Pat Devereux24 September 2013

First Drive: new Cadillac CTS

Can this entirely new CTS claim the scalps of the Merc E-Class and BMW 5-Series?

What is it?

The 2014 Cadillac CTS. And it's completely new from the tyres up. Now lower, longer and leaner than the car it replaces, it's the result of some fairly painstaking engineering work to create a proper mid-sized car. The current CTS is bigger than the BMW 3 Series but not big enough to properly compete with the 5 Series, so it's always been a bit of a Volvo, straddling two classes and not fully satisfying either.

Now that the ATS has been launched to attack the 3 Series, which in dynamic terms it equals or beats on road and track, the new CTS has grown in all the right areas to be on equal terms with the 5 Series. Except one: weight. This is quite possibly the CTS's ace card. Even fully loaded the new range topping Vsport Premium model is a full 110kg lighter than the BMW 550i.

The engineers have also done a lot of work redistributing the weight of the new car, to give it a magical 50:50 balance. And the men in the white coats have spent hours in the lab and wind tunnel to get the wind resistance down to a minimum, to reduce noise and eek out fuel. The exterior styling still follows the vertical light architecture that has been a Cadillac design trademark for a decade or more now, but has a new simplicity that makes the whole car look less fussy, more considered.

There are three engine options from launch: the 272bhp 2.0-litre twin-scroll turbo engine first seen in the ATS; a 321bhp 3.6-litre normally aspirated unit, which also features in the smaller car; and an all-new, range-topping twin-turbo 420bhp V6 Vsport. The 565bhp V8 CTS-V still continues in the range in the current bodyshape, but will join the madeover range again in the future, no doubt in a suitably over-stimulated state.

The engines now drive through a heavily revised version of the six-speed (2.0 and some 3.6 models) or the new industry luxury car standard eight-speed box (some 3.6 and all Vsport models). There's every imaginable piece of safety, convenience and luxury equipment available - including a powered cup holder lid, no less - but the good news is none of them get in the way of the car's dynamics. CUE, Cadillac's take on the new tech interface for its cars, needed to be and is markedly improved for the ‘14 model year.

What's it like?

It doesn't take more than a few rotations of the wheels to feel how much tighter and lighter this CTS is compared with the outgoing model. It might be 110kg lighter than the Beemer, but it feels like it's twice or even three times that amount. Even with the 2.0-litre engine it feels alert and responsive in a way that the BMW used to be, but isn't any more.

This amount of body control is usually associated with a choppy ride over anything but smooth surfaces, but this isn't so in the CTS. Even without the third-gen magnetic damping fitted, the car feels supple and compliant, a little harsh over some bigger road bumps perhaps, but nothing that deflects you from your path. The steering, which has variable assistance according to the chassis mode you've selected, ranges from light to medium, erring slightly towards less rather than more information, as most buyers of this type of car would want.

The new Vsport engine is an excellent addition to the range. As a long-time CTS-V driver, I can tell you that there really isn't that much perceptible difference in the lower to mid ranges between the twin-blown bent six and the V's V8. Some of that's to do with the new slimmer car, but a lot of the credit has to go to the slick surge from the new engine.

The other main feature to be addressed is the interior, which is now right up there with the European competition. The current car's instrument panel - the whole thing - works fine but feels horribly dated. The new car gets a fully updated deck to work from. The multi-function wheel is a carryover from the ATS, there's a head-up display, configurable screens, noise cancelling plus rich colours and detail throughout. The finishes on the dash and seats is now at or above the luxury car industry standard.

Should I buy one?

It's hard to say for sure when driven in isolation, but it's entirely possible this is the best handling mid-sized luxury car from a volume manufacturer you can buy in the US this year. Do yourself a favour and have a go in one before you buy that 5 Series or E Class. We guarantee you will be pleasantly surprised.

The numbers 
3,564cc, 6cyl, RWD, 420bhp, 583Nm, 21 mpg, CO2 N/A, 0-60mph 5.0secs (est), 155mph, 1,795kg, from $59,070 (Vsport)

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