2011 Cadillac CTS Coupe Review: First Drive

Caddy’s new coupe is a Grand Tourer with sporting ambitions

2011 Cadillac CTS Coupe Review: First Drive

Cadillac wants its new CTS Coupe to take dead aim at the Infiniti G37 and the BMW 3-Series coupe, widely considered the performance benchmarks of the luxury coupe segment. After driving the new Caddy through Northern California’s freeways, country roads and hillside passes, we’re here to tell you that Cadillac has managed to simultaneously miss the mark while creating a wonderful car in its own right; one that the brand should be proud of and will hopefully find many homes among consumers who don’t live for track days (or public road shenanigans).

FAST FACTS

1. The CTS Coupe comes exclusively with a direct-injection 3.6L V6 making 304-hp and 273 ft-lbs of torque.

2. Fuel economy is 17/26-mpg (city/hwy) for the automatic RWD or AWD model and 17/25 for the rear-drive manual.

3. An optional summer tire performance package adds larger 19-inch wheels and bigger brakes.

4. On sale in August, the CTS Coupe starts at $38,990

5. Coming soon, the CTS-V Coupe will boast 556-hp and a host of other high-performance upgrades.

Instead, the CTS Coupe does what American cars do best: look good, sound good and move you down the road with comfort and panache. Don’t think of the CTS Coupe as a second rate alternative to the BMW 335i. Instead, think of it as an Aston Martin DB9 compared to Ferrari’s F430 – both excellent in their own right, but geared towards two different kinds of drivers.

STAND-OUT DESIGN, FIRST-RATE INTERIOR

The CTS Coupe literally looks like nothing else on the road. True, it shares a family resemblance with the CTS Sedan, and the angular design language, devoid of any organic shapes, is unmistakably Cadillac, but as Dave Leone, chief engineer for the CTS notes, everything aft of the front fender is different. The windshield is set back at more acute angle, the roof is lower, the door handles unique to the car, and the sloping rear roofline and sharp trunk look like a 21st century tribute to the baroque 1980-1985 Seville.

Inside, the CTS Coupe’s interior is superb, easily surpassing that of the BMW and even the Lexus IS350C, which we found underwhelming in comparison. Infiniti’s latest G37 made big improvements on the inside, so we’d rate the two about even.

While many in the segment use a sea of good-but-not-great soft touch plastics, Cadillac uses superior materials for the dashboard, center stack and other surfaces. The switchgear looks like typical GM controls, but the knobs and buttons are far from cheap. Cadillac also managed to void the typical Acura pitfall of being a disastrous mess of buttons. The analog clock is also an elegant touch and Caddy’s navigation system, which rises out of the dashboard in Batman-like fashion, is easy to use, allowing the driver to easily flip between the audio and navigation menus with minimal distractions.

GRAND TOURING COUPE

Our driving route took us through San Francisco’s city streets, along the freeway, then through country roads and tight twisty passes in the Napa Valley. The CTS was pleasant to drive in all environments, but the car undoubtedly excelled in some, while falling a little short in others.

In traffic and on the highway, the CTS is everything you could want from a luxury coupe. Quiet, comfortable and with ample power, our main gripe was the rearward visibility, which suffers in the name of aesthetics. Checking blind spots was a bit of a chore, and reversing out of parking spots or parallel parking was something of a nightmare – if it weren’t for the car’s backup camera, we wouldn’t hesitate to say that a Lotus Elise offered more rearward visibility. We also noticed a bit of wind noise emanating from the cockpit at slightly more than freeway speeds, something Cadillac may want to address in light of how its competitors (namely the Lexus IS350C) are utterly silent in this type of driving.

DIRECT-INJECTION V6 DELIVERS 304-HP

Fortunately, the CTS Coupe’s 3.6-liter V6, rated at 304 horsepower and paired with a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission, is up to the task when you need to put the spurs to the nearly 3,800 pound vehicle. We didn’t do any instrumented testing of the car, but acceleration was, as Bentley used to say, “more than adequate,” with some nice engine noises coming into the cabin at the top of the rev range.

That power output is right on par with the BMW, Lexus and Infiniti and well-ahead of the Mercedes E350 Coupe. As for fuel economy, it’s rated at 17/26-mpg – spot on with the rest as well.

Of note is the 6-speed automatic transmission, which does its best not to get in the way of the driver. The auto box holds gears until redline, downshifts when asked and matches revs competently. As for the manual, well, Caddy only had one test car with a stick-shift and we never managed to get behind the wheel. That’s more our loss than yours, however, as we doubt that the manual take rate will be very high, and the automatic is sure to meet the needs of 99% of CTS Coupe buyers.

COMES UP SHORT ON DRIVING DYNAMICS, BUT NOT ON LUXURY

The CTS Coupe was at its best on the fast sweepers of the Silverado Trail, a four-lane country highway in California’s Sonoma Valley. With enough torque to make passing a cinch, the CTS was in its element over the gently rolling terrain and meandering curves. The car’s structure is stiff, eliminating the need for high spring rates that would cause the typical harshness that is often confused with a “sporty” ride, and the shock damping is spot-on, with excellent control at low, medium and high speeds, while maintaining a fairly smooth ride throughout.

The one true letdown of this car is when it comes to tight, twisty, two-lane back roads. The CTS Coupe isn’t a bad car per se, but it’s simply too big and heavy to be really fun through the most treacherous corners, with steering that is decently-weighted but still somewhat vague due to too much assist.

On the bright side, the brakes are easy to modulate, and powerful enough without being too grabby. When hot, they work very well and are good at resisting fade. Coupled with the excellent transmission and torquey engine, it’s easy to build up some good speed on the straight sections, get in the right gear and scrub off enough speed to enter the turn confidently.

Going through the turn is where things tend to fall apart. You are aware of your progress, but the car doesn’t give you enough feedback to truly inspire confidence. Part of this is undoubtedly because it’s a Cadillac and must provide a superlative level of comfort and refinement. Ironically, the CTS Coupe is head and shoulders above GM’s other sporty six-cylinder, rear drive coupe, the Camaro, when it comes to steering and handling.

Like the sedan, the CTS Coupe is also available in AWD, but only with the automatic transmission.

THE VERDICT

All said, we’d suggest the CTS Coupe is far more like the Mercedes E350 Coupe than the other sportier rivals, and there’s no shame in that, with the Merc costing almost $10,000 more. It’s an excellent Grand Tourer that should meet the needs of its well-heeled, professional demographic looking to let their inner car enthusiast go wild once or twice a month on a freeway on-ramp. For these folks, the CTS will deliver, but for buyers who aspire to more performance (or fancy themselves as the type who could have been a race car driver if not for money/time/familial obligations) the base car won’t be enough.

For those with the desire to go fast, and the skill (or perceived skill) to do so, GM’s luxury division has something coming for them, in the way of the 556-horsepower, Brembo brake and Recaro-seat equipped CTS-V Coupe. Having piloted the CTS-V Sedan, it’s an encouraging sign of what the CTS platform is really capable of, and elevating the car from an enjoyable GT, to an extremely competent coupe good enough to hang with the best from Munich and beyond.

RELATED READING

2010 Mercedes-Benz E350 Coupe Review 2009 Infiniti G37S Coupe 2010 Lexus IS250C Review 2009 Infiniti G37x Coupe 2009 BMW 335i xDrive Coupe 2009 Audi S5 2010 Mercedes-Benz E550 Coupe Review 2009 Nissan 370Z Coupe 2010 Hyundai Genesis Coupe 3.8

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