Review: 2011 Cadillac CTS Coupe
By Kevin Miller
Officially launched just last month, the CTS Coupe is the newest member of the successful CTS family. After recently spending a week in the CTS Sport Wagon, I had the opportunity to do the same with the new coupe.
The CTS Coupe has the most dramatic interpretation of Cadillac’s Art & Science design language to date, and from many angles it comes off looking like a futuristic concept car rather than an actual production model. One of my favorite design features of the CTS Coupe is its angular backside with boomerang-shaped CHMSL spoiler and center-exit exhaust. Other favorite design elements include the frameless doors and the nice lower sill extensions/bodywork, though the latter surely will get cuffs wet in the rain.
The coupe adopts electronic door opening as is used in the Corvette (and Cadillac’s former ersatz Corvette, the XLR); as in the Corvette, there are emergency release handles on the floor of the footwell. Like the CTS Sedan and Wagon, the coupe lacks any compartment large enough for my sunglasses’ hard case.
Another omission in the passenger cabin is the lack of grab handles- or at least one handle above the passenger door. I expect that a powerful and sporty car like the CTS will be driven aggressively; passengers in aggressively-driven cars usually like a handle to grab, to keep them in place. The fact that the CTS Coupe doesn’t have one is a head-scratcher, especially since the hard front seats have minimal bolstering to help keep occupants in place.
My test car was equipped with a sunroof. The roof only tilts up (it doesn’t slide back), and its frame seriously intrudes on headroom. I hit my head the first time I went over a speed bump- and I had the seat adjusted as low as it can go. Fortunately I only made that mistake once more during my week with the CTS.
Other than the reduced headroom because of the roofline and sunroof, the driver’s environment is largely unchanged from the CTS Sedan and Wagon. The nice looking stitched dash and Sapele wood and clear instruments are present. My CTS Premium tester was equipped with shift actuators on the back of the heated steering wheel. The dark interior including black headliner make the interior feel cozy, only the reduced headroom led to claustrophobic feeling. Some of the interior’s best features come out at night- LED interior lighting, active xenon headlamps with steering, even puddle lamps under the doors.
Back seat knee room is a bit better than expected, though predictably it is less than in the recently-reviewed CTS Wagon. The back seat has positions for outboard passengers only; a narrow console with two cup holders sits between those two seating positions. The car’s low roofline also intrudes on backseat head room; I hit my head on the headliner or the back window glass when I tried it out. From the driver’s seat, visibility out the back is compromised by the high rear window and trunk; additionally, the large rear window causes visual distortion as seen through the rearview mirror thanks to its horizontal angle.
Accessing the rear seat is not easy in the CTS Coupe, which was unfortunate for me since I committed the circus act of installing a booster seat and a forward-facing convertible car seat back there for my 5 and 1.5 year old kids. Each front seatback folds forward manually, and there is a rocker switch on each seatback to motor the front seat forward. Unfortunately, that motoring is very slow, meaning there’s a wait of almost 30 seconds to get the seat forward enough to facilitate entry. I ended up using the two seat memory buttons on the driver’s door; one for my driving position, the other with the seat fully forward so I could crawl in to buckle my 21-month old daughter into her car seat. Once the seat is moved forward, the seatbelt for the front seat perfectly blocks the opening to the rear, stretching between the top of the C pillar and the bottom rear of the front seat. It appears that Cadillac didn’t actually think anybody would actually use this car’s rear seats.
The trouble accessing the back seat is exacerbated if the car is parked nose-up on an incline. The front seatbacks don’t have any method to keep them folded forward if the front of the car is pointed uphill (they kept flopping back thanks to gravity), and the weight of stepping with one foot in to the car on a moderate hill (again, to buckle my daughter’s car seat) caused the weight of the door to overcome the door-stay, which resulted in the door falling closed and slamming into my leg and backside. This taught me to always back in to my moderately inclined driveway.
Around back, the opening into the trunk is surprisingly small given the size of the decklid, making it challenging to load larger objects- the equipment case that I try to load into every vehicle I review would not fit into the CTS Coupe’s trunk. A vertical cargo net is provided to keep small items in place, but no hooks for connecting a sturdier cargo net or bungee cords are present, meaning that suitcases will slide around in the trunk during anything other than gentle driving. There is a recess under the trunk floor that contains a tire inflator (but no spare tire; that’s an option); a bit of room for small objects exists around the inflator. The rear seatbacks do fold forward in 60/40 split to increase luggage space, though the actual opening size between the trunk and the backseat in that case isn’t huge.
The trunk opens on very large gooseneck hinges, which effectively reduce luggage space by virtue of the amount of room they take up in the trunk; twice during my week with the CTS I tried to close the lid on the full trunk, only to find that the gooseneck hinges were running into my luggage, preventing me from closing the trunk. Of note, the CTS Sedan has space-saving struts to support its trunklid, so the choice to revert to gooseneck hinges in the Coupe is a curious one.
