By Aaron BragmanAugust 7, 2020
The verdict: Cadillac’s CT4-V is decidedly fun to drive, but its cramped cabin is a big drawback.
Versus the competition: It’s no different from any other subcompact luxury vehicle in terms of interior space — none has adequate room — but the Cadillac bests its competitors in balance, poise, handling, ride and powertrain response.
Didn’t you already drive this thing?
No, you’re thinking of the new 2020 Cadillac CT5-V I drove earlier this year.
It looks like the same car.
Well, aside from both being small, white, Cadillac-styled sporty four-door sedans with big wheels and similar names, it’s actually a very different car, but I can see why you might be confused. No, this is the new 2020 Cadillac CT4-V, which is smaller than the CT5-V, with less room inside, a shorter wheelbase, slightly different styling and different powertrains. While the CT5 replaced the old CTS (and was a decidedly different car), the CT4 is a lot closer to the Cadillac ATS it replaced in terms of style and mission. It might actually be a little too close.
And it’s a V car too, yes?
Yep, but just like the CT5-V isn’t an apples-to-apples replacement for the CTS-V, the new CT4-V isn’t the fire-breathing subcompact sports machine the ATS-V was. The CT4-V is more comparable to the old Vsport packages — a mid-range performance option meant to be cheaper and more livable on a daily basis than a full-out track monster. Think BMW M235i instead of a full-on BMW M2 model, or a Mercedes-AMG C43 instead of a C63. And just like the CT5-V, the CT4-V does indeed succeed in that mission.
The CT4-V is powered by a turbocharged 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine making an eye-popping 325 horsepower and 380 pounds-feet of torque, mated to a standard 10-speed automatic transmission that can route the car’s copious output to either the rear wheels or to all four.
Hold up, that sounds like the engine in the Chevrolet Silverado pickup.
Good eye; that’s almost exactly what it is. The engine was developed to be a powerhouse for both the truck line and the rear-wheel-drive sporty luxury vehicles that GM builds. The development path the engine took to get into this Cadillac, however, was very different from the one that landed it in the Silverado. It’s hooked up to an eight-speed automatic transmission in the Silverado and the output is different; the truck application makes 310 horsepower and 348 pounds-feet of torque, which is about the horsepower the engine puts out in the lesser CT4 Premium Luxury trim. It’s also subjected to very different duty and durability testing cycles for truck use, as you’re not going to be towing 5,000 pounds with your Cadillac CT4.
This engine is good in the Silverado, but here in the Cadillac it’s absolutely dynamite. It develops peak torque at a super-low 1,800 rpm in the CT4-V, meaning the car screams off the line and around town, with immediate response from the throttle — especially when you pop it into Sport or Track modes. You never run out of power with this engine, even at higher speeds, thanks to the 10-speed automatic that shifts a lot in order to keep the engine in its power band, but does so with lightning quickness and a smoothness that’s never jarring or intrusive. The engine’s urgency is accompanied by a sonorous exhaust note that truly matches the car’s personality, delivering a sporty feel and sound that make you feel like you’re riding a rocket.
And it handles as well as it goes. This car is further proof that GM’s true engineering strength lies in its chassis dynamics and powertrain engineers, as their collaboration has delivered an utterly entertaining sports sedan that shames traditional brands like BMW and Mercedes-Benz. The Magnetic Ride Control shock absorbers and sport suspension tuning deliver an exceptionally balanced sedan, with the front-rear weight distribution allowing for excellent rotation control in corners. The electric power steering provides outstanding feedback, and it can be set to different degrees of heft, allowing for a heavier feel if you really want some sportiness in your sport sedan. The Brembo brakes are strong and progressive, allowing you to build some speed with confidence, knowing they’ll allow you to stop from faster velocities than you might otherwise attempt. The CT4-V was a joy to drive out on the backroads of Michigan, but I’d love to take this car to a track day, where I suspect it would acquit itself quite favorably against Germany’s best.
Whoa, that’s significant praise! So it drives well, but is the rest of the car that well done?
The short answer is no, it is not. While the CT4-V is indeed an outstanding engineering achievement in terms of being an entertaining sports sedan, the rest of the car is just too compromised for most people to truly enjoy. The problems start with the thing’s size — and the fact that it’s a four-door. Simply put, it’s too small to be a comfortable four-door. The B-pillar is too far forward, making it an exercise in contortionism to get in or out of either the front or rear seats. It really should be a two-door coupe, which would maximize the space available for easier front-seat ingress and egress. The backseat is vestigial at best, suitable only for children given there’s almost no legroom when adults sit up front.
