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SANTA BARBARA, CALIF. -- Truth be told, the outgoing Cadillac CTS was parent General Motors' best car.
It wasn't "best" in the fastest, most fuel-efficient or most practical sense. No, I mean "best" as in "most competitive." So let's just say expectations were high during the rollout of the new third-generation 2014 Cadillac CTS mid-sized luxury sedan here in sunny California.
As one of the first vehicles to arrive as part of Cadillac's so-called Art & Science design renaissance, the original 2003 CTS sedan was groundbreaking for GM. While rival American luxury brand Lincoln was saddled with having to pretty-up mainstream Ford vehicles, GM spent big bucks on making Cadillac competitive with the class-leading Germans, blessing the CTS with a unique, rear-wheel-drive platform, plenty of NÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂºrburgring track time and edgy styling.
The small Caddy was a success. So much so that the second-generation 2008 CTS became the "best" car in GM's garage, highlighted by the addition of all-wheel drive (a must-have with Canadian luxury buyers), coupe and wagon models, and an interior that rivalled the best in the class. So how has Cadillac made the third-gen CTS better than the "best"?
For starters, the five-passenger, four-door 2014 CTS sedan (a coupe is likely, no word on the return of the wagon, though) is easier to define in the marketplace. As Cadillac's entry-level offering, the first two generations of CTS were priced like compacts but were sized larger. With the arrival of the compact ATS, the 2014 CTS becomes a true mid-size sedan. Sharing similar dimensions with the BMW 5-Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class, the 2014 CTS is longer overall and has a longer wheelbase than before.
In regard to fit and finish, the 2014 CTS sedan's interior picks up where the last model left off and ups the ante with more personalization options. Eight colour schemes and four choices of dash and door-panel trim can be combined infinitely.
The 2014 CTS's larger proportions suggest rear passengers will be coddled more, and they are. The extra wheelbase adds legroom, and the rear seats are scooped out to tuck passenger noggins underneath the newly lowered roofline.
Luxury buyers expect the latest in safety tech, and the 2014 CTS doesn't disappoint. A driver awareness package adds Cadillac's patented safety alert seat system (it vibrates the driver's seat for blind spot or rear backup collision warnings). The new CTS also gets GM's first application of "automatic safety belt-tightening" that takes slack out of the belts when buckled and adjusts while on the move.
The only stain on the new CTS interior is Cadillac's CUE infotainment system. Centred on an eight-inch, high-resolution colour touchscreen, its haptic feedback controls are inconsistent in use, and the overall design seems as if Cadillac designers were being different for the sake of being different. Hopefully a redesign is in the works.
Until the eight-cylinder, high-performance CTS-V shows up next year, the 2014 models can be had with three engines, rear- or all-wheel drive and either six- or eight-speed automatic gearboxes.
Rated at 272 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque, the base model CTS's turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder gas engine comes with rear- or optional all-wheel drive and a six-speed autobox. Next up is a naturally aspirated 3.6L six-cylinder with 321 hp and 20 fewer lb.-ft. than the blown four. Sitting at the top of the range is the twin-turbo six-cylinder CTS Vsport. It comes with the eight-speed automatic transmission only, rear-wheel drive with an electronic slip rear differential and is rated at a healthy 420 hp and 430 lb.-ft. of torque.
Aiming to be the lightest sedan in its class, the 2014 CTS has many lightweight features -- such as aluminum doors -- that also create a near-50/50 weight distribution. As a result, Cadillac says the new CTS weighs less overall than the outgoing version and about 90 kilograms less than a BMW 528i.
Using a version of the smaller ATS's suspension setup, and GM's excellent three-mode Magnetic Ride Control, the 2014 CTS leans toward the "sport" side of the "luxury/sport" sedan equation on the road. Switch the console-mounted mode selector from Touring to Sport or Track in the CTS Vsport, for instance, and the eight-speed auto shifts more quickly, throttle response is sharper, steering gets less boost for more feel and the ride is firmer for less chassis roll in corners.
Whether it was the top-line Vsport or the not-so-base model 2.0T, the 2014 CTS feels much smaller when being driven hard than its mid-size dimensions suggest. The CTS's electric steering with variable assist delivers a good amount of off-centre push-back, while not reacting too much to disruptions at pavement level.
Canadian pricing wasn't available at this event. But in the U.S., 2014 CTS MSRPs range from $46,025 for the 2.0T to a little over $60,000 for the Vsport. You'll find comparably equipped rivals such as the Audi A6, BMW 5-Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class cost about $10,000 more overall.
I'm not sure what else Cadillac can do to pry the hands of luxury car buyers from the wheels of their German luxury sedans. But building on the critical success of last year's BMW 3-Series-challenging ATS sedan, the new 2014 CTS not only continues as GM's "best" car, it now has enough of the right stuff to challenge for "best in class."
-- Postmedia Network Inc. 2013