Future Classic: 2011 Cadillac CTS Coupe – Magic Mirror, Who’s The Fairest Modern Cadillac Of Them All?

When I spotted a Cadillac CTS coupe recently, I was unexpectedly taken aback by how pretty the car was, parked nose out, clean and detailed and seeming to look just as fair as any modern Cadillac could. This got me thinking, is the CTS coupe indeed the prettiest modern Caddy? In fact, a whole scene played out in my mind.

Apologies to Disney’s Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs:


Luxury Car Queen: Autonomous car in the Magic Mirror, come from the farthest space. Through wind and darkness I summon thee. Speak!

Wind HOWLS and thunder CRASHES. The mirror inflamed.

Luxury Car Queen: Let me see thy face.

Fire subsides.

Magic Mirror: What wouldst thou know, my Queen?

Luxury Car Queen: Magic Mirror on the wall, who is the fairest modern Cadillac of all?

Magic Mirror: Famed is thy beauty, Majesty. But hold, a lovely car I see. GM badges cannot hide its gentle grace. Alas, it is more fair than thee.

Disgusted face. She crosses her arms.

Luxury Car Queen : Alas for it! Reveal its name.

Magic Mirror: Brake calipers red as the rose. Tires black as ebony. Doors long as the summer day. Paint silver as dew.

The Queen grabs her neck in CHOKED shock.

Luxury Car Queen: CTS Coupe!

Anger and disdain shrouds her expression.


Of course, I’ve been aware of, and generally positively disposed towards, this Snow White of cars since the introduction of the CTS coupe. I just hadn’t thought too much about it, or whether it truly represents the best of the modern iteration of GM’s luxury division.

For the purposes of this article, I’ll define modern as anything post front-wheel-drive-downsizing, say 1985 or newer. We’re really talking here mainly exterior styling, though interiors are never irrelevant and it’s hard to ignore mechanical beauty and functionality.


The example I spotted is a 2011, the first of only five years. The second generation CTS sedan it sprang from ran from 2008-2013, with the high performance V model joining it in 2009. The first (2003-07) and third (2014-19) generation CTS were sedan-only. Confusingly, the 2nd gen coupe and wagon continued to be made concurrently with the 3rd gen sedan through 2014 for the coupe and wagon and 2015 for the V coupe only.

Our feature car has aftermarket 19″ wheels that look very much like the CTS-V wheels, but being a base model it doesn’t have the V’s domed hood or more busy grille. I think, looks-wise, that gives this car the best of both worlds with a mean stance but a cleaner, prettier face.

So, if we are to consider giving the CTS coupe the title of Best Looking Modern Cadillac, we’ll have to consider some other nominees for that title. I looked for the most complimentary photos of each car that I could find and because the modern Cadillac nomenclature can be confusing, I include a link anywhere I mention a car without showing a picture.


The oldest nominee I would submit is the 92-97 Seville. It’s the first generation after the Seville’s great downsizing and Cadillac seemed determined to atone for that tragic design with this very attractive, slightly larger sedan. For snobs like me, it’s practically axiomatic that two doors will be better looking than four doors, but this would be an exception. Its platform mate Eldorado is mostly the same inside and under the skin, but somehow to me lacked the gracefulness of this Seville. For a front wheel drive car, it just really works visually. In fact, I would go so far as to say it’s one of the best looking FWD sedans from any manufacturer from any time (not the best, so don’t fret, Cord L-29!). However, the front-wheel-drive proportions mean for me that there is no way it can be the very fairest modern Cadillac.


The next possibility I think is the original 2003-07 CTS.  Many would reasonably consider the modern Cadillac era to start in the 2003 model year with the introduction of the Art and Science design language on the CTS. Skinny headlights, tall taillights, blocky chevron grilles, smooth hoods and chiseled fenders were the main features. Combined with the return to rear wheel drive and the favorable proportions that brought, it made for really attractive and unique cars. The fact that some people didn’t like the styling is probably an attribute. The great ones always have detractors and the more passionate the lovers, the more disdainful will be the haters.

