Can you hear that cacophony of clangs reverberating from Germany? That’s the sound of Cadillac knocking on the big iron doors of Mercedes-Benz, Audi, and BMW.
Sure, Cadillac already scrimmages against the German titans in a few segments (think CTS-V versus BMW M5 and Mercedes E63 AMG), but now the Americans are attempting to score a table in the executive dining room normally reserved for full-size premium luxury sedans like the S-Class, 7-Series, and A8. The current front-drive Caddy XTS doesn’t have the size, tech, or opulence to get in the door, so the GM division is reinventing itself. Cadillac boss Johan de Nysschen has hinted at a new, as yet unnamed ultra-premium luxury four-door due by the end of the decade, a car out to reclaim the “standard of the world” title.
But why wait when you can rustle leaves in the Black Forest now? Arriving at dealerships this spring is an all-new, rear-drive based Caddy flagship boasting specs that, on paper at least, easily qualify it to dine alongside the Bavarian bluebloods. That’s the all-new 2016 Cadillac CT6, easily the most advanced and luxurious Cadillac ever built.
We should probably add “most worldly,” too. China will build CT6 models for its own market, and next year will export the coming plug-in hybrid version to the States. Okay, now take a moment to imagine company founder Henry Leland, way back in 1902, being told that one day a car imported from China would go on sale under the Cadillac banner.
Compared with the XTS, the 2016 CT6 is two inches longer, more than an inch wider, and rides on a wheelbase stretched by 10.7 inches. It’s immediately identifiable as a car in a more rarefied class; in fact, it’s just an inch or two smaller in every dimension than the long-wheelbase Mercedes S550 (the only version sold on our shores). Yet despite approaching the Benz in size, thanks to its aluminum body panels and lightweight Omega architecture (62-percent aluminum) the base CT6 weighs some 1000 pounds less than the lightest S-Class (it’s even lighter than the smaller Cadillac CTS). Chief engineer Travis Hester says his team went so far as to shave-down cast structural parts just to save precious grams here and there.
The styling borrows cues from the Elmiraj concept that had the swank crowds at the 2013 Pebble Beach Concours drooling all over their Guccis. It’s chiseled and clean, with a short front overhang, shallow wheel arches (which help immunize the design from “small tire syndrome”), standard quad exhausts, and rakish indirect-LED front light blades that emit an appropriately refined glow. Cadillac design chief Andrew Smith points out that because the exterior was largely crafted after the interior, “we could put the B-pillars at just the right place.” The result, Smith says with a smile, is not only the proper visual balance but “excellent butt scrub” (translation: the B-pillars are pushed back enough that you won’t drag your backside against them entering or exiting the front seats). Hey, nice asset.
Under its broad hood the CT6 offers a choice of three powerplants. The rear-drive base model gets a version of GM’s DOHC, turbo 2.0-liter four-cylinder with direct-injection making an estimated 265 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque (power numbers are not yet final). The mid-level option is the same direct-injection, normally aspirated 3.6-liter V-6 found in the Cadillac CTS; it’s good for 335 hp and 284 pound-feet. Topping the range is an all-new, twin-turbo, direct-injection 3.0-liter six cranking-out 404 hp and 400 pound-feet, an engine making its debut in the CT6. In case you don’t have your abacus handy, that’s a studly 133 horsepower per liter (a higher specific output than the Ferrari 458 Italia). Cadillac also claims the engine is the industry’s first turbo V-6 with cylinder- deactivation technology. Both six-cylinder models feed standard all-wheel drive, and all three powerplants are mated to a paddle-shift eight-speed automatic transmission.
Inside, the CT6 combines voluminous cabin quarters, plush trimmings, and a dizzying array of advanced technology. Smith claims Cadillac is the only automaker to use “cut and sew” hand-stitched interiors across its product range, and that “every piece that looks like wood is wood.” The rear seats offer more than 40 inches of legroom (not quite up to S550 levels but plenty roomy) and more than 3 inches of recline. Available niceties include massaging heated/cooled seats, quad-zone climate control with air purification, and twin retractable 10-inch HD screens configurable to display video content from smartphones, tablets, and other devices in the back seats. The CT6 also offers the first-ever Bose “Panaray” audio system, a custom-tuned, 34-speaker monster than can rock your bones with surround sound worthy of your local Cinerama.
If you’re looking for whiz-bang gizmos, you’ve come to the right Cadillac. At the touch of a switch, an available Rear Camera Mirror transforms the traditional glass reflector into a high-def screen, fed by a camera mounted in the tail. Cadillac claims the electronic view is 300 percent greater than a standard mirror and, what’s more, it’s always unobstructed—even if you’ve got LeBron James and Kevin Durant in back. Next-gen thermal Night Vision will alert you if it detects pedestrians or animals in your path (Cadillac claims the system is programmed to recognize elk, moose, wild boar, and—we kid you not—camels).
