-minded but unwashed, unaware public. If Cadillac keeps up its recent engineering efforts, it may all yet pay off.
This is a great comparison article. The CTS is tempting and the Lexus IS bland. I think you’ve done a great job of being objective too, by the way.
I just have trouble pulling the trigger on any GM car though because of what I call my “GM Wait 3-years rule”. That is, new GM cars always test nicely, but after about 3 years the problems seem to start appearing.
Sadly, it looks like the beautiful CTS may be a good example of the reason for the rule
Lexus however bland is well…but still Lexus
Cadillac keeps making steps in the right engineering direction, but I can’t help but feel that they’re losing sight of the emotion that the name (and names) invoked. Everyone else, as you pointed out yesterday with Lexus, is trying to stand out and be noticed, and Cadillac wants to sit subtly in the background with a product that would have been great following the first gen CTS, but comes across as rather bland flowing the brash and stunning Second gen. It may be an attempt to change the demographic they’re going after, but it’s a very long term strategy.
It’s a nice car, but I can’t help but compare the Cadillac to the MK5 Jetta (which also could be equipped with a 2.0 Turbo engine and 6 speed AT) it’s parked next to and see how similar they look.
I wish I could say that I was impressed with this generation Cadillac. I was never impressed with how Cadillac produced their cars in recent years. I’ve never like how they looked. In fact, some of them I’ve found hideous to look at.
Nice writeup and a surprising result. It’s good to see Cadillac building great cars at a decent value.
I for one really like Cadillac’s design language, but hate that I can’t tell generations or even models apart hardly at all. Still, were I in that market, they’d definitely be a top contender.
This car along with several other Cadillac models is what annoys me so much about current GM and reminds me of the old GM. Instead of putting in the best IP cluster in all models they limit this to higher trim levels. Why? The 2.0 liter turbo is another annoyance. It doesn’t sound good when pushed, it’s real world mileage is barely better than the 3.6 V6 LFX engine and probably no better than the newer and more efficient LGX on the 2016/2017 models and it requires 91 octane gas for little to no gain for the consumer. The 3.6 not only sounds better, but will probably be more reliable in the long run, has better highway passing power and doesn’t require 91 octane gas which in my neck of the woods costs up to 30-40 cents higher than 87 octane.
The oddly shaped trunk is also a concern as this is supposed to be a family sedan if needed with 4 doors and mid size dimensions. The fact that not every model has a split folding rear seat is absurd at these prices! Another thing that baffles me is why Cadillac and GM are so stingy with supplying there cars and crossovers with overhead storage for sun glasses or other small items. Even a freaken 15K Kia has this for goodness sakes!
Other gripes. Out of 10 exterior color choices only 2 are free. The other 8 are extra cost and can run up to 995.00! The base price is basically 46K with the 2.0T engine and 8 speed automatic. Want a V6 engine and a few options. Now you have to move up to the 55-60K Luxury model with the RWD starting over 54K and the AWD starting at 56690. Add that extra cost paint, the brake upgrade and some larger 19″ wheels and your over 61 large and this is only the Luxury trim. There are also Premium and V-Sport trims that can crawl into the high 70K region which is quite heady and where better cars exist.
The rear folding seat is included with leather seats. The base CTS does not have leather seats standard, but are optional. Your comments suggest that they only offer the premium trim level and forget the rest. The CTS is sport sedan, not a family sedan.
With the production volumes of the CTS being as low as they are, why would they bother to design a non-folding seat for the base model? The covering material won’t preclude folding vs non-folding.
Did you even read the entire post? I mentioned all trim levels, that the base 46k trim should have a split folding rear seat, that most of the exterior paint colors are extra cost and that this car gets costly really quick. A mid size 4 door sedan, even one that is pitched as a sport sedan, should be able to fit things in the trunk and offer some utility aka a split rear seat!
The rear suspension design takes up space. The priority is handling, not trunk space. Bentley and Rolls Royce are not much better (1 cubic foot). The 5 series BMW is also slightly better. The Mercedes E-class is the same.
