2014 Cadillac CTS First Drive: Introduction
Fifteen years. That’s how long it takes to transform an also-ran car brand into a credible global threat, if the redesigned 2014 Cadillac CTS is any indication.
In the late 1990s, Cadillac needed drastic change to chart a course for a new direction, and both designers and engineers went to work on the original Cadillac Touring Sedan, or CTS. The company officially pivoted on August 18, 2001, when it drove the new 2003 Cadillac CTS onto the lawn at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, resplendent in “Art & Science” design and equipped with rear-wheel drive.
That first-generation CTS was a clear vision of Cadillac’s future. Now, 145 months later, I’ve just returned from a morning spent driving the redesigned third-generation 2014 CTS, a car moving up the ladder in terms of size and price to compete against midsize luxury sport sedans such as the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series, Infiniti Q70, Jaguar XF, Lexus GS, and Mercedes-Benz E-Class. Has Cadillac built a credible threat? Yes.
Wait a second, you say. What about the Cadillac XTS? Isn’t that car priced in the same neighborhood? The XTS continues, but the bigger Caddy is intended for a completely different kind of luxury car buyer. With the XTS, Cadillac takes aim at the Acura RLX, Hyundai Genesis and Equus, Lincoln MKS, and Volvo S80. Can the CTS co-exist in Cadillac showrooms with the similarly priced XTS? Definitely.
They are two completely different vehicles, designed to satisfy two completely different kinds of car buyers.
2014 Cadillac CTS First Drive: Lineup and Pricing
In lock step with the car’s increase in size and stature, 2014 Cadillac CTS prices rise to start at just over $46,000, overlapping with loaded versions of the smaller Cadillac ATS. Select a 2014 CTS Vsport with all the extras, and the sticker price starts with a lucky number 7.
The least expensive CTS 2.0T Standard ($46,025) is equipped with a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, a 6-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters, LED running lights, LED taillights, rear parking assist sensors, and 17-inch aluminum wheels. Inside, the Standard model has a premium audio system, Cadillac User Experience (CUE) touchscreen and touchpanel technology, keyless access and push-button starting, remote engine starting, 14-way power front seats, leatherette upholstery, and genuine wood trim.
Cadillac expects the CTS 2.0T Luxury ($51,925) to be a popular choice, as it comes equipped with leather seats, heated and ventilated front seats, split-folding rear seats, a heated steering wheel, upgraded ambient cabin lighting, and an Ultrabright wheel finish. This model also has a Driver Awareness Package including a reversing camera with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert, Forward Collision Alert, Side Blind Zone Alert, Lane Departure Warning, and HID IntelliBeam headlights with Adaptive Forward Lighting. A Safety Alert Seat is also installed, vibrating in order to convey potential threats to the driver.
The CTS 2.0T Performance ($58,325) adds a Magnetic Ride Control suspension and 18-inch aluminum wheels. Additionally, this model has a navigation system, a surround sound audio system, a heads-up display, an UltraView sunroof, and Automatic Parking Assist. Triple-zone automatic climate control, heated rear seats, illuminated door handles and sill plates, a power rear window sunshade, and manual rear side window sunshades are also included for the CTS Performance model.
Select the CTS 2.0T Premium ($62,725) to obtain full leather seating, an extended leather cabin treatment, 20-way power front seats, a reconfigurable instrument cluster, aluminum sport pedals, and polished 18-inch wheels. An Advanced Security Package is included for the Premium version, as well as a Driver Assist Package containing full-speed Adaptive Cruise Control, Front and Rear Automatic Braking, and Automatic Collision Preparation.
Luxury, Performance, and Premium models can be optioned with a V-6 engine and an 8-speed automatic transmission for an additional $2,700. All-wheel drive is available for $2,000.
Cadillac CTS buyers seeking maximum performance will want the CTS Vsport ($59,995), which has a twin-turbocharged V-6, an 8-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters, and rear-wheel drive with an electronic limited-slip rear differential. This model also has unique tuning for the Magnetic Ride Control suspension, larger brakes, premium electric steering with a quicker ratio, summer performance tires, and a thick-rimmed Vsport steering wheel. A Track driving mode recalibrates the throttle, steering, and suspension for optimum acceleration and handling, and the CTS Vsport is equipped with a standard heavy-duty cooling package. In addition to CTS Luxury equipment, the Vsport is equipped with a navigation system, a premium surround sound audio system, and Automatic Parking Assist.
