Editor's note: This review was written in September 2013 about the 2014 Cadillac CTS. Little of substance has changed with this year's model. To see what's new for 2015, click here, or check out a side-by-side comparison of the two model years.
Not everyone is a fan of Lady Gaga. Sure, she's popular and talented, but only a certain type of person can appreciate her loud, flashy style. The same can be said for Cadillac's redesigned CTS: Understated, it is not, but talented, it most definitely is.
The redesigned 2014 Cadillac CTS sedan provides an enticing blend of sport and comfort; its striking styling and athletic moves are exciting, and its tailored, luxurious interior coddles you.
Fresh looks are joined by some new powertrains, the Cadillac User Experience multimedia system and additional safety features. Only the regular sedan version is redesigned; the coupe and wagon carry over on the previous platform, as does the high-performance CTS-V sedan. Compare the 2013 and 2014 models here.
Cadillac is aiming for German heavyweights the BMW 5 Series and the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, the top sellers in the midsize luxury segment. The CTS also competes against the Lexus GS. Compare all four here.
Exterior & Styling
With its sharp creases and bold angles, the CTS was never at risk of blending into the background, and the 2014 version takes that attitude to new heights.
The sedan grew about 5 inches in length and takes on a longer, lower and wider stance. The sharp creases and angles are still a focal point but wear a softer, sleeker look. The biggest stunner, however, is the front end. Gorgeous, blade-like headlights slice through the oversized grille for an effect that's both glamorous and imposing. Part of the emotion comes from the design, but the LEDs themselves — all 198 of them in front and back — contribute to the drama.
The overall result is striking and helps distinguish the sedan from the understated luxury-car pack in stylish defiance.
How It Drives
I first sampled a rear-wheel-drive version of the 272-horsepower, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder and was underwhelmed. Around town, power was adequate, but accelerator hesitation was evident from a stop, and it took lots of pedal prodding to keep up on the highway.
The 2.0-liter works with a six-speed automatic, and it, too, had trouble keeping up. It would often annoyingly hunt for gears, and it held them too long on downhill stretches, causing the engine to rev high with a loud, harsh sound. Drivers shouldn't have to wonder what the heck their transmission is doing.
Better matched are the 321-hp, 3.6-liter V-6 and the eight-speed automatic transmission. This combo was smooth and refined, delivering strong, even power through clean, prompt shifts. The eight-speed exhibited none of the six-speed's confusion and supplied quick power out of corners for an engaging drive. Both the 2.0-liter and the V-6 are available with rear- or all-wheel drive.
Unfortunately, neither engine provides competitive fuel economy. When equipped with rear-wheel drive, the 2.0-liter is EPA rated at 20/30/23 mpg city/highway/combined and the V-6 at 18/29/22 mpg. Premium fuel is recommended on the 2.0-liter but not the regular V-6. The BMW 528i's turbo four-cylinder is rated at 23/34/27 mpg. The Mercedes E250's four-cylinder turbo diesel gets an estimated 28/45/34 mpg, while the base gas-powered E-Class, the E350, is rated 21/30/24 mpg, a slight advantage over the base CTS sedan. The Lexus GS 350's 3.5-liter V-6 brings up the rear with a 19/28/23 mpg rating.
Fuel-economy figures aren't out yet for the newest addition to the lineup, the new rear-wheel-drive Vsport model, but chances are its buyers won't care (this engine requires premium fuel). It offers pin-you-in-your-seat power with its 420-hp, twin-turbocharged V-6; its near-instantaneous torque, sport-tuned suspension and firm, precise steering elevate the car's connected-to-the-road feel.
The new model is not to be confused with the 556-hp V-8-powered CTS-V, which carries over and wears the old generation's design for 2014. Instead, the Vsport bridges a gap between the regular CTS and the CTS-V. It features 18-inch wheels, a quicker steering ratio, Brembo-brand brakes, a Track mode for the transmission, a heavy-duty cooling system, an electronic limited-slip differential and Cadillac's Magnetic Ride Control adaptive suspension. Click here for a video review of the Vsport.
On the road, the 2.0-liter model demonstrated a high level of road isolation; bumps felt impressively damped and the cabin was whisper quiet. Jumping up from the model's standard 17-inch wheels to the 3.6 version's optional 19s changes everything. Its ride is firmer and choppier, and road noise is a constant presence. Cadillac shoppers looking for both performance and comfort should opt for the 3.6 but skip the larger wheels.
Handling also impresses. Body lean is minimal, and the sedan slings through corners with a flat, balanced, controlled feel. Despite growing for 2014, it exhibits the agility of a smaller vehicle, partly thanks to weight savings. Due to extensive use of aluminum, the CTS weighs a couple hundred pounds less than its competitors, as well as its previous generation.
