Cadillac’s reinvention from has-been to vital luxury brand has been one of the biggest automotive stories of the past decade. But it’s a story that’s been written and rewritten (sometimes even by us) for years now. Cadillac the comeback kid, Cadillac the up-and-comer, Cadillac the one to watch. Let’s be honest here: The narrative is becoming a cliche. The ATS-V and CTS-V are more than enough to take on the best BMW M and Mercedes-AMG have to offer. The XT5 is picking up right where the best-selling SRX left off, and Escalade production has been ramping up for two years now.
Through October, Cadillac has moved 133,234 vehicles. That puts it within spitting distance of Audi, with its 169,900 U.S. sales. So let’s start a new narrative here, one that assumes that Cadillac is well and truly back. The “Standard of the World” brand now lives up to its nickname again, and can keep pace with whatever the Germans, British, and Japanese can throw at it. But here’s why we’re impressed with Cadillac’s reinvention: It’s not just another luxury automaker. Its models do everything the competition can do (and do them just as well), but they have a uniquely American otherness to them. To us, nowhere is this more apparent than in its flagship sedan, the CT6.
We spent a little time with the CT6 in the spring, when we said it “scrimps on nothing and has everything you’d want from a big, powerful, rear-wheel drive luxury sedan,” concluding:
Thankfully, the CT6 isn’t another case of “follow the leader” — an all-too-common mistake made by the competition. Instead, it’s fresh, bold, and opulent, just like a classic American luxury car should be. That said, it’s also quick, stylish, and loaded with cutting-edge tech, just like you’d expect from a world-class modern luxury car. If you’re in the market for top-shelf luxury, you’d be crazy if you didn’t spend some time with a CT6. And yes, that’s our professional opinion.
We were afraid that spending a week with one might tarnish our opinion of the car — that it couldn’t live up to our first drive impressions. But after several hundred miles in a host of different conditions, it lived up to them and then some. As far as full-size luxury sedans go, the CT6 is truly one of the best in the world. And again, that’s our professional opinion.
With the striking Escala concept now making the auto show rounds, Cadillac’s “Art and Science” design era looks to be coming to an end. And if that’s the case, the CT6 does a fine job as the ultimate expression of it. As other companies increasingly emphasize long, horizontal shapes in their design, Cadillac’s sharp, vertical lines help the CT6 stand out from the pack. Augmented with a tasteful amount of chrome and badging, the car exudes a confident, all-American look without looking over-styled or ostentatious. At a time when Mercedes’s, BMW’s, and Audi’s sedans are becoming indistinguishable from one another, the CT6’s boldness is refreshing.
Exterior pros and cons
+ Art and Science language has aged like a fine wine.
+ Vertical design language is both a nod to Cadillac heritage and sets it apart from the “same sausage, different lengths” styling that’s taken hold in the luxury market.
+ There’s more brightwork and badging than you might expect from a modern luxury car. It also works much better than you might expect.
– While the front and side styling is bold and dramatic, the rear is a bit too conservative for our tastes. From certain angles, it could almost be mistaken for the less graceful XTS sedan.
– In a growing number of cars, the grille badge has become a two-dimensional dummy that houses a number of sensors. We know it’s functional, but we wish the oversize grille crest wasn’t just a glossy piece of plastic.
Proving that it means business, the CT6 is available with a growing array of engines. There’s a 265 horse 2.0 liter turbocharged inline four, the 3.6 liter twin-turbo V6 found in our car, a 404 horsepower 3.0 liter twin-turbo four, and coming for 2017, a 335 horsepower plug-in hybrid that will offer 30 miles of all-electric range. A 4.2 liter twin-turbo V8 is slated for 2018, too. The 2.0 starts at $53K, the 3.6 starts at $67.5K (our tester rang up at a hefty $81,840), and while it goes up from there, you can still leave the dealer with a loaded CT6 for less than a base Mercedes S-Class.
Our car’s 3.6 liter six also put out a respectable 335 horses, along with 284 pound-feet of torque. Mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission and delivering power to all four wheels (as opposed to the base rear-wheel setup), the mid-range CT6 offers all the power you’d expect from a luxury sedan.
Step on the gas, and the power comes on smooth and quick, with neither the engine or transmission ever feeling too stressed. Chrome paddle shifters behind the steering wheel do a great job of keeping things lively when you want to row your own gears too, and the optional Active Chassis Package includes a Magnetic Ride Control system similar to the ones found on the V- series cars. Combined with the engine and transmission, it helps the big sedan ride and handle with much more agility than you’d expect from looking at it.
Powertrain pros and cons
+ 3.6 liter V6 delivers plenty of smooth, torquey power when you need it and always seems to have plenty left in reserve.
+ Range of powertrains show that Cadillac is serious about its big sedan having a broad appeal.
+ We wouldn’t say it’s overtly sporty, but manual shifting in sport mode makes the CT6 truly fun to drive.
– 3.6 liter V6 does its job just fine, but we’re still waiting for that twin-turbo V8.
– Active Chassis Package makes a huge difference, but at $3,300, you’ll be paying a premium for it.
