Cadillac CTS takes on BMW, Mercedes

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

A dozen years after its start as an edgy, luxury sedan, the mid-size Cadillac CTS is evolving into a handsome, less edgy and decidedly German-feeling car with improved handling.

For 2014, the CTS is longer and lighter weight than before and even embraces — and smartly deploys — turbocharged four- and six-cylinder engines.

The base, rear-wheel drive, 2014 CTS now has a turbocharged four cylinder with 272 horsepower — more than the 240 horses produced by the turbo four cylinder that's in the base, 2014 BMW 528i. The base CTS has more torque, too, and it comes on earlier than in the 528i.

The 321 horses produced by CTS sedan's 3.6-liter, naturally aspirated, direct injection V-6 are more than the 302 from the gasoline V-6 that's in the 2014 Mercedes E350 sedan.

And, the 420 horsepower from the CTS twin-turbo, direct injection V-6 is more than the 402 horsepower that the E550 gets from its larger-displacement V-8. This twin-turbo CTS VSport, as it's called, was clocked at 4.4 seconds from zero to 60 miles per hour, which bests the E550.

Despite the impressive performance, do not confuse the VSport with the CTS-V. The 2014 CTS-V remains in the lineup with supercharged V-8 delivering more than 550 horsepower.

The improvements to the "regular" CTS, though, are big news for 2014, especially considering the 2014 CTS has some lower starting retail prices than its German competitors.

Plus, with 10 air bags — more than the German competitors — and Stabilitrak stability control and a host of other safety features, the CTS earned top, five out of five stars in federal government frontal and side crash testing.

Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, of $46,025 is for a base, 2014 CTS sedan with 272-horsepower, turbocharged, four-cylinder engine and six-speed, automatic transmission.

In comparison, the starting MSRP, including destination charge, for a 2014 BMW 528i with turbo four cylinder and eight-speed automatic is $50,425. Mercedes' 2014 E350 sedan with 302-horsepower V-6 and seven-speed auto starts at $52,825, while the higher-powered 2014 CTS sedan with 321-horsepower, naturally aspirated V-6 and eight speed auto is $54,625.

Meantime, the 2014 CTS sedan with 420 horsepower, twin turbocharged, direct injected V-6 and eight-speed automatic has a starting MSRP, including destination charge, of $59,995. It comes only in rear-wheel drive.

This compares with $62,325 for a 2014 Mercedes E550 with 402-horsepower V-8, seven-speed, automatic transmission and all-wheel drive.

Note that the base, 2014 528i and 2014 E350 come with automatic start/stop that turns off the engine to save fuel when the car is braked. The CTS does not.

Standard on all CTS sedans are push-button start, keyless entry, electroluminescent gauges, paddle shifters, steering wheel-mounted controls for phone, audio and cruise control and premium sound system.

Every CTS sedan also has the CUE information and entertainment system with 8-inch color display screen and voice recognition as well as universal garage and gate opener buttons and sport suspension.

CUE stands for Cadillac User Experience, and this system, where drivers touch virtual buttons on the display screen and then feel a slight, buzzy vibration at the fingertip to convey that the command was received, is different from most others.

As the third generation CTS, the 2014 car grew 4.2 inches in overall length. Its roofline and dashboard cowl are lower than the predecessor's, though passengers ride at a comfortable height.

Remarkably, the new CTS is light on its feet, with the base car with turbo four weighing just 3,600 pounds. The four-cylinder 528i weighs some 200 pounds more.

The test 2014 CTS VSport Premium felt neither flighty nor heavy but appropriately weighted for safety and stability without extra heft. The car moved strongly and purposefully in city and highway traffic, never getting unsettled, even in emergency, obstacle-avoidance maneuvers.

This uplevel CTS included the refined and well-known Cadillac Magnetic Ride Control in its suspension, so the body stayed controlled in sweeping curves and quick turns.

But the ride over road bumps wasn't punishing in Touring mode. Sport mode dialed in a more aggressive suspension setting.

Eighteen-inch, summer performance tires maintained a strong grip in the curves and conveyed road feel to the driver without harshness.

Brakes, with Brembos in the front, slowed the CTS quickly and strongly, with the brake pedal having a progressive response.

The electric, variable, power-assisted steering in the test car, however, was inconsistent. On different days and different roads, front wheels pulled to the right for a while as if tires were misaligned or wearing. Then, the steering system seemed to compensate for it and the steering became fine.

Power came on strongly with just a hint of a lag, and the CTS moved eagerly even on long uphill highway climbs.

Peak torque from the twin turbo V-6 is 430 foot-pounds starting at 3,500 rpm and was so fun to use, the combined city/highway fuel economy went from nearly 20 miles per gallon to 16.6 mpg. This compares with the federal government's estimate of 18 mpg. With a 19-gallon fuel tank, range is some 340 miles.

The back seat of the CTS is a tight fit for three adults, but two do OK.

Legroom is 35.4 inches, which is 0.4 inch less than in the E350.

Passengers entering via the back doors may notice the back seat cushions sit atop a raised section, because the carpeted front of this section sticks out at the front of the cushions. It's not necessarily an attractive look.

With sales up 6.5 percent in the first four months of 2014, CTS is a bright spot for Cadillac, whose overall U.S. sales are down 4.4 percent in the period.