Briefly: 2016 Cadillac CTS 2.0L

Up in Lake Orion, Michigan, north of Chrysler headquarters where GM builds the Chevy Sonic and Buick Verano, is a spot serving what may be the best (and cheapest) wings in all of Southeast Michigan.

Orion Sports Bar on Lapeer Rd offers a 22-cent wing special on Monday nights from 8p to 11p and they’re spectacular. They could get away with meager, bony chicken but these may be the plumpest, most evenly cooked wings I’ve ever enjoyed, complemented by a decent selection of draft beers.

My buddy Luke joined us for a pint and brought with him his 2016 Cadillac CTS 4, the 4 indicative of All Wheel Drive, the Patron Saint of Michigan Winter Traction. For this generation, Cadillac switched from Borg Warner to a quick-reacting “active” system supplied by Haldex, the Swedish firm that provides AWD tech to Audi, Bugatti, Volvo, Saab, and Land Rover. Haldex claims its electronically controlled hardware is capable of reacting within a tenth of a second, adjusting to changing conditions while preemptively countering oversteer and understeer. In theory, this isn’t just four wheel drive. It’s four actively controlled wheels responding to the environment, wet or dry.

For technical details and diagrams, read here:

Initial impressions of the latest CTS (this generation arrived in 2014 to wide acclaim) are as mixed now as they were then. The styling, while adequately upscale, lacks the head-turning theatrics of the fighter jet-inspired 2003 and 2008 CTS. It’s absent of the ornamentation and brightwork that once defined traditional American luxury.

From the back, vertical tail lights and a layered rear deck pay homage to Cadillacs of the 1960s and 1970s. Unfortunately, an overall lack of crispness from the softer features and dulled corners comes across as a lack of confidence, let down by anodyne side sculpting that fails to inspire or excite. It’s all there, somewhat dispassionately, more in line with Chinese tastes than bolder American preferences

Thankfully, the crisply sculpted, protruding nose borrows directly from the 2011 Ciel and 2013 Elmiraj concept cars, upright and angular with quintessentially Cadillac light bars and a confident grille tall and wide enough to adorn a 1970s Eldorado. At night, the CTS’s strong vertical LEDs are like nothing else on the road, distinctly and emphatically Cadillac in the reflection of a rear view mirror.

The interior gives equally mixed impression. If you removed the Cadillac badge from the steering wheel it may be difficult to identify the manufacturer. The headliner and pillars have a Mercedes-Benz feel of clean sturdiness while the sweep of the dashboard borrows heavily from modern BMW.

Gauges light up elegantly in a combination of teal blue and bright white but during the day the flat arrangement comes across as plain, lacking in ornamentation or design flair, as if they were plucked from a Caravan or Camry. Fortunately, a clever head-up multicolor display compensates for it, a dazzling piece of tech borrowed from fighter jets.

Cadillac’s CUE touch-operated multimedia system is vastly improved over the initial version introduced in the smaller ATS for 2012. Maps and music respond without a stutter and information is cleanly displayed with clear text and constrasting colors.

The capacitive touch control in the center of the dashboard for volume has a slight bit of display lag and takes your eyes off the road as you scan for the place to apply your finger but redundant steering wheel buttons allow for easy eyes-off operation.

Most infotainment systems are flawed in some way, even Tesla’s which currently lacks support for Apple Carplay and Android Auto. While CUE was originally at the bottom of the pack due to performance issues and UI glitches, Cadillac has refined it into a highly functional, well organized environment. A slight performance boost through software optimization or more powerful hardware would place it on par with Chrysler’s Blackberry QNX-based UConnect system for responsiveness.

Cadillac’s premium sound system, Bose’s 13-speaker Centerpoint, is spectacularly powerful, producing strong, undistorted bass and sufficient treble. Typical of Bose car audio systems, however, a natural midrange is lacking.

Traditional luxury features lilke open pore matte wood trim, conservative brightwork, and finely stitched leather convey a sense of wealth and indulgence with soft accent lighting along the dash and doors. Details like the frameless rear view mirror and motorized padded leather cupholder lid bring attention to typically ignored bits and pieces.

It reminds me of my old Infiniti Q45 which had a Clarion/Bose head unit featuring a small motorized door that lifted away to reveal audio controls. Superfluous design elements and clever touches lend a sense of value, offering an impression of personalization to a mass produced object, that perhaps “Cadillac made this just for me.”

I didn’t spend much time behind the wheel, just a half hour from Lake Orion to my house in Ferndale, but Michigan being Michigan it was more than enough to sample its performance over ruts, potholes, and its stability at higher speeds.

The challenge of any sport sedan is achieving a balance between handling and ride comfort. My 2002 Cadillac Seville STS, the first car in the world equipped with magnetic ride control, sends a jolt through the interior and jostles the cabin back and forth over pavement undulations. In the CTS, however, it’s sublime.

Contrary to the beliefs of traditional Cadillac owners, reduced weight does not compromise comfort or safety. Modern chassis engineering enables smaller and more focused load-bearing sections to keep the structure from flexing while materials like magnesium, aluminum, and manufacturing-grade glue (a trick borrowed from the aerospace industry) provide stiffness and quietness while reducing weight. This, in turn, allows for stiffer springs and dampers and more precise suspension geometry, all conspiring to reduce body roll, enhance steering feedback, and improve grip.

Consequently, the new CTS is a large yet lightweight car, less than 3800lbs with all wheel drive. An AWD Dodge Charger, for comparison, tips the scales at more than 4100lbs. That’s like keeping “Paul Blart Mall Cop” Kevin James in the trunk. I’m sure he’s a nice guy but lugging him around adversely affects handling and fuel efficiency, plus you’d have to feed him.

The CTS doesn’t have the muted, floaty ride of a Deville or Fleetwood but the trade-off comes with a massive net gain in overall drivability. And a five-star crash rating is a welcome result of GM engineers going above and beyond, applying time and energy to often unseen parts of an automobile, the brainy stuff that seldom shines in a brochure.

While it may lack the charisma of the iconic Escalade, the CTS is an engineering marvel. Maybe the looks will grow on you.

Expect to spend about 55 grand.


The following photos were crudely taken with my mobile phone:

For better images, go to Cadillac:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *