Cadillac has never been a brand that has been a good fit with UK customers. Can the third generation CTS, a BMW 5 Series-sized executive saloon, change that? Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
The fact that it's only offered in left-hand drive with a petrol engine will limit the prospects of the Cadillac CTS on these shores, but if you're one of the few who don't fancy a BMW 5 Series, an Audi A6, a Mercedes E-Class, a Lexus GS or a Jaguar XF, the big-hearted Yank's charms might well appeal.
When it comes to brand perception, Cadillac has a bit of an image problem. Mention that you're thinking of buying a Cadillac and most people will wonder why you've selected Boss Hogg as your role model. It's a different story in the US, where the brand has a more progressive image, but here we're still wedded to some pretty ancient stereotypes. That's a bit of a shame, because the company has, since 2004, been turning out some very good products and its US sales growth is the strongest of any of General Motors' brands. These encouraging sales figures have come off the back of solid products like the vehicle we look at here, the CTS, a car tasked with going head to head with some very formidable European and Japanese rivals.
Should you have any recollection of the Cadillac CTS at all, it'll most likely have been one powered by a 276bhp 3.0-litre V6 engine. That's been ditched now, replaced by a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder unit that makes exactly the same power output, but instead of having to rev it to a stratospheric 7,000rpm to attain that figure, the good stuff comes at a more attainable 5,500rpm with it speak torque of 400Nm arriving at just 1,700rpm. This makes it feel reasonably quick, getting to 62mph in 6.9 seconds, although revving it anywhere beyond 5,500rpm doesn't deliver much more useable performance. This chassis has been developed to cater for either rear-wheel-drive or an all-wheel drive configuration and it has a few tricks up its sleeve, including Magnetic Ride Control, which uses clever dampers to iron out road imperfections. The six-speed automatic transmission slurs between ratios beautifully, although taking manual control may frustrate, as the software inexplicably overrides some gearchange requests. Switch the car into sport mode and you'll be impressed by the steering response and the body control in corners. Yes, you did just read that right. Here's an American saloon car that can show you a good time on a twisty road. The 2.0-litre lump is joined by a 321bhp 3.6-litre normally aspirated unit and the twin-turbo 420bhp V6 Vsport. The crazy 565bhp V8 CTS-V is still available to order, but it's the old shape car. You'll have to wait for that engine to be offered in this later body.
Design and Build
This third generation Cadillac CTS follows a clear development path laid down by its predecessors. The styling has become even more sharp and angular, the car has increased in size and weight has been pared back. All three are good moves in my book. There's no doubt that this car is quite the looker, the Bob Boniface and Richard Krieg- designed exterior featuring aggressively swept-back headlights and a high beltline more akin to four-door coupes like the Mercedes CLS. With a proper forward-leaning rear-wheel drive stance, the CTS looks athletic, despite its extra size. Probably the biggest lesson learned from previous CTS interiors has been that painting something silver does not equal luxury. The 'Arts and Science' design theme carries on inside the car with sharply-defined angles and bold creases. The layout appears crisp and architectural at first glance, but closer inspection reveals it to be a bit busy, lacking the quiet cohesion of the best German interiors. The optional all-digital TFT dashboard is a winner though, offering a multitude of configurations. Buyers can also specify wood, aluminium or carbon fibre interior finishes.
Market and Model
The lack of a diesel option is clearly going to hurt the CTS's sales chances, as indeed is the fact that the steering wheel is on the left-hand side of the car. These two factors mean that the Cadillac can't really be taken too seriously as a challenger to the top European and Japanese executive cars. Instead it merely fills a niche for those who wish to be wilfully different. Ploughing your own furrow doesn't even come particularly cheaply. The 2.0-litre turbocharged model costs around £44,000, about the same as a more powerful right hand drive BMW 535i with lower running costs. Even were the steering wheel to be on the right side, that right there would be enough to hole the Caddy below the waterline. Still, it does come with a decent equipment list that includes a Bose surround sound system, USB connectivity, an electric glove box, 8-inch touch screen, a 12.3-inch instrument display, 18-inch alloys, LED headlamps, a head-up display, and auto parking assist.
Cost of Ownership
The fact that this car is of niche interest and left-hand drive is bound to push up the big-ticket cost of this vehicle: depreciation. As long as Cadillac deems right hand drive markets unworthy of investment, that will always continue; a chicken and egg situation that the company seems unable to or unwilling to tackle. All of which is a bit of a shame as Cadillac has gone to some lengths to improve the efficiency of this model. All things are relative though and while a combined economy figure for the 2.0-litre turbo car of 32.2mpg might play well in the US, over here where a BMW 528i will add better than 10mpg to that figure, it's not so impressive. Likewise, emissions of 198g/km are, in European eyes, still six or seven years behind the curve.
Much has changed with this Cadillac CTS, yet the overall recommendation remains the same. When I look back at what we wrote in summation of the Mk2 model back in 2007, it still applies. Back then we reckoned that the CTS was the best weapon in the portfolio of Cadillac products, yet remained some way off the pace of the best of its German rivals. Despite that, it was likeable and made an interesting alternative for those bored of BMW, Audi, Mercedes, Lexus and Jaguar fare.