Can a unique, powerful engine redeem this underdog?
THE GOOD
  • Aggressive styling
  • Lots of features
  • Brilliant suspension
THE BAD
  • Soulless engine
  • Tight back seat
  • Costly safety options
2020 Cadillac CT4-V Review

Everybody loves a good underdog story – the kind where some poor soul overcomes the odds and ends up the unlikely hero.

Cadillac has been a premium brand for a century or so, now; a brand whose plush, large sedans were coveted by the cognoscenti during Detroit’s golden era, and whose gargantuan Escalade has been a status symbol for the nouveau riche these past few decades. But in the so-called compact premium sport sedan category, Cadillac has tried time and again, as the underdog, to capture the passion of a more youthful buyer whose money would otherwise go to a German, Japanese, or Korean brand.

Despite a past sprinkled with embarrassing lows – please see the Cimarron – and impressive highs like the vaunted ATS-V, General Motors (GM) just hasn’t been able to take on the import bullies that keep kicking sand in Cadillac’s face. Now the automaker is hoping the 2020 Cadillac CT4-V has what it takes to do exactly that.

Styling: 8/10

There’s plenty of good to say about the CT4-V, and it starts with its appearance. While more flamboyantly styled than its German rivals, the smallest Cadillac definitely has road presence – especially in this sporty V trim.

With the wheels pushed to the corners of the car and its short side glass, the profile is that of a serious performance car that’s squat on its haunches and wearing plenty of sharp creases in its sheet metal. The blacked-out grille is framed by a pair of vertical LED streaks that emphasize the width of the car, peeling back into the top of the fenders and giving a sense of forward motion even when parked.

Similarly, at the back of the car, the quad tailpipes are pushed to the outer edges of the rump, and mercifully represent the only chrome on the car. The whole look is contemporary and properly sporting.

The CT4-V’s interior breaks no new ground in the category, with a layout that resembles a BMW or Audi from a generation ago. Where now the competition is going to dashboards made almost entirely of screens, the Caddy has a pair of old-school dials in the instrument pod and a comparatively infotainment display. Still, materials appear to be properly assembled, and the brown stitching is a nice break from the otherwise all-black layout.

Driving Feel: 8/10

There’s more good news when the roads get twisty. This being the rear-wheel-drive version of the CT4-V means there’s less for the front tires to be tasked with – and less weight to haul around – thereby giving the handling a lively feel. The steering is decent with a quick ratio, but it could use more feel; such is the case with nearly all electrically assisted systems these days. There’s even a real mechanical limited-slip differential and not just some gimmicky electronic facsimile, too.

The CT4-V’s secret handling sauce comes from the electro-magnetic suspension that does a brilliant job of keeping the car taut and connected to the road while still managing a comfortable ride. Buyers looking for better all-weather traction should know that all-wheel-drive CT4s come only with a traditional suspension setup rather than the magneto-rheological one found here.

There’s a set of Brembo performance brakes that do well to bring the 1,640-kg (3,616-lb) Caddy to a swift stop when needed, and they’ve got great initial bite, too. If you want the calipers painted red like the ones on the test car it’ll cost an extra $685 over the standard black-painted Brembos.

Power: 7.5/10

When compared to the power numbers thrown down by the four-cylinder competitors in the class, the CT4-V’s 325 hp is notably higher, but its 380 lb-ft of torque is jaw-dropping, bettering even many of the costlier six-cylinder rivals.

Cadillac employs a clever dual volute turbocharger, which is similar to a twin-scroll unit, except there are two snail-like chambers inside the turbo providing a more seamless feed of exhaust gasses. This turbo boosts the output of an enormous 2.7L four-cylinder, which engine geeks may recognize as the same powerplant GM developed specifically for use in its full-size GMC Sierra and Chevrolet Silverado pickup trucks.

This engine is capable of launching the CT4-V toward the horizon in a big hurry, but it needs a very heavy boot to do so. There’s a half-beat of lag before the turbo spools up, aggravated further by a 10-speed automatic transmission that occasionally gets caught a few gears too high – understandable with so many cogs to choose from. The result is a car that can really boogie, but it takes a surprising amount of work to get it to do so. Worse still, the low-revving power plant not only feels like the truck engine that it is, but it sounds downright agricultural throughout its limited rev range.

Fuel Economy: 6.5/10

Beyond keeping mass in check over the front wheels, the primary goal for fitting a four-cylinder turbo under the hood instead of a larger V6 was to maximize fuel efficiency. Unlike in its truck application, the 2.7L turbo requests premium fuel in the CT4-V. The city average rate of 11.5 L/100 km is significantly thirstier than the BMW 330i‘s 2.0L turbocharged engine. Across the board, the competitive set provides fuel consumption levels that are a little more favourable than the Caddy’s, although none of them come close to the 2.7L’s size or power output.

