After a redesign for 2008 that included a completely new interior, the mid-size CTS returns with only minor changes for 2009.
The CTS sport sedan is Cadillac’s entry-level vehicle in the United States, and takes on compact to mid-size sport sedans from Europe and Japan—such as the BMW 3 Series and Infiniti G37.
What helps the CTS stand out among rivals is its styling; sharp edges and a chunky appearance on the outside are met inside with smooth, flowing contours of the instrument panel. Better materials were used inside beginning with the redesign last year, and now the interior boasts high-quality upholstery and trim a step better than those usually found in this class. In front, firm sport seats give good support, while the backseat is rather snug but good for two adults. The CTS’s ride is firm but smooth, and handling is quite capable and entertaining even with the base setup.
Available on the 2009 Cadillac CTS is a direct-injected, 3.6-liter V-6 hitting 304 horsepower, with base models getting a 263-hp version of the engine. All-wheel drive is offered with either, but a six-speed manual is only available with the 263-hp engine. A six-speed automatic does the shifting for the rest of the model lineup.
Options include an advanced infotainment system with the ability to rip CDs or record and play back radio broadcasts, new for 2009 Bluetooth connectivity, and an advanced navigation system that incorporates the XM NavTraffic feature.
The majority of the automotive press appreciates the 2009 Cadillac CTS’s look, most frequently complimenting the distinctive new headlight and front-end design and saying that the changes give it a much better appearance over the car it replaces. “The front fender air vents, the knife-edged third brake light, and the LED-encrusted tail lamps are beautifully executed,” declares a ForbesAutos.com reviewer, who continues to gush over the exterior styling of the CTS, predicting that “the charismatic glow radiating from this car will draw looks away from the more conservative blue-blood import sedans and make this Cadillac the center of positive attention wherever the affluent gather.”
The front and rear exterior design detail draw praise and criticism alike. Cars.com says that “the front end can come off as a bit busy” and points out the inset fog lamps, two-tone grille, and bumper extensions below each headlight. Other reviewers suggest that the tall grille on the 2009 Cadillac CTS might not be to everyone’s liking.
More controversial is the interior of the 2009 Cadillac CTS. Several reviewers point out that the CTS’s striking form compromises its usefulness, as its roofline and thick rear pillars obstruct the view outward, as well as confine backseat space and trunk access. Other editors disagree. Car and Driver notes that “even with a steeply raked rear window, the CTS offers a much larger and usable back seat,” especially when compared with the smaller cars in its price class.
There is a distinct divide as to whether the interior is too flashy to be effective. ConsumerGuide criticizes the 2009 Cadillac CTS for putting form over function with some of its major controls, as “the v-shape center console stack puts most buttons into a smallish area of the dashboard,” while Kelley Blue Book feels otherwise, noting the interior’s “cheerfully luxurious design” and saying that “every control was easy to see, find and operate.” ForbesAutos.com looks at the interior with an especially critical eye, possibly explaining the differences in opinion. The reviewer first points out the double-stitched upholstery, electroluminescent gauges, and standout infotainment systems, but goes on to say, “the more you live in these confines, the more you notice that designers missed some of the fundamentals while squandering their trim and technology budget...Harmony is broken by too many textures, accents, and distracting elements.” In short, the reviewer continues to highlight how the interior is cluttered with different materials, finishes, and contrasting design details.
The 2009 Cadillac CTS exterior styling is especially appreciated by the editors of TheCarConnection.com, as the new front- and back-end treatments give it better proportions—the last car could look a bit tall, boxy, and awkward from some angles. The 2009 design is lower, more aggressive, and projects a uniquely American style statement. The interior design is attractive, but it might not suit everyone’s tastes, especially for those who are used to Teutonic design approach of less is more. All the rival sport sedans keep to a conservative mold, while the CTS breaks through with a decidedly different style.
In surveying the available reviews, we can be quite sure that the 2009 Cadillac CTS offers exceptionally good performance. The CTS’s performance impresses even the most jaded journalists and reviewers, who positively beam about the its handling.