The CTS Vsport Premium ($69,995) adds triple-zone climate control, heated rear seats, sunshades for the rear windows, a heads-up display, and the features listed above for the Premium model. It can be told apart from the standard Vsport model by its Ultrabright wheel treatment.
2014 Cadillac CTS First Drive: Design
Cadillac says that its goal is not to create the world’s most popular luxury brand, a subtle jab at the sales race currently run by BMW and Mercedes-Benz. Rather, Cadillac wants to create the world’s most dramatic and emotional luxury brand. To that end, design is important, but not at the expense of heritage, and so with the new 2014 CTS, Cadillac evolves.
Signature vertical lighting elements, a traditional grille theme, and big wreath-and-crest logos instantly identify the new CTS as a Cadillac, while the car’s minimalist front overhang, cab-rearward profile, swept-back rear glass, and tapered tail recall the smaller ATS model. From the windshield forward, however, the 2014 CTS clearly sets itself apart from the ATS and any Cadillacs that came before it.
During the car’s introduction, Cadillac used words such as “exquisite,” “bespoke,” and “tailored” to describe the CTS’s interior. Yes, the interior exhibits quality in terms of materials and construction, but some of the details could use further finesse, such as improving how the air registers look and feel when operated, or moving the transmission’s manual-mode button, which sits atop the gear selector like a miniature helipad marked with an “M” rather than an “H,” ruining what ought to be a piece of cabin art. I’m also no fan of the black plastic trim on the dashboard and steering wheel, which gathers plenty of dust and lots of fingerprints. Otherwise, the CTS is exceptionally well executed in terms of interior look, feel, and materials.
As for this new Cadillac’s exterior, it takes some getting used to. Luxury sedan buyers who prefer to stand apart from the crowd will likely love the bold and blunt face, and the car looks better in person than it does in pictures. However, because the cabin is pulled back from the front wheels, and because the CTS has a fast roofline, and because there’s a significant amount of rear overhang, much of the car’s visual mass is concentrated over the rear axle. As a result, without the optional polished 19-inch aluminum wheels, this Cadillac looks under-tired even if it is a terrific twisty-road performer.
2014 Cadillac CTS First Drive: Comfort and Cargo
Since it first debuted, the Cadillac CTS has always been what might be called a “tweener.” Larger than other compact luxury sedans yet built and packaged to compete with those smaller models on price, for a decade Cadillac has pursued a Goldilocks-style “just right” strategy with the CTS. That changes with the arrival of the 2014 model, because now that the excellent little ATS is in Caddy’s arsenal, the CTS is free to grow in size, refinement, and price to legitimately battle the stalwarts of the midsize luxury sport sedan segment.
This shift in market positioning is evident from the moment the driver slips behind the steering wheel. The new CTS feels more open, inviting, and upscale than it did before, and the front seats are comfortable if imperfect. Despite an impressive range of adjustment (14-way is standard, and 20-way is available) combined with manual thigh extensions, they did not provide me with the desired level of height at the rear of the cushion and support at the front of the cushion. That left me with two choices: sit lower in the car than I wanted to, or sit on a flatter seat cushion than I wanted to.
If the front seats provide a clear indication of where the CTS is now positioned in the marketplace, it is the car’s rear seat that offers the greatest amount of improvement compared to the outgoing model. Entry and exit are easier thanks to a wider door, and the rear seat sits high off of the floor with perfect angles for the bottom cushion and the backrest.
However, if you compare year-over-year rear legroom measurements, you might deduce that the old CTS has the roomier rear quarters. In the real world, that’s not so. The old car’s back seat was tight and cramped. The new car’s back seat is airy and spacious, providing plenty of legroom for taller occupants. Foot space under the front seats is snug for my size-12 freak feet, but Cadillac installs a carpeted panel to prevent scuffs on expensive shoes.
