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2014 Cadillac CTS: First drive

Slick, new CTS sports sedan pulls a fast one

Published: September 16, 2013 12:15 AM

If you thought any true luxury sport sedan had to be launched from Munich, Stuttgart, or Ingolstadt, think again. Based on our first drive, the third-generation, all-new 2014 CTS may just hit one out of the park from Detroit.

Unlike the previous two class-straddling models, the CTS now matches up in size, performance, and, alas, price, with the vaunted Audi A6, BMW 5 Series, and Mercedes-Benz E-Class. Granted, the CTS pounces on the sporty end of the sport-sedan equation, but it doesn’t skimp on luxury in the process.

With its lower, longer dimensions and eye-catching angularity, the redesigned CTS makes a more striking first impression than its still sharp-looking predecessor. But the real eye-candy comes when you take the wheel. We just got a first taste of the new CTS before it goes on sale in October.

We got our mitts on a top-dog $70,000 Vsport version, powered by a turbocharged 420-hp, 3.6-liter V6, coupled to an eight-speed automatic. Most CTS buyers will choose a midrange model for about $55,000 with a 321-hp, naturally-aspirated version of the V6. Prices start at about $46,000 for the “base” car with a 272-hp turbo four-cylinder.

With effortless power, immediate responses, and taut and athletic moves, the CTS Vsport is pure joy to drive. The gorgeous interior is rich, pampering, and quiet, with the nicely tuned exhaust note adding flavor and character.

The Vsport is a “mild” version of the ultra-high-performance CTS-V that will arrive some time in the not too distant future. But for all intents and purposes, the turbo V6 feels like a big-hearted V8—complete with a linear power delivery—making it a right-now road rocket. Complementing that gem of an engine is a terrific eight-speed automatic that’s super smooth and responsive. Too bad it’s not standard across the board. The 2.0-liter turbo and the naturally-aspirated V6 get the old six-speed box, at least for now.

Handling is terrific. By maximizing the use of aluminum construction, the CTS has shed almost 300 pounds, and the weight loss pays dividends. The car feels light on its feet with an uncanny willingness to corner. Body lean is virtually nonexistent. The steering is quick and well-weighted, and it provides decent feedback. On the track, the CTS further reveals its chops with great grip, balanced behavior, and readiness to play. This is the way the BMW 5-Series used to feel but doesn’t anymore.

With the FE3 sport suspension and 18-inch, low-profile run-flat tires, the ride feels firm and taut but impressively controlled and unperturbed by undulations, even at high speeds. But that ride might feel too firm for some folks, especially at slow urban speeds. For potential buyers with less sporty aspirations, the more pliable FE2 suspension and 17-inch tires might be a better choice.

The interior is impeccably finished, being modern and tasteful. Clearly, Cadillac has invested some resources here, with double-stitched upholstery seams and real wood or carbon-fiber touches. The nongloss natural wood is particularly appealing and distinctive.

The front seats provide wonderful support. The longer wheelbase not only corrects the car’s proportions but also slightly benefits the rear seat, which is now a little less cramped than before and comparable with the competition.

The one let-down is the overly-complicated touch-activated CUE infotainment interface. It requires way too much time with eyes off the road, even when you’ve learned its menu maze. Fiddling with the on-board computer functions using the steering-wheel controls is also cumbersome.

CR's Take. The CTS is a rock-solid, focused sports sedan that’s stylish, enjoyable, and laden with the latest techno-gadgets. But the real story is that historically stodgy Cadillac is now the more fun-to-drive and the less conservative alternative to Lexus and the German brands in this bourgeois segment.

Gabe Shenhar

   

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