“Some folks built like this. Some folks built like that. But the way I’m built, don’t you ever call me fat. ‘Cause I’m built for comfort, I ain’t built for speed. But I got everything, all a good girl might need.”
And that’s the old Cadillac, Willie Dixon slingin’ the twelve-bar blues, black paint, chrome and a cushy suspension floatin’ you on down the road to N’Awlins and the big muddy. A car? More like a paddleboat steamer with a big ol’ grille, I reckon.
It’s heady stuff but an image that faded away in the new dawn of a world-favouring agility and fuel-economy. No more land-yachts — luxury might still be big, but performance credentials are needed for true bragging rights. Mercedes-Benz had AMG. BMW had M. Cadillac had the Cimarron. Uh-oh.
Happily, as part of General Motors, Cadillac also had access to the brains behind some of the fastest machinery ever to come out of Detroit. They gave Cadillac the V-series, a badge which this latest new CTS mid-sized sedan wears proudly.
As I flick the shifter into manual mode and drop down a gear, Willie Dixon’s voice fades out on the satellite radio and the track changes.
It’s Jackie Brenston and a young Ike Turner hammering out “Rocket 88” at an uptempo speed.
That song, homage to an Oldsmobile V8 that once scorched up the highways, was based on a song called “Cadillac Boogie.” You heard the man, big Caddy.
The new CTS sedan stretches out longer than the previous generation by a good four inches or so. With Cadillac’s new ATS sedan taking on the BMW 3-series, this new car is moving up to compete with the 5-series and the Mercedes-Benz E-class.
On looks alone, it’s certainly got the chops to do so. Cadillac’s signature straight-edged styling has evolved somewhat from the original CTS’s very angular profile, and the addition of “waterfall-effect” LED lighting gives the car a unique look you can spot from a mile away.
At night, it looks more Blade Runner than Goodfellas.
As you’d expect from a Cadillac, the front is dominated by an enormous grille, with a glassed-in emblem the size of Shaquille O’Neal’s palm. The rest of the car is actually quite reserved, from a single strong accent line running the length of the side profile to the twin integrated exhausts out back. Even the V-badge is a fairly subtle arrangement of chrome with a red slash.
The wheels are 18” alloys (standard on the V-Series) and they wear sticky Pirelli rubber in a run-flat application. Pirellis tend to wear more quickly than other tires, and that’s probably a good thing here as run-flat tires often ruin the way cars ride.
While longer than the outgoing car, the CTS is still smaller inside than other offerings in the class. The back seats aren’t exactly cramped, but the Cadillac falls behind both BMW and Mercedes in terms of total passenger volume, including trunk space.
Beyond that, it’s very nicely laid-out, with carbon-fibre trim and very comfortable seats. Fit and finish is up to a competitive level, and it looks great in here. Or at least it does when clean.
Cadillac’s CUE system takes a bit of getting used to as it’s less intuitive than some of the other infotainment options on the market, but between the steering-wheel-mounted redundant controls and voice commands, mastering it isn’t too bad. Some of the haptic functions remain frustrating — like the volume slider — but the rest is workable. If you have the car for a week, you’ll only just be getting used to it; after a month, I’d imagine it’d be second nature.
But do yourself a favour: keep a microfibre cloth and/or detailing spray in the glove box as the glossy surface collects fingerprint smudges and fluff like crazy.
Spec’ing the V-sport version of the CTS gets you the upgraded brakes and rim sizes you might find in the German brands. It also gives you a twin-turbocharged 3.8L V6 cranking out 420hp.
The V6 purrs along on the highway, usually netting around 8.5L/100kms, and then transforms the car into a backroad barn-burner.
Chevy makes such good V8s you sort of wonder why this car doesn’t have one, but the twin-turbo six sounds angelic and hauls like a demon. I’ll take it.
Forget all the lead-sled slow-rolling of the past, this isn’t the car once desired by the characters of Tin Men, this is a lightweight creation of magnesium and aluminum that weighs a good 10 per cent less than the equivalent BMW 5-series. It storms to 100km/h in four and a half seconds, pulls nearly a full G on the skidpad and carves up a backroad with stiletto precision.
The steering is electric power-assist, but whoever did the programming on it deserves a medal. It’s excellent, and gives the CTS life beneath your fingertips.
The eight-speed transmission is slightly more of a mixed bag. The paddle-shifters aren’t quite as quick as they could be so better to choose one of the four selectable automatic modes and let the computer set the gear for you. Also, in “Touring” mode, the eight-speed sometimes doesn’t hold onto top gear long enough. With this much power, there’s no need to drop down a gear suddenly under gentle
Quibbles aside, this is one of the best driving experiences you can get from a luxury sedan without shelling out huge money for an M5 or Mercedes AMG. It’s built for speed and, as far as the comfort side of things goes, the ride would be just about perfect if the tires weren’t run-flats.
Navigation is standard on the CTS V-Sport, as are a host of driver aids including backup camera, rear-traffic assist and blind-spot monitoring. You also get an enormous sunroof, heated and ventilated front seats and a colour heads-up display.
Fuel economy is officially rated at 13.5L/100kms in the city and 8.4L/100kms on the highway. The CTS hits the highway figure without breaking a sweat.
Powerful engine; great chassis dynamics; strong styling.
Infotainment can frustrate; not as spacious as others.
The Checkered Flag:
A leather-lined rocket: V stands for victory.