Now three years into its third generation, the CTS looks to remain competitive with a new transmission and new features.
January 6, 2016
By: Luke Sorro
When Cadillac unveiled its completely redesigned CTS in 2013 at the New York Auto Show, it was the brand’s best offering yet in the hotly contested mid-size luxury sedan market. The CTS, prior to its third generation, was Cadillac’s entry level sedan, and occupied that spot in the lineup for its entire product life, which spanned two prior generations. With the redesigned CTS, Cadillac aimed right for the throats of the established class stalwarts, the Mercedes-Benz E Class and BMW 5 Series, promising an opulent interior chock full of features to go along with a driving experience Cadillac touted as "world class" thanks to its lowest-in-class curb weight. Now three model years in, does the venerable CTS still have what it takes to compete with the best? I hit the road and put a brand new 2016 CTS Luxury Collection All Wheel Drive equipped with the two liter turbo four cylinder through its paces to find out.
Since standout exterior designs were big selling points for the CTS nameplate in previous models, Cadillac had to not only create an emotional design that would stand out, but also create a car that would please the Chinese market, which traditionally has favored softer, toned down designs over bold, brash, and edgy ones. Well, did they? Styling is purely subjective and opinions will vary, but in my humble opinion, Cadillac hit a home run with the front end, popped up on the sides, and hit a single with the rear. It is certainly fair to say that the CTS is a good looking car, but you would not be making an absurd statement if you said that the CTS was a rather bland car past the front. Still, as mentioned, it is a good looking car, and one that looks better in person than in photographs. On my CTS, done up in Cadillac’s Radiant Silver Metallic, lines are crisp, and the car looks athletic with fantastic proportions, starting with a deliciously long hood, with short overhangs at both the front and rear of the car. The CTS gained Cadillac’s wreath-less Crest logo and a new grille design for 2015, and that carries over for 2016. The only other exterior difference from the 2015 CTS is the rear trim applications, where on the 2016 CTS, the name and engine trim badges are moved up higher on the trunk, versus towards the bottom on the 2015 CTS. Other than that, the 2016 CTS looks identical to the 2015 CTS.
What good is a luxury car if it does not have a properly appointed interior? When the current CTS was unveiled, it raised the bar not only for Cadillac, but for the entire class. The overall design was uniquely Cadillac, material choices were first-rate, and ergonomics were fantastic. However, the interior had its shortcomings; it was not as roomy as its rivals, and the CTS lacked a high end interior option to combat the likes of Mercedes-Benz’s Designo and BMW’s Individual. Three years later, the CTS still has one of the nicest interiors in its class, with many creature comforts and great features. My 2016 tester’s interior color scheme was Jet Black with Jet Black Accents. The 2016 CTS Luxury Collection makes use of wood trim with a matte finish, versus a glossy finish seen on the 2015 version. In my opinion, the matte wood trim used in the 2016 CTS is brilliant. It looks fantastic and feels great to the touch. The black leather used for the supremely comfortable seats looks, feels, and even smells very high quality, and an eight way power adjustment feature with memory settings for the driver made it very easy to find a comfortable position at all times. The steering wheel could also be adjusted via an electronic tilt and telescoping feature, and it also came with a standard heated rim, something I appreciated in the frigid Winter temperatures that were present in the Detroit area when I had the car. The stitched leather dashboard looks and feels great as well, with a generous amount of padding underneath, and soft touch materials all the way down to the generously thick carpeting. Switchgear is well done and appropriately weighted, with certain bits accented nicely by a metallic accent. The UltraView panoramic sunroof, standard on the Luxury Collection trim level, was a nice feature that let just the right amount of natural light in, even with the electrically operated shade closed. Uplevel ambient lighting, also standard on Luxury Collection CTS models, was also a very nice touch, and nicely accented the interior at night. However, the interior is not perfect, and issues revolve around build quality and the revised CUE infotainment system.
Even though the CTS I tested was brand new with only 19 miles on it when I picked it up, it exhibited issues that should not be present on any new car, let alone in a car of this caliber. The car exhibited no less than three rattles, and all three of them made their presence felt the entire time when driving the car, even on semi-smooth roads. In addition to that, the steering wheel’s stitching was uneven, and had a rather jarring bubble on the left side where your hand would rest while driving. Another quality issue on my tester was a large gap where the left paddle shifter meets the steering wheel, which exposed the electronics inside. Issues like these should not appear in any new car, and are absolutely unacceptable on a mid-size luxury sedan like the CTS. If Cadillac wants to be seen as a serious player selling luxury cars in the global marketplace, quality gaffes like these should not happen, and really make an otherwise very well done, thoroughly engineered interior look, feel, and sound, cheap and downmarket.