Once you sit in the CTS, you may never want to leave. The sedan is as luxurious inside as it is bold outside. Eight color palettes are available and all the trim is real: wood, aluminum, leather, suede and carbon fiber. Leather isn't standard on the base model, however. Although there's a dizzying array of materials pieced together, the colors and textures blend well and complement each other. Everything feels rich, and it's obvious a lot of thought went into the cabin's design and craftsmanship.
My favorite combines a low-gloss dark wood with a leather-wrapped dash, detailed stitching and suede panels. My least favorite is a cabin draped entirely in blue leather and suede — totally over the top.
The front seats are firm and supportive but comfortable on long trips. The sedan grew bigger for 2014, and the interior does feel more expansive. Front headroom and legroom are plentiful; with 39.2 inches of headroom, the CTS falls in the middle of the competition but bests them all with 42.6 inches of front legroom.
My 6-foot 2-inch drive partner found headroom pinched in back. With just 37.5 inches, the CTS has less than sedan versions of the 5 Series (38.3), E-Class (38.2) and GS (37.8). That sexy sloping roofline sacrifices some headroom.
The backseat is wide enough to hold three adults, but a tall center floor hump renders the middle seat unusable. There are several nice touches in back, including individual reading lights above the side windows, a fairly large storage bin in the pop-down center armrest and optional window sunshades.
Ergonomics & Electronics
Cadillac's CUE voice-activated and touch-screen multimedia system is now standard, replacing the old version's pop-up screen. The 8-inch unit is large with clear, easy-to-understand graphics. Under that, however, things become less than clear.
Like the setup in the larger XTS and smaller ATS sedans, audio and climate functions are controlled via touch-sensitive panels under the screen and it's definitely an acquired taste. I was having trouble adjusting the volume (the biggest thing on my CUE wish list is a traditional volume knob) and an engineer advised me to "caress" the panel rather than swipe or push it. The eyebrow-raising suggestion worked well, however. The learning curve was steeper for my drive partner; he continually bumped the seat-heater panel and accidentally muted the radio several times.
Overall, the system is easier to understand and operate than central knob-based ones like BMW's iDrive, but there's still much more room for error than a traditional button-based setup. One nice feature is CUE's flexible favorites menu. It allows you to make not only radio stations as pre-set favorites, but also navigation destinations and phone numbers; getting to the menu, however, requires another skilled caress.
Cargo & Storage
The CTS' trunk seems huge with a wide opening, but by the numbers, it's at the low end in terms of cargo capacity. With just 13.7 cubic feet of volume, it provides less than sedan versions of the 5 Series (14), E-Class (15.9) and GS (14.3).
Small-item storage is good, however. There's a handy under-floor bin in the trunk, a large hidden cubby behind the CUE system good for cellphones and devices, and a fairly big center storage console. There are two cupholders in the front (look for them under strange power-sliding covers) and two in the back.
Annoyingly, a 60/40-split folding seat isn't standard on the base model. A center pass-through is included across the lineup, however.
The CTS has not yet been crash-tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The CTS gets several additional safety features for 2014, but they're optional and bundled into pricey packages. The Driver Awareness Package includes blind spot warning, rear-cross traffic alert, forward collision alert and lane departure warning. All of these features alert the driver by vibrating the driver's seat. The Driver Assist Package includes the Front and Rear Automatic Braking System, adaptive cruise control and Advanced Safety Belt Tightening. The latter cinches the seat belt if hard braking is detected in order to better situate front seat occupants in a crash.
Click here for a full list of safety features.
Value in Its Class
At the drive event, Cadillac representatives talked a lot about elevating the CTS, and that they did — it's more athletic, more luxurious and more stylish but also more expensive. Along with the Vsport model, the 2014 CTS is available in Standard, Luxury, Performance and Premium trims. Rear-wheel-drive 2.0-liter base models start at $46,025, about $6,000 more than model-year 2013 sedans.
Although it got pricey, the new CTS gives you more substance for your buck — Cadillac says it added 20 standard features to the new model. Leather and navigation aren't standard on the base version, however.
Even with its newly inflated price, the CTS still undercuts German and Japanese rivals. Base sedan models of the 2014 BMW 528i start at $50,425, the 2014 Mercedes-Benz E250 Bluetec at $52,325 and the 2013 Lexus GS at $48,160; all prices include destination charges.
Luxury isn't a logical left-brain need; rather, it's an emotional right-brain want and Cadillac is appealing to the latter. The CTS' in-your-face opulence might not be for everyone, but premium sedan shoppers looking to break away from boring will want to check out Cadillac's head-turning new sedan.