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, Lexus GS, and Mercedes-Benz E-Class, among others. Although it is second in size to the XTS within the Cadillac lineup, the CTS is the centerpiece car for the brand, as it offers rear-wheel-drive handling benefits and the most powerful model, drawing the most attention.
The redesigned CTS sedan, which emerged in 2014, has grown in size, making room for the compact ATS below it. In the past, the CTS has been somewhat of a tweener, occupying a space between compact and mid-size sedans. It is currently Cadillac's largest rear-drive car, although the front-drive-based XTS sits above it in the brand's lineup.
The new Cadillac CTS
A new CTS was unveiled for the 2014 model year, bringing an updated look to the model. It gas grown into the mid-size class, finally making it a true competitor for sedans like the BMW 5-Series and the Mercedes-Benz E-Class. Today's larger model is also more expensive as a result. The top Vsport trim of the standard car is powered by a new twin-turbocharged V-6 engine rated at 420 horsepower, while entry-level versions get a turbocharged four-cylinder, and a normally aspirated V-6 is also available. Above and beyond the Vsport, Cadillac has unveiled a new performance-focussed CTS-V sedan that will arrive for 2016.
MORE: Read our 2015 Cadillac CTS review
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 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, and comes with a paddle-shifted eight-speed automatic, 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.
Changes for 2015 are welcome but relatively minor. Like many other GM vehicles the CTS will offer a data connection over AT&T's 4G LTE network, which can provide an in-car WiFi 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 does away with the vertical chrome bars.
The CTS-V will arrive 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 eight-speed developed in-house 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.
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-horsepower, 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-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.
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 of them 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 like 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 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.
An all-new 2009 CTS-V harnessed a supercharged 6.2-liter V-8, 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 updated the look. CTS-V models got new two-piece front brake rotors.