The Car Connection Cadillac CTS Overview
The Cadillac CTS slots above the compact ATS and below the CT6 in the GM luxury brand's sedan lineup. The four-door, mid-size luxury sedan is also a bit smaller than the XTS, which sits off in left field, delivering old-school goodness while these other Caddy sedan chase after the German sedan stalwarts.
Last redesigned in the 2014 model year, the CTS has dropped its former wagon and coupe body styles. It has brought back the hard-charging CTS-V sedan, which we cover separately.
With the CTS, Cadillac has real competition for sedans like the Audi A6, BMW 5-Series, Lexus GS and Mercedes-Benz E-Class.
For the 2018 model year, changes were limited to a new shade of gray, an automatically heated steering wheel, and an available sunroof on VSport models.
MORE: Read our 2018 Cadillac CTS review
The new Cadillac CTS
A third-generation CTS was unveiled for the 2014 model year, bringing an updated look to the model. It has grown into the mid-size class, finally making it a true competitor for sedans such as the BMW 5-Series and the Mercedes-Benz E-Class. Today's larger model is also more expensive as a result.
The styling of the new CTS has moved further away from the blunt edges and angles of the model's past. The LED trim on its vertical headlamps makes a stunning visual display at night. Inside, the dash is wrapped in attractive trim, dominated by the touchscreen CUE interface.
The base turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine is rated at 268 horsepower, and it's coupled to a 6-speed automatic with rear- or all-wheel drive. Cadillac's ever-present 3.6-liter V-6 checks into the mid-line CTS with 335 hp and 285 pound-feet of torque, again with a choice of rear- or all-wheel drive. A new 8-speed, paddle-shifted automatic is the transmission for rear- and all-wheel drive models of the CTS equipped with the 2.0-liter four or 3.6-liter V-6.
The CTS Vsport is fitted with a twin-turbo 3.6-liter V-6, good for 420 hp and 430 lb-ft of torque. It's rear-drive only, and comes with a paddle-shifted 8-speed automatic, its own 18-inch Pirelli tires, a track mode, an advanced 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 adaptive 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.
Changes for 2015 were relatively minor. Like many other General Motors vehicles, the CTS now offers a data connection over AT&T's 4G LTE network, which can provide an in-car wi-fi network to mobile devices. Wireless charging called DockSpot is available to charge those devices, and the active parking system now can put the car into perpendicular spaces. Cadillac's new wreathless crest now adorns the CTS as well and is set in a new grille that dispatches the vertical chrome bars.
The range-topping Cadillac CTS-V arrives for 2016, and features the most powerful engine of any modern Cadillac. A version of the V-8 used in the new Corvette Z06, this 6.2-liter supercharged engine produces 640 hp and 630 lb-ft of torque. All CTS-V models will now use an automatic transmission, a new 8-speed developed by GM. The manual option is gone, although the new ATS-V will carry the three-pedal torch for the brand's high-performance models.
The current-generation CTS has managed respectable fuel economy numbers. The middle-road 3.6-liter V-6 manages 20 mpg city, 30 highway, 24 combined according to the EPA—likely down to the new engine's cylinder deactivation system. That's a marginal penalty from the base 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine, which manages 21/31/25 mpg, according to the EPA.
For 2017, Cadillac gave the front and rear bumpers a light touchup, including vertical exhaust ports in the rear and one more horizontal bar in the grille. A rear camera mirror borrowed from the CT6 is available now, and the trim lineup has been simplified to base, Luxury, Premium Luxury, V-Sport and V-Sport Premium Luxury.
Cadillac CTS history
The 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-hp, 3.2-liter version of the V-6 that had been used in the Catera. For 2004, that engine was joined by a new 255-hp, 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.
In 2004, Cadillac introduced its V performance sub-brand, similar to AMG for Mercedes or the M Division at BMW. The first CTS-V used a 5.7-liter V-8 and later a 6.0-liter, both making 400 hp and 395 lb-ft of torque, but the larger engine providing a wider, more usable powerband. Other upgrades to the CTS-V included chassis and suspension improvements such as larger brakes, as well as styling differentiation inside and out.
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 hp. In 2009, Cadillac replaced the lower-output engine with a 3.0-liter version of the direct-injection V-6, making 270 hp. The 2008-2010 CTS offered 6-speed manual or automatic transmissions, and all-wheel drive was available.
An all-new 2009 CTS-V harnessed a supercharged 6.2-liter V-8, making 556 hp, 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 hp. 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 updated the look. CTS-V models received new two-piece front brake rotors.