Chalk up another home run for Cadillac. On the heels of its award-winning compact sedan, the third-generation midsize Cadillac CTS sedan debuts larger, leaner and ready to take on longstanding leaders in the luxury midsize category.
While the last generation Cadillac CTS was nothing to shake a stick at (it broke the record for a production sedan on Germany's famous Nurburging racetrack when it debuted), it was an awkward 'tweener. Too big to be compact, yet too small to be midsize, the outgoing CTS straddled the line drawn by other luxury brands. With the introduction of the compact Cadillac ATS, Cadillac has more precisely matched the BMW 3 Series class, allowing it to redesign the CTS as a larger car. As a result, the 2014 Cadillac CTS has been moved squarely into the premium midsize category, putting it in direct competition with the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series, and Mercedes-Benz E-Class.
The 2014 CTS sedan is 4.2 inches longer than the previous-generation (2008-2013) models, with a wheelbase that's stretched 1.2 inches. The 2014 CTS also sits 0.8 inch lower. The new design bears a family resemblance to the compact ATS and full-size XTS sedan. While still based on Cadillac's Art and Science design language, the once-radical styling of the CTS has been softened, while still keeping Cadillac's signature vertical lines and sharp creases. The grille is wider, with vertical stripes of LED lights that run the length of the headlamps, and continue below down the foglamp housings.
A choice of engines is available for the new CTS. Standard is a peppy and efficient 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that makes 272 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque, slightly more than the previous gen's naturally aspirated 3.0-liter V6. Fuel economy for the 2014 CTS with 2.0-liter turbo is an EPA-estimated 20/30 mpg City/Highway, 19/28 mpg City/Highway with optional all-wheel drive.
Optional is an updated version of the 3.6-liter naturally aspirated V6, good for an impressive 321 hp and 275 lb.-ft., with an EPA-estimated 19/29 mpg on RWD models and 18/26 mpg City/Highway with AWD.
Both engines are mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission; enthusiasts who like to row through the gears may be dismayed to learn that Cadillac axed the 6-speed manual available on the previous version.
The CTS VSport features a new twin-turbocharged 3.6-liter V6 that cranks out 420 horsepower and 430 pound-feet of torque. It's paired to an all-new 8-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters for a broader power band and increased fuel economy. Cadillac says the CTS VSport will dash from 0-60 mph in just 4.6 seconds. Fuel economy is predictably lower, with an EPA-estimated 17/25 mpg City/Highway. CTS VSport models are rear-wheel drive only.
Based on the same rear-wheel-drive platform as the compact Cadillac ATS, the new CTS uses many of the same weight saving technologies, like extensive use of aluminum in the chassis and body. The result is the lightest CTS to date; Cadillac says the base model has a curb weight of 3,616 pounds, nearly 200 pounds lighter than the BMW 528i. Use of lighter materials in the back, combined with a heavier rear steel suspension, help the CTS to achieve a near-50/50 weight distribution.
For the first time, GM's magnetic ride control suspension is optional on all CTS models. The CTS is also the first Cadillac to use Automatic Parking Assist, GM's automated parallel parking system. New safety features include automatic safety belt tightening, which continuously adjusts the seat belt during driving. A plethora of electronic safety systems are also available, including adaptive cruise control, forward collision alert, lane departure warning, side blind zone alert and panic brake assist.
Though its design might not appeal to everyone, the 2014 Cadillac CTS is as good as any German luxury sedan when it comes to performance and handling, and outshines many with its impeccable interior materials and finishes. With many technology and comfort features coming standard, the CTS is also an excellent value for the money when compared to others in its class.
While the CTS sedan (including Vsport) is all-new for the 2014 model year, the 2014 Cadillac CTS-V with 6.2-liter V8, the 2014 CTS Coupe, and the 2014 CTS Sport Wagon are all still based on the previous-generation platform, as are the CTS-V versions of the coupe and wagon. The CTS Coupe and Sport Wagon debuted as 2011 models and have not changed much since then. The CTS-V sedan was launched as a 2009 and remains largely unchanged.
Exterior styling on the 2014 Cadillac CTS retains the sharp angles and vertical lines of Cadillac's Art and Science design language that's been in use for more than a decade. Yet the new CTS is much more sophisticated, with more fluidity between the sharp angles. It bears a close family resemblance to the ATS and full-size XTS sedan.
