Consider the house cat. When you look at the facts, the only conclusion can be that they’re terrible.
Engine: 3.6-liter V6
Output: 335 hp, 285 lb-ft of torque
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
US Fuel Economy (MPG): 20 city, 30 hwy, 27 combined
CAN Fuel Economy (L/100 km): 12.1 city, 8.6 hwy, 10.5 combined
US Price: $47,490 (base)/$63,165 (as tested)
CAN Price: $66,600 (base)/$75,620 (as tested)
Unresponsive, untrainable, and unwilling to humor our authority, cats, any dispassionate evaluation will reveal, are the worst. And yet we invite these selfish, sharp, mean-spirited creatures into our homes because we know that they’re actually very charming and that the good outweighs the bad. Not in some crass calculus of attributes, but in all the ways that matter.
That’s kind of how I feel about the 2018 Cadillac CTS and its 3.6-liter V6. You could spend a long time enumerating its faults (and they are numerous), but after spending some time with it, I found that the successes, while they didn’t necessarily outnumber the failures, certainly outgunned them.
The greatest and most important success is the drive. Cadillac has spent a lot of time developing chassis — so much in fact that they refuse to go fully autonomous — and the fruits of their labor are sweet.
The ride, rather than being stiff or harsh, is planted. Even on potholed country roads in the spring, the CTS soaks up the bumps, ironing out the surface so that your comfort is never compromised. Stiff suspensions may work on a track, but ask a rally team what they need and they’ll tell you it’s a little bit of travel. The fight for traction is the fight for contact and if your suspension is too stiff to keep all four wheels on the road, then you’re losing the battle. The CTS walks the line perfectly giving you oodles of traction, never feeling floaty or wallowing, and soaking up the bumps so that your butt doesn’t have to.
With its firm but comfortable ride and its steering wheel that requires effort from you, the CTS conveys confidence and stability encouraging you to take every bend at Autobahn speeds, doing the German thing better than most Germans thanks to Cadillac’s confidence in its weight.
The CTS feels reassuringly heavy. The current fashion is for big cars that hide their size, because we all suffer the notion that light cars are inevitably better. That may, again, be true on track, but it’s not always true in the real world. Or, at least, the advantages don’t always outweigh the costs.
The CTS feels proud of its weight. Like a heavyweight boxer, this isn’t the weight of vice, this is a weight that has been earned. It’s the weight of genuinely soft leather and beautiful wood trim. It’s the weight of comfortable seats and anechoic sound deadening. And it’s the kind of weight that gives you confidence on the road and makes the CTS a lovely place to sit.
Quality materials aren’t unique in this segment, but those quality materials are well organized in the CTS. It’s a difficult thing to recommend aesthetics, because beauty is so variable, but I just like the way this car looks. Inside and out. The seats’ brown leather, the open pore wood, the little Alcantara touches: they all work for me. Not every part of the interior works, though.
Things start to fall apart when you try to use the CTS’s infotainment system. Cadillac has decided to make the CTS’s center console touch sensitive. So instead of touching the silver trim bits (which look a lot like buttons) you have to touch the actual console. And to give you the artificial sensation of having pressed a button, there’s a haptic buzz. It’s a neat idea and looks pretty good, but I think the processing power required for both receiving an input and buzzing its reply slows these functions down, giving you crazy input lag and making the Caddy as receptive to commands as a cat.
The volume control, for instance, rather than taking the shape of a familiar knob is a straight line that runs left to right under the infotainment screen. To turn the volume up, swipe to the right. It’s reasonably intuitive, but unlike the knob (which circles infinitely) there’s a finite amount of space for input. As a result, the bar isn’t quite sensitive enough and the volume jumps erratically becoming way too loud way too quickly. And this is made much worse when your first swipe doesn’t change the volume, so you swipe again only to have the CTS suddenly accept both commands raising the volume to levels normally reserved for psychological warfare.
It’s something that on a worse car would make you furious. In the CTS, though, it all gets rolled into the charm of the vehicle and becomes a part of its personality. And that’s because the commands that really matter, those that are controlled by your feet and through the steering wheel are constantly at attention and feel so good.
In fact, maybe the terrible UX is the best compliment I can pay the CTS’s driving experience. The chassis is so good that I just want to forgive this car all its faults. Having unresponsive commands should be as annoying as clicking on an ad because it loaded later than the rest of the page and sneaked under your cursor. Instead it’s only as annoying as being clawed your cat. Sure, it sucks. But you still love it.
The Verdict: 2018 Cadillac CTS Review
The CTS isn’t necessarily the best car in this class. By any dispassionate calculus, it falls short in a lot of areas (the interior is a little cramped, its power is only competitive, and neither its economy nor its price set it apart), but I really like it. The CTS rises above its station becoming more than an appliance. Its engine is endearing and makes the right noises, its materials feel specially selected, and its chassis is spectacular. The CTS transcends its figures by being really likable. I would gladly invite it into my garage because the good outweighs the bad.
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