2014 Cadillac CTS challenges BMW 5-Series for luxury sedan supremacy
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Four-thirty, Monday morning, heading back to New York City after a weekend in rural Pennsylvania, and all the passengers in the Cadillac are asleep. It’s dark out and chilly, the car’s tires are cold and the road is narrow and full of twists.
A perfect time to test the prowess of the $61,000 Cadillac CTS Vsport. No, I won’t be speeding, or even using more than a few of the 420 horsepower available in the twin-turbocharged V-6.
The road has a rhythm, so I’m seeing how smoothly the sports sedan can negotiate the scramble of curves without disturbing any of its occupants from their slumber.
This is what Cadillac’s four-door CTS is meant to do: Commute long distances with up to five people, skillfully wending through secondary roads and howling down highways. And never look like it’s breaking a sweat.
Cadillac is a brand that knows what it wants to be: BMW. Well, an American BMW, anyhow. No company executive would be gauche enough to openly admit such a thing, but note the traits Cadillac is carefully cultivating. Cars with a balance of brute power and finesse, incisive technology, a dose of show-offy swagger. Bavaria via Detroit.
Like other notable Japanese and European brands, Cadillac is now actively aping the dimensions of BMW’s cars. The ATS sedan, released last year, is about the same size as a 3 Series and the reworked CTS has grown into the same basic stature of the 5 Series. And there will likely be a 7 Series contender down the road.
The surprising thing is how much better Cadillac is pulling off this formula than the other guys. The days when it offered land-lubbering autos for old men slathered in aftershave are very much behind it.
The CTS heralded the beginning of this transition more than a decade ago, and so the release of the third generation, 2014-year model is a big deal indeed.
The new CTS comes with three engine specifications: A turbo 2.0-liter 4-cylinder ($46,025), a naturally breathing 3.6-liter V-6 ($54,625), and the twin-turbo V-6 Vsport ($59,995). They are the equivalents of the BMW 528i, 535i, and 550i.
Enthusiasts who paid attention to the last generation CTS will find the Vsport name misleading. The CTS-V models had a powerful Corvette-derived V-8 shoehorned into them. These got lots of press and attention. The fact that Cadillac has co-opted the too-similar Vsport name is both mercenary and unfortunate. Even more befuddling, genuine V models will come later.
The Vsport is fast, with 430 pound-feet of torque. It goes from zero to 60 miles per hour in 4.4 seconds. High-end performance equipment includes front Brembo brakes, an electronic limited slip differential and a magnetically adjusting suspension.
But to hear some auto folk talk, the Vsport is basically a Corvette with four doors. Those people have got carried away. Weeks earlier I’d taken a Vsport around a race course in Michigan.
The car was well balanced, swiveling vigorously through turns. The turbo V-6 has ample torque to explode it out of corners. But many of the CTS’s 3,600-plus pounds are aimed at a luxury experience rather than a tire-squealing one.
That’s exactly as it should be, as the car’s sophistication is its best selling point. Its longer length is noticeable and elegant.
While the car lost the sharp angles of its predecessor (angles which I quite liked), the grille gains a new, distinctive personality, punched up by a strips of vertical LED running lights. See it approaching in your rear-view mirror and it’s like an enemy attack spaceship from Battlestar Galactica.
The interior comes with several options, from rather conservative leather and bland wood to a very seductive carbon fiber with a red tinted weave.
The big bummer: The Cue infotainment system has been ported over from the XTS and ATS. There’s not a single knob to be found, even for volume control, and while the flat surface looks great, it’s next to impossible to use without taking your eyes off the road.
Nor is it intuitive. At one point on my drives I tried to change the satellite radio station and ended up marooned on the Elvis station.
Elvis was crooning about a “Speedway” (“Pistons pound, plenty of engines ripping around”). Appropriate enough but not exactly my taste. Still, it was either the King or pull over and figure out how to change the station.
Which brings me back to my cold road and snoring occupants. No radio, no need to use Cue, just the solid feeling of the steering wheel in hand (the electronic steering on the CTS is one of the best I’ve experienced) and bright headlights cutting through darkness.
We transitioned from the windy road to the freeway in one confident surge of power. The CTS worked through commuting traffic surely and effortlessly, and Newark appeared along with the dawn. Somebody stirred in the rear seat just as I entered the Lincoln Tunnel. “Here already?” he asked.
The 2014 Cadillac CTS Vsport
Engine: 3.6-liter twin-turbo V-6 with 420 horsepower and 430 pound-feet of torque.
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic.
Speed: 0 to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds.
Gas mileage per gallon: 17 city, 25 highway.
Price as tested: $61,090.
Best feature: Confident drive and looks.
Worst feature: The clunky Cue infotainment system.
Target buyer: The commuter looking for an alternative to the BMW 5 Series.