The Cadillac CTS has chased the performance icons of the German auto industry for a couple of generations, getting lapped the first time around and pulling within sight in the most recent edition. With its third pass at the leaders, the CTS has a legitimate claim on best-in-class handling when it's a Vsport.
We've driven a sampler of pre-production 2014 CTS sedans, all the new powertrains and a few of the suspension combinations that show the CTS's all-around, newfound finesse. It flatters the 5-Series and E-Class with road manners inspired by them, without imitating them. It finishes the work started by the Cadillac ATS--the job of convincing haters and doubters that a Cadillac CTS deserves mention in the same breath.
Cadillac fits the 2014 CTS with three engines, two transmissions, and rear- or all-wheel drive. Base cars have a 272-hp 2.0-liter turbo-4 with 295 lb-ft of torque, up 30 lb-ft on last year's numbers as installed in the compact ATS. It's the grouchiest of the CTS' engines, even when it's fitted with active noise cancellation, but it has ample power low in the rev range, and that power sticks around through at least 5,500 rpm.
This version has a 6-speed, paddle-shifted automatic and can be equipped with all-wheel drive. Gas mileage falls below rivals with that combination, and GM's turbo-4 just isn't as refined as the one you'll find in many BMWs.
The CTS' base powertrain is a hard pass. Head instead to the mid-line 3.6-liter V-6. It emits a deep and sonorous growl, but more importantly, 321 hp and 275 pound-feet of torque, and rear- or all-wheel drive. The same six-speed automatic comes with the rear-drive model; a new 8-speed, paddle-shifted automatic teams up with all-wheel drive to hit 60 mph in 6.0 seconds.
While we wait for the next CTS-V, the CTS Vsport holds a place for it. The VSport's 3.6-liter twin-turbo V-6 drops 420 hp and 430 lb-ft of torque, via the rear wheels and an 8-speed paddle-shifted automatic. GM pegs its 0-60 mph run at 4.6 seconds, and says it will reach a top speed of 170 mph. The VSport may look shy on power compared to some 5-Series cars with V-8 engines, but its lighter curb weight makes it a vibrant performer, particularly with this drivetrain.
In the past Cadillac has fallen behind rivals in the handling department. That changed with last year's ATS compact sedan. Incredibly composed and stable, the ATS lends some of its steering and structure to the CTS, and it pays off even in the versions with the lowest aspirations--with a standard-tune FE2 strut-and-five-link suspension, electric power steering, and 17-inch tires. With near-perfect weight balance front to rear, even the CTS with the smallest tires can carve corners without a lot of artificial weight induced into the steering system.
Most of our time was spent on the road with the six-cylinder cars, both with GM's Magnetic Ride Control (MRC) suspension. MRC has magnetically charged dampers that can change their stiffness in milliseconds, is also in its third generation, and it's shared with the new Corvette Stingray . The CTS' magnetic dampers deliver an agreeable ride one moment, and sportscar-firm damping the next. More supple than the shorter ATS thanks to more wheelbase, the CTS is never floaty or uncontrolled. It also has well-tuned power steering and a strong sense of stability, just like its compact companion.
On GM's home court--its proving grounds--the CTS VSport neatly outlines how Cadillac has absorbed the schooling doled out over decades by cars like the S6 and even Lexus' GS F Sport. This new half-step to V-Series status lines up perfectly against Audi and Lexus in ambition. The Vsport adopts a flurry of handling upgrades: 18-inch Pirelli tires (with 19-inchers offered as an upgrade); a quicker steering ratio; a track mode for the magnetic dampers, steering, throttle, and shift points; an electronic limited-slip differential; and Brembo brakes.
It all compiles beautifully, with more nuance that all its digital inputs suggest. On 18-inch summer tires, the CTS we lapped around Milford gripped the ground fanatically, needling its way through carousels and esses famously, piped-in soundtrack ripping through the cabin downshift after downshift. MRC seemed unnecessary in the ATS, where it's a second-gen setup. This firmware version is a must. With the magnetic dampers, the CTS grips with precision, and never lets up too much slack.
Mind you, this is the VSport. There's a CTS-V still waiting for its debut. More on that in the months to come.