Test Drive: 2020 Cadillac CT4-V Is Its Own Thing
Cadillac’s new sports sedan is a close runner-up among competitors seeking to dethrone the BMW 3 Series.
The stage was set more than a decade ago for a newcomer in the compact luxury segment to take the ultimate sports-sedan crown from the BMW 3 Series. The Mercedes-Benz C-Class managed to beat the BMW's erstwhile unbeatable ride/handling combination a generation ago, then along came newcomers in the category, from the Jaguar XF to the Alfa Romeo Giulia to even Cadillac, which just replaced its entry in the segment, the ATS, with the new-for-2020 Cadillac CT4. Not surprisingly, steering feel, precision, and feedback was the prime quality of the 2020 Cadillac CT4-V compact sedan I drove recently in a first test drive that sent me searching for interesting roads around Metro Detroit
In normal days, Cadillac would fly a group of auto journos to some prime location, with roads chosen to highlight the car's ride-and-handling qualities. We would have had a chance to test drive both the standard 2020 Cadillac CT4 and the more enthusiast-oriented 2020 Cadillac CT4-V, though I had time and opportunity only for the latter.
In Cadillac's latest sport-package hierarchy, the coming 2022 CT4-V Blackwing will compete—offering a manual-gearbox option, no less—with the hardcore BMW M3 and M4, and the Mercedes-AMG C43 sedan. This non-Blackwing 2020 Cadillac CT4-V goes after cars like the BMW M340i, while undercutting the German marques in terms of price. More on that later.
2020 Cadillac CT4-V: Still Catching Up Inside
Falling directly onto Cadillac's long, slow trajectory to becoming true competition for the German brands since it rediscovered rear-wheel drive two decades ago, the 2020 CT4-V takes another step forward in its all-important interior quality. That is, at least in terms of fit, finish, and style. But that trajectory continues into the unknown future, as sitting behind the wheel while testing the CT4-V still doesn't evoke the special feel you get from inside the much-bigger-bucks M340 or C-Class. The Caddy's two-tone treatment adds much-needed pizazz to a rather dark interior, while the steering-wheel hub and lower dash remain a bit plasticky.
Notably, however, the 2020 Cadillac CT4-V does meet or beat those sedans in terms of what it can do once underway on the road. The stellar steering quality puts you on a good foot from the start, though it gets slightly nervous and requires slight adjustments when tackling freeway offramps at speed.
2020 Cadillac CT4-V: Stiff Ride, Not Uncomfortable
With standard Magnetic Ride Control 4.0, the 2020 Cadillac CT4-V's ride is stiff, but not uncomfortably so, and you'll notice expansion strips and the sedan's somewhat noisy, wide, performance summer tires. The 2.7-liter turbo four is quite good in this 3,616-pound pre-production model, with up to 380 lb-ft of torque hitting stride at just 1,500 rpm. The car is also respectively quiet in Tour mode, though not quite Cadillac-quiet. It is a four-cylinder, after all. The new CT4-V comes with front Brembo brakes, and they stop as you'd expect from Brembos.
In Sport mode, however, there's too much mid-pitch turbo growl for such a car, and the 10-speed transmission's mapping gets overly aggressive with its downshifts. Even driving enthusiasts should expect a bit more refinement from a brand like Cadillac.
On the on- and off-ramps I was limited to for truly spirited running during this CT4-V test drive, the Cadillac goes into the turn in Sport mode with very little roll, then takes a set and allows a bit more compliance as the chassis endures the weight shift. It's classic Fiat 124 Spider, the opposite of Miata-style cornering. The posture is very neutral, with loads of tire grip, and the new 2020 Cadillac CT4-V makes it clear it can offer up some throttle-steer.
2020 Cadillac CT4-V: Track it
The impending oversteer announces itself in tight turns on surface streets, with the stability control kicking in quickly to keep the driver in-check. Track mode can solve this if you want to go all opposite-lock on the car. There's even a mysterious "V Series" emblem button on the steering wheel which allows you to go directly to sideways mode without nanny supervision, if you so desire.
Cadillac insists some 2020 CT4-V owners will track their cars long before the hardcore Blackwing appears in your local showroom. That's not necessarily a point in the CT4-V's plus column: By chasing every subsegment in the business, BMW separated its plush 3 Series from its slightly edgy M340i, making it no longer necessary to find the perfect ride/handling balance in every version, and now Cadillac has followed suit. I haven't driven the lux-only "base" Cadillac CT4, but I'd bet even CT4-V owners who track their cars on weekends would appreciate the standard car's ride quality for their weekday commute. The problem with most of this segment is, the high-tech electronics place responsibility for the ride/handling in the driver's right hand, on the dynamic-mode button.
So, it's fair to say after this test drive of the 2020 Cadillac CT4-V that is in the hunt; it is mostly competitive with the more expensive German sedans in its size category. The funny thing is, the best car in this category was little more than a glint in its designers' and engineers' eyes when Cadillac's assault on German dominance began. Indeed, a couple of weeks before I drove the 2020 Cadillac CT4-V, I spent a week in a 2020 Genesis G70—no "Sport" appendage in the name, not even with the available manual gearbox. And it's a brilliantly modern take on the old BMW 3 ride/handling equation. I was taken with how engaging and entertaining the car is at normal speeds in heavy traffic; it's my new benchmark.
Cadillac, though, would rather have us compare the new CT4 to the BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe and Mercedes-Benz A- or CLA-Class, rather than to the 3 Series and C-Class. That is because, in its repudiation of ex-chief Johan de Nysschen's efforts to drive up manufacturer's suggested list prices, it considers the new rear-wheel-drive compact offering a competitor for those front-drive-based, over-priced cars. This makes the CT4 a BMW 3 Series-size sedan at a 2 Series Gran Coupe price.
2020 Cadillac CT4-V Pros:
- Best steering precision and feel in the segment
- Track-ready handling and grip
- Powerful and torquey turbo four
- Worthy competitor for BMW M330i
- Value priced
2020 Cadillac CT4-V Cons:
- Ride/handling balance needs tweaking
- Turbo-four, 10-speed automatic lack refinement
- Interior not quite up to German standards
- Value pricing devalues Cadillac brand
|2020 Cadillac CT4-V Specifications|
|PRICE||$45,490/$53,135 (base/as tested)|
|ENGINE||2.7L turbocharged DOHC 16-valve V-8/325 hp @ 5,600 rpm; 380 lb-ft @ 1,500-4,000 rpm|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, RWD sedan|
|EPA MILEAGE||20/29 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||187.2 x 71.5 x 56.0 in|
|0-60 MPH||4.9 sec (est)|
|TOP SPEED||155 mph (est)|