Santa Barbara, California – The 2014 Cadillac CTS is looking pretty fashionable here in front of the El Encanto Hotel as the morning sun softens the air. A day on the roads around Santa Barbara lies ahead, but we're still kind of worried. Has the all-new CTS become the kind of car that you're supposed to drive on a tour of the local wineries? Does anyone really need yet another car like that?
It takes only a few minutes to find the answer. We turn out of the tree-lined neighborhoods of old Santa Barbara and onto the long, steep grade into the San Marcos Pass, put the right pedal on the floor in that familiar way, and wait to see what transpires. The direct injection for the V-6 intensifies its faint clatter, the revs rise, and the eight-speed automatic snaps through the ratios with a little pause between gears as the fuel cuts out for a millisecond to speed the process.
We look down at the instrument display in the LCD panel and the speedometer needle quickly crowds the bigger numbers. It's pretty clear that a decision is called for. At this rate, the consequences might involve a fireball or at least some flashing lights from a CHP cruiser. Yes, the 2014 Cadillac CTS is still our kind of car.
The Cadillac Science Fair
With the 2014 model, we're now into the third-generation of the CTS, and it's clear that Cadillac has a surer feel for its mission. Like the company itself, this all-new car has grown more refined. It sends that message to you in the way that the angular design vocabulary -- inherited from the 2001 Cadillac Evoq concept car -- has come together in a less aggressive way than ever before. A lower hood, a more steeply raked windshield, and a slightly drawn-out tail make the 2014 CTS look sleek and fast. It's less about science and more about art.
And yet as we rub shoulders with a platoon of Cadillac designers, engineers, and executives to look over the details beneath the skin, it's clear that there's still plenty of science in the final effort. It all begins with the concept for the car itself. While the wheelbase has been stretched by 1.2 inches to 114.6 inches (primarily to increase rear-seat legroom), the CTS is still meant to drive like a small car made large, not a large car made slightly smaller.
You can see the consequences in the Cadillac engineers' obsession with the new car's weight. As we were told more than once, every engineer had to account for every gram every day. Around us, we see little displays of hard parts that illustrate the result of the weight-reduction process. It's not the usual use of lightweight metals that you might expect but instead a clever integration of high-strength steel, aluminum, and magnesium with innovative design and fabrication. And when iron is required -- as it is in the rear axle's bell housing, where it ensures precise bearing location, effective heat resistance, and good acoustic insulation -- there it is. The bottom line is a car that's larger in size, structurally more rigid, and lighter in weight. Who wouldn't want this?
No Wineries, Please
We're in the middle of the Santa Ynez Valley, and there are vineyards for miles and miles. Instead of the main roads choked with tour buses, we're led onto a network of farm roads through the low hills that we thought only locals knew about. As the 2014 CTS hammers down the rough, pockmarked asphalt between the fields and twists through sharp, deeply cambered corners under the oaks, it's as if we're being invited to shake down the car in a way that's literal as well as figurative.
And it's not as if we've been restricted to the 2014 Cadillac CTS Vsport, the tough hot rod with its 420-hp, twin-turbo 3.6-liter V-6 engine, eight-speed Aisin automatic transmission, Magnetic Ride Control suspension, big Brembo brakes, and 20-inch Pirelli PZero tires
. We're driving the same roads in a CTS with the 321-hp, normally aspirated 3.6-liter V-6, eight-speed Aisin automatic transmission, optional Magnetic Ride Control suspension, standard Brembo brakes, and optional 19-inch tires, which is the car that most people will buy. And we're also driving a CTS with the 272-hp, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder and six-speed automatic, standard suspension, standard Brembo brakes, and optional 18-inch tires.
Just as you'd hope, the engine is a major player in every car. When the twin-turbo intercooled V-6 is at work, you know you're in a CTS that did a lap of the Nürburgring Nordschleife in 8:14.10. When the normally aspirated V-6 is doing business, you know you're in a CTS that makes every drive feel effortless. And when the turbo four is in front, you're surprised to find a CTS with lots of power matched by lots of mpg, making this combination the smart choice for urban driving and freeway commuting.
Well, Maybe a Winery or Two
As much as we're pleased to find the same spirit as before, we have to admit that the 2014 Cadillac CTS is really set apart by the expression of refinement it makes. The cabin comes in no less than eight different treatments, each putting a mix of natural and manmade materials in the service of sound ergonomics and an overall sense of practical spaciousness. If you were to tour a winery, the Cadillac CTS is the kind of car you'd want to take you there.
Yet even in such a luxurious environment, Cadillac engineers can't control their ingenuity, so across the CTS range are many examples of thoughtful cleverness that help you personalize the cabin environment. For example, you can configure the optional LCD instrument display three different ways to suit performance preference, conventional practicality, or just the facts. The CUE electronic interface is a hub for communication, entertainment, and even driving performance that is at once incredibly sophisticated yet not impenetrable to comprehension by ordinary humans. In every way that we can think of, the CTS cabin sets the standard of useful luxury.
And did we mention just how refined the driving experience is? Even the standard suspension setup is resilient, but the optional Magnetic Ride Control once again shows just why so many carmakers have come to adopt this American technology to deliver good dynamics with a good ride. Just as important, the 2014 Cadillac CTS is wonderfully quiet. Not acoustically dead but perfectly hushed, a result of not just acoustic insulation but also noise-canceling hardware that filters out the bad stuff while playing up the good stuff. It's the old Santa Barbara neighborhoods near the El Encanto Hotel, where things are quiet even as you hear a reassuring undercurrent of life.
You're not in Kansas Anymore
After spending a day with this car in its many different iterations, we're not sure that we've yet got a sure grasp of its nature. After all, there are three different powertrains, rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive depending on model, three different option groups (Luxury, Performance, and Premium), eight different interior treatments, a range of wheel and tire options, and a world-class array of active safety technology.
Everywhere you look, the Cadillac CTS offers something new and innovative. Hey, it'll even park itself. It's a miracle that this car can be had in only 300 different permutations, which offers a great savings in cost over the tens of thousands of permutations in which cars like the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series, and Mercedes-Benz E-Class are offered.
All we really know for sure is that the price of the base 2014 Cadillac CTS (rear-wheel drive with 2.0T) begins at $46,025, and the price of the CTS Vsport (rear-wheel drive with 3.6T) starts at $59,995. In one day, we drove cars equipped with representative options that included an all-wheel-drive CTS 2.0T priced at $54,225, a rear-wheel-drive CTS 3.6L Performance priced at $62,775, a rear-wheel-drive CTS 3.6T Vsport Premium priced at $71,745, and an all-wheel-drive CTS 3.6L Premium priced at $70,070.
The 2014 Cadillac CTS is not exactly the car you remember. It's better. At the same time, the spirit is the same in all the important ways. After all, the car's signature color is red.
| Base Price: || $46,025 - $59,995 |
| Engine: || 2.0L turbo I-4 272hp, 295 lb-ft; 3.6L V-6, 321 hp, 275 lb-ft; 3.6L twin-turbo V-6 420 hp, 430 lb-ft|
| Fuel Economy: || 2.0T 20/30 mpg (RWD), 19/28 mpg (AWD); 3.6L 19/29 mpg (RWD), 18/26 mpg (AWD); 3.6T 17/25 mpg (RWD) |
| Drive: || Rear- or all-wheel drive|
| Curb Weight: || 3618 lb (2.0T) |