Cadillac XTS is a modern day ’85 DeVille. And this CTS is a ’93 SeVille with better underneath.
Sounds very compelling, but it’s hard for me to wrap my head around the idea of a 4-cylinder Cadillac. (Yes, I’m a Luddite in some regards). And I’m rather peeved at them for discontinuing the coupe and wagon. (I know, if you liked them so much you should have bought one, unfortunately I can’t and likely won’t ever be able to afford one new).
The blue interior is encouraging though. And it’s definitely a looker, at least up front; the tail seems too tall and the detailing a bit soft.
The turbo 4 is the new V6. The Audi A6 and Mercedes E class have a 4 as the standard engine.
William, respectfully, please buy both the Cadillac CTS 2.0 and the Lexus GS, then live with both while driving them for five years, recompare after five years ownership experience dealing with real world service/reliability issues. At that time you and I can talk realistically about both cars and your actual service experiences between Cadillac and Lexus dealers.. I suspect, based on my real experiences that your conclusions will be substantially different. The retained trade-in value percentages of both cars will be substantially different not similar. Long term actual ownership of the GS will be preferable to the Cadillac.
Reliability really isn’t an issue on any modern car. They’re all really good, and pretty close to one another, unlike the old days when any new car required at least a couple visits to the dealer to ix little issues.
My experience with Toyota products: utter and complete reliability with good overall quality.
My experience with GM products: the opposite: Defects from day one, endless dealer visits, endless dealer abuse, trim that falls off, joy at lease-end.
As such, I won’t consider another GM product, ever. I even avoid GM products when renting. I hate them.
I saw a 2013 CTS on a lot a while ago with one of its fender vent/port baubles falling off, trim pieces inside loose and wear on the steering wheel and seat that looks more appropriate to 150k miles on a barely 60k mile car. I was not impressed, and it’s too bad because the outside looks slick.
That same owner could probably turn a Lexus into a pile of rubble too….
Funny but I hear these very same comments on Toyota’s with alloy wheels peeling after a few Winters, frames rotting out soon after, Honda’s that have destructing transmissions, air bag recalls, wheel bearings failing as little as 28K miles, lousy brakes etc. Ditto Chryslers and Fords and many German makes. But as we all know this is GM basher central so those all get a free pass it would seem by many!
Fact- I have rented 100’s of GM’s, Fords, Chryslers, Toyotas, Hyundai’s, Nissan;s etc.
They all have had there issues but I never had any rental car where stuff was just falling off unless you count the 2014 Camry rental where the center dash vents fell out after going over some aggressive railroad tracks. Yes those center vents were being held in by 4 flimsy plastic tabs and two were already broken. Is this typical? Maybe not but it just shows that anybody out there can quickly turn even the best of cars into crap in short order.
When I was a kid, my Dad drove Porsches and Beemers and Benzes.
I wanted a Caddy.
Now I drive a big at Audi.
And I still want a Caddy. This will happen one day.
Is that Our Author in the last pic? Looking good as the Caddy!
D’awww thanks Glen! That is indeed myself.
Makes a compelling case.
But in the luxury arena more than any other, perception IS reality. And GM’s mistakes/misdeeds from 1966 forward with Cadillac will continue to hound the brand, and only perseverance, combined with continued excellence, will overcome.
IMO, transaction price is PARAMOUNT. Make your profits there, not by fighting for increased market share.
Exclusivity, at least the perception of exclusivity, is part of the luxury mystique for many who play in that atmosphere. Unless and until ‘Cadillac’ and ‘exclusive’ become synonymous again – as it was sixty years ago – the battle will always be uphill NO MATTER HOW GOOD THE CARS ARE.
So take Porsche’s view, or at least the view they used to have: we will always build one less car than the market requires. Value for the dollar, of course, remains important, but the perception of exclusivity is even more important.
In Aaron Severson’s excellent history of the 1st-gen Seville, the exclusivity problem is detailed quite well.