To us, the interior of the CT6 is where its “otherness” really helps it stand out from the pack. While the Germans are especially fond of all black everything, the textures and range of materials found in the Cadillac break up any surface before it becomes monotonous. The stitched leather dash pad is supple to the touch and nice to look at, and the optional carbon fiber accents gave it a sporty feel, though we prefer the available open pore wood accents for added texture. There is plastic to be found here, but everything you touch is solidly made, and nothing feels out of place in a luxury car of this caliber.
We especially loved the heated and cooled Cinnamon leather thrones. Luxury automakers are embracing bold interior colors again, and Cadillac has been at the forefront of this. Overall, the cabin offers timeless luxury while still feeling thoroughly contemporary.
Interior pros and cons
+ Fit, finish, and material choice is superb.
+ Smart styling carries on inside; note how the Cadillac crest shape subtly repeats on the shift knob, steering wheel, seats, and headrests.
+ Cinnamon leather looks good with virtually every color available on the CT6, and is a must for us. If you’re going for a high end luxury sedan, you might as well go bold.
– The carbon fiber trim is nice, and it grew on us, but we kept missing the gorgeous available open pore wood trim.
– Black plastic trim piece on the steering wheel (below the horn button and above the bottom spokes) felt like a curious oversight.
Tech and safety
Like any good flagship should, the CT6 offers the latest tech and safety features in a novel package. Thanks to the Driver Assist Package (a hefty $4,380 option), our car came with automatic braking, adaptive cruise control, and enhanced night vision, which came in very handy on late night drives through upstate New York at the height of deer season. This package augments the high-definition rear-view camera (with its display mounted in the rearview mirror), lane keep assist, rear cross traffic alert, front collision alert, and a host of other features that come standard.
For entertainment, our car came with the 34-speaker Bose Panaray stereo, a system specifically developed for the CT6. With its front monitor slowly rising from the top of the dash when you start the car and incredible surround sound, we’d consider this $3,700 option a must. But if your passengers aren’t feeling hour four of Little Steven’s Underground Garage quite like you are, there are rear seat HDMI and USB ports that allow them to entertain themselves. Using the car’s 4G LTE system, you can use Google Chromecast, Apple TV, or Amazon FireStick to stream content directly, without draining your phone’s data or battery. Your phone shouldn’t die in here anyway; there’s wireless charging for non-iPhone owners.
Our biggest gripe here is the Cue infotainment system, or rather its interface. While Cue has long been maligned as one of the more complex systems out there, we happen to love the latest version. Our problem comes with the fact that of the three Cadillacs we’ve recently tested, the controls in each model have been different. We don’t mind the touch-sensitive HVAC controls (vastly improved here over earlier models), or the responsive 10.2-inch touchscreen, but we never got the hang of the console-mounted track pad. After a day of trying to work with it, we gave up the ghost and just stuck with the touchscreen.
Tech and safety pros and cons
+ Impressive suite of standard safety features, standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, clear, large digital instrument screen, and touchscreen.
+ Night vision is incredibly helpful, and in our opinion a must-have for people living in rural areas.
+ Bose Panaray is a truly great sound system.
– We found the Cue trackpad frustrating, a detractor from the otherwise smooth system.
The CT6 drives and performs like a Cadillac should, and we don’t mean like grandma’s Sedan de Ville either. Take whatever the current crop of luxury sedans are doing, and blend them with a timeless swagger, bold design, and competitive powertrains, and you find yourself with a thoroughly modern Caddy. In New York City stop-and-go, the cabin was quiet and serene — well, about as serene as you can get. It tackles road imperfections and potholes with ease, but Magnetic Ride Control and a direct steering feel keeps you thoroughly connected to the road. Brakes are strong and progressive, but they’re never overly grippy, even in hard stops.
There can be a little bit of hard shifting in slow-moving traffic, but with a little room, the CT6 likes to stretch its legs, never feeling short on power when you mash the go pedal. You don’t get much engine noise inside, but what you do hear sounds throaty and purposeful. There’s no whine here, just consistent power that firmly (but subtly) pushes you back into your comfortable seat.
We went through rain and shine across a couple of Northeastern states as the weather started to turn. Through cities, highways, mountain roads, and farmland, the CT6 handled itself beautifully. After a full week with it, we found ourselves struggling to find major imperfections, and that made it especially hard to give it back.
Wrap up and review
New York City traffic has a funny way of giving special cars a wide birth in traffic. In our home city, there are plenty of exotics and CT6 competitors that don’t raise an eyebrow. After all, you can’t go more than a block without seeing several Mercedes, Audis, BMWs, Jaguars, or even other new Cadillacs. But in a sea of E-Classes, 5 Series, and A6s, the CT6 stands out. It looks and feels different, possessing that special feeling that a luxury car should, and as its competitors increasingly become a common sight on American roads, its bold design, recent introduction into the market, and great interior makes it feel different. And in a market that feels increasingly homogenous, different is good.
So yes, Cadillac has made one of the biggest comebacks in recent automotive history, and the CT6 has played a large part in it. But let’s stop thinking that Cadillac is the dark horse, the underdog, or the striver. Is there room for improvement in the CT6? Certainly. Will Cadillac keep its outsider something-to-prove attitude that it brought to its last few generations of models? We hope so, because it’s done wonders for it. But let’s stop thinking that the brand is just a few years off or a model generation away from hitting the big time. Cadillac — and the CT6 — is here, and the luxury market is better off for it.