2011 Cadillac CTS Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
July 13, 2011

Attention-getting style, solid driving dynamics, quality materials, and a very competitive price put the entire 2011 Cadillac CTS lineup on level-or-better footing with most of the competition.

The 2011 Cadillac CTS is a truly world-class sport sedan, sized slightly longer and wider than the BMW 3-Series, the Infiniti G37 / EX35, the Audi A4, and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class. And after last year's new CTS Sport Wagon and the new 2011 Cadillac CTS Coupe, there's an entire family capable of going against those rivals.

The 2011 CTS is, in some eyes, the most distinctive of all the vehicles in this set; and with the addition of a flashy new CTS Coupe for 2011, the lineup has an even stronger style statement. Just as in the CTS sedan, we like the sparing use of chrome in the grille, and the contrast between gray plastic and chrome vertical accents with the chrome Cadillac wreath. And the swept-up-and-back headlamps are still almost mesmerizing in their detail. And there's a great contrast in the way the plentiful fine details in front and in back volley with the deliciously neat and uncluttered side profile. Sharply folded edges, a chunky stance, and lots of chrome details give the sedan a stubby, sporting look, while we like the V-shaped trunk and tailgate detail in the Wagon and Coupe. There's a subtle motion along the body that emphasizes, rather than subdues, the big rear end. If you're no fan of Cadillac's "Art & Science" styling theme, it doesn't get any softer with the added wagon back.

The interior design is attractive, but it might not suit everyone's tastes, especially those used to the Teutonic design approach of less is more. It's smooth and flowing in its contours, but far glitzier than any Audi you may have sampled, and some plastic pieces seem to stand front and center for attention-a trend we're also noticing in other high-end brands.

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The 306-horsepower, 3.6-liter direct-injected six-cylinder is eager to please, handled respectably by the six-speed automatic transmission, and offers plenty of oomph for freeway maneuvers. The six-speed manual available in the sedan isn't an option, but GM's six-speed automatic, with paddle shifters and sweet gear changes, does all the teamwork to combine the power with either rear- or optional all-wheel drive. The CTS has great steering and can be ordered with tighter suspension settings, but our clear favorite is the "FE3" setup on rear-drive versions, shod with summer tires.

The 2011 Cadillac CTS comes with a snug but comfortable interior; longer rear door openings make the Wagon a little more pleasant; the Wagon adds 25 cubic feet to the passenger space, and lets owners flip down the rear seats for a total of 53.4 cubic feet of room. The new CTS Coupe doesn't have much less rear legroom than the sedan, in theory, but headroom is tighter. Inside, the CTS is quiet, with just the right amount of growl when you open it up. Comfortable, with firm-but-not-harsh suspension feel over beleaguered city streets is the vibe. Fit and finish is high-quality—provided you avoid the base 'leatherette' on principle, like we do.

All 2011 CTS models are loaded; it's just a matter of tech and audio upgrades, mainly. The sedan comes with power doors, locks, and mirrors; cruise control; automatic dual-zone climate control; a power driver seat; a tilt and telescoping steering wheel; an AM/FM/CD/XM audio system with auxiliary jack; an air filtration system; and automatic headlamps. The Sport Wagon adds a power tailgate to that list. The major options include a panoramic sunroof; Bluetooth connectivity; a particularly advanced, easy-to-use entertainment system with hard-drive music storage and memory to hold radio broad-casts; a navigation system with real-time traffic; ventilated seats; a pet cover for the wagon's cargo hold; and 18- or 19-inch wheels and tires, to go with different suspension packages and all-weather or summer tires.

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2011 Cadillac CTS

Styling

The 2011 Cadillac CTS has some stiff competition from Germans and Japan, but it manages to stand out in all three of its body styles: sedan, Sport Wagon, and Coupe. Inside it's about as handsome as it gets in this class.