The CTS-V is pictured here. With a 400hp 5.7L LS6 V-8, GM wasn’t kidding around in making this the muscle-Caddy. The larger wheels and lower stance complemented the CTS very well, as I have always thought the standard model looks like it rides a little too high.


Speaking of early Art and Science cars, we obviously would have to nominate the 2004-09 XLR. I’m not sure I’d call it easy on the eyes, but it will undoubtedly be considered a collectible classic by many and is anything but ordinary. I consider it a good-looking car, but somehow have never loved the Cadillac-styling-on-a-Corvette formula. On paper, it’s great combo, but I think I would rather just have a Vette.


If the CTS coupe is potentially the fairest modern Cadillac, the other recent Cadillac coupe would have to be considered, too (ICE powered that is, and no I’m not nominating the unique ELR). As a coupe fan generally, the 2015-19 ATS Coupe is certainly an attractive car in my book. There’s a lot to like about it, including that Cadillac offered a full-on performance V model, a manual transmission was available in both base and V models and all-wheel-drive was available in the base model.

However, I don’t think it could be the fairest modern Cadillac because it doesn’t make a visual statement like the CTS does. Though pretty, it’s blander and it looks like it’s trying a little too hard to be like the kids at the cool table in the cafeteria, the BMW 3 series, MB C-class and other snooty coupes that would never invite the Caddy to sit with them no matter how nice its clothes are or how fast it is around the Nürburgring.


Branching out from coupes, Cadillac has made some good looking sedans in recent years. I think the best of them is the 2016-20 CT6, officially a full-size car and as a rear-wheel-driver, the first since 1996 in a category which used to define what a Cadillac was. The Art and Science styling works well on a bigger canvas. I like the large car proportions and I appreciate that they made a V model for 2019 and ’20 featuring the absurdly short-lived Blackwing 550hp twin-turbo Cadillac V8. Less than 1500 of these V-cars were made and they will certainly be collector items.

There are several other sedans that may be worthy of honorable mentions:

-2005-11 STS. Nice enough car, but for better or worse, the STS looks so similar to the 1st gen CTS there is little visual distinction.

-2008-13 CTS sedan, the four door version of our feature car. This would be a high ranking candidate, and if one’s tastes run to four doors over two, it certainly could be the best looking recent Cadillac. It’s more conventional looking than the coupe and really doesn’t have a bad angle on it.

-2014-19 CTS. Though the sedan-only 3rd-gen CTS is sleek, I just don’t like the looks of it as well as the 2nd-gen, but I do respect that the V model came with a 640hp supercharged LT4 V8. That is just silly power, displaying the kind of unnecessary extravagance that rightfully distinguishes true luxury goods from more common, practical products. Yet, it was also a relatively good value compared to any European cars with comparable performance.

-2020-on CT4 & CT5. The CT4 and CT5 are essentially updated versions of the ATS and CTS, respectively. Somehow, I’m not a fan of the semi-fastback look on the CT5, even though that general style of roofline has been used quite successfully on many recent sedans.

-There’s also the 2013-19 XTS, if the cab-forward look is your thing. It is not generally mine, but the XTS did make an appealing a respectful hearse.


Lastly, there is the car I would consider the only other true contender for our title, the 2010-14 CTS Sport Wagon. The fact that Cadillac even built this car is a miracle given our wagon-hesitant age and the history that Cadillac never sold a wagon-style passenger car before in 100+ years. What is truly epoch-defining end-of-days level miraculous is the existence of the CTS-V Sport Wagon with its 556hp supercharged LSA V8 and available third foot pedal. That is a car that would definitely be in my garage, provided I had money and garage space that I don’t.

