Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2014 Cadillac CTS

To say the 2014 Cadillac CTS is a beautiful car is an understatement. It looks exciting, enticing and elegant in a way I never thought I’d say a Cadillac would. It’s inviting too. Given that the week before I was in a Porsche Panamera, and that I felt absolutely no sadness moving over into this, it’s obvious the CTS is a pretty special rig.

It’s also incredible to drive. The 3.6L V6 spins all four wheels through a six-speed automatic with paddle shifters. That engine puts out 321 hp at 6,800 rpm and 275 lb-ft of torque at 4,800. The V-sport model comes with a similar 3.6L, only with two turbochargers bolted on to boost output to 420 hp and 430 lb-ft of torque. I’d have enjoyed that, but I very much enjoyed the power I had – especially when it got snowy.

The interior of the Cadillac is luxurious and welcoming, with plush, stitched leather, aluminum trim and piano black on every surface.  The cupholders, coin holders and cubby holes are all covered by a slick lid, so you can hide any coffee spills with ease. The now-common GM flip-up centre stack is there too. One press on the bottom of the stack and a deep storage bin with a power socket and a USB input is exposed.

The hard buttons and switches feel well made and secure, and Cadillac has used soft buttons/pseudo buttons/funny little touchy things extensively. That last bit is controversial, as is much of Cadillac’s CUE system. Some people love it, some people hate it, but most people concede it is where human-car interfaces are heading.  I much prefer knobs for tuning and volume because I find them easier to locate without having to take my eyes off the road, but once I got my head around the volume slider, I did find it as easy to use as a control knob.

I’ve heard CUE is slow to respond, but I found it better than the Ford/Lincoln equivalent, and I found it easier to navigate through CUE’s menus. I’m also in the camp that enjoys the virtual gauges with its many customizable displays. Having nav, audio, fuel economy, speed, range, gear selection and all the idiot lights clearly visible in one slickly designed display was a revelation for me. And the steering wheel controls made it incredibly simple to scroll through the options, tweaking the display to what I wanted, when I wanted it. I could even scroll  through Sirius XM channel lists from the wheel with song titles right in front of me – that’s brilliant.

Add the head-up display to the mix and Cadillac has made it easier than just about anyone to get all the information you need without ever looking away from the road. In fact, the 12.5-inch digital gauge cluster had my attention so completely I almost never noticed the eight-inch centre-stack touchscreen. That is, until my daughter pointed excitedly and said, “I can see our building!” Cadillac isn’t the only premium car company to do it, but the 3D maps in the city are a very cool touch, seeing buildings and streets all displayed in the navigation display is entertaining. It adds almost no information value at all, but it is a very cool trick.

There is a lot of room in the cabin too – not as much as you might expect looking at the CTS from the outside, but the front seats offer a lot of legroom and headroom. Not only that, but the front seats are heated and ventilated with 20 different power adjustments – or 17 more than I need. The rear outboard seats are heated too, and the tri-zone climate control allows the rear passengers to set their own temperature – tip for new players: Make sure you turn it on if your three-year-old is in the back and it’s negative 20 outside!

The only complaint I had about the interior of the Cadillac was the parking brake. First of all, electronic parking brakes suck, especially if you like being silly in the snow. Secondly, this one is tucked behind the wheel next to some other buttons you need – like the height adjuster for the head-up display. None of those buttons are easy to see while driving, so it’s not hard to hit the park brake by accident while moving – which is bad. I was also disappointed by the lack of usable split-fold rear seats - they're there, but the opening they uncover is frankly pointless. There is a pass-through for skis, but you might find the 388 L boot a little on the small side for a car of this size and pedigree.

Most negative points are erased immediately by the heated steering wheel, my favourite interior accoutrement. And the rest were vanquished every time I stood on the loud pedal. I was impressed by this engine, especially given I managed 11.9 L/100 km in my week with the CTS. Not excellent, but not bad in a week of snow silliness, bitter cold and holiday traffic. The EPA says the CTS is good for 13.1/9.0/11.2 L/100 km city/highway/combined – again, not best-in-class, but not too savage either.

Externally, the sharp angles and the Cadillac grille evoke big-time road presence even before you get to the LED running lights that connect the fenders to the bottom of the front splitter. I caught myself perving on them in the mirrors of our parking lot more than once.  But you don’t need me to talk about the well-integrated exhaust ports in the rear bumper, the clean body-panel gaps or the impressive character lines. You probably don’t need me to tell you about the optional 19 x 8.5–inch, 10-spoke polished aluminum wheels that were fitted as a $1,095 option. I should tell you about the mirrors though – they are tiny, and that has an effect from the driver’s seat – luckily the CTS also has blind-spot detection and a rear-view camera.

There are some other neat safety features too. Like the seat-belt tensioner that aggressively tightens your belts when the car experiences even a fraction of yaw rate – the result was my near-decapitation on my first excursion through a snowy carpark. Once I coughed my adam’s apple back out, readjusted the belt height, and once I knew it was coming, the pretensioner was less of a shock.

The traction control is equally aggressive and cuts in dramatically if you haven’t turned it off. But while the response from the nanny systems is rapid and forthright, they’re also progressive enough not to be jarring. Aside from those high-tech systems you also get adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, forward collision warning plus front and rear automatic braking to reduce low-speed collisions.

So you can be safe when you start to have fun.

With the Cadillac drive mode control set to the most aggressive setting, the CTS will slide enough to make life exciting. Throttle response is improved and the suspension is sharper. Feedback through the electrically assisted steering wheel is excellent, and the steering response is agile and lively. It’s not skittish, though.

In fact, on a trip back from the north of Ontario during a winter snowstorm the CTS behaved impeccably. The traction control was never really needed, but would operate the brakes and engine to maintain traction if things began to get untidy. In the dark of night, the adaptive, auto-levelling Xenon HIDs gave me unprecedented confidence out on the country highways.

The 1,640 kg of curb weight is distributed 49.7:50.3 percent front:rear, which is about three performance-enhancing fender stickers away from being perfect balance.

Even before I hit the slushy stuff I was impressed by the braking feel of the CTS. The pedal is firm but talkative and it was easy to find the limit of braking and ease the pedal for ultra-silky stops. The four-wheel ventilated discs by Brembo felt so good I had to ask someone else if I was imagining it; I wasn’t.

Everything about the CTS’s drive experience is sophisticated. The four-wheel independent suspension with double-pivot front and five-link rear sounds even more impressive when coupled with Magnetic Ride Control real-time continuously variable suspension, and it lives up to the hype. I might not understand exactly how the last sentence all bolts together under the car, but I can tell you it makes the stuff that happens under your backside really exciting and fun. The CTS carves up corners, smites mid-corner bumps and dips with nonchalance and handles spirited onramp assaults with total ease. It is a ridiculously fun thing to drive – contrary to what I expected.

Where I’m from Cadillacs are known as land yachts, whales and other clichéd terms of derision. If only they knew just how wrong they are...

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Model Tested 2014 Cadillac CTS Premium
Base Price $71,690
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,700
Price as Tested $76,025
Optional Equipment
19-inch 10-spoke polished aluminum wheels - $1,095, Black Diamond Tricoat paint - $1,295, all-weather floormats - $145