2016 Cadillac CTS 3.6L Premium AWD

2016 Cadillac CTS 3.6L Premium AWD

Easily one of the best in its class

If you’ve been wondering if Cadillac is capable of taking on the Europeans in the ever-escalating luxury war, take a closer look at the latest CTS and you’ll likely become a believer. I don’t care how skeptical you are or how brand loyal to a crested-wreath competitor, this now mid-size premium player will at the very least gain your respect.

If you’re unaware of the new larger CTS, Cadillac completely repositioned it for the 2014 model year, which was required after the true D-segment ATS took over the battle against BMW’s 3 Series, Mercedes’ C-Class, Audi’s A4 and the like. The CTS was always a bit larger than these industry standard bearers, making it a great value for those wanting more size for less cost, but its move into the mid-size E-segment was necessary simply to eliminate overlap. Of course, it now butts up against the slightly larger XTS. That model, however, targets a similar retail audience to the Lexus ES, albeit nowhere near the Japanese division’s sales success, while in comparison the CTS goes after Lexus’ more sporting GS.

Yes, don’t think for a moment that Cadillac is completely lackluster on the sales charts, despite talk of disappointment in growth from insiders at the General’s downtown Detroit HQ. Certainly, like all brands, they’ve had their share of failures, but the CTS isn’t on that list. As it stands, the CTS sits seventh out of 11 competitive luxury nameplates, although it’s really sixth being that I chose to include Hyundai’s Genesis sedan that will likely be redubbed G80 when the Korean automaker unleashes its upcoming Genesis luxury division on today’s crop of premium rivals. Choose to leave my list as is or eliminate the Genesis if you want, or for that matter add others like Chrysler’s 300 that’s no doubt deserving, but either way none of us, including Cadillac, should ignore Hyundai and its plans to follow Lexus’ lead into luxury territory.

The sales numbers read as follows: Mercedes-Benz is the current U.S.-market mid-size luxury leader with 44,737 E-Class sales over the first 11 months of calendar 2015, whereas BMW’s 5 Series is a close second with 41,177 sold so far this year. The Genesis sedan found 28,280 buyers (although this number includes the Genesis Coupe as well, so its actual sales are anyone’s guess), while Audi’s A6 attracted 20,394 new owners and Lexus GS 19,694. That brings us to the CTS, which did quite well at 17,044 deliveries, especially when comparing it to the Infiniti Q70 with just 7,663 sales, Lincoln MKS at 6,406, Jaguar XF with just 5,374, Acura RLX at 2,036, and Volvo S80 with 1,711. The CTS is certainly in the lead pack.

Having now spent three separate weeks in three CTS models since the debut of this version, the first being my favorite as it was the performance-oriented 2014 CTS VSport, the second a 2015 CTS 3.6L AWD, and this version done out to near identical CTS 3.6L AWD specs despite a turbocharged four-cylinder model that remains untested, although there have been a number of significant upgrades to the V6 that I’ll get to in a moment. First, I can attest to why the CTS is selling better than some of the names on this list. In my opinion, it’s now the class leader when it comes to interior refinement and that difficult to pinpoint yet still critically important wow factor that might more suitably be called sense of occasion, this being a highfalutin Cadillac after all.

Let’s start on the outside and work our way in, shall we? Other than my 2016 CTS 3.6L AWD tester’s exterior color choice, which is Dark Adriatic Blue instead of last year’s Phantom Gray metallic, both carryover hues, and its gorgeous new multi-spoke polished 18-inch alloys, the latter and other available wheels being amongst the 2016 model’s upgrades, the CTS continues forward with zero styling enhancements, Cadillac having cleaned up the grille surround and added its revised crested wreath badge last year. I don’t mind that things remain status quo, however, as it doesn’t really need any changes, at least up front.

2016 Cadillac CTS V6 AWD

This new more refined version of the brand’s large five-sided grille still looks good and attention getting, while vertical LED DRLs continue to grab eyeballs even more as they pull up from the corner brake vents before visually continuing into the headlamps that wrap overtop the front fenders. As always the CTS’ illuminated door handles are the closest you’ll get to automotive jewelry this side of a Rolls-Royce Ghost, finished with sculpted metal tops that incorporate narrow white lighting elements, while the car’s tail end is probably my least favorite aspect, but it’s no deal killer. It’s just that the taillights are less dramatically penned than the previous model’s more sharply angled lenses that I happened to love, and generally the back portion of the cabin is more bulbous, necessary to extend rear headroom albeit not the most attractive from profile, while the abbreviated deck lid and small rear window give it a unique combination limousine/coupe-like presence that either works for you or doesn’t.

