For most of its existence, the Cadillac CTS has had to do it all. It's been the halo model in Cadillac's struggle to attain relevance, and at the same time has usually been the brand's most affordable and highest-volume car. The CTS has tried to be edgy and sporty enough to attract German luxury car owners -- setting lap records on the Nürburgring and such -- but at the same time is supposed to appeal to Cadillac traditionalists who expect a big car.
The all-new, 2014 Cadillac CTS, which appears for the first time at the New York auto show, finally catches a breather. The smaller ATS takes over entry-level duties, the larger XTS appeases the Palm Beach crowd, and the upcoming ELR shares in the halo-car duties. That means the CTS can finally focus on a more manageable, if still very difficult, task: beating the BMW 5-series.
"The new CTS is sportier, more refined, more sophisticated, more powerful than what we have today -- we think it's going at the heart of the segment" says Cadillac chief engineer Dave Leone.
That new focus is instantly evidenced by the new styling. Whereas the current CTS wore the edgiest sheetmetal in Cadillac's lineup, the 2014 design may be the brand's most subdued. Cadillac lead exterior designer Bob Boniface has talked of taking the so-called Art and Science design language in a more "sophisticated" direction, with softer surface detailing rather than severe, polarizing sharpness. The CTS's clamshell hood flows into a rounded-off nose, and the rear end is almost bulbous. That's not to say the car has gone flabby. Sculpted body sides, a low hood, and slim side-view mirrors tell you that it's not an XTS. So do the lovely rear-wheel-drive proportions -- phallic nose, razor-thin front overhang. But much like other entries in this segment, namely the current 5-series and the newly redone Mercedes-Benz E-class, the CTS clearly is trying to appeal to the tastes of a conservative buyer.
The 2014 CTS rides on a stretched version of the Alpha platform that underpins the ATS. Compared with the current car's platform, which dates back to the first CTS, the Alpha architecture employs more lightweight materials and features much daintier components -- thinner control arms, smaller fasteners. The CTS also has aluminum doors, something deemed too expensive for the cheaper ATS. As a result, the CTS boasts a base curb weight of less than 3620 pounds -- about 200 pounds fewer than the lightest version of the current car -- even though it's 4.3 inches longer. It's also about 200 pounds lighter than a comparable 5-series, which Cadillac makes no bones about declaring the new CTS's template. "Absolutely BMW. From a performance standpoint, that's been our clear target from the beginning," says CTS program engineering manager John Plonka, clarifying that the particular focus was on the livelier, previous-generation 5-series. In a nod toward refinement and noise isolation, the engine sits farther forward than in the ATS, but the CTS still enjoys a near fifty-fifty weight distribution (the most front-biased is the all-wheel-drive model, at 52/48 percent front/rear). "It is not a couch on wheels," says Leone.
The 2014 CTS also shares two of its powertrains with the ATS -- a 272-hp, 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder replaces the old 3.0-liter V-6 that made about the same power (further contributing to the weight loss) and a 321-hp, 3.6-liter V-6. But the big story is a new twin-turbo 3.6-liter V-6. The long-anticipated engine produces an estimated 415 hp and 430 lb-ft of torque, enough to propel the CTS to 60 mph in fewer than five seconds, according to Leone. The turbo shares the same basic design with the normally aspirated V-6 but has a new cylinder block and heads, plus reinforced connecting rods. Rear-wheel-drive six-cylinder models will use an Aisin eight-speed automatic; all-wheel-drive and four-cylinder cars get a six-speed. A manual transmission, which sells in "very, very, very low" numbers on the current CTS, won't be offered except in V models. Cadillac has not yet released fuel economy numbers but expects the four-cylinder model to achieve better than 30 mpg on the highway.
As with the ATS, Cadillac has pushed back against the trend toward large, heavy wheels. Seventeen-inch wheels are standard; eighteens and nineteens are optional and bring magnetorheological dampers. The sportiest setup, offered with the twin-turbo V-6, uses eighteen-inch summer tires that are wider in back. Brembo front brakes are standard. The turbo model features slightly larger front rotors.
The interior closely resembles Cadillac's other recent introductions. Materials quality in particular takes a major leap forward. The optional carbon-fiber trim, for instance, cost Cadillac three to four times as much as the fake stuff used in the old model. Worth it. Upper trim-level models like the one we sat in feature fancily cut-and-sewn semi-aniline leather on just about every imaginable surface, even the horn cap on the steering wheel. Cue, Cadillac's controversial infotainment system, is standard. Outward visibility is good, thanks to relatively thin A-pillars and the aforementioned low nose, which in some markets necessitates pyrotechnic actuators to raise the hood in the event of pedestrian impact. Despite the increase in length, the back seat is still a bit tight, and the center seat straddles the driveshaft tunnel, as is typical with a real-wheel-drive layout. "The price you pay for having a car the way God intended it," says Plonka.
Like most new luxury cars, the CTS offers a raft of driving aids, including active cruise control that can bring the car to a full stop, lane-departure warning, and self-parking. Cadillac (among others) is working on so-called super cruise, which can keep a car in its lane at high speeds but is not offering it yet. Look for the feature to debut on one of the brand's less sporty models, like the XTS or the SRX.
The 2014 Cadillac CTS sedan goes on sale in the fall. Expect the price to climb at least $5000 from the current car's $40,000 starting point to match the 5-series. The current-generation wagon and coupe will remain on sale, as will V-series variants of all body styles. Cadillac won't say much about their replacements. The wagon, in particular, seems to have a cloudy future given that Cadillac, according to Leone, sells "thousands of them every year, not tens of thousands." That said, the brand's brass has been pleased with the positive attention it has earned. In any event, Cadillac may take its time rolling out a new CTS lineup given its chock-full product development queue, which includes a new Escalade, a flagship sedan, variants of the ATS, and perhaps a large crossover.
On sale: Late 2013
Price: $48,000 (est)
Engines: 2.0L turbo I-4, 272 hp, 295 lb-ft; 3.6L V-6, 321 hp, 274 lb-ft; 3.6L twin-turbo V-6, 415 hp, 430 lb-ft
Transmission: 6- or 8-speed automatic
EPA Fuel economy: N/A