An industry-first built-in video-recording system can capture a multi-angle video stream from the CT6’s 360-degree parking cameras (much like an airliner’s black box, the system automatically records over old video when the memory card is full)—useful for preserving a picturesque drive or, in the event of an accident, providing evidence. The system will also automatically activate if the car’s motion and security sensors are triggered—your would-be thief is now fodder for a YouTube epic fail. The full complement of driver-assistance systems include rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keeping assist, auto parking assist, and auto-vehicle hold, which prevents vehicle creep when the driver’s foot is off the brake in stop-and-go traffic. (Cadillac’s planned hands-off autonomous driving technology—called Super Cruise—won’t make the cut for launch but is expected to appear by the 2017 model year.)
One fact is incontrovertible: the Cadillac slams the Mercedes on price. Base sticker for the turbo-four CT6 is $54,490—compared with $96,575 for the S550. At the other end of the Cadillac scale the fully loaded, twin-turbo, all-wheel-drive CT6 Platinum checks in at $88,460. The comparable S550 4MATIC starts at $99,575—and can easily climb past $130K with options. For sure, the CT6 makes a compelling value proposition,
In a straight “flagship” comparison, though, the verdict is less clear. Even the “base” S550 is powered by a 449-hp twin-turbo V-8. The CT6’s premium engine, the twin-turbo V-6, is plenty gutsy and respectably smooth, but it’s no V-8. The cylinder deficit seems more profound when you consider that EPA highway fuel economy (using Cadillac estimates for the CT6) is the same for both cars (26 mpg)—and the CT6 has only a small edge in the city (18 mpg estimated vs. 16 for the 4MATIC).
Inside, it’s not a fair fight. The CT6 interior is generally handsome with tons of creature comforts—but it’s lacking a bona-fide flagship feel. By way of example, the dash’s central touchscreen—an update of the CUE system—can be additionally controlled by a trackpad in the center console, but despite delivering “haptic” feedback, the pad is frustrating to operate while on the move. Invariably your hand will bounce off the surface or skip to the wrong input. It’s not much easier to use when standing still. In contrast, the Benz’s controls (such as its touch-controller) feel heftier, more polished. Its materials scream “rich.” You’d sit inside an S550 the same way you’d take a stroll down Rodeo Drive—just to drown yourself in the delicious decadence of filthy lucre. The new BMW 7 Series and even the present Audi A8 interiors are arguably just as scrumptious as the Benz.
Tooling along in the top-line AWD Platinum, the cabin is impressively quiet (Cadillac claims the CT6 is the quietest Caddy ever) and its manners are appropriately buttoned-down. It’s a pleasing touring machine. The Rear Camera Mirror works as advertised—the view is unobstructed and wider—but it’s narrow and requires focus; you won’t simply glance up and get the “picture” as you do with a real mirror. For those moments when the road goes curvy, the CT6’s exceptionally stiff chassis is fortified with advanced magnetic-ride shocks, and, for improved responsiveness, active rear-wheel steering. It hustles well enough, but it doesn’t feel as nimble as you’d expect of a car nearly half a ton lighter than the S-Class. The fun is further checked by steering with little road feedback or build-up of cornering forces and the eight-speed auto occasionally zigs when it should zag. Most unexpected, three times—in two different full-on production test cars—the driver’s door didn’t close properly on the first slam. Later in the day, we witnessed a photographer taking pictures of a CT6 without realizing the door on his test car was slightly ajar.
Biggest surprise: the jewel in the new CT6 lineup is the rear-drive, turbo-four base car. This version feels distinctly different from its V-6, AWD siblings: it’s more agile, more fun, with livelier steering and an agreeable sizzle under the hood. Never expected it, but the bantam four-banger is amazingly refined and eager. You’ll smile as you gun this CT6 from corner to corner. You may even chortle. At $59,390 in Luxury trim, this version delivers value with a wallop. And it returns an estimated 22/31 city/highway mpg. Seriously, if you’re shopping for a CT6, don’t overlook the little guy.
For now, the Bavarian bluebloods seem safe from the advances of The House That Leland Built. But with its bold new full-sizer, Cadillac has worked its way into the executive dining room. With further improvements and ambitious new models reportedly on the way, time will tell if Cadillac can take over the head table.
2016 Cadillac CT6 Specifications
- On Sale: Spring 2016
- Price: $54,490/$56,490/$65,390 (base 2.0L RWD/base 3.6L AWD/Luxury 3.0L AWD)
- Engines: 2.0L turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4/265 hp (est) @ 5,500 rpm, 295 lb-ft (est) @ 3,000 rpm; 3.6L DOHC 24-valve V-6/335 hp @ 6,800 rpm, 284 lb-ft @ 5300 rpm; 3.0L twin-turbocharged DOHC 24-valve V-6/404 hp @ 5,700 rpm, 400 lb-ft @ 2,500 rpm
- Transmission: 8-speed automatic
- Layout: 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, RWD/AWD sedan
- EPA Mileage: 18-22/26-31 mpg (city/hwy) (est)
- L x W x H: 204.0 x 74.0 x 57.9 in
- Wheelbase: 122.4 in
- Weight: 3,657 â 4,085 lb
- 5.3-6.1 sec (mfr est)
- Top Speed: N/A