The CTS’ rear detailing is very nice, due to the understated yet still sporty deck lid spoiler that only covers about three quarters of the trunk, culminating at a chevron-shaped point that creases all the way down to the rear bumper and lower fascia, an LED CHMSL just under that spoiler whereas the trunk lid gets a nice chromed garnish on its edge, the lower fascia featuring rectangular tailpipes that are visually bound together by a strip of chrome and a rear backup light at center.

All this is good, but Cadillac takes the CTS interior to new heights for the class, doing exactly what I’ve always said they’ve needed to by offering a more premium experience than even Audi, BMW or Mercedes-Benz. I spoke of a sense of occasion earlier, and to that end Cadillac goes the extra mile in every respect. First, they add a variety of stitched leathers, leatherettes and ultra-suede throughout. Overtop the dash, a solid piece of contrast stitched leather lay ahead of the driver, which gets surrounded by a perforated leather section also hovering above the instrument panel from the left side of the primary gauges to the right side of the center stack, and then yet more solid leather stretching out over what remains of the left and right portions of the dash top before wrapping all the way down the center stack to the lower console. Cadillac trims the inner portion of the center stack with perforated leather, while the lower portions of the dash, even including the section under the driver’s knees and the glove box lid, are soft-touch synthetic. This goes far beyond what any of the German manufacturers do, unless you purchase one of their AMG, M, or RS branded cars, but there’s still a great deal more that makes this CTS interior stand out.

I haven’t yet mentioned that thin strips of that suede-like material finish off each corner of the dash top prior to visually blending into the door uppers as well, the latter areas also finished with a solid leather above that, contrast stitched like the dash. The doors get soft-touch synthetic right to their lower extremities, even including the hidden portions that gets shut within the frame (once again I reference the Rolls-Royce Ghost, one of few vehicles I know that pays such great attention to detail), as do the sides of the center console, while there’s yet more suede dressing up the latter area as well as the center armrest/storage bin lid just behind, therefore if you’re looking for true luxury pampering and a whole new feeling of refinement the CTS is finished to a higher level than any other car in its class.

Additionally, attractive dark chromed metal and open pore natural elm hardwood complemented my test car’s design, plus plenty of piano black lacquered plastic, the latter especially nice on the steering wheel spokes and center stack where touch-sensitive controls make for a higher tech look and flush feel, while Cadillac even goes so far as to cover the console-mounted dual cupholders with a stitched leather lid that powers open and closed.

I must admit, however, that I’m not a big fan of the Kona Brown color of the wonderfully soft semi-aniline full leather upholstery in my tester. It’s more of a caramel brown that looks a lot like the cheap naugahyde I remember as a kid, which covered kitchen chairs, old men’s briefcases and other items that didn’t exactly exude the luxury lifestyle. I’d be happier with black, beige, cream or some other version of caramel, Kona Brown looking even less appealing on the back seats where there’s more to see, but this may just be a personal taste issue.

2016 Cadillac CTS V6 AWD

At least that rear seat is roomy enough, and extremely comfortable. Cadillac has finished the door panels in back just as nicely as those up front, so everybody gets a premium experience, while they went even further in my test car by including a nice airy panoramic sunroof overhead, a powered rear sunshade and manual sunshades at each side window, plus rear climate controls on the backside of the center console that were also fitted with three-way buttons for the heatable outboard seats. Really, sometimes I wish I were the one being driven around instead of vice versa.

Back up front, the heatable steering wheel controller is right where it needs to be, on a steering wheel spoke instead of buried somewhere on the instrument panel as is more often the case with other brands, while the cluster of gauges framed by the wheel is packed full of state-of-the-art TFT goodness that includes a large digitized analog-look speedometer at center, a semi-circular tachometer surrounding a multi-information display to the left, plus temp and fuel gauges above and below another multi-info display to the right, all of its colorful details displayed on the finest of ultra-sharp high-resolution screens. The colors change depending on which driving mode you’re in, Tour or Snow/Ice being blue, Sport being appropriately red, while different graphics (a checkered flag, snowflakes, etc.) and information pops up when pertinent to weather, fuel economy, and more.