Remember how I was talking about how Cadillac needs to sweat a few details in the CTS’s interior? That goes for the trunk, too. The lining doesn’t reflect the car’s price tag, but worse is the raised plastic cover over the battery, which is rear-mounted to help achieve a 50:50 front-to-rear weight balance. The plastic cover is going to get scuffed and scraped and gouged over time. It might even crack. And that’s not going to look very good when your buddies are cramming their clubs into what is a rather small 13.7 cu.-ft. trunk. So if the dealer is selling carpeted trunk mats, get one.
2014 Cadillac CTS First Drive: Safety and Technology
There is no shortage of technology on the 2014 Cadillac CTS. From the CUE infotainment system and its related features to both the Driver Awareness and Driver Assist packages of safety equipment, the new CTS is loaded with electronic wizardry.
Either CUE is getting easier to use, or I’m getting used to using CUE. My bet is that this go ‘round with CUE involves a little of both, and whether you love or hate the Cadillac User Experience, the system is here to stay. In fact, according to a Cadillac representative along for our test drive, CUE ranks highly among the brand’s customers in the latest J.D. Power APEAL Study, and the customer is always right, yes?
In addition to CUE and its proximity-sensing, haptic feedback, occasionally misbehaving touchpanel and touchscreen display, the new 2014 CTS is available with reconfigurable 12-inch instrumentation and head-up displays, and an Automatic Parking Assist system that steers the Cadillac into a parallel parking space while the driver operates the pedals and transmission.
A Driver Awareness Package of safety upgrades is standard for all models except the 2.0T Standard. It contains IntelliBeam headlights with Adaptive Forward Lighting that helps the driver to see around dark, blind turns. It also provides a reversing camera with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert, as well as Forward Collision Alert, Side Blind Zone Alert, and Lane Departure Warning systems. Each ties in with a Safety Alert Seat that vibrates to help get the driver’s attention when a threat exists.
Beyond these features, a Driver Assist Package is included on CTS Premium models, adding full-speed Adaptive Cruise Control, Front and Rear Automatic Braking to help avoid low-speed impacts when in traffic or when reversing, and Automatic Collision Preparation including automatic seatbelt tightening.
2014 Cadillac CTS First Drive: Engines and Transmissions
A turbocharged 4-cylinder engine is standard in the 2014 CTS, similar to the strategy used for the Audi A6 2.0T, the BMW 528i, and the Jaguar XF. Cadillac expects about 45% of CTS buyers to choose this torque-rich and fuel-efficient powerplant, which displaces 2.0 liters and makes 272 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 295 lb.-ft. of peak torque from 1,700 to 5,500 rpm. Translated, that means that after an initial delay while the engine gets revved up, the turbocharged 4-cylinder pulls steadily across the majority of the motor’s operating range.
The turbocharged engine is paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission equipped with paddle shifters, which delivers power to the CTS’s rear wheels. All-wheel drive is optional, and adds about 180 pounds to the car, which negatively impacts acceleration and fuel economy. Without the AWD, this version of the CTS accelerates to 60 mph in 6.1 seconds. With AWD, the CTS 2.0T requires 6.4 seconds to reach that velocity.
The EPA says the CTS Turbo will return between 22 mpg and 23 mpg in combined driving, and during a test drive of more than 70 miles, with an emphasis on highway driving, I got 22.4 mpg. Keep in mind, though, that Cadillac recommends premium fuel for this engine.
Premium is not required for the optional 3.6-liter V-6, which generates 321 horsepower at 6,800 rpm and 275 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,800 rpm. Cadillac expects another 45% of CTS buyers to choose this optional engine, which is bolted to an 8-speed automatic with rear-wheel drive and to a 6-speed automatic with optional all-wheel drive. Acceleration to 60 mph takes 5.9 seconds with rear-drive and 6.2 seconds with AWD, and fuel economy estimates slot in right underneath the CTS Turbo. I averaged 19 mpg in a CTS 3.6 AWD, a car rated by the EPA to get 21 mpg in combined driving, but that included idling during a photo shoot and plenty of mountain driving.