The Cadillac CTS “drives like a proper BMW rival,” says Motor Trend, and Car and Driver ventures that “the CTS is more comfortable than a Sport-package-equipped BMW 3-series or Infiniti G37 without giving up much ultimate performance.” ForbesAutos.com commends the crisp steering and excellent road feel, and says that even at the limits of grip, the suspension brings predictable and forgiving behavior.
The 2009 Cadillac CTS performance can be cranked to an edgier level with the stiffest FE3 suspension option, also equipped with the Y43 package, which includes 18-inch wheels and Y-rated Michelin Pilot Sport PS2 summer performance tires. “This CTS's high-performance Michelin PS2 tires are standard equipment on some Porsches, and they have much to do with the way this car feels and performs,” says Edmunds, who test a CTS equipped as such, also noting the CTS’s especially short stopping distances and great pedal feel.
Some reviewers are perfectly happy with the more powerful 304-hp engine, while others wish for more. ForbesAutos.com says, “While it doesn’t bubble with enthusiasm when revving to its 7,000-rpm redline, it delivers more than enough energy to hustle this nearly 4,000-pound sedan along with gusto.” But Edmunds contends that the 2009 Cadillac CTS is slower than competitors with similar power outputs, “likely due to the fact that it weighs about 300 pounds more than the BMW 335i and Lexus IS350.”
Many media outlets also note that premium fuel is recommended for the more powerful engine, but with this more advanced direct-injection design, better fuel economy may be a bonus perk. ConsumerGuide tests both 3.6-liter engines and finds that the direct-injection engine provided significantly higher gas mileage.
Reviewers give rave reviews of the six-speed automatic transmission, which is commended for having great, smooth shifts during leisurely driving and snappy responses in high-performance situations. Car and Driver says that in the transmission’s sport setting, “it quickly gets bold, dutifully holding gears...and aggressively downshifting under braking.” CNET confirms that the transmission has been programmed to downshift depending on how hard you brake going into a corner and not upshift in corners, which makes the 2009 Cadillac CTS especially enjoyable to drive on the track.
A manual gearbox is offered on the base Cadillac CTS, but Car and Driver states that “even with a new shift linkage for shorter throws, the manual isn’t nearly as fluid as those from BMW,” reporting an abruptly engaging clutch pedal and high center console that places the shifter in an odd place.
Compared to earlier attempts at sport sedans in the not-so-distant past, TheCarConnection.com is impressed by the new 2009 Cadillac CTS, even if the interior feels a little bit over the top.
The 2009 Cadillac CTS has the look—and the feel—to set it apart from competitors inside, according to the majority of reviewers. Most find the interior quality to be top-notch with no mention of any ancillary noises. ForbesAutos.com says, “The instrument panel, steering wheel, portions of the console and door surfaces are covered with leather and vinyl materials that are all cut, sewn and wrapped by hand and neatly eliminate most gaps and seams." Car and Driver mentions the “classy materials and top-notch fit and finish.”
Some of the fundamental features—especially the seats—are a bit controversial, though. Nearly all comment that the sport sedan needs seats that are more supportive in aggressive handling situations. Other reviewers are perfectly happy with the seats and seating space, such as Kelley Blue Book, which notes, “The heated and ventilated front seats use 'thin-seat' technology for improved rear leg, knee and foot room,” so as to give backseat occupants about two inches of additional legroom versus last year’s model. The additional room isn’t enough for others. ForbesAutos.com gripes that the front seats lack ample thigh support, and “the rear seats are ill-suited for any occupant who has graduated from middle school if the trip is longer than, say, 20 miles.” ConsumerGuide warns that larger adults won’t fit well in back and points out that taller drivers might not even fit comfortably, saying, “Marginal headroom is further reduced by the available sunroof.”
The backseat design of the 2009 Cadillac CTS offers some practicality; the backrests fold forward nearly flat for larger parcels, but the constrained side-door access and narrow trunk opening are the limiting factors. Edmunds cites the “ergonomic casualties,” such as awkward access to the backseat through the “triangular door” and the “slot-like trunk opening.”
