I'm piloting a $67,925 2016 Cadillac CTS4, and it’s a very modern experience. The seat belt tugs at me when the car thinks I’m going to hit that pedestrian in the gym parking lot, and it tightens when it anticipates a collision.
The rear cameras are there to help me when I back up, and beeps, displays and alerts show me that lane-keep assist, forward collision, lane change, side blind zone and rear cross-traffic alerts are all active. The high beams dip when oncoming traffic appears (a feature I love) and the wipers have “rainsense.” Auto stop shuts the car down at stoplights, which (when coupled with direct injection and active fuel management) is how a 3.6-liter V-6 with 335 horsepower, 3,745 pounds to move and all-wheel drive manages 22 mpg combined.
Wow, you’d think the car could drive itself. Well, with lane-keep assist, rear automatic braking and adaptive cruise control, it’s on the way there.
Cadillac’s Cue infotainment system is a mixed bag for me. I really, really like volume knobs, and the CDs in the door pockets are useless because the car (following a big trend) doesn’t have a CD player. I couldn’t figure out how to access FM radio from the default XM, so made do with the Grateful Dead channel. “Touch of Grey” sounded nice through the Bose speakers. But I could access music from my cellphone, hard drive, iPod or anything else on the planet. Did I mention the built-in 4G hotspot?
The CTS is set up for Apple CarPlay, which is already in some Corvettes, including one I’ll be testing next week. (Can’t wait.)
Considering where GM, and especially Cadillac, was in the 1970s and 1980s, this is a formidable car, up there with the best from Germany. It handles crisply, holds the road spectacularly well, and accelerates like a cat on a hot tin roof.
Cadillac has reinvented itself, and it’s going further under the leadership of Johan de Nysschen, a recent transplant from Nissan. I was used to his smooth performance at auto shows for the Japanese automaker; recently I’ve seen him seamlessly shift his forceful advocacy to Cadillac as he introduced the flagship CT6. GM will invest $12 billion by 2020, and eight new models are under development. De Nysschen told the New York Times he wants to see more crossover utilities.
In those aforementioned dark days, the Cadillac had evolved from a symbol of excellence to a stodgy luxury barge that only dad could appreciate. Every year, more Cadillac loyalists died. But, beginning in the '90s, the brand has been moving forward. “Cadillac’s latest models, particularly the ATS and CTS sedans, are as good as Germany’s best — maybe even better in some ways,” reports the Motley Fool.
But the public hasn’t always gotten the memo, and 2014 wasn’t a good year for Cadillac. Sales were down 3.1 in the first half of 2015, too, though globally the brand has seen some growth. Now based in New York, Cadillac is pushing the sophistication angle and going all out to make inroads into German hegemony.
Cadillac's Dave Caldwell offers this strategy: "To gain more traction with certain groups of existing luxury buyers, we have a slate of activities aimed at getting people into our cars. Cadillac is turning up in unexpected places, meeting luxury consumers in new ways. We have new partnerships in the fashion industry, gaining exposure with tastemakers and influencers. We have driving events around the U.S. in which we give competitive car owners the chance to experience our newest products."
According to Caldwell, "Conquesting longtime German car people is certainly a goal," but he added that "a generational shift is occurring" and many luxury buyers today are entering that space for the first time. "We expect that within five years, 80 percent of the luxury market will consist of Gen X and millennials, and 20 percent will be baby boomers," he said. "That's the direct opposite of the proportions today."
One of the hurdles for the CTS is that $67,000 price on my test car — these cars bristle with technology, but they aren’t cheap. Cadillac chose to make nearly everything standard on this car, from Brembo brakes to leather seats and the Cue system with navigation. The tester had $2,245 worth of options, but nothing you really need.
There may not be a huge price advantage in buying domestic here, but I’d still give Cadillac serious consideration. If you’re deterred by “the parts falling off this car are of the finest American manufacture” factor, don’t worry too much. Cadillac quality has improved a whole lot. Consumer Reports says of the CTS, “We expect reliability of new models will be 29 percent above average.”
I’ll admit it: I’m impressed by this car, and other people will be too, if Cadillac can get more rear ends into test seats.