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2014 Cadillac CTS Vsport

April 29th, 2014

Third Gen’s the Charm

Perhaps any previous declaration of Cadillac’s return to significance could be deemed premature. Certainly the original CTS banished the thoughts of the good-but-not-great Opel Omega-based Catera. Offering a manual transmission and distinctive styling, the 2003 CTS reminded America that cars need not look like the conservatively styled German autobahn cruisers. It was a giant step in the right direction. A powerful performance oriented V-series proved the car could keep up too. The second generation of the CTS absolutely obliterated the memories of the Cimarron from those with unforgiving hearts. Offering a full line-up of sedan, coupe and wagon in both standard and V-series forms, words like world-class began to be used even by journalists predisposed towards anything branded by an American manufacturer. But now, with the 2014 CTS, the Cadillac revival can be considered securely in place. We’ve driven the latest iteration of what once was Cadillac’s smallest sedan in its top of the line Vsport form.

For starters, it needs to be clarified that the Vsport is not a descendent of the V-series CTS. The V-series cars were intended to be full-fledged sport sedans/coupes/wagons as evidenced by their powerful V8 engines and available manual transmission. No, the Vsport is more of a stealth mode CTS barely distinguished visibly from the ‘base’ car by V-sport badges and 18” wheels. At the heart of the V-sport is a 420 horsepower twin-turbo V6. Even more impressive is the 430 foot-pounds of torque twisting the driveshaft. Other enhancements provided by checking the Vsport option box includes an electronic limited-slip differential and magnetic ride control. The Vsport premium package adds reconfigurable gauge cluster and full-color heads-up display along with such non-performance features as heated outboard rear seats, 20 way adjustable front seats, an UltraView sunroof, driver assist package, not to mention another ten grand to the sticker price. While the V6 doesn’t make the amazing sounds of the previous V-series cars, the acceleration is nothing short of addictive. Seriously, V6’s aren’t supposed to be this fast. Nor are they supposed to be this frugal when launching oneself down the interstate. Cadillac claims 0-60 times of 4.4 seconds while achieving 17 city/25 highway. The concept of having your cake and eating it too comes to mind. The Vsport reverses the forward thrust by means of massive 13.6” front rotors that are gripped by Brembo brake calipers.  Directional changes are enhanced by Pirelli summer-only run flat tires, though our winter outing was shod with more reasonable winter tires. All-wheel-drive is not available with the Vsport, but even we Michiganders wouldn’t waste money on the added complexity and curb weight of the system if given the choice. A good set of snow tires is all one needs with the standardization of traction and stability control.

No matter what season, the car looks downright fantastic. Eschewing the awkward proportions of its bigger-but-not-better XTS sibling, the hood looks impossibly long. Such proportions declare the rear-wheel-drive nature of this sedan while looking positively modern in the process. Indeed, high intensity discharge headlights frame the outer extremes of the front fascia in a way that reminisces of the stacked units on the 1965-68 mainline Cadillacs. That Cadillac designers managed to emulate the brand’s rich and ancient heritage while looking positively modern is nothing short of brilliant. Cadillac design for decades had focused on the future while respecting the past. Somewhere in the 1970s that focus was lost and then trampled underfoot in the 1980s so it is refreshing to see Cadillac pushing the envelope of modern luxury car design.

Photos courtesy of GM

So far we’ve expressed such ecstatic enthusiasm for the new CTS that one might begin to accuse us of favoritism. To think so would be false as we have a grave concern. Cadillac offers it’s CUE infotainment system as standard equipment. To say this is a shame is an understatement. Like BMW’s iDrive, Audi’s MMI, and Mercedes’ COMMAND systems, Cadillac’s CUE is guilty of drawing the driver’s attention away from operating the vehicle and instead focuses it on selecting options and menus in lieu of simple radio and climate control buttons. To make things worse, those controls that aren’t on the touch screen use touch sensitive areas (instead of conventional buttons) on the center stack that leave the driver guessing whether they have activated the control or not. Mercifully, the steering wheel controls are actual buttons and allow the driver to operate most of the frequently used functions without taking their hands off the wheel. If it seems we have complained about CUE before, it is because we were unhappy with it in the CTS’s junior and senior line mates, the ATS and XTS. To make matters worse, Cadillac’s junior sibling Chevrolet offers the MyLink system, which is far more intuitive. We won’t apologize for complaining because this is something Cadillac needs to get right. Whichever luxury manufacturer stops messing around with gimmicky controls that require extensive memorization and skill to operate will likely gain credibility, media accolades and, ultimately, happy customers.

Secondary controls aside, the CTS interior is on track to match traditional class leader, Audi. The stitching on the dash, door panels and seats looks great. The interior can be configured in four different color and trim combinations that allow the owner to actually select an interior that isn’t predominantly black, which is an increasingly rare option in any price class. The seats are comfortable enough to satisfy the Fleetwood Brougham buyers of decades past and supportive enough to hold aggressive driver’s in place during sporting maneuvers. And that’s a constant temptation with this car. The CTS has the power to thrust driver and occupants forward with effortless ease and yet begs for corners. Cadillac’s magnetic ride control adjusts the shocks based on input from driving condition and speed. We’d like to say that we could feel it working, but the system works unobtrusively which means the system is effective.

When we step back and digest the overall performance and package that the CTS Vsport offers, we can’t help but recall the original CTS V-series from 2004. That car offered a starkly styled interior and 400 hp and 395 ft-lbs of torque. Over the course of 10 model years Cadillac has managed to bring to market a larger, more responsive, more powerful, more efficient, and more refined sedan with the Vsport than the former no-holds-barred V-series. The only thing lacking in the Vsport is the availability of a manual transmission. Of course, all of this comes at a price. While the base CTS starts at $46,025, the Vsport tickles sixty grand at $59,995. Adding the premium package adds a precisely $10,000. Certainly those who still think the CTS is Cadillac’s junior offering will be stunned at those prices, but for those looking for a performance alternative to the XTS or, more importantly, the BMW 5-series or Audi A6/S6 likely won’t give the window sticker a second thought. With this type of CTS available in Vpsort form, we can only imagine what General Motor’s luxury brand has planned for when it unleashes a true V-series edition of the CTS next year.

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