The 2011 Cadillac CTS is, in some eyes, the most distinctive of all the vehicles in this set. And that's whether you're considering the Coupe, Wagon, or sedan. Sharply folded edges, a chunky stance, and lots of chrome details give the sedan a stubby, sporting look. The huge Cadillac wreath-and-crest logo in front isn't subtle, but then, not much about the CTS is. On all CTS models, but most noteworthy on Coupes, a center crease gives the CTS's tail a point that to some will feel fresh; to others, just plain wrong.

And on this tip, the drawbacks to the CTS are here in spades. If you're no fan of the sedan's Art & Science theme, it doesn't get any softer in the Wagon, and certainly not in the Coupe. The CTS Coupe especially turns heads, and if you're a glutton for attention, the CTS Coupe is a buffet. The Sport Wagon's clearly more visually kinky than the four-door. The far line of its upright roof pillar is intentionally out of skew to its rear glass edge. V-shaped details on the tailgate remind you of Cadillac's tailfinned past, gently. And those cues all usher your eye right down the slab sides of this body, and make a compelling—sexy?—statement about its rather sizable tuchis. The Sport Wagon and Coupe, ladies and gentlemen, have got back.

The 2011 Cadillac CTS interior design is attractive, but it might not suit everyone's tastes, especially those who are used to Teutonic design approach of less is more. It's smooth and flowing in its contours, but far glitzier than any Audi you may have sampled, and some plastic pieces seem to stand front and center for attention. It's also quite busy, with most of the controls mashed into the V-shaped center-console area. But the design redeems itself a bit with its nice trims as well as the navigation screen, which rises up from the dash only when being used and otherwise stows mostly away, only using the top portion as an audio display. It's an elegant solution, both stylistically and functionally.

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2011 Cadillac CTS

Performance

The 2011 Cadillac CTS isn't downright quick—that's saved for the high-performance CTS-V variants—and it's a bit heavier than some rivals, but handling and braking are delightfully confidence-inspiring.

German sport-sedan makers have thrived on offering variety in body styles and powertrains in their compact and mid-size cars, and Cadillac has taken this same tack with the CTS. The sedan and wagon can be ordered with a smaller or a larger V-6, with a choice of rear- or all-wheel drive. A manual trans-mission is offered on the sedan, but it's automatic-only for the CTS Sport Wagon. In true Euro-fighting form, the CTS's acceleration, ride and handling, and braking are the equal of most cars in its class.

Base, Luxury, and Performance trims of the CTS Wagon come with a 270-horsepower, 3.0-liter V-6, while the Performance and Premium trims can be had with a 304-horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6 that has nearly the same EPA fuel economy. Sedans and Wagons can be had with either engine, while the CTS Coupe comes only with the larger V-6. The base engine is a 3.0-liter V-6 with direct injection and 270 horsepower, and since the manual geabox isn't especially enjoyable here, we recommend the larger 3.6-liter V-6. It's the better choice because of its zippy acceleration and ample power. The first time you step on it—especially when passing—it'll surprise you. The main reason behind that stealth is that the throttle is quite linear; it's not artificially boosted just as you tip into the gas pedal like in many new vehicles.

The CTS models aren't downright quick off the line, even with the 3.6. Peg the accelerator to the floor from a standing start and the CTS doesn't lose much composure; it just hunkers down and goes, becoming much more inspired as the revs build. The engine is truly in its sweet spot when it's singing its BMW-like song at full throttle in the 4,000 to 6,000 rpm range. Zero to 60 mph comes in about seven seconds for Coupes and Sport Wagons, or a bit less for the lighter sedan.

Shifts for the responsive six-speed automatic can be commanded with buttons on the back of the steering wheel, which you'll definitely want to do when the road turns curvy as the transmission has a tendency to quickly run up to one of the highest gears and lug along.

