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2020 Cadillac CT5 and CT5-V First Drive

America's luxury brand aims for conquest.

PALM SPRINGS, California—With its all-new Escalade, Cadillac just re-upped the ante for the full-size luxury SUV market. Now, it aims to do the same in the compact luxury-sedan segment with the hotter versions of the 2020 Cadillac CT5, the 3.0TT, and CT5-V. But where the Escalade is a long-time Cadillac success story, the sedan segment has proved tricky for the marque during the last decade. Can the CT5 take Cadillac into full competition with the German and Japanese stalwarts of the luxury four-door realm?

Cadillac certainly hopes so. In fact, Cadillac bets the CT5 family will have what it takes not just to compete with its more voluminous rivals, but to steal sales right out from under them. The plan of attack is pretty straightforward: Build a car that rivals or exceeds the competition on features and performance, and sell it for less money. Straightforward? Yes. Easy? Anything but.

A 2020 Cadillac CT5 Bull in a Luxury Sedan China Shop?

The cars Cadillac aims to steal sales from are some of the best vehicles sold today: BMW's 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz's C Class, Audi's A4, Lexus' IS, Infiniti's Q50, and Acura's TLX each offer compelling features, design, and performance across a spectrum as wide as the types of individuals buying luxury sedans. There are newcomers to the segment, too, like the Genesis G70, and then there is the Tesla Model 3. In other words, the compact luxury sedan space is chock-full of great options.

What does that mean for Cadillac? It means cutting through the noise to catch people's attention will be difficult, but even that won't be enough. To steal business from its competitive set, the Cadillac CT5 will have to offer quality, comfort, features, and, for a subset of buyers, performance, none of which leave any room for prospective buyers to smirk about "Government" Motors' penchant for cost-cutting. Fortunately, these higher-performance versions of the 2020 CT5 look to be exactly what Cadillac needs.

First impressions are everything, and on first blush, the CT5 certainly looks like a crisp, modern luxury car. Yes, it can seem a bit generic from some angles, but viewed from the front—or from a rearview mirror with a CT5 close behind—there's no doubt this is a Cadillac. The vaguely pentagonal grille, vertical light signature, and big, shiny Cadillac badge present a face that is as unmistakable s it is familiar. The car's proportions are all within normal sedan parameters, and its styling is otherwise unobjectionable, if not particularly remarkable, either. The CT5-V's blacked-out trim, upgraded wheels, and other specific visual cues are subtle, but do serve to give the somewhat staid CT5 a bit more aesthetic verve.

Inside, the initial impact is stronger, and better. Cadillac's sedans have long suffered from too much sharing of switches and parts with other GM brands, and while it's been much less of a problem in recent years, it's no problem at all with the CT5. Instead, there are a few too many materials and textures used throughout the CT5's cabin, but it is certainly warmer and more welcoming than the typical BMW or even Lexus interior. And those materials, multitudinous as they are, feel very good, at every touch point in the cabin. From the switches and controls to the upholstery and trim, nothing within reach of the driver looks or feels out of place. Climb from a BMW 3 Series into a CT5 and then into a Mercedes C Class, and while you might notice a few items that are better executed in the German cars, you won't find more than a few, and certainly none that would justify a significant price difference.

Does the CT5 blow the competition out of the water at first glance, then? No, it doesn't--but when you're competing against the world's best, you can't really be expected to. Even edging out a nose-length on this pack is a tough task, but it's one made a little easier by aggressive pricing. Starting at just $37,890 (including $995 destination charge) for the base CT5 Luxury, the Cadillac undercuts BMW by nearly $4,000, Mercedes-Benz by nearly $5,000, and even slides in about $1,600 less than Lexus. Compare the price of the $48,690 CT5-V to the likes of the M340i and the price advantage grows. If the Cadillac CT5 can deliver the goods in terms of features and performance, a price advantage of roughly 5 to 15 percent, while offering competitive design and materials, it may have the leg up it needs.

2020 Cadillac CT5-V and 3.0TT Performance

A 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder rated for 237 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque powers the standard CT5 configurations, but it wasn't available for testing alongside the higher-performance models we evaluated. Those models included the top-level CT5 Premium Luxury with a 3.0-liter twin-turbo V-6 good for 335 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque, and the CT5-V, powered by a hotter version of the twin-turbo six rated at 360 hp and 405 lb-ft. According to Cadillac, the four-cylinder CT5 scoots to 60 mph in 6.6 seconds, while the CT5-V does the deed in 4.6 seconds. Both of those figures are quoted for rear-drive models; Cadillac didn't quote times for the all-wheel-drive CT5 or CT5-V.

All CT5s use the same 10-speed automatic transmission. The first seven gears are relatively closely spaced for smooth acceleration and sportier driving, while the top three gears offer progressively higher overdrive ratios that take advantage of the torquey turbocharged engines to improve highway gas mileage. The rear-drive 2.0-liter CT5's EPA-rated gas mileage is 23 mpg city and 32 mpg highway, for a combined rating of 26 mpg. Opt for the twin-turbo V-6 and those figures drop to 19/26/21 city/highway/combined. Substituting AWD knocks 1 mpg off the city and highway figures for each engine. Upgrade to the CT5-V and you'll lose 1 more mpg, with the RWD model scoring 18/26/21 mpg, and the AWD version rated at 17/25/20 mpg.