Remember the stylish center-exiting exhaust in the center of the pointy rear bumper that I like so well? That exhaust creates a lot of heat on the back bumper surface and at the back of the trunk itself. Too, the exhaust pipes actually stop short of the exhaust finisher which is mounted into the bumper fascia- the chrome finisher dirtied quickly during my weeklong test, and I wonder whether this will become a sooty, tarnished mess after several months of use.
The CTS Coupe’s 3.6 liter direct-injected V6 and six-speed automatic is the same powertrain I experienced in the CTS Wagon, and its characteristics are essentially unchanged for use in the Coupe. The transmission is still slow-on-its-feet, often finding itself in the wrong gear when Drive is selected, with multi-gear downshifts seeming to take an eternity to occur.
In my review of the CTS Sport Wagon I expounded about the lackadaisical performance of the automatic transmission in Drive. Shifting to Sport mode provides more aggressive transmission response, but I was surprised by what I felt was odd behavior from the transmission; after entering a freeway at full throttle, I found myself traveling about 70 MPH in third gear. When I let up on the accelerator to slow for vehicles I was approaching, instead of shifting to fourth gear, it executed a quick, beautifully rev-matched shift to second gear, where it stayed screaming along near redline for several seconds before it decided I was done playing and shifted to third, and eventually all the way to sixth gear. I had the same experience several times during my week with the CTS Coupe, and by the end of the week I wasn’t surprised by the fact that it occurred, but I was surprised that Cadillac would program the transmission to make such an aggressive downshift, even in Sport mode. Perhaps this was just a transmission programming glitch that could be remedied with a re-flash.
Underway, I really liked the steering feel and response at initial turn-in. That being said, carrying a lot of speed into corner sometimes resulted in a bit of plow/understeer from the big front tires, which is how the CTS Coupe shows its 3,909 lb curb weight and 53/47% front/rear weight distribution. When driven more sedately, however, this is not a problem.
The chassis of the CTS Coupe is nicely balanced. The car reacts predictably and is very controllable. I had to really try to provoke oversteer, at which point the back end came around much more quickly than I had expected. Fortunately, the stability control cut in and got the car under control very quickly, albeit abruptly. The sport suspension was sometimes a little “floaty” on the freeway over undulations, which surprised me. Still, the big 19” wheels transmitted some harshness into the cabin over rough surfaces.
The angular, muscular look of the CTS Coupe (especially wearing the 19” wheels of my car) brought out the hooligan in me, and I was eager to attempt a smoky burnout, all in the name of science, of course. Unfortunately, with the wide, 19” summer tires, torque converter automatic transmission, and meager low-end torque, the CTS Coupe simply wouldn’t peel out in a straight line. You will be happy to know, though, that standing on the brake and the throttle at the same time will generate copious amounts of wheelspin and tire smoke.
The CTS Coupe is rated 18/27 MPG, and I made it just 260 miles before needing to refuel. I was surprised that the CTS doesn’t have a “low fuel” warning lamp, it instead just displays a message on the info screen stating that fuel is low. However, that message didn’t’ appear until the “range” was effectively zero miles. While I did notice that the fuel was getting low, I tend to run cars until the low fuel lamp illuminates, to see how close to empty the tank is when the lamp illuminates. When I refueled in this case, I put 14.993 gallons of regular unleaded into the 18 gallon tank, so the trip computer’s admonition of zero range (and the fuel gauge registering 0) was due to incredibly pessimistic programming. Over the course of the week I drove exactly 499 miles which were a mix of freeway and suburban driving, and the trip computer indicated that I covered those miles at an average speed of 35 MPH, with a fuel consumption of 17.9 MPG.
The vehicle I tested was a 2011 CTS Premium Collection Coupe, in Evolution Green Metallic exterior with ebony interior. The entry-level CTS Coupe starts at $38,990, but my Premium collection starts with an MSRP of $47,010. Standard equipment includes Cadillac’s 304 HP, 3.6 liter V6 Direct Injection engine, paired with Hydra-Matic six-speed automatic transmission, navigation system, heated steering wheel, keyless access/starting, heated/ventilated front seats, Sapele wood trim, backup camera, ultrasonic rear parking aid, and sunroof. The vehicle I tested also had the $2,090 19” Summer Tire Performance Package (19” polished aluminum wheels with summer-only tires, sport suspension, steering wheel-mounted shift controls, performance cooling system, and performance disc brakes) and $110 Underhood Appearance Package. Including the $825 Destination Charge, the total MSRP is $50,035.
Key competitors in the RWD premium coupe market include the BMW 335i and the Infiniti G37. Compared to the 2011 CTS Premium I tested, a similarly equipped 335i coupe is $1467 more expensive; a similarly equipped G37 coupe is about $4100 cheaper than the CTS. With space and power equivalent among the three vehicles, the choice really comes down to style, personal comfort and driving impressions. Although I found the CTS Coupe tight on headroom, it was an enjoyable and competitive entry in the luxury coupe segment, a definite head-turner worthy of consideration.