2016 Cadillac CTS V6 AWD

Move over to the center stack and Cadillac’s brilliantly clear, crisp and colorful eight-inch CUE infotainment system has been upgraded with a 360-degree camera for easier and safer parking, plus the addition of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. I’ve long since abandoned Apple’s iPhone for reasons I won’t take time to communicate here, and being that Android Auto is a late 2016 MY introduction I didn’t get opportunity to test how it works in this CTS, although I’ve used it in other vehicles and find it provides a more intuitive and interactive user interface as well as access to plenty of useful apps, while making sure info, such as POIs, stays current, and most important of all improving voice activation from where it has been, mostly useless, to where it’s been for some time in the smartphone world, good enough to use for all of my note taking including comments on this very car.

All of this should be excellent news to CTS fans, but even better are mechanical upgrades that transform the way each model drives. I’m not going to go into any detail about the new CTS-V other than to say I’d love a stint behind the wheel and hope to one day get time with it on a track, because that’s where a 6.2-liter V8-powered rear-drive sport sedan with no less than 640 horsepower and 630 lb-ft of torque should best be experienced. That model gets a new eight-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters, which I’m happy to inform is similar to the eight-speed autobox that’s now found across the entire CTS line, from the base turbo four-cylinder and the mid-grade 3.6-liter V6-powered model I tested this time around, to the twin-turbo version of this engine that comes in the VSport I drove in 2014. Mated to this engine’s level of performance, which is still impressive at 321 horsepower and 275 lb-ft of torque, it’s a much more entertaining package than the six-speed used last year, with quicker shifts between increments of engagement that are more precisely focused on the engine’s 4,800 to 6,800 rpm sweet spot, where it creates the most torque and horsepower respectively, while it’s also wonderfully smooth shifting.

As noted earlier, a Sport mode is included, which enhances just about everything including the immediacy of shifts, while the ride, which is already firm, is made more rigid for improved handling. Take note that the CTS is already one of the lightest sedans in its class, therefore, along with a well-engineered fully independent sport-tuned chassis it takes to corners with a level of quiet, controlled command that won’t have anyone missing their Teutonic four-door, although I repeat the ride is very firm. You can feel every wrinkle in the road, and when a bigger bump arrives it hits you with a thud from below. Still, I just love driving this car. It begs you to go faster, with a really energetic pull off the line, great engine and exhaust notes that only get better as the revs climb, and brilliantly fun handling, yet it’s also a superb long-range highway cruiser.

Countering this performance-focused capability the CTS doesn’t hold back with fuel-friendly features either. Along with that eight-speed gearbox that Cadillac claims is good for a five-percent gain in economy, a green feature that started with hybrids yet is now making its way into conventionally powered models like this CTS is auto start/stop, which shuts the engine down when it would otherwise be idling and therefore reduces fuel consumption and emissions. This is the norm amongst German competitors too, but none of them offer cylinder deactivation technology that shuts down three of the six cylinders under light loads, such as coasting. Additionally, a default feature on the CTS’ gauge package is a fuel economy indicator that displays real time average consumption. A flashy gold bar shoots across the middle of the screen as you start using more throttle, and continues right up to scary levels of gluttony when getting harder on the throttle, 5 mpg seeming to be where it stops estimating at full throttle, although I’m pretty sure that’s not its real foot-to-the-floor fuel economy. It still served as a good reminder to go lighter on the throttle more often than not, which helped me eke out a weeklong average 15.5 mpg, or so said the gauge.

The CTS with this engine and AWD is actually EPA rated at 19 mpg city, 28 highway and 22 combined, whereas the same car with rear-drive offers slightly friendlier consumption at an estimated 20 city, 30 highway and 24 combined. If you want all the size, quality and style while still enjoying a commendable 272 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque the CTS 2.0L Turbo delivers a claimed 21 city, 31 highway and 25 combined with RWD and 21, 29 and 24 with AWD, whereas the twin-turbo VSport V6, good for 420 horsepower and 430 lb-ft of torque, is rated at 16 city, 24 highway and 19 combined. The CTS-V? Who cares?

2016 Cadillac CTS V6 AWD

What I cared about at least as much as my tester’s fuel economy was its much less expensive requirement for regular unleaded gasoline, saving my wallet about 10 percent compared to higher octane fuels necessitated by every German competitor, while the added convenience of a capless refueling system was a bonus too.

