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2014 Cadillac CTS likely to help brand gain ground

Improvements in the all-new CTS should help Cadillac close the gap between it and German brands Mercedes, BMW and Audi.

November 09, 2013|By David Undercoffler
  • The all-new version of the Cadillac CTS -- rolling into dealerships this month -- is taking direct aim at its Mercedes and BMW midsize rivals, with added equipment and sophistication to justify a higher price tag.
The all-new version of the Cadillac CTS -- rolling into dealerships this… (Cadillac )

Since its introduction in 2003, the Cadillac CTS has been working two jobs. General Motors Co. has used the sedan to straddle the space between the compact and mid-size luxury segments. Nearly every other upscale brand has one of each.

Yet this all-purpose Caddy has pulled off the stretch surprisingly well. The first two generations of the CTS, the brand's only rear-wheel-drive sports sedan, are among Cadillac's bestsellers, often outpacing the Mercedes-Benz E-Class and BMW 5-Series.

For 2014, the CTS gets even better.

PHOTOS: 2014 Cadillac CTS

The all-new version — rolling into dealerships this month — now takes direct aim at its mid-size rivals, with added equipment and sophistication to justify a higher price tag, starting at $46,025, compared with $36,810 for the outgoing CTS. The CTS is moving up a class because Cadillac has delegated responsibility for fighting off smaller sports sedans, such as the BMW 3-Series or the Mercedes C-Class, to the all-new ATS, launched last year.

This third-generation CTS doesn't pick up much space inside, despite gaining four inches in overall length. Nor do its engines upset the status quo in any dramatic fashion. And it has some unfortunate shortcomings, including sleepy transmissions, wayward rear styling and oddly small side-view mirrors.

But the CTS makes big strides in the intangibles that mean the most to luxury buyers: Quiet cabins, supple rides and first-class engineering, along with plenty of high-tech goodies and high-end materials.

Rear legroom and headroom are about the same, though Cadillac said the car's additional length enabled engineers to reposition the roofline and rear seats to give the impression of more room. Engineers also sought to give the CTS the correct proportions for a proper mid-size car, moving the mass back slightly to create a 50-50 weight distribution, considered best for handling.

But it's still a little tight for passengers over 6 feet, and rear visibility is poor. In addition, the adjusted proportions don't do much to hide the tepid rear-end design of the CTS. The front of the car is one of the more stylish to come out of Detroit in years — augmented by a square profile, bold brushed-metal grille and headlights that sweep back over the wheel wells. Yet the rear is a mishmash of lines without any meaningful design ethic. But what is noticeably improved — and competitive with German rivals — is the execution of the cabin, now bolted together like a munitions bunker and covered in first-rate materials.

The leather is soft, the layout intuitive and the design tasteful. Higher-end CTS models come with a fully-digital dashboard screen that users can customize to show too much information, but the analog layout on lesser models works just fine.

All models come with Cadillac's CUE touch-screen infotainment system, though navigation added $905 to our $57,080 tester. While the CUE system isn't as responsive as the Chevrolet Mylink on which it's based, Cadillac does seem to be refining it with each new vehicle.

We still desperately miss a volume knob for the stereo; Cadillac insists on using touch-sensitive controls for climate and sound functions. While the other features work fine, the frustration of living with a touch bar for the volume makes you wonder whether Cadillac engineers have ever spent time in their own car.

Same with the tiny side-view mirrors, which Cadillac says are sized for aerodynamics. Tape these to the end of a stick, and your dentist could use them to check for cavities.

The cabin improvements are no accident; Cadillac poured cash into developing an interior that wasn't just a splashier version of a Buick.

The base engine in the CTS is now a 2-liter turbo-charged four-cylinder, replacing an outdated 3-liter V-6 in the previous generation. The four-cylinder, borrowed from the ATS, makes a more-than-healthy 272 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque, routed through a six-speed automatic transmission.

We tested the mid-level CTS with the 3.6-liter V-6 that carries over from the previous model (now in a car with a price tag $12,000 higher). Fortunately, you wouldn't know this was an older engine to drive it. With direct-injection and a throaty, refined growl , this 321-horsepower gem could do no wrong. Zero to 60 mph happens in 6.3 seconds, according to Motor Trend magazine, which this week gave the CTS its "car of the year" award for 2014.

Unfortunately, the motor seemed as if it was more than the car's lazy eight-speed transmission could handle. Shifting manually with the standard paddle shifters helps, but only marginally.

Cadillac installed the eight-speed transmission with fuel efficiency in mind. Our V-6 tester was rated at 18 miles per gallon in the city and 29 mpg on the highway. During 240 miles of mixed driving, we averaged 18.5 mpg.

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