Comfort: 7/10

Despite their premium roots, sporty compact sedans like this can be short on comfort, with compromised interior space and a shockingly stiff ride. Cadillac has done a decent job trading off handling and ride comfort with its electro-magnetic suspension.

Beyond ride quality, the CT4-V has hushed wind and road noises, and when not pushed, the engine noise is sufficiently subdued, too. The seats are covered in perforated leather, with the front pair being heated and cooled, and offering a lumbar massage function. The rear outboard seats are also heated, but the rather tight confines require them to be aggressively scooped out to enable a decent amount of head- and legroom. Even still, it offers less space than you’ll find in the back of a Mercedes-Benz C-Class or BMW 3 Series.

Practicality: 6.5/10

The CT4-V’s cramped interior combines with a 303 L trunk that’s also significantly smaller than its German competitors’, making for a machine that seems to be meant more for passion than practicality. Although the CT4-V can be specified with all-wheel drive for improved four-season traction, our tester was rear-wheel drive.

Features: 8.5/10

Beyond the high-tech suspension and engine in the CT4-V, the little Caddy also offers an impressive equipment list inside. Everything expected from a premium car is found here, either as standard equipment, like those heated and ventilated leather seats, or optional, like the $1,300 sunroof. The premium stereo is decent, though it’s not as crisp as we’ve heard from some other automakers. Other goodies like a heated steering wheel, head-up display, and even on-board Wi-Fi are all here. It’d be great to see Cadillac implement wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to better utilize the wireless charge pad.

User Friendliness: 8/10

Cadillac’s last attempt at its user interface was widely panned. Its haptic panels were fiddly and tedious to work with, and the infotainment system was frequently glitchy. Not so with this new system. Simplicity and ease of use seems to have been mandated here and the CT4-V is better off for it.

The eight-inch touchscreen also has a redundant rotary knob between the front seats. While the knob has limited applications, its use does help keep fingerprint smudges off the screen. There’s a small knob each for the audio system’s volume and tuning functions, and the menus are all logically navigated. Plus, the steering wheel has just enough controls to be useful without turning into a convoluted command centre.

Safety: 9/10

The CT4-V has been loaded up with a heavy helping of active safety features including automated emergency braking front and rear, adaptive cruise control, automatic high-beam control, and lane-keeping assist. There are also blind-spot warning sensors, and rear cross-traffic alert and parking assistance front and rear. While all these safety features are commendable, the majority of them are part of costly option packages.

Value: 7.5/ 10

Starting at less than $38,000 for a base-model, the CT4 is aggressively priced. Stepping up to the top-line CT4-V starts at $45,398 and brings with it a lot more standard equipment, not the least of which is the powerful drivetrain and advanced suspension. From here, Cadillac has taken a page from its German counterparts and created a list of packages and standalone options several pages long.

This test car carried roughly $11,000 in extra equipment, much of which were frivolous items like painted brake calipers, a sunroof, and black painted 19-inch wheels that cost more than $3,000. But there were also several option packages for safety features that many far cheaper cars are offering as standard equipment. When compared to similarly equipped Audi, Mercedes, or BMW models, the Cadillac looks like a decent bargain. But the Genesis G70 is a notably better deal.

The Verdict

A compact sport sedan requires its owner to make a few sacrifices in practicality for style, prestige and a rewarding driving experience. The CT4-V has the look, and on paper, its numbers promise a legitimately sporting car, but the drive falls well short of the engagement level of the competitors, thanks mostly to the powerful, but unpleasant engine. Simply put, the CT4-V lacks the passion that the best cars in the category share with their drivers, and so once again, Cadillac remains an underdog in the compact sport sedan segment.

Can a unique, powerful engine redeem this underdog? 10/15/2020 6:30:00 AM

Competitors

Specifications

Engine Displacement 2.7L   Model Tested 2020 Cadillac CT4-V
Engine Cylinders Turbo I4   Base Price $45,398
Peak Horsepower 325 hp @ 5,500 rpm   A/C Tax $100
Peak Torque 380 lb-ft @ 2,000 rpm   Destination Fee $2,100
Fuel Economy 11.5 / 8.2 / 10 L/100 km city/hwy/comb   Price as Tested $59,580
Cargo Space 303 L  
Optional Equipment
$11,982 – Sunroof, $1,295; Technology Package, $1,350; Leather Interior, $1,845; Front Lighting & Assist Package, $475; Red-painted brake calipers, $685; 19” painted black alloy wheels, $3,062; Navigation and Bose Audio, $920; Driver Awareness Plus Package, $925; Driver Assist Package, $1,425