New & Used Cadillac CTS: In Depth
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The Cadillac CTS is a mid-size luxury sedan that competes with the BMW 5-Series, Audi A6, and the Mercedes-Benz E-Class. The redesigned CTS sedan that emerged in 2014 has grown in size, thanks to the introduction of the compact ATS.
MORE: Read our 2015 Cadillac CTS reviewThe CTS succeeded the Catera, a blandly styled sedan about the same size that, while pleasant to drive, had unremarkable interior appointments and reliability and quality issues to boot. Produced at a new plant, in Lansing, Michigan, the CTS has always achieved much better ratings, and quality has been praised.
While the CTS when first introduced for 2003 made a strong statement on the outside and was quite well received in that respect, its interior—in particular, its drab, plasticky instrument panel—was almost universally panned. On introduction, the CTS was powered by a 220-horsepower, 3.2-liter version of the V-6 that had been used in the Catera. But soon after, for 2004, that engine was joined by a new 255-horsepower, 3.6-liter DOHC V-6 that had made the CTS feel much more lively without negatively affecting fuel economy. Later, the 3.2-liter was replaced by a smaller 2.8-liter version of the DOHC V-6. When introduced, it was also the first Cadillac in many years to offer a five-speed manual transmission, but the linkage was a bit balky for a luxury car; the six-speed manual that was introduced for 2005 is an improvement.
Although the interior was an eyesore that was tough to look past, the 2003-2007 Cadillac CTS models, especially with the stronger engine, are enjoyable to drive, with excellent steering and a tight, responsive feel that's very different than Cadillacs of the past. The CTS has had good crash-test ratings and a full roster of safety features from the start.
Cadillac made good with a redesigned 2008 CTS that, while keeping the former version's basic silhouette, doorlines, and roofline, was substantially changed throughout. Slightly more width and length plus well-detailed front and rear-end styling helped the CTS stand out, and the CTS received a stunning new interior—incorporating vastly improved materials and surfaces and a innovative retracting navigation screen—that together finally made the whole package right.
In this version of the CTS, GM introduced a new direct-injected version of the 3.6-liter V-6, making 304 horsepower. In 2009, Cadillac replaced the lower-output engine with a 3.0-liter version of the direct-injection V-6, making 270 horsepower. The 2008-2010 CTS offered six-speed manual or automatic transmissions, and all-wheel drive was available.
Angling for heads-up competition with Mercedes-Benz's AMG brand and BMW's M Division, Cadillac added the V range of performance cars to the CTS lineup. From 2004 through 2007, the CTS-V came with a 5.7- or 6.0-liter V-8, making 400 horsepower, but an all-new 2009 CTS-V harnessed the Corvette ZR1's 6.2-liter V-6, making 556 horsepower, with huge brakes to match and GM's Magnetic Ride Control allowing a tolerable ride plus track-ready capability.
For 2010, a CTS Wagon and CTS Coupe joined the lineup. Both were offered in CTS-V spec.
For the 2012 model year, a new version of the 3.6-liter V-6 became available, with 318 horsepower. Bluetooth also was made standard across the lineup. For the 2013 model year, a new adaptive remote start system was added to all CTS models, while a trio of new color options and a slightly revised grille update the look. CTS-V models got new two-piece front brake rotors.
The new Cadillac CTS
A new CTS was unveiled for the 2014 model year. Powered by a new twin-turbocharged V-6 engine rated at 420 horsepower in top trim, or by a turbocharged four-cylinder or a normally aspirated V-6 in other forms, the CTS now has an entirely new look. It's also grown into the mid-size class, and into a true competitor for sedans like the BMW 5-Series and the Mercedes-Benz E-Class.
The styling of the new CTS has moved further away from the blunt edges and angles of its past. The LED trim on its vertical headlamps makes a stunning visual display at night. Inside, the dash is wrapped in attractive trim, dominated in most versions by the touchscreen CUE interfaces.
The base 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder is rated at 272 horsepower, and it's coupled to a six-speed automatic with rear- or all-wheel drive. Cadillac's ever-present 3.6-liter V-6 checks into the mid-line CTS with 321 horsepower and 275 pound-feet of torque, and a choice of rear- or all-wheel drive. All-wheel-drive cars get same six-speed automatic with paddles, but a new eight-speed, paddle-shifted automatic comes with rear-drive versions.
The top CTS Vsport is fitted with a twin-turbo 3.6-liter V-6, good for 420 horsepower and 430 pound-feet of torque. It's rear-drive only, paddle-shifted eight-speed automatic only, and gets its own 18-inch Pirelli tires, a track mode, an electronic limited-slip differential, and Brembo brakes.
A stiffer body structure and extensive attention to weight keeps the CTS feeling trim and lively. Handling is superior, even to the Germans, especially in the Vsport edition and with Cadillac's magnetic dampers.
The CTS has gained an array of tech-intensive safety features, including rearview cameras, forward-collision alerts, adaptive cruise control, cross-traffic alerts, and lane-departure warnings. The CTS also gets the clever haptic system that vibrates the driver seat when the vehicle senses an imminent obstacle or a lane departure.
For 2015, the CTS gets 4G LTE data connectivity with the ability to create an in-car WiFi network. A wireless DockSpot charging pad for mobile devices is available, and the CTS now has a perpendicular self-parking feature available, too. The grace note: a new Cadillac emblem missing the formal wreaths that once framed it.