In the midsize luxury sedan class, the Mercedes-Benz E-Class is the heavy hitter, and it's not surprising why. Wearing the very definition of an aspirational brand on its grille like a twinkling beacon of success, the Mercedes-Benz E-Class is what people park in their driveway when they want to tell the world they've finally made it ... made it to the point where they can swing the lease payment, anyway.
The new 2014 Cadillac CTS proves that Cadillac is not sitting by idly as it rebuilds its credibility as the "standard of the world." Longer, larger and better equipped, the new CTS is solidly positioned to go head-to-head against the Benz. Before we compare the two, let's look at what Cadillac and Mercedes have in store for mid-luxury sedan buyers this year.
2014 Cadillac CTS Highlights
With the ATS sitting at the bottom of Cadillac's lineup, the 2014 CTS is redesigned and moves firmly into mid-luxe territory. The competition on this playing field is stiff, but Cadillac brings serious game, and the new CTS is credibly positioned to take on the best in the class.
2014 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Highlights
In the face of this and other threats to its dominance in the mid-luxury market, Mercedes upgrades the E-Class Sedan for 2014, adding a new turbodiesel model, installing new standard and optional safety technologies and sprucing up the styling.
With the stage set, let's look closer at these two direct competitors to determine if you should go with this or if you should go with that. This article does not, however, include the high-performance versions of either model, the CTS-V or the E63 AMG.
Cadillac offers three different engines for the new 2014 CTS. The 2.0T models are equipped with a 27 horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, while the 3.6 models have a 321-hp 3.6-liter V6. The performance-oriented CTS Vsport has Cadillac's new twin-turbocharged 3.6-liter V6, pumping out a robust 420 hp. An all-wheel-drive system is optional for the nonturbocharged V6.
Over at the Mercedes-Benz store, the E-Class is available with a turbodiesel 4-cylinder engine, a V6 engine, a gas-electric hybrid powertrain or a twin-turbocharged 4.6-liter V8. The E250 BlueTec turbodiesel makes 195 hp, which doesn't sound impressive. Torque measures 369 lb-ft at just 1,600 rpm, which is very impressive. The E350 has a 302-hp 3.5-liter V6 engine, and this powerplant also forms the basis for the E400 Hybrid model's powertrain, which generates a combined 329 hp. The E550's twin-turbo V8 makes 402 hp and is paired exclusively with 4Matic AWD. 4Matic is optional for the E250 BlueTec and E350 models.
In addition to offering greater powertrain variety, Mercedes also delivers better fuel economy, and all its engines have Eco Start/Stop technology. The volume-selling E350 models return 23-24 miles per gallon compared to 21-23 mpg for the Cadillac CTS 2.0T and 3.6 models. The E550 4Matic is rated to get 20 mpg, which is right in the same neighborhood as the CTS Vsport. Plus, Mercedes offers the E400 Hybrid (26 mpg) and the E250 BlueTec (32-34 mpg). Cadillac doesn't have a train to compete against these models.
There is no doubt. The E-Class is the more fuel-efficient luxury sedan.
When it comes to safety technology, the 2014 Cadillac CTS and 2014 Mercedes E-Class are exceptionally well equipped and offer an impressive list of optional upgrades. It is no surprise, then, to discover that for nearly every safety feature offered by the CTS, the E-Class is available with something identical or similar. However, Mercedes goes the extra mile, making several thoughtful and practical items either standard or optional for the E-Class.
It is true that Cadillac offers a Safety Alert Seat that vibrates in response to sensed threats, but the E-Class has a steering wheel that vibrates when the Lane Keeping Assist system senses the driver drifting. That delivers the message to the part of the body responsible for correcting the problem. Plus, the Benz can be optioned with active versions of Lane Keeping Assist and Blind Spot Assist, and is also available with Steering Assist, forward Cross Traffic Assist and a Pedestrian Detection system. The COMAND infotainment system allows the driver to use a 360-degree camera and front camera views at very low speeds, and every E-Class has Attention Assist, a drowsy-driver detection system.
Neither model has been subjected to crash tests. However, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rated last year's E-Class a Top Safety Pick. As for the Cadillac CTS, it is based on the same basic vehicle architecture as the smaller ATS, which is, in the eyes of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a crash-test rock star.
Assuming each of these luxury sedans proves its mettle in crash tests, the nod still goes to the E-Class for its more thoughtful and diverse range of safety technologies.
Except for its 3.6-liter V6 engine, the 2014 Cadillac CTS is brand-new from the ground up, and it is way too early to assess whether it will be reliable. However, in looking at the previous CTS model's track record with both Consumer Reports and J.D. Power, the future for this new model looks bright.
During the past few years, the Mercedes-Benz E-Class has come close to equaling the Cadillac in reliability, dependability and quality but hasn't turned in quite as commendable a performance. Nevertheless, it is no slouch in this regard. So, for now, we'll call this one a draw.
In terms of pricing, the 2014 CTS represents a better value, as it stickers for thousands of dollars less than the 2014 E-Class and comes with free scheduled maintenance during the 4-year/50,000-mile warranty period. The exception to the cost/benefit analysis is the CTS 3.6, which is actually $1,800 more than the equivalent E350, the most popular version of the Mercedes and the one for which lease deals are readily available.
One reason Mercedes can regularly offer lease deals is that the E-Class enjoys an average depreciation rating from ALG. The market research firm hasn't assessed the redesigned Cadillac's ability to hold its value over time, but the previous CTS, as good a car as it was, fared poorly in this regard, earning a below-average rating. If that trend continues for the new CTS, the value of the lower price tags and free maintenance erodes quickly.
Also, because the CTS is so new and dealers are still trying to sell old CTS models, there aren't any deals on the Cadillac. We doubt, though, that any Cadillac dealer would let a customer walk away in favor of the E-Class, and we bet they'll find a way to sweeten the deal to keep the customer at the Cadillac store.
We're going to give the Cadillac CTS the subtlest of nods here, one that could easily go in the other direction with minor changes in the market.
When you're talking about mid-luxury sedans such as the CTS and E-Class, the lists of standard and optional features are long. While the Cadillac and the Mercedes don't cancel each other out completely, each offers a handful of unique technologies that could serve as a deciding factor.
For example, the CTS is available with triple-zone climate control, while the E-Class comes with a dual-zone system. The Mercedes is available with a massaging driver's seat and a rear-seat entertainment system, while the Cadillac's owner can remotely start the engine to get the car's heater going in advance of a drive on a wintry day, or to get the air conditioning blowing on a muggy summer day.
If you shop for a new car on the basis of the available technology, the choice between the CTS or the E-Class is personal, so we're not calling an advantage either way.
Based on these five assessment criteria, the 2014 Mercedes-Benz E-Class retains its right to the midsize luxury sedan sales crown in comparison to the all-new 2014 Cadillac CTS. Still, the Benz doesn't win this contest by a wide margin. If the new CTS proves itself to be as reliable as the old CTS, or if Cadillac figures out a way to milk the engines for greater fuel economy, the tables could easily turn in the CTS sedan's favor.
And it sure doesn't hurt Cadillac that Millennials reportedly don't want to drive the same car their parents do. Now, if they could just find good paying jobs to afford their first new CTS.