The New York Auto Show was the big one for Cadillac. After months of technical jargon, teasers, and a memorable cameo in a commercial during the Oscars, the CT6 is finally here. The company is in the midst of a monumental transformation, and this new range-topping luxury sedan is set to play a major role in the company’s next act.
In the past year alone, former Audi and Infiniti boss Johan de Nysschen was named president of the Cadillac, it left the General Motors fold in Detroit for a new headquarters in Manhattan, its Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant received a $384 million upgrade to build the CT6, and GM announced that it will invest $12 billion over the next five years to help reestablish Cadillac as a global luxury brand.
Of course, to be taken seriously in the highly competitive luxury market, Cadillac needs to have a world-beating lineup to compete with the likes of BMW, Audi, Mercedes-Benz, and Jaguar, and surprisingly, it’s already pretty close. Despite suffering from a stodgy reputation that stretches back decades, and an unfocused lineup clogged with confusingly named models (XTS, ELR, SLR, etc.), cars like the ATS, CTS, and their V-Performance variants prove that the company is already capable of great things.
But the CT6 is a move even further upmarket, and into a rarefied territory Cadillac hasn’t occupied in decades. Thankfully, the company avoided the brand engineering and design by committees that hamstrung it for decades, and has instead gone all-in to field a thoroughly modern flagship.
The introduction of the CT6 also marks the end of a long and and fateful chapter in Cadillac’s history: the era of the V8-powered luxo-barge. While the gas crisis of the 1970s dealt a major blow to the company’s way of doing things, its woeful front-wheel drive cars of the ’80s and ’90s sapped the company of its remaining global prestige, and it all but ceded the American luxury market to better built imports.
The current full-size XTS won’t immediately be replaced by the similar-sized CT6, as it still sells respectably to Cadillac’s remaining blue-plate special demographic. But the front-wheel drive layout of the XTS can trace its roots back to the downsized DeVilles from 1985 – and is a key part of the past that Cadillac wants to forget. By 2019, the company announced the XTS will be discontinued as a more competitive lineup emerges to replace the current models.
With the CT6, Cadillac now has a strong and balanced front against its European competition. The compact ATS holds its own against the BMW 3-Series and Mercedes C-Class, and the CTS takes on the BMW 5-Series and Mercedes E-Class (and was named to Car and Driver’s 2014 10 Best list, unlike its competitors), but the CT6 falls isn’t as easily classifiable. At the New York Launch, de Nysschen a outlined how the car’s 122.4-inch wheelbase puts it in the same class as the BMW 7-Series and Mercedes S-Class, but its advanced light-weight construction should help it tip the scales at under 3,700 pounds – making it significantly lighter than the smaller BMW 5-Series.
Notably absent from the CT6 engine choices is a range-topping V8. In a bold break from tradition, the big Caddy shares its base 265 horsepower turbocharged inline-four with the CTS. While the CT6 has been pitched as a rear-wheel drive sedan, two all-new V6 engines will be available, and those cars will come standard with all-wheel drive. The naturally aspirated 3.6 liter is good for 335 horsepower, and the range topping 3.0 liter twin-turbo unit is expected to make around 400 horsepower. All engines will be mated to GM’s eight-speed automatic transmission, and the V6s will use cylinder deactivation software similar to the Chevrolet Corvette to make the CT6 unusually fuel-efficient for a full-size Cadillac. An all-new active rear-wheel steering system, and Cadillac’s excellent Magnetic Ride Control should ensure the big car keeps its composure in corners, too.
Ultimately, most buyers will judge the CT6 on its interior, and it certainly doesn’t disappoint. After decades of losing the plot, Cadillac can finally go toe-to-toe with the best Europe has to offer. The tech-laden dash keeps the array of buttons to a minimum, replacing them with touch screens and a Lexus-like track pad to operate the next-generation CUE infotainment system. The interior is accented in sculptured slabs of burled wood with a matte finish that’s also popular in new BMW and Mercedes models. A new 34-speaker Bose sound system was especially developed for the car, and rear occupants get a separate climate control system, retractable 10-inch infotainment screens, and enough power seat options to give the Mercedes S-Class a run for its money.
For the first time in decades, Cadillac has a competitive car all its own. The steering wheel isn’t from a Chevy, the seats aren’t from a Buick, and the fit and finish isn’t from a dearly departed Saturn. The CT6 is a blank-slate new car, and it shows that the company is ready to compete as a major player in the global luxury market. Cadillac may still have an uphill battle against its old-fashioned image, but the CT6 is a quantum leap in the right direction. The majority of GM’s $12 billion investment is earmarked for the development of eight all-new models by 2020, and if the CT6 is any indication of where Cadillac is headed, the luxury landscape could look radically different by the dawn of the next decade.
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