Blending all-American style with European-inspired handling, the Cadillac CTS has been a popular choice with luxury sedan consumers for more than a decade. Within that period, there have been three generations. Despite shortcomings in terms of interior design and quality, the first CTS is still a fair choice for a used luxury sedan. The second-generation CTS, which featured substantial improvements to its interior, is a much more appealing car. The most recent generation of the CTS has grown in both size and sophistication, and we feel it's the first CTS to truly be on equal footing with its European and Japanese competition.
Current Cadillac CTS
Debuting for 2014 and representing the model's third generation, the current Cadillac CTS sedan is larger and now competes more directly against midsize luxury sport sedans, leaving the compact sport sedan fight to its smaller ATS brother. The CTS coupe, wagon and CTS-V sedan carried over unchanged for this year. Improved in every way over its already respected predecessor, the latest CTS sedan has the looks, the power and the luxury required to go tire-to-tire against the world's best in this segment.
There are six main trim levels: Standard, Luxury, Performance, Premium, Vsport and Vsport Premium. Three engines are offered but trim level determines availability. A turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 272 horsepower starts things off, and it's matched to a six-speed automatic transmission and either standard rear-wheel drive or available all-wheel drive (AWD). Next up is a 3.6-liter V6 good for 321 hp -- it comes with an eight-speed automatic transmission. It's also available with AWD, though that version gets the six-speed auto. The Vsport comes with an exclusive turbocharged 3.6-liter V6 packing 420 hp, along with rear-wheel drive and the eight-speed automatic as the sole drivetrain setup.
Equipment on the CTS Standard trim includes keyless ignition and entry, dual-zone automatic climate control, power front seats, leatherette premium vinyl upholstery, an 8-inch touchscreen display and an 11-speaker Bose sound system. Upgrading to the CTS Luxury trim gets you xenon headlights, leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats and added safety features. The CTS Performance is highlighted by its adaptive suspension, panoramic sunroof, head-up display and heated rear seats. The Premium trim is similar but adds adaptive cruise control and upgraded front seats and upholstery. Besides its engine, the Vsport is differentiated by its sport-tuned mechanical hardware.
The cabin of the CTS offers solid build quality and rich materials. Overall, there's a very luxurious vibe inside, and we think it's one of the most stylish designs you'll find in this segment. However, even though the latest CTS is larger than before, its interior space is essentially the same. As such, it's lacking a little for backseat and trunk space compared to its rivals. Another minor downside is the CUE ("Cadillac User Experience") infotainment system, which can be difficult to use and slow to respond.
We've only driven the high-performance CTS Vsport model thus far, so we can only comment on that version. As expected, acceleration is indeed impressive, as is the eight-speed automatic, which provides gearchanges that range from silky smooth to sports car rapid depending on the selected driving mode. Handling is sharp, composed and rewarding as well, providing the driver with an uncommon level of tactility.
Used Cadillac CTS Models
The second-generation Cadillac CTS sedan was produced from 2008 through 2013. Compared to the original CTS, it was notably more refined and powerful. In addition to the sedan, a coupe, a wagon and high-performance CTS-V variants (all reviewed separately) were also available. Overall body dimensions were similar to the first CTS, but wider-set wheels gave it a more powerful stance. The previous CTS's lackluster interior was remedied by a more attractive design, up-to-date electronics and the use of better materials.
Prior to the 2010 model year, the base engine was a 3.6-liter V6 with 258 hp. After that, the standard engine was a 3.0-liter V6 generating 270 hp. A more powerful 3.6-liter V6 was optional all along, and produced 304 hp until 2012, when output increased to 318 hp. That marked the last year that a six-speed manual transmission was available with the base engine. Subsequently, a six-speed automatic was the only transmission offered. Rear-wheel drive was standard, with all-wheel drive (AWD) being optional.
Standard features included dual-zone automatic climate control and satellite radio; much later versions even came with heated seats and a rearview camera at no extra cost. Options included keyless ignition and entry and a navigation system with digital music storage capability. Two sport suspension packages were also available and we'd recommend noting if a used CTS is so equipped. Handling will be improved as a result, but the trade-off is a rougher ride.
Overall, the upgraded interior and spirited powertrains pushed this CTS into top-tier status for a luxury sport sedan. Highlights include a roomy cabin, an elegant interior design and capable handling. Besides the potentially rough ride, downsides included poor rearward visibility and for some drivers, an awkward driving position.
Notable changes made throughout this generation's run included, for 2010 only, the Eco Lux Collection option. Available only on the base 3.0-liter V6, it included tweaked aerodynamics and special tires that allowed 30 mpg on the highway -- a gain of 3 mpg. There was also a slight styling tweak for 2012, but otherwise changes were minimal.
The first-generation Cadillac CTS was sold from the 2003-'07 model years. When it debuted, the CTS was one of Cadillac's first cars to fully emphasize the brand's modern, angular styling themes. It was also a significant departure from traditional modern Cadillacs because of its rear-wheel drive, available manual transmission, stiff body structure and sport-oriented handling dynamics.
The car's larger-than-average exterior dimensions translated to a roomier cabin that could accommodate five adults. A fair number of features came standard, including antilock brakes and side curtain airbags. Upscale features were typically bundled as part of optional packages. Common options included a premium Bose audio system, a DVD-based navigation system, xenon headlights and a sunroof. A Sport package provided a sport-tuned suspension, bigger wheels and tires, and stability control.
In its first year, the Cadillac CTS came only with a 3.2-liter V6 good for 220 hp. This was joined in 2004 by a more desirable 255-hp 3.6-liter V6. At the time, the base V6 was available with a five-speed manual transmission or a five-speed automatic. The larger V6 came with the automatic only. In 2005, however, the 3.2-liter engine was dropped in favor of a smaller, 210-hp 2.8-liter engine. Cadillac also upgraded the manual transmission to a six-speed unit and made it available for the 3.6-liter V6 as well.