- Shocking acceleration
- Beautifully composed at speed
- Lively, connected steering
- Brilliantly balanced
- Brash looks aren’t for everyone
- Poor IIHS crash-test scores
- Back seat lacks rivals’ space
The 2018 Cadillac CTS-V scorches the earth, and leaves the E63 and RS7 with some burn marks.
We’ve nearly reached peak crossover SUV, which means great cars like the 2018 Cadillac CTS seem hopelessly off-trend.
It’s too bad. With the brilliant CTS, Cadillac puts itself on par with the Mercedes E-Class and Audi A6, whether it’s a base model, or one of Luxury trims, or a CTS VSport.
We rate it at a 7.5 overall, boosted by its performance and looks. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
No need for a concealed-carry permit here, the CTS lets you know what it’s packing. The crisply pressed sheet metal wears LED lighting that runs down right to the pavement, the rear end a stack of exhaust ports. The cabin’s subdued, almost to the point of sobriety.
Performance comes from a 268-horsepower turbo-4, a 335-hp V-6, or a 420-hp turbo V-6 (we cover the CTS-V separately). Start with the 6-cylinder and you won’t leave unimpressed. It’ll run to 60 mph in 6 seconds, with grand-touring confidence. The VSport wants blood; it hammers down the 60-mph mark in 4.7 seconds.
An 8-speed paddle-shifted automatic clips off clean shifts in all models. All but the VSport can be configured with all-wheel drive.
Since it shares a structure with the smaller ATS, the CTS has deft steering and unerring highway tracking, and the optional adaptive shocks are more than worth their price.
What the CTS doesn’t have is a huge back seat, or trunk. Firm and thick-bolstered front seats serve up regal comfort, but back-seat riders will have to duck under the low roof to get in, and may find head room snug.
The NHTSA says the CTS is five-star safe, but the IIHS gives it a “Marginal” rating in its toughest test. Cadillac offers blind-spot monitors and forward-collision warnings, but the CTS doesn’t yet have automatic emergency braking.
It gorges on other tech gear. A 12.3-inch digital display houses virtual instruments, while an 8.0-inch screen displays infotainment including Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. A rear-camera mirror and a power cupholder grace the most expensive models.
For 2018, Cadillac’s added an automatic heated steering wheel. The earth hasn’t shaken. The CTS will remain an extremely underappreciated car. Unless you listen to us, that is.
2018 Cadillac CTS
The 2018 Cadillac CTS telegraphs its otherness with steam-pressed lines and stunning LED lighting.
Cadillac must have dibs on the GM corporate straight-edge. Other brands have to wait their turn while cars like the CTS cut an angular but lithe shape in the air.
We give the an 8 out of 10 for its crisply pressed sheet metal and its handsome cabin. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The CTS hasn’t been touched much since it was new in 2014. It hasn’t needed any dramatic changes. The shape’s as sleek and seductive as Cadillac has. The taillights are taller, the front end hugs the ground a bit closer.
It’s still the CTS that dropped jaws with its Le Mans-style LED lighting three years ago. That signature lighting is every bit as evocative as the ring of fire on every Dodge rear end, or the eyebrows on the Audi lineup.
Cadillac has made one change that drives purists batty: the badge no longer wears a wreath around its crest.
The cabin quiets down the outside world, without the abrupt angles. A single drape of trim caps the dash, and leather mingles with wood on top versions to club up the CTS atmosphere. It’s handsome and can be dramatic with one of Cadillac’s two-tone interior options.
Big screens are the dominant feature of the CTS' cabin: the 8.0-inch touchscreen twins with a 5.7-inch monitor between the gauges or, on higher trims, a 12.3-inch panel that replaces the gauges. All lit up, the cockpit strikes a futuristic note.
2018 Cadillac CTS
TL;DR: Only buy a Cadillac CTS with a “V” on the spec sheet.
Handling is the CTS’ forte, and in VSport trim it makes a solid gambit for speed, too.
It’s an 8 out of 10 here. A perfect sedan would have more horsepower (the CTS-V knows this) and would cost so, so much more. Perfection is an aimless pursuit, anyway. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The CTS has a lot in common under the hood with the smaller ATS. A 268-horsepower turbo-4 motivates base models. With premium gas it turns in 295 pound-feet of torque, and can power the rear or all four wheels. An 8-speed automatic handles the shifts well, but the turbo-4 mates up acceptable speed (0-60 mph in 6 seconds) with a grotty sound that’s masked almost, but not entirely, by active noise cancellation.
Steer toward the V-6 CTS sedans, and the performance quotient rises in tandem with the luxury feel. The 3.6-liter V-6 unspools 335 hp and 285 lb-ft and makes quick work of holes in traffic. There’s no wall of torque, just a consistent and predictable build-up of speed. Fade into the commuter background or brighten up a weekend jaunt with this one.
In either case the CTS can handle itself. The stock strut-and-five-link suspension, electric-assist power steering, and 17-inch wheels and tires cut a clean line through corners. The steering in particular is lovely, since it doesn’t juice up on steroidal amounts of artificial weight.
