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.
With the choice of three powertrains, the 2014 CTS sedan approaches the mid-size luxury class evenly. At the entry end, there's a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, rated at 272 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque--about 32 horsepower up on the Jaguar XF's new turbo four, and also BMW's turbo four, while cranking out 30 lb-ft more torque than the same engine did last year in the ATS sedan. It's the least appealing of the CTS' engines to listen to, even with active noise cancellation, but its peak power drops in at usefully low revs and lingers into the 5500-rpm range.
GM's six-speed automatic has paddle shifters to direct its way around the powerband, and all-wheel drive's available even on this model. Without an extra pair of gears versus the BMW, gas mileage is notably lower, and the Cadillac turbo four isn't as refined as BMW's--though it's on par with the Ford-derived Jaguar four.
We'd pass up the base drivetrain for Cadillac's excellent 3.6-liter V-6. It checks in with a sonorous growl, but more importantly, 321 horsepower and 275 pound-feet of torque, and the same choice of rear- or all-wheel drive. The same six-speed automatic with paddles is standard on the rear-drive model, but a new eight-speed, paddle-shifted automatic is paired with the all-wheel-drive version. A 0-60 mph estimate of 6.0 seconds feels easily within reach here.
Until a new CTS-V comes along, the best performer is the CTS Vsport sedan's new twin-turbo 3.6-liter V-6. It's good for 420 horsepower and 430 pound-feet of torque, and comes only with rear-wheel drive and the paddle-shifted eight-speed automatic. GM pegs its 0-60 mph times at 4.6 seconds, and its top speed at 170 mph. It's power-shy on paper compared to a twin-turbo V-8 5-Series, but because it's relatively lightweight--at 3,616 pounds in base trim it's about 250 pounds lighter than the last-generation car--the new CTS is a vibrant straight-line performer with all its powertrains, but especially with the twin-turbo six.
Cadillac rarely has had issues with that performance metric, though. It's handling where the marque hasn't quite clipped the wings of its European sparring partners--that is, until the arrival of the compact ATS last year. Incredibly stable and composed, the ATS has lent its road feel to the structurally related CTS, and it's obvious even in the versions with the lowest aspirations--with a standard-tune FE2 strut-and-five-link suspension, electric steering, and 17-inch wheels and tires. The CTS' near-equal weight balance lets even the small-tire model cut cleanly through corners, with steering that doesn't dose up with steroidal levels of artificial weight.
Most of our time was spent on the road with the six-cylinder cars, both with GM's Magnetic Ride Control (MRC) suspension. That system, which uses dampers filled with magnetically charged fluid, able to change stiffness in milliseconds, is also in its third generation, and it's shared with the new Corvette Stingray. The CTS' magnetic dampers deliver on what was promised ten, twenty years ago, that electronics could deliver smooth and agreeable ride quality 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 sweetly tuned electric power steering and a remarkable 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, keeping some in the tank for later, for the M cars and the AMGs. The Vsport gets a flurry of handling upgrades all its own, including 18-inch Pirelli tires (19-inchers are 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-upgrade: the CTS with MRC delivers top-drawer grip precisely, without ever slacking into lame mode.
Mind you, this is the VSport. There's a CTS-V still waiting for its debut. More on that in the months to come.
Read our most recent full review on the carry-over Cadillac CTS Coupe, Wagon, and CTS-V