This article isn’t about drooling over excessively powerful unicorn muscle wagons, it’s about determining the prettiest modern Cadillac, so I’ll try to put aside my personal, peculiar tastes and be more objective. The wagon is almost perfect, but to be honest I’ve always found the extremely wide D-pillar/tiny wagon window a little bit odd looking. And from a strict styling point of view, a wagon always looks a bit rear-heavy. I love the utility and the look, but it’s really hard for a wagon to be as purely pretty and balanced-looking as a good coupe or sedan. The coupe is the pageant winner, the wagon is the girl you marry. It’s hard to have the beauty queen’s traditional long hood/short deck proportions when there’s no rear deck.


So does all that leave the CTS coupe the fairest of them all? Here’s my thinking.

The first gen CTS and the EVOQ-show-car-come-to-life XLR were important cars for Cadillac. They made an undeniable statement, setting the new styling direction and declaring that Cadillac’s future would be mostly Rear (and All) Wheel Drive, as serious luxury cars are. With the second generation, the look and styling matured into a very handsome car with a full range of body styles. The cars were made 2 inches wider for less skinny exterior proportions, better handling and more interior space.


The coupe was another statement car. It is certainly a true coupe (rather than a 2 door sedan) since everything aft of the A-pillar is quite set apart from the sedan. The side window and roofline have a very unique, almost origami look that taken to its extreme could lead to something like the polarizing upcoming Tesla Cybertruck.  Maybe not to that extent, but the CTS coupe is polarizing and that’s not necessarily a bad place for a luxury car to be. Those that like it, really like it. Put me in that camp.


If there’s a visual flaw with the car, for me it would be related to its rather severe wedge profile (see CTS-V side photo above). The low nose/tall tail look works well, except perhaps when moving around to the rear of the car. Here you pay the price for the wedge: a downright cliff-like rear end.


That’s quite a dropoff back there. I do not like big butts and I can not lie, but as overly ample bootys go, it’s pretty nice. The taillights suit the car perfectly and the center exhaust outlets are cool. The overall look is clean. Just really tall.


The CTS’s interior was swoopy and modern, yet doesn’t contribute much to the coupe’s claim to ultimate prettiness, in my biased opinion. It’s not unattractive, it just leaves me a little cold. I’d take the inside of the ’92 Seville over any of the more recent Caddys, but I’m pretty old fashioned when it comes to interiors.

My feelings aside, the interior was a huge step up from the 1st gen CTS’s notoriously plasticky guts. As part of Cadillac’s efforts to reinvent itself in the Art and Science era, they gave their new interior technique a name, Cut-and-Sew, to make it clear their interior quality was commensurate with a luxury car and it was not solely robots on their payroll. Contemporary road tests generally lauded the interior’s comfort and quality.


The success of Cadillac’s Art and Science era cars have been inconsistent, as measured by sales. They’ve been mostly competitive, but rarely besting their main foreign rivals. It’s an interesting question why they haven’t been more widely purchased, given that their styling has been bold, consistent and considered handsome by many, the styling has been backed up by good engineering, their prices are a good value relative to the segment, and all the rear-drive models have had flagship V performance models that offer very aggressive capabilities and should have a halo effect reflecting Cadillac’s efforts to be taken seriously as a luxury car maker.

The CTS coupe obviously existed to compete with the benchmark European sport coupes, yet it does not ape them. It’s doing its own thing and it looks like it’s happy to do it. I think you could even say that this car, along with the best of the other Art and Science cars, have something of that mysterious quality of Presence that used to be Cadillac’s glory days stock-in-trade. Well, not that much presence, but some at least.

The magic mirror has to be considered authoritative: the CTS coupe is the fairest modern Cadillac of all.

Photographed in Houston, TX on 11/21/21

Related reading:

Future Curbside Classics: 2010-14 Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon – Agree or Disagree, Is This The Most Beautiful Station Wagon Ever? by William Stopford

Future CC: 2014 Cadillac CTS-V Wagon – Born A Classic by Brendan Saur