Ah, CUE. Cadillac User Experience. It would not be a proper modern Cadillac review if it did not mention CUE. Personally, I was a big fan of CUE, up until I drove this 2016 CTS with the updated version of CUE. For 2016, Cadillac updated CUE, giving it a new interface, ability to use Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, along with a newer, more powerful processor. Sadly, the new CUE system was laggy, buggy, and froze on the HVAC display twice, despite me turning off the entire system by holding the power button. The only fix for that bug was to turn the vehicle off, then turn it back on. That said, the overall UI and HMI improvements are pleasant, and I think that they are a nice improvement over the older version of CUE. However, it is all for naught if the system runs as slowly and has as many bugs as the one in the CTS I drove had, CarPlay be damned. Paired with CUE in the Luxury Collection CTS is a 13 speaker Bose Centerpoint sound system, with a 3D navigation system. The sound system was excellent, delivering deep bass, close to zero distortion, and a very clear overall sound throughout all volumes. The navigation system was easy to use and understood voice commands nicely, as did the Bluetooth system in the car, which I seamlessly paired to my iPhone to in mere seconds. Also included in the 2016 CTS is a Powermat wireless charging pad in the center storage compartment, which can be accessed by touching underneath the CUE system. Unfortunately, it was not large enough to accommodate my iPhone 6 Plus. The smaller iPhone 6 fits just fine, however, and the Powermat system charged the smaller iPhone 6 with no problem.
Riding on an extended version of GM's critically acclaimed Alpha platform, the CTS has an excellent foundation on which to build on. Thanks to Alpha, the CTS offers a rock solid chassis coupled with light weight, and that makes for a best-in-class driving experience that rewards the driver with a genuinely fun car to drive. Despite being the lightest car in the mid-size luxury sedan market, the CTS’s chassis is akin to piano wire; tight and solid, with absolutely no twist detectable, even during extreme handling maneuvers. Toss the CTS in a tight hairpin turn, and it feels right at home. Body roll is minimal, and the ride quality is absolutely wonderful, striking a perfect balance with a not-too-hard, not-too-soft ride that’s both luxurious and sporty at the same time. Cadillac really makes the term "luxury sports sedan" come to life with the CTS.
The small diameter steering wheel is grippy, and gives the driver great feedback through its electrically assisted and speed sensitive ZF steering rack. Even in Touring mode, the CTS lets the driver know exactly what the front wheels are doing, and that feedback is noticeably sharpened when the car is placed into Sport mode. Despite being a rather large sedan, the CTS truly drives like a smaller sports car, and in many ways, feels like its smaller brother ATS when driving it aggressively. My particular CTS had General Motors’s ubiquitous two liter turbo four cylinder, packing 268 horsepower peaking at 5,600 RPM, and 295 pound-feet of torque, available from 3,000 to 4,500 RPM. The turbo four is paired to a new-for-2016 eight speed automatic transmission with stop-start technology. The powertrain is smooth, offers great power, and has virtually zero turbo lag. The engine sounds pleasant, does not buzz, and is a smooth operator. Mated to the 2.0T in the 2016 CTS is General Motor's Hydramatic 8 speed transmission, a new addition to the CTS for 2016. Shifts are smooth, quick, and precise, and it puts the engine in a proper spot to deliver power if the situation demands for it to do so. When in Touring mode, the transmission is somewhat eager to upshift in the name of fuel economy, but when in Sport mode, it holds revs for a bit longer, and downshifts with less hesitation than in Touring mode. The 2.0T/A8 powertrain combination rockets the CTS to sixty miles per hour in about six and a half seconds, and does so in a drama-free way. This is the best application of the 2.0T in my opinion, and it really suits the CTS well. The 2.0T/A8 combination with All Wheel Drive is rated by the EPA to deliver 21 miles per gallon in the city, and 29 miles per gallon on the highway. I put 335 mostly-highway miles on the car, and the car used exactly 15 gallons of gasoline to do so. That averages out to 22.3 miles per gallon. Lower than expected, but that could be due to the engine not being fully broken in yet. Standard on every CTS are four piston, fixed caliper Brembo brakes up front with generic brakes out back, which offers superb stopping power with no fade. Brake pedal feel is generally good, but pedal travel is a bit too long for my tastes. My CTS had the 18” wheel package, which gives the car a great stance, and the 15 spoke, painted aluminum wheels look great to boot.