At 4.2 inches longer and nearly an inch lower, the 2014 Cadillac CTS looks more planted. Visually, the bulk of the CTS is concentrated under its tall beltline; the bottom half looks substantial and solid, with a wide, large grille.
From head-on, the front end is still very crisp and angular. Vertical stripes of LED lights that run the length of the stretched-back headlamps, and continue below down the outside of the tall foglamp housings. Hood lines are deeper and more sculpted, flowing into a sleek and sloping windshield.
Its aerodynamic shape is clear from the side view. The narrow line of LED daytime running lamps stretches back into the front fender, reminiscent of Cleopatra's exaggerated black eyeliner. The relatively low roofline gently sweeps back and down into the rear window, with no interference other than the small center-mounted roof fin. A slight lip on the truck lid helps to guide air coming off the back of the car. Wheel choices vary, and come in an array of painted and polished designs in 17, 18 and 19-inch sizes.
In back, an updated version of Cadillac's vertical taillamps are wide and solid red. The rear bumper, as before, comes to a center point. Below, geometric-shaped dual exhaust ports are integrated into the rear bumper, giving it a clean, symmetrical look.
Like other Cadillac interiors, materials on the CTS are high-quality and luxurious. Compared to rivals, the cabin of the CTS really shines. Cadillac prides itself on using materials that are authentic; if it looks like wood, it is. Trim and colors vary by model type and package; some wood inserts have a high-gloss finish. Others are open pore, with a very thin coating that allows you to feel the natural pock marks and variation. All interior examples we saw were beautiful, harmonious and classy.
Standard front seats are comfortable, but not heavily bolstered. Those of smaller stature may find the flatter design more comfortable, as more highly contoured large seats sometimes seem to hug in all the wrong places. Upgraded sport seats have more aggressive bolstering, but don't feel overly confining. In a CTS VSport model we drove, bolsters were adjustable, to provide just the right amount of squeeze.
Vinyl upholstery is smooth and durable, and feels leather-like. Genuine leather upholstery is soft and good-looking. Optional semi-aniline leather is buttery and smells delightfully rich, as less protective coating allows more of the natural hide to come through. Although, the latter also requires more care and can be less durable long-term.
A high center console sits between driver and passenger, making each feel like she's in her own compartment. We felt the console was a bit too high, though, and we hit our elbow a few times attempting to shift gears.
Storage in the front seat is okay, but not plentiful. Two center cup holders are large enough for standard-size water bottles, but won't fit larger containers or coffee mugs. Side map pockets are relatively narrow and lack additional cupholder space found in some competitors. There is a clever locking storage area behind the touch screen in the center stack, but it's not convenient to use while driving. The center console is roomy, but it opens sideways with the opening facing the driver, which makes it difficult for the passenger to access.
The star of the center stack is the 8-inch touchscreen, framed by a deep and dramatic U-shaped line. The interior design echoes the lines and shapes of the outside, with sharp angles and rising lines that wrap around and create a seamless flow from the center instrument panel to the doors.
CUE, short for Cadillac User Experience, is Cadillac's voice-activated proprietary interface with an iPad-like touchscreen. While past Cadillac models were fraught with an overwhelming number of buttons on the center stack, CUE drastically cuts down the number of controls to just a handful. It controls audio and telephone functions, as well as directions and map information on cars equipped with navigation.
CUE's home menu is configurable so you can access your favorite functions easily. It also uses proximity sensing, which saves extra steps and keeps your attention better focused on the road. When driving, CUE will display full-screen maps or audio information, but when your hand is nearby, it automatically brings up menu options related to the current function on the screen.
We were pleasantly surprised by the navigation and voice activation. Voice recognition systems can be painfully inaccurate, but CUE understands natural voice commands, meaning you don't need to use pre-canned terms to get it to do something. Even better, it can correctly identify difficult names from an address book, although it will most likely butcher the pronunciation when repeating it back to you.
While CUE is mostly user friendly, there are still a few oddities. One of these is that it uses physical buttons on the center stack, located below the screen for the climate control's fan speed and temperature. However, if you want to change vent mode, you have to go in to the CUE menu. It annoyed us when a barrage of fingerprints appeared on the screen after just a few minutes of use. The CTS does come with a microfiber cleaning cloth, but it's not an elegant solution.
Still, CUE has gotten better since it debuted on the XTS. Software has been upgraded to cut down response time, and we could tell the difference.