Handling and ride quality can vary with four different factory-installed suspension setups, but with any of the four, the CTS tunes in great steering feel and a nicely balanced ride. The Car Connection prefers the FE3 setup, which helps produce entertaining handling and a firm ride that's still smooth enough for everyday driving, even on the upgraded 19-inch wheels and summer tires. The entire CTS lineup handles very well for a car its size. It tends toward understeer when pushed very hard—a predictable and safe dynamic most people can deal with. But you have to push it very hard indeed to get there. Driven normally, or even with some spirit, the CTS just feels planted. Steering weight is still a bit odd and unpredictable—at parking speeds it's sometimes heavy, then at low cruising speeds, it's almost floaty, but at highway speeds it grows rather heavy again. Autobahn-style cruising is where these models feel at home. The steering stays sharp and on the ready yet hefty and steady enough on center to avoid any wandering, and the ride feels supple and just absorbent enough. Tear off on a backroad, and you'll still be happy with the steering; it responds precisely to tight corners, with some feel from the road surface even, and unwinds nicely.

We recommend the optional Performance Package, which adds an even stiffer sport-tuned suspension, along with 19-inch polished aluminum wheels, Continental ContiSportContact summer performance rubber, steering-wheel shift controls, and an upgraded cooling system and performance brakes. The CTS-V, on the other hand, comes with the most excellent Magnetic Ride Control (MRC) system (not available on other CTS models), allowing plush ride comfort while tightening up in milliseconds when needed.

Brakes are strong and feel about perfect, with a nice, firm pedal feel that's easy to modulate whether inching along in traffic or hauling speed down for a sudden freeway snag.

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2011 Cadillac CTS

Comfort & Quality

The 2011 Cadillac CTS can be a little tight inside as a Coupe or sedan, but CTS Sport Wagons offer excellent interior space and materials are mostly top-notch.

The interior of the 2011 Cadillac CTS models is snug—yet comfortable for most. However the front seats are the real letdown—to High Gear Media editors—in an otherwise stellar interior. The standard front buckets are flat, too hard, and with a bump midway up the back that's more annoying than uncomfortable; and front headroom is at a premium with the sunroof.

Back-seat room is generous—even the new 2011 Cadillac CTS Coupe—which isn't a surprise given the CTS Coupe has the same wheelbase as the sedan. Headroom is at a bit of a premium, but as long as taller rear-seaters keep their noggins in the niche carved into the ceiling, they'll be (mostly) fine. But even in sedans—due to small door openings—getting in and out can be surprisingly tough for lanky or large adults. The CTS Sport Wagon's a different story; it's relatively easy to enter and exit, because it has longer doors and wider door openings at floor height-and that makes all the difference for those extra passengers. For Coupes, the main drawbacks inside can include the too-intrusive center tunnel that plagues all CTS models if you're cursed with the long legs of the six-footer club—and of course the long doors that make ingress and egress tough in tight parking spots.

The Sport Wagon makes even more of a difference for their carry-on stuff. The sedan isn't as useful because its trunk opening is small; the Wagon's hatch opens especially wide, has easy seatback releases, and the hatch itself can be propped in several positions. Cargo space for the sedan is 14 cubic feet; the CTS Sport Wagon adds on 25 cubic feet to the passenger space, and lets owners flip down the rear seats for a total of 53.4 cubic feet of room. It's easily accessed, with a power tailgate standard and a roof system that adds uncovered capacity to its cargo-hauling profile (but that would spoil the shape, no?). Under the flat cargo floor and built into its sides are trays and hooks and all sorts of Cirque du Soleil attachments to tie down anything you'd care to tie down back there. With its permission of course.

Otherwise, all the details are executed very well. The cabin is everything you'd expect from a $40,000-$50,000 luxury car. Panel fit isn't quite as good as you'll get in a BMW or an Audi, but it's still good. The look is original, and though a bit busy, tasteful. The cockpit of the CTS Coupe is a very nice place to be. Soft-touch materials, grippy rubber-coated steering wheel-mounted shift paddles for the six-speed auto 'box, and cut-and-sew leather give a legitimately premium feel. Ergonomics on the controls are mostly good, though you'll have to work the trip meter blind if you want to see your instant MPGs while cruising down the road. Cupholders, on the other hand, while not plentiful, are well-located to be out of the way yet accessible, and the center-console cubby has a two-level system that makes it easy to temporarily stow phones and other gadgets without losing them in a mire of cords, french fries, and darkness.

