Lincoln could stand to learn a lesson from Cadillac: Reimagining an American legacy brand doesn’t only require more money than God. It takes patience, innovation and a pope-like faith that the plan will eventually pay off.
It’s been 11 model years since the Detroit luxury brand embarked on the painstakingly slow process of shedding its image as a maker of piggish, shared-parts cars that didn’t warrant the premium price. That process started with the introduction of its CTS sedan in 2003 and continues for 2014 with a third-generation update of its four-door, five-seater that’s determined to exit the no man’s land it’s long inhabited as a low-cost and underendowed luxury vehicle.
The second Cadillac to gun for BMW’s bread and butter, the 2014 CTS is a technologically sophisticated wannabe German that has pushed the brand’s engineering team to the brink with advanced metallurgies that have helped the car shed 244 pounds and groundbreaking, under-the-hood technologies that simultaneously ramp up the fun, the efficiency — and, unfortunately, the price. Starting at $46,025, the 2014 CTS costs $8,000 more than the outgoing model.
During a daylong drive through the Santa Barbara countryside last week, I had the chance to test all three engines now available for the CTS. Those include a higher-torque version of the turbocharged, 2-liter, four-cylinder used in the smaller ATS introduced last year; a naturally aspirated 3.6-liter V6; and Cadillac’s first twin-turbocharged engine, which, making 420 horsepower from its direct-injected six cylinders, also makes it the most powerful V6 ever designed by General Motors.
Outfitted with smaller turbochargers and an integrated air intercooler that negates the lag between pressing pedal to metal and takeoff, the twin-turbo is only available on the all-new $59,995-plus Vsport. The same engine will be offered in the larger XTS sedan later this fall.
A notch below the unabashedly performance-oriented V-Series, which will continue for the 2014 model year with the second-gen CTS, the Vsport is characterized by another Cadillac first. It’s mated with a new eight-speed automatic transmission outfitted with fast-acting, light-pull paddle shifters. Marginally more fuel efficient than the six-speed automatic of the 2-liter base model, the eight-speed is a heck of a lot more fun to drive, with gearing that’s tuned for more rocket-like acceleration and lower engine speeds that make for a quieter drive.
At least in touring mode.
The CTS Vsport is equipped with three drive modes that can be activated with the press of a button. Turn over the ignition, and the Vsport defaults to its least aggressive, more comfort-oriented touring setting, but ratchet it up to sport, then track, and there’s a soundtrack. The more aggressive the drive mode, the more select engine noises are amplified and channeled into the cabin through the Bose speakers.
Quicker to react than the two less-expensive CTS versions, the Vsport’s electronic power steering instantly adjusts to how the car is driven. Drive it like a Clydesdale, and the steering is comfortably firm, but flog it like a thoroughbred, and it stiffens — as does the suspension.
The 2014 model marks Cadillac’s first use on the CTS of an electronic limited-slip differential that really gets busy in the corners, making adjustments faster than Stephen Hawking calculates physics in his head, and summoning the same magnetic ride control system as the V-Series to keep the car hunkered in high-speed turns without throwing its inhabitants into the door panels.
The CTS doesn’t feel like a car that’s grown 5 inches in length in its redo. It adeptly defies its proportions, which have been reshaped with a snub-nosed front, lower roof and longer back end to help with the subliminal conveyance that, yes, this is a true driver’s car that balances its 3,616 pounds 50/50 front and rear, and propels the car forward with its rear, rather than front, 18-inch wheels.
Rated for the car’s 170 mph top speed, the largish, performance-oriented tires do have a down side, however. Grippy as they are, they, and the sport-tuned chassis, transfer more noise to the cabin than I would have liked.
That noise can be overcome fairly easily with the 11 Bose speakers that are on board and operated by Cadillac’s Cue infotainment system and 8-inch touch screen, which are now standard across all trims.
Any luxury sport sedan worth its salt will, of course, embed the sort of unexpectedly delightful service available at a five-star hotel, and in this regard the CTS has seriously upped its game. It can be had with various packages that up the luxury ante — and the price — with leather, heated rear seats and advanced safety systems, among other things.
The cup holder door in the center console doesn’t require a single calorie of human energy expenditure because it is motorized. Drivers who need to stash a wad of hundreds or a cellphone can do so with a hidden storage compartment tucked behind the Cue controls, and can even secretly recharge their device with the USB port which is ringed in blue light so drivers aren’t left groping in the dark. An armrest lifts up to reveal two additional USBs as well as an SD card port.
The CTS went into production this week in Lansing, Mich. — the same week the 1 millionth Cadillac rolled off the line. Cars are expected at dealers next month.