The steering wheel in the 2014 Cadillac CTS is comfortable. Not overly thick, yet substantial enough to grip firmly in hand. CTS VSport models have a thicker wheel, but it doesn't feel overly stuffed like some other carmakers' sport wheels. Drivers can toggle through an array of electronic information on the instrument cluster, including speed, fuel economy, distance to empty, and more. An optional configurable thin transistor film (TFT) instrument cluster allows the driver to change the look of the gauges; choices range from clean and simple to highly detailed.
On cars equipped with the Driver Awareness Package, the driver's seat will vibrate when the lane departure warning or forward collision alert is activated. If a vibrating seat isn't your style, you can change the warning to an audible tone. As for us, we think the vibrators should have a manual on/off switch and be repurposed as seat massagers.
Visibility is fine in the CTS, though the instrument panel sits up high. Those of smaller stature may have to raise the seat to see properly. Also, flat, squat sideview mirrors may take some getting used to.
In back, the 2014 Cadillac CTS is still a bit more cramped compared to its rivals. Rear legroom measures 35.4, compared to 37.4 inches in the Audi A6, 36.1 inches in the BMW 5 Series and 35.8 inches in the Mercedes-Benz E-Class. Still, a six-foot-tall passenger can fit behind a six-foot-tall driver with a bit of knee room to spare. Rear headroom is 37.5 inches, compared with the Audi's 37. 8 inches, BMW's 38.3 inches and Mercedes's 38.2 inches.
Cargo space is also a little shy of competitors'. The trunk in the CTS measures 13.7 cubic feet (an increase of only 0.1 cubes compared to the outgoing model), compared with the 14.1 cubic feet in Audi A6, 14.0 cubic feet in 5 Series, 15.9 in E-Class.
The 2014 Cadillac CTS is responsive, lively and athletic. It handles as well as the best European sedans, yet it's also comfortable, smooth and quiet. The base 2.0-liter turbocharged engine is capable and fun, and is the best choice for everyday commuting. At high rpms it sounds like it's working hard, but isn't quite as whiney as the four-cylinder turbo used in the BMW 528i. The 2.0-liter turbo is the most efficient of the CTS lot, with an EPA-estimated 20/30 mpg City/Highway on rear-wheel drive vehicles and 19/28 mpg City/Highway with optional all-wheel-drive.
Better suited to the CTS is the upgraded 3.6-liter V6. Acceleration is effortless, and gives smooth and satisfying power. As expected, fuel economy dips a bit, with an EPA-estimated 19/29 mpg City/Highway on RWD models and 18/26 mpg with AWD.
Most impressive (and most expensive) is the hot-rod CTS VSport, which skyrockets effortlessly down the road and through twisty canyons with its all-new 3.6-liter twin-turbocharged V6. On two-lane roads, we shot by slower cars effortlessly, making the drivers left behind wondering what had just happened. Fuel economy is an EPA-estimated 17/25 mpg City/Highway.
Sound insulation is quite good in the cabin of the CTS. On the upgraded 18-inch wheels, we noticed very little road and tire noise, and virtually no wind noise. Larger 19-inch wheels were, as expected, a little noisier, but we didn't find it unbearable. All models come with active noise cancellation, which helps to reduce ambient noise inside the cabin, much like noise-cancelling headphones.
On CTS VSport models, engineers took it a step further, carefully orchestrating the cabin acoustics using active noise cancelation and microphones to keep out the bad noises and pipe in the good ones. The result is a satisfying, audible growl when you get on the throttle, especially in Track mode.
All of our test models came with the optional Magnetic Ride Control. This adaptive suspension system manages the CTS's weight beautifully around tight corners and long sweepers. Both the 2.0 turbo and the 3.6-liter have a choice of three driving modes: Touring, Sport and Snow/Ice. CTS VSport models have an added Track mode. Each changes the car's setup to range from comfortable to ultra-competitive. We haven't gotten a chance to test the standard CTS suspension.
All CTS models come with Brembo brakes, which are firm and confident, but not overly touchy. Upgraded brakes on CTS VSport models have more bite, as one might expect. Upgraded brake pads on the CTS VSport are even better, but also make more dust.
The 2014 Cadillac CTS is a class-leading performance sedan that offers great handling, a high-quality interior and many standard features at a competitive price.
Laura Burstein filed this New Car Test Drive report after her test drive of all the 2014 Cadillac CTS models near Santa Barbara, California.