Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2016 Cadillac CTS 3.6 AWD

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This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car

If there is a downside to reviewing a different car every week, it’s that we reviewers become a bit jaded, and dare I say, spoiled. Cars that rate very highly on normal folks’ wish lists become old news and can almost start to feel like little more than an impediment to the next new thing that’s to be reviewed the following week.

The CTS is a brilliant cruiser, powering along at high speed feeling solid, planted and comfortable.

And yet, this 2016 Cadillac CTS 3.6 AWD endeared itself to me more by the end of a recent stay – and more than 1,500 km of driving – than it did when it was new two years ago.

Leading up to the 2016 North American International Auto Show, I requested the CTS to use as my personal shuttle to Detroit from my home near Toronto. The drive along Highway 401 in Southwestern Ontario can be treacherous in January, with frequent snow squalls wreaking havoc over the flat and exposed motorway.

This year was no exception, and just past London, Ontario, the skies opened up and covered the landscape in one of the few serious snowy shows we’ve seen this winter. With a rapid temperature drop, the pavement quickly became a skating rink and more than a half dozen transport trucks came to a rest facing the wrong way, and in the ditch.

Climate control set to a comfortable temperature, heated seats and steering wheel on, and with a great set of Michelin winter tires GM’s PR team thoughtfully fitted to my all-wheel-drive CTS; it meant that I was comfortable and secure motoring along at a reasonable pace while the white chaos swirled around me. One particularly nasty incident on the highway snarled the traffic to a stop with me right beside an off ramp leading to some obscure rural route. Putting my faith in the Cadillac’s CUE navigation system, I took the off ramp figuring it better to blaze my own trail than sit stationary on the highway.

Not more than a kilometer or two down the road, the CTS and I charged head-on into whiteout conditions and significant drifting across the road. The Cadillac plowed onward, undeterred and unflappable in its stability. This is a car that instills confidence even in inclement weather.

Nearing Detroit, the storm front had passed and the sun was breaking through the clouds again. On clear roads, too, the CTS is a brilliant cruiser, powering along at high speed feeling solid, planted and comfortable. In a strange twist of fate, it’s now Caddy’s competitors that feel aloof and unbuttoned in the corners, where the CTS (and its smaller ATS sibling) exhibit not only impressive handling, but genuinely engaging steering as well.

The brakes – Brembos up front – give a good solid performance too, contributing to an overall driving experience that gives credit to the notion that Cadillac actually builds sport sedans these days. (For further proof of this, look no further than the CTS V-sport, or the absolutely beastly CTS-V).

Did someone say V8? First Drive: 2016 Cadillac CTS-V

The CTS can be ordered up with everything from 4-cylinders, to the absolutely bonkers supercharged V8 found in the CTS-V. One step from the bottom is the 3.6L 24-valve V6 found in this test car. Despite being the same displacement as last year’s engine, this is Cadillac’s new mill, first introduced in the new CT6 sedan. The old 3.6 was a great engine – putting out 321 horsepower and 275 lb-ft of torque, it was sufficient to keep the mid-size Caddy cooking along at a brisk pace. This year’s 3.6 is quieter thanks to a new cam drive system, and it now puts out 335 horsepower and 284 lb-ft of torque. 

A nominal increase like that is rarely felt in a car of the CTS’s size, but Cadillac has also implemented a seamless cylinder deactivation system, along with stop/start technology to improve fuel efficiency by an estimated 9 percent. This CTS is rated at 10.5 L/100 km now, combined (12.2 city, 8.5 highway), and with mostly highway driving, our observed average was 9.6 L / 100 km.

Bigger news for 2016 is the replacement of last year’s 6-speed automatic in the all-wheel-drive CTS in favour of a new Hydra-Matic 8L45 eight-speed automatic transmission. A broader spread of ratios keeps the car in its power sweet spot more of the time, and more importantly, helps to contribute to the decreased fuel demand of the CTS. The downside is that GM seems to have a bit more ironing to do on this transmission before it’s fully wrinkle-free. Particularly when driven at moderate throttle around town, the transmission frequently gave a little stutter during upshifts. Competitors using ZF’s excellent 8-speed exhibit none of this behavior, so hopefully Cadillac can quickly rectify this hiccup if they really want to compete with their own transmission.

The only other complaints about the CTS come from inside the cabin. Cadillac’s CUE infotainment system and touch-panel climate controls remain the biggest point of frustration in what is otherwise a really impressive car. With gloves on, the haptic buttons work occasionally, and with polarized sunglasses on, both the CUE screen and HUD disappear or distort. 2016 improvements to CUE include the implementation of Apple CarPlay and the Surround Vision 360-degree camera system.

One last complaint about the high-tech design-over function of the CTS’s interior: during one drive, the lights behind the steering wheel buttons went dark leaving a steering wheel full of anonymous black controls and a driver trying to recall which button did what. The next time the car was started, the buttons were back to their illuminated selves, but it gives pause to consider how fragile (and costly) this high tech gadgetry is going to be in future years.

The rest of the interior is a pretty nice place to gather miles, with seats that are supportive and comfortable and a Bose stereo that’s bold and bright and powerful. Apologies to any OnStar personnel who may have decided to listen in on my loud and not-always-great singing during the return drive from Detroit.

Even with a few years of familiarity under its belt, Cadillac’s CTS is still a very impressive machine, in fact, thanks to subtle styling updates and the improved power and efficiency, it’s even more impressive than it was. The balance of stirring performance and legitimate luxury is becoming increasingly rare in the mid-size luxury segment that seems to skew one way or the other with most offerings. If Cadillac can just rectify some of the interior frustrations, they could really have a class-leading machine on their hands.

4 years/80,000 km; 6 years/110,000 km powertrain; 6 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 6 years/110,000 km roadside assistance

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Model Tested 2016 Cadillac CTS 3.6L Premium AWD
Base Price $69,915
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,950
Price as Tested $75,020
Optional Equipment
Kona brown/ Jet black accent leather interior, $1,650; 18” polished aluminum wheels, $830; Dark Adriatic blue metallic paint, $575