Pros: Spacious interior; great driving characteristics; plenty of available technology options
Cons: Cramped rearward visibility; pricey with options packages
Cadillac has made it clear that it's gunning directly for the German competition with the CTS, especially starting with the second-generation car, which came out in 2008. Since then, Cadillac has been tweaking styling, options, and technologies to keep up. The major appearance change for 2012 is a new grille, intended to give the CTS a sportier character, but the most important difference is under the hood.
Technological changes to the optional 3.6-liter V6 engine add up to 14 more horsepower at 318 hp. The new engine is also 21 pounds lighter, but on a vehicle with a curb weight of 3,854 pounds, suffice it to say that the 21 pounds of saved weight don't cause big performance gains.
Comfort & Utility
Utility is one of the CTS's strong points, but how much you get is fully dependent on what body style you buy. With Coupe, Sport Sedan and Sport Wagon variations, there's a CTS for just about any use. Not surprisingly, the coupe offers the least utility, while the wagon has the most. The sedan offers a fair amount of trunk space, but its drawback is its small opening. An impromptu trip to the driving range proved that a bag of golf clubs had to be placed in the trunk diagonally, leaving no space for a second bag.
Inside, the CTS is comfortable. The standard seats can be a bit flat and stiff, making it uncomfortable to sit in them on extended trips. The top Premium model is available with Recaro performance seats, which have more adjustable supports for lumbar, bolsters and overall position than one can count. In our week with the car, we made the five-hour drive from Chicago to Detroit and didn't have to get out for anything other than fuel either way.
We really appreciated the knee extensions on the long drive, as we found the aperture of the pedal box a little cramped. The knee extensions allowed us to keep our legs at a straighter angle, making it easier to fit into the tight quarters.
Up front, the CTS feels spacious and offers plenty of head and shoulder room. Six-foot-plus passengers have no problems in the front seats. The back feels a bit more cramped, but mainly because of the C-pillars in the rear, which are so thick that they encroach on shoulder room and give the impression that something is looming over your shoulder.
Cadillac luxury is present in the form of such niceties as hand-sewn accents, sapele wood trim, heated and ventilated seats and an optional heated steering wheel. All-wheel drive is an option.
One of the big selling points of the CTS is its interior technology. In navigation-equipped models, it becomes apparent immediately after starting the car when a screen rises from its resting place in the dash. The touchscreen interface is decently intuitive, if a little sluggish. The system offers connectivity for an iPod and satellite radio as well as GM's OnStar concierge service. With XM radio service enabled, the navigation also utilizes XM's real-time traffic reports and helps you alter your route to get around jams ahead. Our only qualm is that the Bluetooth connection can only be used for phone calls, not for streaming music from a device like an iPhone, a feature readily found in the car's competitors.
The Bose 5.1 surround sound audio system is absolutely fantastic. Default settings are a little heavy on the bass, but that's to be expected with a Bose system and can be easily adjusted to rein it in. The system can even be adjusted based on how many passengers are in the car, and adjusts the speakers' delivery accordingly. A backup camera is standard on any cars with navigation, which is a nice feature to have with those thick C-pillars.
Performance & Fuel Economy
A 3.0-liter direct injection V6 is standard; it makes 270 horsepower and 220 lb-ft of torque. As mentioned above, the CTS's optional 3.6-liter V6 benefits from a 14-hp boost to 318 hp, with 275 lb-ft of torque. Transmission choices are a six-speed manual or an optional six-speed automatic transmission.
The previous powerplant never had a hard time pushing the CTS around, but the new one does feel a bit peppier. Overtakes on the highway are pretty effortless once the automatic transmission kicks down - which does take some coaxing - and the power is more than ample for city driving.
Mileage is listed at 18 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway. With fastidious use of cruise control, we were able to see as much as 30 mpg on the highway.
The CTS received four stars for rollover protection and five stars in every other crash test from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The Cadillac received highest rating in all tests performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which gave the 2012 CTS sedan a Top Safety Pick honors.
Standard safety features include active front head restraints, front and side impact airbags and front and rear head curtain airbags.
When Cadillac announced the CTS, a large part of its marketing was spent on the fact that the car was developed on the Nürburgring. Since this legendary road-racing course is where the German manufacturers develop the acclaimed handling of their sport sedans, one would think Cadillac has done something similar with its CTS, and that thought would be correct. The CTS is extremely adept at carving its way through corners and helping the driver feel a confident sense of control.
Those looking for the smooth ride of old Cadillacs may be disappointed, however. The ride in the CTS is considerably stiffer and can even be harsh when driving over potholes and speed bumps.
Other Cars to Consider
BMW 3 Series: It's hard to compete with the manufacturer that invented the segment. The BMW, with so much experience to its credit, offers a much more refined driving experience than the Cadillac. The CTS can offer more value for money, however.
Audi A4: The Audi's interior is at the top of the class, as is usually the case from Audi, and the A4 is very refined. More equipment comes as standard on the Cadillac, but watch out for its options list, which could easily put you in the A6 price range.
Infiniti G37: The Infiniti is the top value of the four and offers a lot of good qualities for the money. Fully specced, the G37's price tops out at $46,000, quite a distance from the $54,000 price of the CTS we tested.
While we really enjoyed the Touring package car we had for our week of testing, the presence of elements such as the seats and steering wheel out of the faster CTS-V doesn't make much sense without the V's supercharged V8 engine.
We'd recommend the Performance package, as it gets you 3.6-liter V6, instead of the more anemic three-liter. This package also allows you to choose anything off the options list.