Back in 2003, the Cadillac CTS represented a number of firsts for GM’s luxury brand. The first mainstream car created in Cadillac’s Art and Science design language. The first car on Cadillac’s bespoke rear wheel drive Sigma platform. The first Cadillac to offer a manual transmission since the Cavalier-based Cimarron. The second-generation CTS, launched for the 2008 model year (and of which yours truly is an owner) raised the bar in terms of design, performance, and interior materials. However, after six model years on the market with very few changes, the second-generation CTS has gotten a little stale. Time to shake things up. Meet the all-new 2014 Cadillac CTS.
In its first two generations, the CTS was a tweener in terms of size. Bigger than BMW’s 3 Series, but smaller than the 5 Series. It was priced at, or below, the price of a 3 Series. The problem was, despite what GM’s product planners apparently believed for years, bigger does not always mean better. The CTS had the weight of a 5er but a smaller back seat than a 3er. It performed OK, but performed exceptionally only when a 556-horsepower supercharged V8 was snarling under its hood.
With the launch of the compact ATS last year, Cadillac is finally getting its lineup in order. Rather than slotting between BMW classes, Cadillac is now positioning its cars’ sizes as near-matches to their BMW rivals. The ATS is within a fraction of an inch in most key measurements of a 3 Series (other than rear-seat and trunk room, unfortunately). But critically, the ATS is actually lighter than a 3 Series, which is a critically important accomplishment for GM.
The 2014 CTS builds upon what the ATS has done for Cadillac in the compact-luxury segment, but in a size much closer to a BMW 5 Series. Case in point: the wheelbase increases by 1.2 inches. Because the good-but-heavy Sigma platform wasn’t going to cut it in a world of 54.5 MPG fuel-economy standards, the 2014 CTS ditches its old platform for an enlarged version of the ATS’s platform. This pays immediate dividends, as the 2014 CTS loses 250 pounds compared to the outgoing model thanks to the use of lightweight materials such as aluminum doors and bumper supports. Of course, the lighter weight means more lively handling, better fuel economy, and better acceleration and braking performance.
With the old CTS, there was a ton of daylight between the top “regular” CTS engine – a 318-horsepower 3.6 liter V6 with direct injection and variable valve timing – and the CTS-V’s 556-horsepower, 6.2 liter supercharged V8. About 238 horsepower worth of daylight, to be more specific. For the 2014 car, GM has narrowed the gap considerably with an all-new 3.6 liter twin turbo V6 that will be available on the CTS Vsport (a model that slots between the ordinary CTS and the future CTS-V). That engine produces 420 horsepower and 430 lb-ft of torque; coupled with the 2014 CTS’s lighter weight, the top-spec 2014 CTS will absolutely scream, probably giving a 2009-2013 CTS-V owner a run for his/her money. The CTS-V can do zero to sixty in about 3.9 seconds; Cadillac says the 2014 CTS Vsport will do it in 4.6 seconds. The new CTS also gets GM’s first 8-speed automatic transmission (the Vsport model with the twin turbo V6 does, at least), which will improve both performance and fuel economy. Fuel economy for the line ranges from 19 city/30 highway for the RWD 2.0T to 17 city/25 highway for the RWD Vsport with the twin turbo 3.6 liter V6. AWD models lose about 1 MPG, and AWD is not available with the twin turbo V6.
The mid-grade engine in the new CTS is the carryover 331-horsepower 3.6 liter V6 (gaining just three horsepower, though it will also be paired with the 8-speed automatic), and a new base engine will be the 272-horsepower 2.0 liter four cylinder that is currently installed in the ATS as that car’s mid-grade engine.
One thing not present with the 2014 CTS: a manual transmission (at least until a 201x CTS-V presumably debuts). Also missing at launch, and likely forever according to what we’ve heard: alternate body styles. We expect that there will be no new CTS SportWagon and no new CTS coupe. (Softening the blow, however, is that the ATS is almost certainly getting a coupe variant, in a segment where the two-door bodystyle makes more sense).
The CTS has a tradition as Cadillac’s style leader; that tradition arguably continues with the 2014 car. Eschewing the muted style of the XTS and ATS, the CTS may mark the death of Art and Science after a decade of its use and promotion. The car’s designers used long LED strings at the front of the car to emphasize its sharp corners, and its long hood causes many observers to note how similar it appears to the Mercedes-Benz E-Class at a glance. With hard swage lines sculpted into the doors, they have an almost C-Class appearance. The rear of the car may be the least interesting exterior angle; the taillights, while still evoking tail fins (naturally!), are somewhat softened vs. the old car’s. Perhaps this will change once my eye becomes better trained, but for now, I have trouble distinguishing the CTS from the XTS in the rear.
Exterior detailing is much improved from the old car; for instance, most of what is chrome on the old car (such as trim around the grille and in the horizontal strip above the license plate) is now nickel-plated (or at least looks like it is). Abrupt transitions in the old CTS are replaced by lines and curves that have continuity you didn’t see before. In a silver 2.0T model that I crawled over last night, you could really see the lines very clearly; I noted that where the C-pillar meets the decklid, there are no fewer than five horizontal lines converging in an area about 9 inches tall. Depending on your perspective, it could be viewed as a nice closure to the lines, or somewhat busy.
Inside, the CTS builds upon what the XTS started last year. When we reviewed the XTS Premium (the second-highest trim level) last year, we said that it had “the finest interior installed in a Cadillac in decades.” Well, the 2014 CTS gives it a run for its money. As was true with the 2014 Corvette Stingray, everything inside the CTS that looks like something, is actually that material. In other words, if it looks like wood, it is. If it looks like aluminum, it is. If it looks like carbon fiber, it is. That may sound like something simple, but every day I look at the chrome-plated plastic and the silver-painted plastic in my 2008 CTS and it drives me crazy. Of course, CUE is present in the new CTS, as it is in every other Cadillac model but the Escalade – and expect that to change once the next-generation Escalade debuts next year. The CTS also gets an optional 12.3 inch high-resolution configurable LCD display that replaces the physical gauges. Of course, being an LCD screen allows almost infinite variability; in the CTS, there are various modes to provide information differently, with different appearances. It’s a nice feature.
The seats feel fantastic when you sit in them, and the car’s extra size – measuring the rear doors of the 2013 CTS against the 2014 car with a very sophisticated “length of my elbow to fingertip” test, the new car has about 3 inches more length in its rear doors – makes the car appear to indeed be more spacious. The longer rear doors represent easier ingress/egress, but surprisingly, rear-seat legroom actually shrinks by 0.5 inches (35.9 in the 2013 to 35.4 in the 2014). But the back seat does feel a bit more spacious than before, and the longer door makes me believe that the numbers may not be telling the entire story. Trunk space stays basically the same, going from 13.6 cubic feet to 13.7; the new car would have a larger trunk but GM ditched the struts and is using gooseneck hinges that take quite a bit of space on the sides of the trunk (but are protected by covers so your luggage isn’t crushed).
GM has finally caught up in terms of technology in its midsize luxury offering. For the first time, the CTS is available with automatic parallel parking, full-range adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, side blind zone alert, rear cross traffic alert, forward collision alert, and automatic collision preparation with brake prefill. Playing catch-up on luxury features, the CTS adds a heated steering wheel, head-up display, electronically locking glovebox, and an either 11- or 13-speaker Bose audio system. One parlor trick that I can’t see lasting very long (either in terms of reliability or in GM even continuing to offer it) is the motorized cup holder lid in the center console. The lid didn’t work in any of the three cars that were available for hands-on impressions last night.
The CTS is a significant car for Cadillac. It’s a volume model, and it’s probably the closest that Cadillac has ever come to matching the features, technology, and style of its German competitors. When I drive my own 2008 CTS, I feel like I’m sitting in a car that is engineered to a price point; how the 2014 CTS drives remains to be seen, sitting in it, there’s no longer the feeling of cheapness with a thin veneer of luxury. The cut-and-sewn dashboard in the 2014 CTS feels like it’s made of real leather rather than the pebble-grained vinyl in my car. The engineering effort that went into weight saving in this car is remarkable, and if Cadillac can extrapolate this effort into the true 7 Series/S-Class competing flagship that it’s rumored to be working on, the brand may again someday become the benchmark against which other cars are compared. You know, the “Standard of the World.”