For several decades, Cadillac proudly carried the luxury car honor of being “The Standard of the World.” Superior engineering and build quality, recognized by two prestigious Dewar Awards early in Cadillac’s life, helped the brand to cement its legacy in the hierarchy of American auto brands. Through most of the 1960s, pop culture and knowledgeable enthusiasts alike pushed the brand to sales highs ahead of all comers. And then … everything changed.
For the last 20 years, Cadillac has been building stellar luxury/performance sedans that have struggled to compete with the best four-doors from Germany. Maybe not on the street, where Cadillac has established an undeniable reputation for superior chassis engineering and potent powerplants, but certainly in the showroom as Cadillac labors to reach previous sales levels. If not for the success of the Escalade full-size SUV, Cadillac might have joined Oldsmobile and other once favored, but sadly departed, GM lines.
It is a stark reality; in 2019, over 80 percent of new Cadillacs sold were SUVs.
This week’s CT5 is the replacement for the CTS midsize sedan that won lots of industry awards, but as alluded to, never garnered the market admiration necessary to match BMW, Mercedes and Audi’s offerings in this segment. The CT5 (as well as the compact CT4 and full-size CT6) hopes to achieve better success by offering more content for a lower price, producing three distinct levels of the product, plus the inclusion of optional AWD. A week in the saddle of the midlevel 550T model, with the 360-hp twin-turbo 3.0-liter V-6, proved that Cadillac might be closer to the consumer target.
With early winter weather affecting surface traction as well as surface smoothness already, the CT5’s adroit chassis is key to winning over new converts to this model, plus retaining traditional big-Caddy fans. Hushed, compliant, yet responsive without the stiffer ride of previous models, the CT5 is an excellent balance of comfort and sportiness. Steering heft is heavier than most rivals, and more weighted than the CTS, but after seven days, this had become an afterthought. Pushed hard when the white stuff covered every surface, the Cadillac’s AWD seamlessly handled heavy-handed throttle application with a decidedly rear-drive Germanic-feel — like you want it to react.
The twin-turbo V-6, mated to an ultra-smooth 10-speed automatic, creates enthusiast-rewarding sensations whenever summoned. A guttural snarl emanates from the big exhaust pipes when under the whip (part of the Performance Shift Mode program), a mechanical symphony otherwise hidden when driven responsibly. By spring 2021, the BlackWing version, with a supercharged V-8 (borrowed from the old CTS-V), will be optional.
Base rear-drive CT5 sedans sport a 2.0-liter, 237-hp turbo-four engine. Starting at only $37,990, this model will move the needle against most rivals, especially given the sedan’s fluid lines and excited LED accents. Wearing luscious Red Obsession Tintcoat ($1,225 option), the CT5 was radiant. AWD here is a $2,000 option.
While Cadillac’s SUVs have been earning compliments for interior designs, the brand’s cars have been criticized for their mix of competing textures — in other words, more Chevy plastic than some luxury buyers would prefer.
The CT5 helps advance the premium layout concept over the older ATS/CTS models with better textures, softer leather and bolder stitching, as well as a much more intuitive CUE (Cadillac User Experience) interface. Two knurled knobs replace the frustrating slide-bar touch controls for operating the audio system and too many other screen functions — two knobs actually right next to each other for even greater ease of use. Complaints resolved, finally.
Cadillac’s SuperCruise self-driving program is optional in the CT5, as is a larger 12-inch screen in the top Diamond Sky Metallic Edition. Our 550T sedan, $40,695 before $15,000 in optional equipment, featured ambient LED lighting in each door panel, touch-pad electric door releases, dual climate controls, remote start, heated steering wheel, leather seating with memory, split-folding rear seat, rear park assist, Haptic safety alert seat (it vibrates safety warnings to you along with audio and visual alerts), lane change alert, forward collision alert, plus stop-start. EPA mileage estimates for the twin-turbo (91-octane fuel recommended) are 18/25/21, versus a realized 23.5 mpg. The CT5 is built in Lansing, Mich.
The CT5 makes clear that Cadillac is committed to the luxury sedan segment. A top-notch chassis, a pleasing powertrain, plus an improved level of cabin refinement are essential to remain a player against rivals named Genesis, Mercedes, Audi and Volvo.
Next week: Chevy Blazer RS