Merc’s entry-level hot hatch has grown a boot to take on the Audi S3 Saloon
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OK, with that grille and those upright lights, it’s definitely a Cadillac. But which one is this? This one is the good ship CT6, the new range-topping saloon for Detroit’s second-oldest auto brand (Buick is the most senior). CT what? I thought they did all letters, like the ATS, or names, like Escalade? They did – and still do while they are transitioning – have a mixture of model naming. The CT6 is the first one to hit production. The second will be the SRX-replacing XT5, which we have previewed here already. The whole range will eventually get a couple of letters and a number or two. How confusing. So, if this is the new top-of-the-range Cadillac, where does that leave the CTS, and the XTS?
A good question. The only thing you can definitely say is that the Omega-platform CT6 is bigger and above both of those in the range. Both the Alpha-platform (new Camaro, ATS) rear-drive CTS and Epsilon-platform (Chevy Impala) front or all-wheel drive XTS will continue. Three cars on three different platforms in the same bit of the range? How does that work? The real clash is between the XTS and the CT6, as both are classed as Full Size Luxury cars in US car categorization. So expect the XTS to fade into the background. Using the same yardstick, the CTS is classed as a Mid-Size Luxury car. So it technically doesn’t fight with either of the other two. Mid-Size? Full-size? Talk English… Forget how they relate to each other. How do they stack up against the competition: BMW, Mercedes, Audi? In terms of size, they don’t really. Instead of mirroring the German big three’s sizing and pricing strategy, Cadillac has been ploughing its own furrow in the automotive landscape for some time. Even though the ATS now effectively shadows the BMW 3 Series and the CTS, which used to sit between the 3 and 5 Series, is now more aligned with the bigger Beemer, it all goes a bit fuzzy again when you get to the CT6. Here, instead of building a car the same size as the S Class, A8 and 7 Series, Cadillac has chosen to create a saloon that sits between the E class and S Class in terms of size, yet is lighter than any of the cars in the lower size class. Why did they do that? Because, get this, there’s yet another big Cadillac on the way. No, really. The next one, name unknown at this point, is going to be the true range-topping car. The car that puts the real luxury swagger back into the Cadillac range. That will also be based off this mixed material architecture, which Cadillac were keen to stress had been designed to be easily stretched (the CT6 is around 8ins shorter than an S Class). But for now we just have to deal with what’s in front of us – a biggish luxury Cadillac that is priced to compete with the E Classes and A6s of the world, with a spec that puts it almost on par with the class above. OK, got it now. So what’s new about this big Caddy? Everything really, from the Omega platform to the mixed material bodyshell, via the engines and interior. It’s all been reinvented for the CT6. The four pillars of its formula are: appearance; size; driving dynamics; and quiet. So lets have a look at each of those and see how they’ve done. In terms of appearance, even though it looks almost exactly the same as the CTS in pictures, when you see it in the metal, it looks way bigger. Wider, lower, longer. While it’s a struggle to make the leap from the CTS to the Escalade in terms of attitude and presence, the CT6 immediately looks and feels like the saloon equivalent of Cadillac’s perennial favourite SUV. Brothers from the same mother. Bad brothers. So that’s a win in my book. Sizewise, as discussed above, it’s either bigger or smaller than the competition depending on where you are coming from. What about the driving dynamics and quiet? The CT6 scores really well in the dynamics category. It’s around 1,000lb lighter than some of its bigger competitors, has a super tight bodyshell, and makes extensive use of fewer, bigger clever castings at key points in the structure. Plus there’s an active chassis, so the CT6 shares the ATS and CTS’s class-leading ability to stay composed and change direction with speed, control and surety. It also does all this with a hushed calm you would want but probably weren’t expecting. So pretty good job then? Tell me more about that active chassis. All V6-engined models – there is a new 404bhp 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 alongside the 335bhp NA V6 and 2.0-litre turbo four that feature elsewhere in the Cadillac range – are fitted with an active chassis that features independent suspension and magnetic ride at each corner, plus active rear steering. This turns the same direction as the fronts up to 35mph then the other direction thereafter. It shaves 3ft off the turning circle in town and makes the car far more wieldy than a battleship like this should be on tighter roads. The V6s are both all-wheel drive, the 2.0-litre rear-wheel drive only. What’s the interior like? Lots of news here. First up is that the Cue system problems are now gone. You get a big screen, a few buttons plus a mouse pad in the centre console so you don’t have to stretch out to touch the screen, and it works seamlessly. Huge progress there. Other things you notice as a driver are the various toys on offer. There’s the world’s first rear camera mirror (that’s the whole world, not just the US world) that gives a cinemascope-style 300 per cent wider view of what’s going on behind you. Then there’s next-gen night vision, which you will use once then forget about. And something called triggered video recording, which can be set to capture yours and others mistakes on film for later proof of idiocy. Throw in massage seats, an HVAC system with an ionizer, and a BOSE sound system with speakers everywhere and you have a fine place to spend time.
What’s it like to drive? It does drive quite a bit smaller than you’d think from its exterior dimensions. It will still push on tight corners, but there is a fluidity and smoothness to the whole thing that makes the car feel strong and solid. You wouldn’t wake up in the middle of the night wanting to take it to the canyons, but you equally wouldn’t mind having to do a 500-mile drive in it at anytime. Any problems? Nothing more than a few personal dislikes on the interior. The cut and sew finish Cadillac stands by looks more fake than if it had been moulded on, the carpeting is a little too sparkly and synthetic to feel luxurious, especially in the rear, and the plastics on the rear screen housings feel a little brittle. But otherwise it’s good. Mechanically, the two pre-prod V6 test cars we drove both had an occasional stutter just off idle, that felt like the stop/start system had been caught napping then jumped out of bed too quickly. But otherwise, short of a re-flash, were fine. Will there be a V8 version? And what about right-hand drive? You’d have to say so. Judging by the Cadillac team’s reaction it seems more likely to be a V-Sport than a V Series car if it does appear – and it should; a range topper still has to have a V8 in my book – but no telling when that might be. As for the RHD option, Caddy’s stated aim is to have a full range of cars available in right hooker form within five years. So should I buy one? That’s the $53k question, which is where the CT6 range pricing starts. And which is also deep into the upper reaches of the CTS range. Tick every box and you can get the price into the $90k range, but get canny with your choices and you can have a choice car for $75k. At that price and spec it makes a strong case for itself. One that might just get a few more people bored with the German hegemony to jump ship.