We’ve spent most of our CTS time in V-6 cars with adaptive shocks. Controlled by reactive magnetic fluid, the adaptive dampers deliver an agreeably smooth ride one moment and firm, sporty damping the next. Never uncontrolled or floaty, the CTS is nearly as agile as the smaller ATS, and shares its remarkable sense of stability.
VSport on top
Stepping up once, but not out of the CTS range, is the 3.6-liter twin-turbocharged V-6 planted under the hood of V-Sport cars. It has learned its lesson from hotter sedans like the Audi S6 and even the Lexus GS F Sport. It serves 420 hp and 430 lb-ft of torque, and it comes only with rear-wheel drive and the paddle-shifted 8-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 550i, but because it's relatively lightweight—at 3,616 pounds in base trim—the V-Sport is a vibrant straight-line performer.
The VSport gets a flurry of handling upgrades, 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 larger front brakes.
It all compiles beautifully, with more nuance than all its digital inputs suggest.
On 18-inch summer tires, the CTS V-Sport grips the ground fanatically, needling its way through carousels and esses famously, piped-in soundtrack ripping through the cabin downshift after downshift.
2018 Cadillac CTS
Comfort & Quality
The CTS delivers just enough back-seat space to overlook its undersize trunk.
With 110.7 cubic feet of interior volume, the 2018 Cadillac CTS meets the technical standard to be called a mid-size car.
Are the engineers gone? Can we talk? It’s a fit for the stat sheet, but the CTS just slips into the mid-size luxury mainstream, as it skimps on some interior space we really could use.
The CTS gets credit for great seats front and back, and that pulls it up to a 7 out of 10 on our scale. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
In front, 20-way seats support just about every section of your body. Wide and deep sculpting in the seats ensures long-distance comfort, and the sunroof on most models only trims away a bit of headroom.
The back seat trims away more. The 35.4 inches of rear leg room allotted to passengers isn’t so generous, compared to an E-Class. The low roofline will knock into heads without a smooth duck move. The seat cushions are somewhat low, as they split the difference between lots of space and a sleek shape.
The CTS is quiet, thanks to active noise cancellation that helps the turbo-4 the most. We’re bowled over by the CTS’ lush top-model interior trim, from a massive 12.3-inch gauge screen to gorgeous semi-aniline (more natural) leather.
2018 Cadillac CTS
The 2018 CTS has curried the NHTSA’s favor, but the IIHS isn’t having it.
The CTS hasn’t kept up with the latest crash-test agenda, so we’ve downrated it to a 7 this year. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The NHTSA calls the CTS a five-star performer across the board. But the IIHS’ “Good” scores stop at the small-overlap test, where it merits a "Marginal" score. That means no Top Safety Pick awards—at all.
A rearview camera and rear parking sensors come standard. On CTS Luxury sedans and those higher on the price charts, Cadillac offers blind-spot monitors, active lane control, forward-collision warnings, and a lane-departure warning system that vibrates the driver seat cushion when the car leaves its lane. A surround-view camera system is an option.
2018 Cadillac CTS
A great warranty and lavish tech gear give the CTS an edge in features.
Carmakers get savage when they outfit the cheapest wheels, but cars like the Cadillac CTS? Even the base model earns the “well-equipped” tag.
We give the CTS an 9 out of 10 for its lavish touches, everything from a power-covered cupholder to a four-year, 50,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The base CTS has power features, cruise control, a rearview camera, rear parking sensors, and an 11-speaker Bose audio system with three USB ports and Bluetooth audio streaming.
It also comes with an 8.0-inch touchscreen and an infotainment system dubbed CUE. CUE is due for an extensive update; its gesture controls and zoom-and-pinch screens wowed us at first, but the system bogs down and needs more computing horsepower.
CTS Luxury sedans get a power tilt-and-telescope steering wheel; leather; an a panoramic sunroof. Options range from a rear camera mirror to adaptive shocks and 18-inch wheels. A Premium version gets the V-6 standard along with a surround-view camera system, automatic parking assist, a head-up display, automatic climate control, and a 12.3-inch high-definition gauge cluster.
The VSport CTS adds summer tires, stronger brakes, and a limited-slip rear differential.
2018 Cadillac CTS
The 2018 CTS’ fuel economy isn’t great, at a max of 25 mpg combined.
For 2018, the best that a CTS does is 25 mpg combined. No hybrid, no tricks, no better than last year. So we’re carrying over the CTS’ fuel economy score of 6. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The EPA rates the turbo-4 sedan at 22 mpg city, 30 highway, 25 combined, or 21/29/24 mpg with all-wheel drive.
The V-6 earns 20/30/24 mpg, or 19/27/22 mpg with all-wheel drive.
The rear-drive Vsport checks in at 16/24/19 mpg.
Despite its active grille shutters and stop/start system, the CTS figures just barely rank in the same discussion as cars like the A6 and the S90. Cadillac reserves its plug-in hybrid technology for the newer CT6.