c.2014 New York Times News Service

c.2014 New York Times News Service

When Cadillac set out to revive its arthritic cars and unfashionable image, beginning with the original CTS sedan of 2003, the brand seemed as retirement-ready as many of its customers.

But with billions of dollars from its parent, General Motors, and German competitors to inspire it, Cadillac is becoming the mobile version of a gentrified neighborhood. The old-timers have begun to move out, replaced by younger buyers who appreciate startling makeovers and unexpected twists on tradition.

Cadillac still has a ways to go to match the cachet of German luxury brands. But the third-generation CTS puts Cadillac firmly in the conversation. That conversation may seem muddled for luxury shoppers, because the 2014 CTS speaks in many tongues, with three available engines, rear- or all-wheel drive and sticker prices that are likely to shock many Cadillac shoppers.

So at the risk of oversimplification, letís simplify: The new CTS lineup includes one respectable luxury car and one truly exceptional car. That special car, the CTS Vsport, with a new 420-horsepower twin-turbo V-6, is one of the most thrilling, focused sport sedans around ó good enough, in fact, to trump most rivals from Japan or Germany.

Strangely, the Vsport can actually cost less than the merely good basic CTS versions with less powerful four- or six-cylinder engines.


The harbinger of these new Cadillacs, the original 2003 CTS, was a shovel-nosed attention-getter, like an ex-jock broadcaster wearing a loud jacket. As Cadillacís confidence has grown, its designs have matured. While the brandís signature sharp creases have softened, its cars remain instantly recognizable and distinctly American. The interiors are remarkably improved, including leather and fabric trim that has been cut and stitched by hand.

Setting aside GMís old, isolationist ways, Cadillac has mimicked the Germans with rigorous engineering development at the NŁrburgring track. And like the Germans, Cadillac has enthusiastically melded sport, luxury and technology.


The CTSí new brother, the compact ATS, has ably accepted its mission as a BMW 3 Series fighter. That frees the CTS, which shares the ATSí chassis, to move upmarket. Stretched 4.5 inches from the last version, the CTS is now a true midsize contender, a direct challenger to the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series, Lexus GS and Mercedes E-Class.

With a leaner body and lower roofline, the CTS balances flash and subtlety in appealing fashion. The mostly graceful interior offers a handsome, reconfigurable digital driverís display and a choice of eight types of trim, including wood, aluminum and carbon fiber.

But for all the gains in visuals or features, what makes this a legitimate luxury sport sedan is the painstaking engineering beneath the skin. Once notorious for corpulent cars, Cadillac subjected every component to a gram-by-gram weight-saving strategy. Aluminum is used for the hood, doors and instrument-panel frame, magnesium for the engine mounts and cradle.

The result is a rippled athlete that, in the guise of the 2.0T Luxury version, weighs just 3,649 pounds. Thatís 160 less than the benchmark BMW 528i and about 360 less than a Mercedes E350. For once, the toned American can poke at the surplus strudel tucked around the Europeansí midsections. The engines start with the 2-liter turbo four borrowed from the ATS, with 272 horsepower, move on to Caddyís familiar 3.6-liter V-6 with 321 horsepower and top out with the Vsportís twin-turbo 3.6 V-6 with 420 bit-champing horses.

Four-cylinder and V-6 all-wheel-drive versions get a six-speed automatic transmission; there is a new paddle-shifted eight-speed Aisin automatic for rear-drive V-6s.

German-baiting performance comes at a price, and thatís one area that gives pause: The most basic four-cylinder CTS starts at $46,025, a $6,000 jump over last yearís starter model (although that car came with a lackluster 3-liter V-6, now discontinued).

One of the two 2014 models I tested, a loaded 2.0T Premium, started at $62,725 and reached $66,420 with options.

Letís come right out and say it: Thatís an awful lot of money for a four-cylinder Cadillac. I suspect that many buyers could forgo the Premium versionís plethora of driver aids, including blind-spot, lane-departure and collision warnings and a system that automatically parallel-parks the car.


Yes, BMW is also peddling a four-cylinder turbo in the basic, comparably priced 528i. But BMWís 300-horse TwinPower engine is stronger, smoother and at least 15 percent more fuel-efficient (though the four-cylinder Caddy manages a respectable rating of 23 mpg city, 30 mpg highway).


A more sensible 2.0T Luxury model starts at $51,925, and the V-6 3.6L Luxury at $54,625. But honestly, since the Caddy sails so blithely toward the $60,000 seas, fans might as well ante up for the version that can smack German rivals into the weeds: The Vsport offers Fourth of July fireworks for $59,995, well-equipped ó thousands less than a loaded four-cylinder version.

For 2014, Cadillac continues to sell carried-over versions of the last-generation CTS coupe, wagon and 556-horse CTS-V.

There are some demerits. Cadillac claims a 13.7-cubic-foot trunk, but in practical terms, it may be the smallest trunk in the class. As usual, Cadillacís front seats ó the bottom cushions are notably, excruciatingly short ó arenít nearly as comfortable or adjustable as the Germansí.

Then thereís the CUE infotainment system. For a screen-based system predicated on touch, the touch controls are awful, especially the often unresponsive flush-mounted switches set on a dated-looking piano-black finish.

But the rest is first-rate, even in the four-cylinder version, from a sporty chassis that BMW could be proud of, to the optional magnetic suspension and track-worthy Brembo brakes. Cadillac has squeezed more torque from this version of the 2-liter four cylinder, at 295 pound-feet (compared with 260 in the ATS). This overachieving engine sends the CTS from a standstill to 60 mph in about six seconds.

Even on rain-lashed country roads in the Hudson Valley, the CTSí sophisticated setup allowed it to cruise in comfort or attack the road, depending on the driverís whim. As with the ATS, if you couldnít see the Cadillac crest, youíd swear you were driving a slick European car.

For underdog car brands, executives often say that all they can do is put out good products, one after another. Do that, they insist, and eventually recognition and sales will come.

Now Cadillac, having spent the last few decades of its 112-year history wandering without direction, is delivering just those kinds of cars. In so doing ó and in contrast to its longtime crosstown rival, Lincoln, which still seems lost ó Cadillac has found a path to redemption and respect.