As stated earlier, stop-start was a new feature added for 2016, and overall execution is flawless, with the motor starting right back up when the driver’s foot lifts off of the brake pedal. The system can be turned off from the center stack by pressing the touch panel under the lane keep system if the stop-start system proves to be bothersome to the driver. The stop-start system in the CTS uses ultracapacitors in addition to the battery, which help power electric accessories and aids the battery in turning the engine back on when needed. This is the first usage of a system like this in a production vehicle according to Cadillac, and if this CTS is something to judge by, Cadillac has a winning stop-start design on its hands.
When driving the CTS, the driver has excellent sight lines thanks to a generous daylight opening, and the car really stands out with Cadillac’s unique LED lighting signature, standard on all CTS models. At night, the CTS Luxury Collection’s standard HID headlights make nighttime driving easy, with a large illumination path that turns when the car turns thanks to its adaptive forward lighting feature. The traditional rearview mirror is aided by a standard backup camera and rear parking assist, which makes backing up easier, but the side view mirrors are painfully small and narrow, and really make lane changes a bit of a challenge, even with standard blind zone assist. Also standard on every CTS is adaptive remote start, a keyless entry system, and push button start system, all of which are nice touches on a luxury car. Standard on the Luxury Collection CTS is a 5.7 inch, full color driver information center under the gauges, which can be fully customized to the driver’s liking. Also new for 2016 is the addition of a boost gauge for turbocharged CTS models, which is a great touch if you want to see what the engine is doing and how much boost it is using, and especially useful if you want to partake in some spirited driving, which is something that the CTS was built for and does very well. The gauges themselves are rather spartan looking, but they are legible and information is laid out in a clear, easily discernible manner. The front seats have enough legroom and headroom for an average sized adult, but compared to other cars in the class, the interior does feel a bit claustrophobic, mostly due to packaging and how narrow the interior feels because of it. Rear headroom is very good even with the UltraView sunroof, while rear legroom is okay at best. Overall, it is still a bit of a tight fit in back compared to other cars in the class.
So, now that it is three model years into its life, is the Cadillac CTS still a legitimate player in the mid-size luxury sedan class? Even though the CTS’s design, both inside and out, is still fresh and can easily compete with the best of the best, the competition is not standing still, and new or refreshed models that the CTS competes with are on the way. While the overall excellence of the engineering that went into the CTS and its world class driving experience cannot be questioned, spotty build quality and a half-baked infotainment system really hurt what is an otherwise fantastic vehicle. Lapses in fit and finish and overall build quality on a luxury sedan costing as much as the CTS does are simply not acceptable, and one would be let down if they spent that much coin on a car that rattled as much as my tester did and had misfitting pieces that exposed interior electronics. Granted, this was the first CTS I’ve driven with these issues; the other four or so that I have spent time with in the past were flawless. And while it was nice that Cadillac took it upon themselves to update CUE, I feel that they actually took a step backwards in usability, and I think that the lag and bugs that exist in it will turn off potential customers. Still though, if you are a person looking for the best driving mid-size luxury sedan with a fantastic interior packing great technology, but are willing to take a chance on quality and are willing to live with CUE, then this is the car for you.
2016 Cadillac CTS Specifications
Assembly Site Lansing - Grand River, MI Starting Price $54,280 (Luxury Collection 2.0T AWD Options 18” Painted Aluminum Wheels, Front and Real All Weather Floormats (Dealer Installed), Wheel Lock Kit (Dealer Installed) Price As Tested $55,095 Platform Alpha Wheelbase 114.60 in / 2,911 mm Overall Length 195.50 in / 4,966 mm Overall Width 72.20 in / 1,834 mm Overall Height 57.20 in / 1,453 mm Curb Weight 3,832 lbs Headroom 40.40 in / 1,026 mm (front)
37.50 in / 953 mm (rear)
Legroom 45.70 in / 1,161 mm (front)
35.40 in / 899 mm (rear)
Shoulder Room 56.90 in / 1,445 mm (front)
54.80 in / 1,392 mm (rear)
Hip Room 53.80 in / 1,367 mm (front)
53.30 in / 1,354 mm (rear)
Engine 2.0L Turbocharged Ecotec I-4 (LTG)
268 Horsepower (200 kW) 295 lb-ft Torque (400 Nm)
Transmission Hydramatic 8L45 8-speed automatic EPA Ratings 21 MPG City / 29 MPG Highway Observed Fuel Economy 22.3 MPG