The 10-speed's shift quality is noticeably good in typical use, upshifting with seamless authority, especially when accelerating hard. The transmission, like many other GM products, is also very good at figuring out what gear you need to be in at corner exit when driven with spirit. Driven normally, the transmission's operation is nearly transparent. Just as it should be. If there's one shortcoming, it's one all non-dual-clutch automatics share: downshifts, especially when triggered by the steering wheel-mounted paddles, are slow, soft, and unsatisfying. It's a fault, but not one unique to Cadillac or the CT5, and at any rate, one mostly irrelevant to the car's mission, even in CT5-V form.

You see, the new V products from Cadillac are not the fire-breathing monsters they used to be, America's analogs to BMW's M Division and Mercedes-Benz's AMG. In fact, the V range of vehicles now is much more aligned with the mid-range performance offerings from the Germans. While we couldn't get Cadillac officials to say anything about sportier versions to come that might fill the void left above the new V positioning, there were plenty of coy looks and weighted hesitations.

Future go-fast is all well and good, but what of the CT5-V we have now? Is it worth the premium over the base car? Considering the difference in price between the closest equivalent non-V (CT5 Premium Luxury with the 3.0TT engine) is just $3,500, the answer is a resounding "Yes!" and it's not even about the 25 extra ponies. The real highlights of the CT5-V package are the Gen 4 Magnetic Ride Control magnetorheological suspension, the eLSD limited-slip differential, and Performance Traction Management.

While it'll never be a track weapon, this trio of upgrades makes the CT5-V, even in this new "V-light" interpretation, a very fun-to-drive sport sedan. The adjustable, dynamic fourth-generation MRC dampers deliver excellent ride quality when comfort is a priority, and excellent body control when sportier driving is on the menu. Likewise, the eLSD electronically actuated mechanical limited-slip differential works in concert with the PTM traction control system to deliver confidence and stability without unduly interfering with the driver's inputs or intents.

If there's a downside to the CT5-V's performance profile, it's the power offered by the twin-turbo V-6. Compared to the BMW M340i, the CT5-V is down 22 hp but up 36 lb-ft of torque; the difference yields a 0.2-second advantage to the BMW in the 0-60-mph dash. The M340i's roughly 100-pound weight advantage (CT5-V: 3,975 pounds; M340i: 3,849) likely accounts for a good chunk of that. In all, the CT5-V is not a revelatory experience behind the wheel, but it is a rather satisfying one—and certainly the qualitative equal to any of the usual luxury sport sedan alternatives in real-world driving.

2020 Cadillac CT5: Summary

Whether you have your eye on the V or the 3.0TT version of the Cadillac CT5, if you're in it for the driving dynamics, you'll want to steer clear of the optional AWD system. Why? Because it completely ruins the steering feel, making the CT5 feel sluggish to respond and nose-heavy, despite a front-rear weight balance with AWD within a few percent of 50/50. It's true, some folks really do need AWD, but for most, it's just an added sense of security—and perhaps a misplaced one, if the appropriate tires for the conditions aren't also fitted. So, unless you absolutely, positively know you must have AWD, skip it. You'll be glad you did.

Does the 2020 Cadillac CT5 have what it takes not just to run with but to beat the established top dogs in the compact luxury sport-sedan class? After spending a day in the top-tier variants, the verdict is still out—we'd like more time to suss out just how good the CT5's sports car chops really are, and preferably not on a public road. But it's your opinion that really matters, or at least the opinion of those like you who might be shopping for a new sport sedan and never even think to consider Cadillac. Because even with a competitive car on showroom floors, it'll take butts in seats to change the way buyers think of the brand enough to let Cadillac grab a significant share of the market.

Cadillac says the CT5-V and 3.0-liter twin-turbo models will reach dealers by the end of the first quarter of 2020, so we won't have to wait long to find out. On the other hand, the real killer app for the CT5 may not come until 2021, when Cadillac's Super Cruise assisted driving system makes its way into the range, starting with the CT5-V.

2020 Cadillac CT5-V Quick Facts

  • 360 horsepower
  • 400 lb-ft of torque
  • 6 seconds 0-60 mph (RWD)
  • 3,975-pound curb weight
  • $48,690 MSRP, including destination fee
2020 Cadillac CT5 3.0TT
ON SALE End of Q1
PRICE $45,190 (base) (RWD)
ENGINE 3.0L twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve V-6/335 hp @ 5,600 rpm, 400 lb-ft @ 2,400-4,400 rpm
TRANSMISSION 10-speed automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, RWD/AWD sedan
EPA MILEAGE 19/26 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 193.8 x 74.1 x 57.2 in
WHEELBASE 116 in
WEIGHT 3,660 lb
0-60 MPH N/A
TOP SPEED N/A
2020 Cadillac CT5-V
ON SALE End of Q1
PRICE $48,690 (base) (RWD)
ENGINE 3.0L twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve V-6/360 hp @ 5,600 rpm, 405 lb-ft @ N/A rpm
TRANSMISSION 10-speed automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, RWD/AWD sedan
EPA MILEAGE 18/26 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 193.8 x 74.1 x 57.2 in
WHEELBASE 116 in
WEIGHT 3,975 lb
0-60 MPH 4.6 sec
TOP SPEED N/A