That’s not an exaggeration, either — when I positioned the front seat where I’d normally sit, or even an inch or so forward from that, I was unable to sit in the backseat because I couldn’t get my feet into the footwell. If Cadillac really wanted this car to stand out, it should have come up with a fun solution to the layout, like doing rear-hinged doors and eliminating the B-pillar, or finding some way to improve access back there, like aping the Hyundai Veloster by putting two short doors on one side and one long one on the driver’s side. Anything to make the CT4 stand out in a field that’s increasingly unpopular thanks to buyers gravitating en masse toward small crossover SUVs.
Yeah, but is that any worse than competitors in its class?
Only slightly. The Audi S3, Mercedes-AMG A35 and BMW M235i Gran Coupe are all designed as front-wheel-drive machines that offer all-wheel drive, so they do tend to have a bit more legroom in back than the rear-wheel-drive CT4-V, but none of them suffer from an overabundance of legroom, headroom or spectacularly clever packaging. Of these competitors, however, I’d posit that the Cadillac is decidedly more fun to drive, with its balanced chassis, excellent powertrain and outstanding handling characteristics. GM’s vehicle dynamics engineers knocked this one out of the park, making the CT4-V an appealing driver’s car — but only if its drivers are only traveling with one other person.
Can it at least carry stuff in the trunk?
Well, if we want to start comparing it with competitors in a few areas, then yes, it’s got a decent-sized boot: about 10 cubic feet, which matches the Audi S3 but comes in a couple cubic feet less than the BMW. It does struggle when comparing fuel economy, however, despite having at least two more gears than any of its competitors. The EPA rates the AWD CT4-V at 20/28/23 mpg city/highway/combined, which falls below the 22/29/25 mpg of the Audi S3 and the surprisingly good 23/32/26 of the BMW M235i, as well as the Mercedes-AMG A35’s 24/31/27 mpg rating. My brief drive of the CT4-V was not sufficient to garner a realistic fuel economy number, especially given I spent most of my drive flogging the heck out of it on Michigan’s backroads. Its unimpressive fuel economy might, however, explain why it has such a large gas tank: 17 gallons, which is about 3-4 gallons more than its competitors.
At least Cadillac seems to be getting the message about interior quality.
There is indeed a noticeable improvement in materials quality in the CT4-V, and it’s not just the fact that the seats and some interior panels were covered in lovely Sangria dark red leather in my test car. The switches and assembly quality show a definite boost over the prior model — a trend we’ve been seeing recently at Cadillac, especially in the new Escalade coming later this year. There’s still a bit too much that’s easily identifiable from lesser GM brands, and the overall feel still comes off as more “premium brand” than “luxury brand,” but the design, shape and quality of the interior bits are easily as good as anything from BMW or Audi, if not quite matching the sophistication of the latest Benzes.
There’s also plenty of advanced electronics in here. Most useful, perhaps, is the V-mode button, which apes BMW’s M buttons in allowing you to customize settings for the car’s drive modes, then engage them with the push of a single steering-wheel button. It makes for great fun when traffic suddenly clears and you want to enjoy a twisty road. One stab of your thumb and the car instantly switches to however aggressive you’ve set it to be. Another push takes it back to calmer attitudes.
At least Cadillac has learned its lesson about touch panels.
Yep, there are precious few of them in the CT4-V, unless you count the touchscreen itself. You can also use a rotary controller in the console to operate that display if you don’t want to touch it. But the trend that German automakers are now embracing of replacing all buttons with flat touch panels has come and gone at Cadillac, and we salute the brand for it. Despite its cramped dimensions, the interior bits and pieces work well together and don’t detract from the primary focus of this car: allowing drivers to enjoy themselves behind the wheel.
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Did Cadillac at least price it reasonably?
That depends on what you think is reasonable. A basic rear-wheel-drive 2020 Cadillac CT4 will start at a rather hefty $33,990 (including destination fee), sporting the less powerful but more efficient 2.0-liter turbocharged engine. Bumping up to the much better-equipped CT4-V described here means a base price of $45,490 — a significant jump. The full as-tested price for my loaded test car was $50,885, and that included option packages like the Climate Package (bringing heated and ventilated seats), the Sangria leather package, the Driver Awareness Plus Package, the Front Lighting and Assist Package, painted brake calipers and a lot more. The base price is dead-on comparable to the BMW M235i xDrive Gran Coupe, the Audi S3 and the Mercedes-AMG A35, all of which feature standard all-wheel drive (it’s optional on the CT4-V). Cadillac has indeed started pricing its offerings to match its competitors; see how they all compare here.
If you don’t mind its diminutive size, the CT4-V offers a lot of fun at a competitive price. It will still likely get overlooked by customers in the showroom on their way to the XT4 crossover, but the few folks remaining who enjoy a well-tuned sports sedan will find a lot to like here.
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