Since it’s introduction as a 2008 model, Cadillac’s second generation CTS has been wining accolades and fans – cementing itself, not only as the division’s best-selling series, but also as a veritable American luxury tour-de-force. It’s spawned a raft of sub-variants, including a high performance V, a wagon and most recently a coupe. But while these Johnny-come-latelys have been hogging the spotlight, there’s still a lot be said about the sedan. And since it’s been a while since we’ve driven one, now seems like the perfect time.
1. The CTS sedan continues to be offered with either a base 270-hp 3.0L V6, or a 304-hp 3.6L unit.
2. Fuel economy is rated at 18/27-mpg (city/hwy) regardless of engine or drivetrain.
3. Size-wise, the CTS sits half way between the traditional European offerings like the 3 Series and 5 Series.
4. Pricing starts at $35,165 or $41,565 with the 3.6L engine.
5. Sport models get a stiffer suspension and 18-inch wheels, while Premium models get 19s.
At a glance, there’s little changed on the CTS sedan for 2010. You still get four trim levels: base, Luxury, Performance and Premium; with a choice of two engines, two transmissions and rear or all-wheel drive spread across a roughly $10,000 price differential. At currently listed MSRPs, $35,165 gets you into a base CTS sedan, while $37,865 gives you the keys to a Luxury model. Performance variants start at $39,765, while the Premium car goes for $46,865. Of course, the modern automotive marketplace being what it is, dealer incentives are cropping up all the time, so it’s worth shopping around to see what retailers in your area have on offer.
In terms of value, the pricing strategy alone makes the current CTS a serious contender in the entry-level luxury segment. Fit and finish are good, both outside and in, and even the base car is packed with a lot of standard kit. Sure, you get vinyl seats, but base trim does include heated door mirrors, a day/night self dimming rear-view, Sirius/XM satellite radio, illuminated visors and wiper activated headlights. Luxury models add leather seating, 10-way adjustable power front seats a Bose sound system iPod adapter, built in hard drive and wireless cell phone link among other things, while a backup camera, navigation system and cooled seats are among the features offered on the Performance and Premium trim levels.
WHAT A CADILLAC INTERIOR SHOULD BE
Inside, the current CTS, is perhaps a lesson in what premium GM interiors should be. It’s still not quite up to the standard of some of the European offerings, but compared to Cadillacs from a decade ago it’s first rate – the soft texture on the dash and door panels is generally well executed, although we did find traces of sharp plastic on the lower door map bins.
The instrument panel is clear and legible, with three gauges housing the speedometer, tach and ancillary monitoring functions. The center stack is familiar to anybody who’s driven a Cadillac of recent vintage. It’s quite imposing, with tall narrow HVAC vents, a retractable navigation screen/display, a nice analog clock and the customary luxury car rotary knob flanked by push buttons. The secondary controls are actually quite straightforward to use and unlike some competitors, the navigation and menu functions didn’t prove an endless source of frustration.
The driving position is good, the three-spoke wheel offering a nice solid feel and the adjustable tilt and telescoping column means that drivers (tall, short or somewhere in between) should find few problems getting comfortable.
The seats are one item that drew praise from us. They’re sporty and supportive without being overly hard, providing good fore/aft and rake adjustment, plus the lumbar function allowed us to get comfortable in just a few seconds.
The CTS sedan can accommodate five adults at a pinch, but a maximum 35.9-inches of rear legroom mean that it’s best reserved four, particularly when you take the transmission tunnel into account and rear headroom isn’t that great for taller souls. The trunk is decently spacious – the scissor hinges adding to capacity while an available 60/40 folding rear seat, along with a fairly low opening, permits long items such as flat pack furniture to be loaded without any problems.
BASE ENGINE QUITE PEAKY, OPTIONAL 3.6L PERFECT
On the road, the CTS impresses with its overall refinement. It’s a supremely quiet car with barely a hint of noise, the tires being the biggest generator at cruising speeds. The 3.0-liter V6 engine is pleasantly capable, but behaves a bit like a high winding four-banger – all 270-hp isn’t available until a staggering 7000 rpm and with max torque (223 ft-lbs) at 5700, you almost have to drive like you’re mad at the CTS to really hustle, especially in view of the car’s 4,000 lb. plus curb weight. Precisely for this reason, the Aisin six-speed manual gearbox works best, the automatic is a little more leisurely and somewhat out of step for such a peaky engine.
The optional 3.6-liter unit is hands down, the preferred choice. It’s rated at more power (304-hp and 273 ft-lbs of torque), but what’s significant is how it’s delivered. Press the throttle and response is noticeably stronger than the 3.0. From a rest a 3.6-equipped CTS can run the 0-60 mph in dash in under 6.4 seconds and the quarter in approximately 14.9, plus with peak horsepower and torque delivered at 6400 and 5200, it’s just that more tractable and eager in every day driving. The automatic is also much better suited to this engine and the manual shift mode provides satisfying amount of throttle and braking control, without suffering from the shift lag that’s quite a common issue with many manu-matics on the market.
As for fuel economy, both engines are rated at 18/27, regardless of whether you chose rear-drive or AWD.
CAPABLE SUSPENSIONS ALSO SOAKS UP BUMPS
When it first arrived on the scene, GM’s rear-drive Sigma architecture as applied to the original CTS was praised for its overall stiffness, composed ride and taut handling. The second-generation car is longer, wider and stiffer than the original, yet this is one Caddy that happily soaks up the bumps on rust belt roads.
It will also zig enthusiastically when required. GM’s standard Stabilitrak dynamic control system helps keep the CTS on its intended path, but more experienced drivers will likely enjoy the car’s predictable handling. Although the steering has a slightly numb on-center feel, through faster corners it works very well and the CTS is sure-footed with barely a hint of understeer; yet traditional rear drive, tail-out driving is available on demand.
Performance models come equipped with specific suspension tuning and a larger 235/50/18 footprint, which gives the Caddy a little extra poise and grip through the corners. Like rivals from BMW and Infiniti, the AWD system is a welcome edition in colder climates, providing better initial traction on slippery surfaces, while somewhat reining in the car’s twitchy tail. The trade-off is more noticeable understeer and less feel through the wheel.
Standard four-wheel discs (the fronts are big 13.6-inch units) with four-channel ABS stop the CTS swiftly and without drama. Braking modulation is very good and pedal feel nice and progressive, even under panic stops. As with many GM cars, the ABS can be rather aggressive when braking hard on slippery surfaces but reacts well to steering input.
After spending some time with the current CTS it’s easy to see why, even nearly four years after it’s introduction, it remains a true contender in the mid-size luxury segment. It delivers outstanding levels of refinement, spirited acceleration, great handling and even loaded to the gills remains competitively priced, especially compared with the BMW 3-Series and Mercedes C-Class – cars that for all their cachet are either considerably more expensive, and the case of the Mercedes, not as fun to drive. Although we might be going out a limb by saying this, if you’re shopping for your next mid-size luxury car – in terms of the overall package, it would be very hard not to recommend the CTS sedan.