The CTS Vsport is expected to account for one of every 10 CTS sales. Equipped with a twin-turbocharged 3.6-liter V-6 engine that cranks out 420 horsepower at 5,750 rpm and 430 lb.-ft. of torque between 3,500 rpm and 4,500 rpm, the Vsport is offered solely with rear-wheel drive and an 8-speed automatic transmission. Cadillac says the 2014 CTS Vsport accelerates from zero to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds and, based on Cadillac’s fuel economy estimates, the CTS Vsport should get about 20 mpg in combined driving. Mine returned 18.5 mpg, but it received plenty of exercise.
All CTS models are equipped with Tour, Sport, and Snow/Ice driving modes that are selected by the driver. The Vsport adds a Track mode.
2014 Cadillac CTS First Drive: Driving Impressions
Cadillac is very proud of the new CTS, and for good reason. From the driver’s seat, this car feels lightweight and agile, responsive and sure-footed, easy to drive fast and with confidence on unfamiliar roads. Regardless of which version I sampled, from a relatively basic 2.0T Luxury to a 3.6 AWD Premium with all the goodies, each demonstrated impressive athleticism, making them true driver's cars.
My favorite, though, was the CTS Vsport. The hardware upgrades associated with this particular model are significant, but aside from gripping the fatter steering wheel, little about the Vsport’s driving dynamics would suggest that this model is built only for enthusiast drivers. While it is quicker in terms of acceleration, steers with greater precision, gets around a corner faster, and brakes better than the other CTS models, the differences between the Vsport and the regular models are subtle instead of obvious. And while the CTS Vsport’s Magnetic Ride Control suspension is calibrated for performance driving, it still provides a comfortable ride quality. I wouldn’t be surprised if more than 10% of 2014 CTS buyers decide that they’d rather have the Vsport model, even if it is more expensive and tuned to deliver greater performance.
That is not to say that the CTS 2.0T and CTS 3.6 aren’t worthy of consideration. In addition to wearing more affordable price tags, these models are also entertaining to drive, more fuel efficient, and offer the added foul-weather security of an optional AWD system that is unavailable for the Vsport version.
Normally, I’m a fan of turbocharged 4-cylinder engines, when they’re installed in smaller vehicles like the Cadillac ATS. In a larger car like the Cadillac CTS, I think additional cylinders are necessary, and if they’re accompanied by a turbocharger or supercharger, that’s even better. Nevertheless, the CTS Turbo is plenty powerful once the engine revs up near to where the torque spread starts, and without the extra weight associated with a larger engine parked over the car’s nose, this lighter model feels especially capable in corners. Perhaps because of this lack of heft up front, or its 17-inch wheel/tire combo, the CTS Turbo’s electric steering didn’t feel as resolute on-center or as natural off-center as in the other models, displaying a slight on-center disconnectedness combined with a wooden off-center heaviness.
This steering issue wasn’t present in the CTS 3.6, which is also a little bit quicker in exchange for a small fuel economy penalty. I drove the CTS 3.6 Premium AWD version with 18-inch wheels, one of the heaviest models in the CTS lineup, but there are few dynamic compromises in exchange for added peace-of-mind in the winter. Still, I’d stick with rear-drive in order to obtain the excellent new 8-speed automatic transmission, which gets better fuel economy while also proving both fun to paddle shift and quickly adaptable to driver behavior.
2014 Cadillac CTS First Drive: Final Thoughts
The thing to remember about luxury cars is that they are aspirational. If you’re building a luxury car that nobody aspires to own, you’re not going to be selling very many of them. That’s why BMW and Mercedes-Benz are now duking it out for best-selling luxury brand honors instead of Cadillac and Lincoln, which in years past have vied for the recognition.
In the decade since the 2003 CTS debuted, Cadillac has done a much better job than Lincoln of re-making itself into an aspirational brand, and if the original CTS rocked Cadillac on its axis when it debuted for the 2003 model year, the redesigned 2014 CTS represents a relatively minor but meaningful course correction for the automaker. Better yet, the new CTS has the power to spark desire, especially following a test-drive.
The author attended a manufacturer-sponsored ride-and-drive event for the 2014 CTS
2014 Cadillac CTS photos by Christian Wardlaw