Additional noise-reduction measures, including triple door seals and more engine sound deadening, are appreciated by discerning reviewers, although some think it could still use some improvement. Car and Driver describes the new DI engine as “smooth and quite muted.” However, engine noise is an issue for several reviewers. Motor Trend, referring to the top-of-the-range 304-hp engine, says, “It's a technically impressive engine, but in truth, it's the CTS's weakest link.” They identify noise and vibration as the real issue, including shaking that makes its way to the pedals and shifter. “It's not overbearing, but you notice it because the rest of the car is so quiet.”
Kelley Blue Book expects a stiff, uncomfortable ride for this sporty sedan but instead finds its suspension “surprisingly supple even on the most troubled surfaces.” Edmunds also reports that in the rough roads of downtown Los Angeles, their test car, with its stiffer FE3 suspension, remains “thoroughly pleasant.” The reviewer especially commends the way in which the suspension soaks up the bumps, adding, “the well-isolated steering wheel never shudders and the tires always remain firmly planted on the ground." This is corroborated by Car and Driver, which compliments the balance between ride and handling even with the tightest FE3 suspension, and says, “Tightly controlled body movements keep it buttoned down, and the rear-drive CTS’s ride never feels harsh. “
Motor Trend editors disagree with their colleagues and state that ride quality suffers with the stiffer FE3 suspension, which “can get jittery over broken pavement,” and recommends the midlevel FE2 as the best compromise for most. ConsumerGuide concurs, saying that the high-performance suspension is a “huge detriment to ride quality, adding undue stiffness with little appreciable gain in handling,” and notes that tire noise can intrude in the otherwise quiet interior. The base engine can sound unrefined at times, they report, while the direct injection engine is “notably more polished, even when pushed.”
The Cadillac CTS got one star short of a perfect score in the federal government’s frontal crash test but aced all other tests with flying colors.
When shoppers compare the CTS, they’ll find that all the expected safety features are there, including electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes, side curtain airbags, and front side airbags. Some models offer rear side airbags as an option, though not on the CTS.
Several reviewers note the availability of all-wheel drive in the 2009 Cadillac CTS, a feature that is almost a cost of entry in this class. ForbesAutos.com says that the option makes the CTS more competitive in its class, as AWD “is fast becoming a must-have in parts of the country that see snow.”
There are a few design-related feature questions. Taking a close look at interior features, the ForbesAutos.com reviewer asks, “Why are the door pockets so small? Why is the manual-mode shift gate for the automatic toward the passenger's thigh rather than the driver's? Why are there no shift paddles on the steering wheel?”
Two new features are mentioned by nearly all reviewers: the Advanced Navigation System, and the $3,145 optional Infotainment system with Bose 5.1 Cabin Surround Sound. Adaptive forward lighting is another feature that garners the testers' attention. Edmunds singles out the 2009 Cadillac CTS’s integrated XM real-time traffic service as one of the most useful features, while also complimenting the hard-drive-based navigation system, with its three-dimensional renderings of buildings when closely zoomed.
Kelley Blue Book notes that the sound system “will download and store your CD collection and operate your iPod from the pop-up touch screen,” and CNET lauds the “tabbed structure” and improved screen resolution of the Infotainment system, commenting that the 40GB built-in hard drive is the largest they’d seen in a car to date. Edmunds is also wowed by the capabilities of the CTS’s optional ($3,145) surround sound system, which has a USB port, iPod integration, and MP3 playback capabilities. It can also record and replay 60 minutes of traditional or satellite radio, on a rolling basis, in case you want to rewind to a section of a show you missed. Several reviewers likened the standout feature to TiVo.
- 2008 Mercedes-Benz C Class
- 2008 BMW 3-Series
The CTS is offered with two different engines like the C-Class, 3 Series, and IS, and though the stronger of the two V-6s is the best choice, the difference isn’t so pronounced as for some rivals. The turbocharged 335i has much faster acceleration and the G37 has even crisper handling. Nearly all of its competition comes in a more traditional luxury shape, with the C-Class best matching the CTS on features. The CTS is larger and heavier than its competitive set, which hampers acceleration and handling, although the CTS has very well-balanced handling and an especially well-tuned Stabilitrak stability control system.