Pros: Spacious interior; great driving characteristics; plenty of available technology

Cons: Poor rearward visibility; pricey with options packages

What's New: Updated grille; base sedan discontinued

Cadillac has made it clear that it's gunning directly for the German competition. The quintessential upscale American brand has spent the last decade or so exploring the sportier side of luxury motoring to better compete with the best of Europe. The CTS, especially the second-generation model that came out in 2008, has been instrumental in establishing Cadillac as an exciting alternative to BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi.

The 2013 Cadillac CTS is mostly unchanged from the 2012 model. Each variant--sedan, coupe and wagon--gets a new chrome-finish grille and standard remote start. The base sedan is no longer offered. The 2013 CTS sedan comes standard with the Luxury option package.

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 three variations, there's a CTS for just about any use. Not surprisingly, the coupe offers the least utility and the wagon has the most. The sedan offers a fair amount of trunk space, but its small opening is a drawback. 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 them uncomfortable on extended trips. The top Premium model is available with Recaro performance seats. The Recaros have more adjustable supports for lumbar, bolsters and overall position than you 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 of the car except to refuel. We really appreciated the knee extensions, 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 room for heads and shoulders. Six-foot-plus passengers have no problems in the front seats. The back feels a bit more cramped, mainly because of the C-pillars. The thick uprights at the back of the greenhouse encroach on space 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 also an option.

Technology

One of the big selling points of the CTS is its interior technology. In navigation-equipped models, the emphasis on technology becomes apparent immediately after starting the car, when a screen rises from its resting place in the dash. The touchscreen interface is decently intuitive, even 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. Our only qualm is that the Bluetooth connection can only be used for phone calls, not for streaming music from a smartphone, a feature is 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; speakers then deliver accordingly. A backup camera is standard on any cars with navigation, which is a nice feature to have with the limited rearward visibility.

Performance & Fuel Economy

A 3.0-liter direct injection V6 is standard in the sedan and wagon; it makes 270 horsepower and 220 lb-ft of torque. The optional 3.6-liter V6--the only engine choice for the coupe--produces 318 hp and 275 lb-ft of torque. Transmission choices are a 6-speed manual or an optional 6-speed automatic transmission.

Changes to the 3.6-liter engine for the 2012 model year resulted in a 14-hp bump in output, making it feel a bit peppier than its predecessor. Overtaking other cars on the highway is fairly effortless once the automatic transmission kicks down, which does take some coaxing, and the power is more than ample for city driving.

In a CTS sedan equipped with the optional engine, fuel economy is rated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) 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.

Safety

Both the CTS sedan and wagon earned the federal government's top five-star safety rating. The coupe has not been rated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The sedan also earned a Top Safety Pick designation from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Standard safety features include active front head restraints, front and side impact airbags and front and rear head curtain airbags.

Driving Impressions

When Cadillac announced the CTS, a large part of its marketing was spent on the fact that the car was developed on the Nurburgring. 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 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 sport sedan segment. With so much experience to its credit, the BMW offers a more refined driving experience than the Cadillac, but the CTS can offer more value for the money.

Audi A4: Audi interiors are typically high-class, and the A4 is very refined. The Cadillac offers more standard equipment than the A4, but shop carefully. Adding to many pricey options could easily put you in Audi A6 price range.

Infiniti G37: The Infiniti is the top value of the four and offers a lot of good qualities. Fully loaded, the G37's price tops out at $46,000, a significant savings over the $54,000 price of the CTS we tested.

AutoTrader Recommends

While we really enjoyed the Touring package-equipped test car, performance-minded elements from the faster CTS-V, such as the seats and steering wheel, don't make much sense without the V's supercharged V8 engine. We'd recommend the 2013 Cadillac CTS with the Performance package. It gets you 3.6-liter V6, instead of the less potent 3-liter. This package also allows you to choose anything off the options list.

author photo

Nick Palermo is an automotive writer and lifelong car nut. He follows new and late-model used vehicles for AutoTrader.com, writes about vintage cars for Hemmings Classic Wheels and blogs on all things automotive at LivingVroom. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and twins.

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