As for complaints, I only have one that’s carried over from both previous models tested, a problem I was quickly reminded of as soon as I started driving away from GM: the CTS’ panoramic sunroof creaks and groans non-stop. It’s never leaked, thank goodness, but it certainly doesn’t build confidence in the car’s overall build quality or structural rigidity, even though everything looks top grade and it feels absolutely rock solid when pitching it hard through the corners. It will probably continue on without issue for the duration of the car’s life, but until this gets fixed (and it’s been three years now) Cadillac had better keep its salespeople talking during the test drive or smarter yet, have them crank up the superb audio system so that those enjoying its other attributes won’t notice the creaky spooks in the attic, which are probably not the kind of ghosts Cadillac wants its CTS compared to.

That UltraView panoramic sunroof comes as part of the Luxury package that, at $52,280 for RWD and $54,280 for AWD features a number other items grandfathered up to my Premium tester, including the heatable steering wheel mentioned earlier, plus adaptive cornering and auto-leveling HID headlamps with auto high beam function, a driver-side auto-dimming side mirror, rain-sensing wipers, a powered steering column, navigation with voice and text guidance, two additional speakers added to the base model’s active noise cancellation-enhanced 11-speaker Bose surround sound system, ambient interior lighting, leather upholstery, heatable and ventilated front seats, plus split-folding rear seatbacks plus a lockable center pass-through behind the armrest.

I should mention that all CTS trims get active aero grille shutters, LED DRLs, heatable powered side mirrors with integrated turn signals, adaptive remote start, proximity-sensing passive access with pushbutton ignition, variable intermittent wipers, a tilt and telescopic leather-wrapped steering wheel, paddle shifters, an eight-inch CUE infotainment touchscreen with haptic feedback and proximity sensing interactive gesture control, smartphone app integration and SMS text messaging read-back, a reverse camera with dynamic guidelines, Bluetooth with audio streaming, OnStar 4G LTE with Wi-Fi hotspot capability, satellite and HD radio, wireless charging, a universal home remote, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, rear parking sonar, plus driver’s seat and side mirror memory. The base model starts at $46,555 for RWD and $48,555 for AWD.

Along with these features my Premium tester received much of what’s available with Performance trim that starts at $57,280 for RWD and $59,280 for AWD, such as magnetic ride control, 18-inch alloys, illuminated door handles, illuminated front doorsill plates, a color head-up display atop the dash, tri-zone auto HVAC with rear climate controls, heatable rear seats, the Surround Vision camera, the powered rear window sunshade and manual side sunshades, and park assist that automates front, rear and parallel parking.

Lastly, specific to my Premium tester, which starts at $61,680 for RWD and $63,680 for AWD, although my particular car was fitted with the V6 and AWD as already noted so its price was $65,680 plus a few options, was a unique grille insert, the 12.3-inch reconfigurable colored gauge cluster noted in detail earlier, sport alloy pedals, 20-way performance driver and front passenger seats with manual cushion length adjustment and power side bolster adjustment, full leather upholstery, the choice of authentic carbon fiber or wood interior inlays, full-speed adaptive cruise control, a household style 110-volt power outlet added to the front center console, an advanced security package with a tilt sensor, steering column lock, locking wheel lug nuts and laminated rear door window glass, plus unique 18-inch wheels. The 15-spoke polished aluminum rims mentioned earlier were optional, however, while 19-inch 10-spoke polished alloys are also available.

As far as safety goes my Premium tester included exclusive front and rear automatic braking and automatic seatbelt tightening, plus the Luxury model’s extensive active safety upgrades including its side blind zone alert, lane change alert, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, forward collision alert, rear cross-traffic alert, and the Standard model’s tire pressure monitoring, four-wheel discs with ABS, electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist, stability and traction control, and full suite of airbags including driver and front passenger knee blockers and rear outboard side-thorax bags.

The CTS earned a five-star crash test rating from the NHTSA, no doubt due to these many safety features, but oddly there isn’t a single Cadillac model on the IIHS’ Top Safety Pick recommendation list. It’s one of the highest rated luxury brands in J.D. Power’s latest 2015 Vehicle Dependability Study, mind you, ranked second amongst premium brands (or third if you include Buick as premium), which puts it ahead of all the Germans, most of the Japanese, etcetera.


Overall, from its cutting edge styling, gorgeous interior design, unparalleled materials quality and execution, to its impressive load of luxury features and superb performance the CTS is an excellent choice in the mid-size E-segment, and now with its mechanical and infotainment upgrades it’s more than worthy of even stronger sales.

Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press; Photo credits: Karen Tuggay; American Auto Press; Copyright: American Auto Press

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