Quality mavens may also quibble over the CTS's liberal use of plastic, but the interior boasts high-quality upholstery and trim that's certainly the equal of the other vehicles in the class, if more attention-grabbing.

Another very noteworthy thing about the CTS Wagon—for anyone who's ever extensively driven or owned a wagon, hatchback, or even crossover ute—is that it's quiet. The 2011 CTS Wagon is surprisingly well isolated from road and wind noise. At 70 mpg, you hear the faint hum of the engine and on smooth surfaces very little else. Coarse surfaces bring out a little hum, but it's nothing like other wagons and the sportier crossovers.

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2011 Cadillac CTS

Safety

The 2011 Cadillac CTS has mostly good safety scores and a full set of safety features, but rearward visibility could be an issue.

The 2011 Cadillac CTS doesn't miss many marks with respect to safety. In fact, it's an IIHS Top Safety Pick, with top 'good' results from the IIHS in frontal offset, side impact, and roof strength tests. Although the CTS hasn't yet been rated by the federal government in its revised 2011-model-year crash-test procedures, NHTSA gave the 2010 Cadillac CTS five stars for side impact and four and five stars for frontal impact (just four for the driver).

Standard safety equipment includes six airbags, as well as traction and stability control; all-wheel drive is an option on CTS Sport Sedans, standard on CTS Sport Wagons.

Adaptive lighting and parking sensors are available as options on the CTS.

Visibility can be a major issue in both versions of the 2011 CTS. Sedans aren't too bad, but the CTS Sport Wagon's thick rear header can get in the way, and rearward vision leaves a lot to be desired in CTS Coupes.

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2011 Cadillac CTS

Features

Excellent audio and navigation systems, a long list of luxury features, and serious performance upgrades altogether won't leave you disappointed—but remember to skip the base upholstery.

The 2011 Cadillac CTS comes with features and options lists that rival those of other top sport sedans—and exceed them in some respects.

The base sedan comes with power doors, locks, and mirrors; cruise control; automatic dual-zone climate control; a power driver seat; a tilt and telescoping steering wheel; an AM/FM/CD/XM audio system with auxiliary jack; an air filtration system; and automatic headlamps. Base cars come with 'leatherette' vinyl seats, a Euro-like touch that's disappointing. The Sport Wagon adds a power tailgate to that list. The Performance package adds standard 18-inch wheels, the FE2 suspension, and high-intensity discharge head-lamps. The same package on the bigger V-6 nets standard surround sound and a USB/iPod interface.

Rolled up with all the major options—a panoramic sunroof, all-wheel drive, a 40GB hard drive for navigation and music files, heated seats, and Bluetooth connectivity—the CTS Sport Wagon will tingle the nether regions of a $50,000 sticker. It's still in the range of an Audi A4 Avant—and superior in many ways.

The major options include a panoramic sunroof; Bluetooth connectivity; ventilated seats; a pet cover for the wagon's cargo hold; and 18- or 19-inch wheels and tires, to go with different suspension packages and all-weather or summer tires. An easy-to-use entertainment system for its hard-drive music storage and a memory function that stores radio broadcasts (kind of like TiVo) are among the highlights not found on other models, and the audio system includes a USB port, iPod integration, and MP3 playback capabilities.

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2011 Cadillac CTS

Fuel Economy

The 2011 Cadillac CTS has fuel economy that's unimpressive, so it's not all that green.

With EPA city ratings that start at 16 mpg and highway ratings that are at best 27 mpg, the 2011 Cadillac CTS is a little disappointing with respect to fuel economy. In real-world driving, The Car Connection hasn't observed any better, either; we saw less than 17 mpg in combined driving. Altogether, that's a bit lower than you'd see from other models in this class—including some higher-performance sport sedans.
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8.4
Overall
Expert Rating
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Styling 9.0
Performance 8.0
Comfort & Quality 8.0
Safety 8.0
Features 9.0
Fuel Economy 6.0
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