Though it now enters its fourth year of production since a full redesign, the 2012 Cadillac CTS sedan continues to make a strong case for itself as a solid choice for an entry-level luxury sport sedan. To begin with, the CTS is bigger than most of its rivals, and that translates to an advantage in terms of interior space. The CTS also boasts one of the most stylish cabins in its class, with very nice materials and bountiful high-tech convenience and entertainment features.
On the move, the CTS takes to corners with an agility and poise that no other Cadillac sedan in history could possibly match. With its coupe, wagon and high-performance V variations (reviewed separately), the CTS also offers a wide variety of choices just like its luxury rivals. And for 2012, the CTS gets an upgraded 3.6-liter V6 that produces 318 hp, making it one of the more powerful choices in this segment.
The CTS isn't without faults, however. Despite the power increase, the CTS is still a tad slower than competing sport sedans like the 2012 BMW 335i and 2012 Infiniti G37. Those cars are also generally more nimble and more engaging to drive. And if value is important, the revised 2012 Chrysler 300 and 2012 Hyundai Genesis are certainly worth looking at. Still, the 2012 Cadillac CTS holds its own and certainly presents a distinctly American take on the luxury market.
The 2012 Cadillac CTS is a five-passenger midsize luxury sedan that is available in four trim levels: 3.0 base, 3.0 Luxury, 3.6 Performance and 3.6 Premium. The high-performance CTS-V is reviewed separately, as are the CTS Coupe and Sport Wagon.
The 3.0 base comes standard with 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, heated mirrors, keyless entry, cruise control, dual-zone automatic climate control, an eight-way power driver seat, leatherette premium vinyl upholstery, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, OnStar, Bluetooth and an eight-speaker Bose sound system with a CD player and satellite radio. The 3.0 Luxury adds remote ignition, additional sound insulation, automatic wipers, a rearview camera, driver memory functions, heated eight-way power front seats (with two-way lumbar adjustment), leather upholstery, a wood-trimmed steering wheel, interior accent lighting, and a six-CD changer.
The optional 18-inch All-Season Tire Performance package adds 18-inch wheels, a sport-tuned suspension (dubbed FE2), xenon headlights and foglights. The CTS Touring package is similar but also adds a sport grille and special interior trim.
The 3.6 Performance trim adds to the 3.0 base equipment a more powerful engine, the All-Season Tire Performance package, remote ignition, heated eight-way power front seats, driver memory functions and a 10-speaker Bose surround-sound audio system with a CD player, digital music storage and an iPod/USB audio interface. The Luxury Level Two package adds the rest of the 3.0 Luxury's extra equipment, plus rear parking sensors, heated and ventilated front seats, a split-folding rear seat, a power-adjustable steering wheel, keyless ignition/entry and a cabin deodorizer.
The 3.6 Premium includes all the above equipment, but adds a panoramic sunroof (optional on all other trims), a heated steering wheel, a navigation system (optional on all but the base model) with a pop-up touchscreen interface, and real-time traffic and weather.
As its name suggests, the 19-inch Summer Tire Performance package adds 19-inch wheels, summer tires, an even sportier suspension (FE3), a limited-slip differential, upgraded brakes and shift paddles. A CTS Touring package for the 3.6 is also offered but in this case also includes Recaro front seats.
Inside, the 2012 Cadillac CTS features a pleasing angular theme to match its exterior edginess. Soft-touch materials are plentiful, accented by tasteful wood trim. The optional navigation system emerges from the top of the dash and retracts almost fully, leaving a small section visible as a touchscreen display for the audio system -- an ingenious and elegant alternative solution to having a separate control panel.
Unfortunately, the interior also comes with its fair share of flaws. Many find the driving position awkward because of slightly offset pedals, a low-mounted seat and compromised knee room due to the sweeping center stack. Overall comfort is also hampered by flat and stiff seatbacks. Thick rear pillars not only make the backseat feel a bit claustrophobic, but the resulting rearward visibility is notably poor, forcing the driver to rely heavily on the optional rearview camera when maneuvering in reverse.
Trunk space (13.6 cubic feet) is decent, but the narrow opening requires quite a bit of jostling in order to fit bulky items. Golf clubs will not fit width-wise, and so will eat up the available space, as they must be placed diagonally.
Every 2012 Cadillac CTS comes standard with rear-wheel drive, but all-wheel drive is optional. The 3.0 models come standard with a 3.0-liter V6 that produces 265 hp and 220 pound-feet of torque. Opting for the CTS Touring package adds a dual exhaust system that increases output to 270 hp and 223 lb-ft of torque.
Rear-wheel-drive models come standard with a six-speed manual and offer a six-speed automatic as an option; all-wheel drive is automatic only. EPA-estimated fuel economy for the rear-drive, automatic-equipped CTS 3.0 is 18 mpg city/27 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined. Sticking with the manual drops that to 16/26/19, while all-wheel drive drops it to 18/26/21.
The CTS 3.6 models get a 3.6-liter V6 that produces 318 hp and 275 lb-ft of torque. Rear-wheel drive is standard and all-wheel drive is optional, but every 3.6 gets the six-speed automatic. Last year's 3.6-liter V6 brought the CTS from zero to 60 mph in 6.7 seconds, so the more powerful 2012 edition should shave a tenth or two from that time. EPA-estimated fuel economy is the same as the 3.0's rear-drive estimate of 18/27/22 regardless of whether you get rear- or all-wheel drive.
The 2012 Cadillac CTS tracks through curves with much more athleticism than you might expect. The steering is precise and well-weighted, making the CTS competitive with its European rivals. However, this road-holding performance comes at the expense of ride quality. Those expecting the luxurious ride of Cadillacs past will likely find the suspension on the Performance trim models too firm for their tastes. Given that, the even stiffer optional sport suspension will likely be far too harsh and unforgiving for most.
Power delivery from the base 3.0-liter V6 is sluggish compared to the broad-shouldered 3.6-liter engine. Considering that both engines achieve virtually identical fuel economy, we suggest springing for the bigger V6 if your budget allows.
Standard safety features for the 2012 Cadillac CTS include antilock disc brakes, traction control, stability control, active front head restraints, front-seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags and GM's OnStar emergency communications system.
In government crash tests, the CTS received the best possible rating of five stars in the overall, frontal and side crash categories. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety testing, the sedan was awarded the best rating of "Good" in the frontal-offset, side and roof strength tests.
In Edmunds brake testing, a CTS 3.6 Premium came to a stop from 60 mph in 117 feet, which is very good for a nearly 2-ton luxury sport sedan. With the 19-inch wheels and summer tires, that distance drops to a very impressive 109 feet.
For 2012, the 3.6-liter V6 in the Cadillac CTS gets 12 additional horsepower. Other changes include a slightly revised grille, active front head restraints, standard Bluetooth and new options that include automatic wipers and a heated steering wheel. A new Touring package adds special interior trim along with the items found in the carryover Performance packages.