What is an American luxury car? For years, the answer was a no-brainer: body length measured in yards, enough chrome to be spotted from space, sofa-on-wheels suspension tuning and the sort of eye-catching styling that made kids wave from their bikes on the curb. But the 2010 Cadillac CTS continues to redefine what an American luxury car can be in the 21st century. At once distinctly American and wholly competitive with premium brands from around the globe, the CTS shows that Cadillac's old "Standard of the World" tagline may have some contemporary relevance.
With competition that prioritizes performance and handling but an American heritage that dictates comfortable ride quality, the CTS successfully toes the line between both (though by how much depends on your suspension choice). Perhaps more importantly, though, the CTS features the sort of eye-catching styling that just might draw the eyes of today's youth away from their Nintendo DS. This carries on inside, where the stylish dual-cowl dash contrasts sharply with the stark cabins of its European competitors.
New for 2010 is a Sport Wagon model (covered in a separate review) and a 3.0-liter direct-injected V6, which replaces the old 3.6-liter base engine. Fuel economy remains about the same, but output has been increased to a healthy 270 horsepower, though torque drops to 223 pound-feet (from 252 lb-ft). This entry-level motor gets the job done at its lower price point, but if you can swing the extra payment, the 306-hp V6 is still the way to go.
The 2010 Cadillac CTS is the best yet, but it still has some faults. Though not necessarily indicative of all models, a CTS sedan we had in our long-term test fleet displayed inconsistent build quality and annoying electronic hiccups. Some drivers may also find the CTS's awkward driving position and compromised rear visibility to be deal breakers. Nor is the handling quite as sharp as other sport sedans like the Acura TL SH-AWD, Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, Infiniti G37 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. Hyundai's Genesis, meanwhile, offers similar levels of luxury at a cheaper price.
There's clearly a lot to consider in this luxury segment. For Cadillac, the CTS is one giant leap in the right direction. Consumers shopping for an entry-level luxury sedan will certainly want to give it consideration, especially if the idea of owning a modern American luxury car holds additional appeal.
The 2010 Cadillac CTS is a five-passenger midsize luxury sedan. Trim levels are 3.0 base, 3.0 Luxury, 3.0 Performance, 3.6 Performance and 3.6 Luxury.
Standard equipment on the 3.0 includes 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, cruise control, dual-zone automatic climate control, an eight-way power driver seat, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, premium vinyl "leatherette" upholstery, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and an eight-speaker CD stereo with an auxiliary audio jack and satellite radio.
The 3.0 Luxury adds an eight-way power passenger seat, heated front seats, driver memory functions, leather upholstery, a wood-and-leather steering wheel, interior ambient lighting, Bluetooth and a six-CD changer. The Eco Lux Collection (available on the 3.0 Luxury sedan only) alters the car's aerodynamics and tires to achieve 30 mpg highway.
The CTS 3.0 Performance has the Luxury's equipment plus 18-inch wheels, performance brakes, upgraded FE2 sport-tuned suspension, a limited-slip rear differential and adaptive HID headlamps. The 3.6 Performance adds a bigger V6 engine and a 10-speaker surround-sound stereo with digital music storage and a USB/iPod audio interface.
The Luxury Level Two package can be added to the Performance trims and includes rear parking sensors, a split-folding rear seat, heated and cooled front seats, a power tilt-and-telescoping steering column, keyless ignition/entry and remote engine start. The 3.6 Premium has the Level Two equipment plus a panoramic sunroof (optional on all other CTS models), a back-up camera and a hard-drive-based navigation system with real-time traffic and weather. The camera and navigation system are optional on all but the base CTS. The 19-inch Summer Tire Performance package available on 3.6 models adds 19-inch wheels, summer tires, an upgraded FE3 performance suspension and enhanced power steering.
A pleasing mix of available wood accents, tasteful alloy trim and a stitched soft-touch dash covering make the Cadillac CTS interior one of the most elegant designs in its class. The optional navigation screen retracts into the dash, but leaves the top inch visible as the touchscreen display for the audio system -- a slick touch.
We have a few nits to pick, however. The driving position is awkward for many, thanks to awkwardly offset pedals and the knee-room-robbing (though quite attractive) swoop of the center stack. Outward visibility to the rear is poor. Overall interior room is quite good and better than most competing models, but rear-seat access can be a bit tricky due to a low rear roof line. Comfort front and back isn't ideal due to seatbacks that are a little hard and shapeless. Loading bulky items into the 13.6-cubic-foot trunk is hampered by a narrow opening. Golfers will struggle to fit their clubs width-wise in the trunk.
The 2010 Cadillac CTS is available with two V6 engines. Rear-wheel drive and a six-speed manual are standard with both, while a six-speed automatic and all-wheel drive are separately optional. The 3.0-liter V6 produces 270 hp and 223 lb-ft of torque. It returns fuel economy of 18 mpg city/27 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined.
The 3.6-liter V6 produces 304 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque. Its estimated fuel economy is 18/27/21. In performance testing, this engine with the automatic propelled a rear-wheel-drive CTS sedan from zero to 60 mph in 6.7 seconds.
On the road, the 2010 Cadillac CTS is very stable and copes well with quick directional changes. The steering is nicely weighted and precise. Overall, this Cadillac offers an excellent ride and handling balance that gives the European sedans a run for their money, especially when equipped with the sport-tuned suspension. That said, the larger CTS lacks the nimbleness of cars like the BMW 3 Series and Infiniti G37. On the other hand, those looking for a more traditional Cadillac ride may find the FE2 suspension that's standard on the 3.0 Performance and 3.6 trims to be too firm.
Though the new direct-injected 3.0-liter V6 is a competent base-level engine, keep in mind that its fuel economy is no better than that of the 304-hp 3.6-liter V6, and the latter's power delivery is far more authoritative. Particularly given that the CTS weighs more than rival sedans, the bigger engine is a worthy upgrade if you can swing the higher payment.
The CTS's standard safety features include antilock disc brakes, traction control, stability control, front-seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags and GM's OnStar emergency communications system.
In government crash testing, the CTS sedan was awarded a perfect five stars for side protection. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety testing, the sedan was awarded the best rating of "Good" in frontal-offset and side impact testing.
In brake testing, the CTS 3.6 Premium with FE2 suspension and all-season tires came to a stop from 60 in a solid 117 feet. With the 19-inch wheels and summer tires, that distance drops to a very impressive 109 feet.
The 2010 Cadillac CTS gets a new base engine that produces more horsepower and returns slightly better fuel economy. The CTS can also be equipped with an Eco Lux Collection, which increases fuel economy to 30 mpg highway.