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REVIEW: 2016 Cadillac CTS AWD 3.6L Premium – Your Fashion Statement Is Ready

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The new 2016 Cadillac CTS sedan was designed to be your rolling fashion accessory, but it is so much more than that.

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2016 may be the year that automakers perfected the rear-wheel drive sedan.

Some car nuts might argue it happened back in the 1960s, but they probably have not driven a modern Cadillac lately.

The CTS line is on a new platform this year, and it is hard to imagine a more capable foundation for a sporting luxury sedan. We’ve driven the CTS V-Sport and insane CTS-V on the racetrack back to back with Corvettes and Camaros and when you close your eyes while accelerating at 100 mph, or while sideways carving a corner (don’t!), the CTS feels remarkably similar.

Mechanically it is.  Our tester this week is not one of those CTS cars, but an even better one for street use, the V6, all-wheel drive version with a long name.

Before we go too far, we would like square away the name of this Cadillac. In the Cadillac on-line configurator and also on the window sticker, this Cadillac is called the “CTS AWD 3.6L Premium Collection.” However, on the back of the car itself is an emblem that calls it the CTS4, as in all-wheel drive. For the sake of sanity, we are going to call this car the CTS4 going forward in this review.

CTS4 Style, Luxury, and All That Jazz

Looking at the CTS4 in person one is struck by its low stance, long, wide and flat hood, and its distinctive headlights and tail lamps. This is a damn fine looking sedan.

The new CTS4 also seems to appear smaller than the prior CTS, which had more drama in its appearance. The car seems to have grown up and slimmed down.

Inside, the car is immaculate, but not overdone. Cadillac was shooting for a feeling of luxury, but with an understated and classy vibe, and they nailed it. Whether pulling up to a valet or when you hold open the door for a date, this car makes a statement.

Our CTS4 tester had carbon fiber trim, piano black plastics, chrome accents, and maroon leather in the perfect amounts. There was none of the old-look wood veneer and silly analog clock nonsense other premium brands are still trying to tell you means luxury.

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CTS4 The Drive

As much as we love the CTS V-Sport and CTS-V, those cars are too much. Too much power, too much emphasis on sport, and too over the top in their exotic, pricey equipment list. Nobody can put to use 640 hp on public roads. You run out of space too quickly. Nobody needs racing brakes and a stick shift to take their spouse out for dinner and a show.

All-wheel drive sure does come in handy, though, and it was put to good use in our testing. We had about 18 inches of snow fall and then freeze while we had the CTS4, and without the AWD, we would not have been able to get out of the driveway. As it was, we couldn’t anyway without using the Snow Mode setting. We got stuck on our first attempt in touring mode. Our bad.

Once underway, the CTS4’s V6 engine with 335 hp is more than you need in all circumstances. This car is quick off the line, and you always have way more power than you will need for passing or sporty driving. The eight-speed automatic fired off silent and smooth shifts, and when you put the hammer down on this car, the engine and exhaust note sound fantastic. Even better, in normal driving, there is no sound. This is a grown-up’s sports sedan.

The only situation where the car was less than perfect was when cruising with light throttle, as the transmission sometimes would seem to lug the engine in too low a gear then shift to make up for it. This is the price we pay now for fuel economy at all costs.

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Handling is crisp in the CTS4. Steering is sharp and the car corners flat and tight. The ride is firm, but also not overly so for a car with this mission.

The CTS4’s Magnetic Ride Control suspension gets rave reviews by many writers, but for us, it was simply just a good ride. The system can adjust the shocks faster than any other standard system to offer ride comfort and also stiff shocks when cornering. In our testing, though, big bumps still went “wham” and we could still feel rough patches of road like in other cars with standard shocks.

Brakes were good but not like those of a sports car. Adjustable driving modes either add more spice to the drive in Sport mode or can deaden the throttle and prepare the vehicle for slippery conditions in Snow/Ice mode. Each has a noticeable effect and works as promised.

You can hustle this CTS4 around town like a compact sports sedan, or you can chill, and it is a luxury car. You get both, which is expected at this price point.  Touring worked well for us, except when escaping the icy driveway.

One thing we did like was the “M” button on the gear selector. If you touch this, it lets you shift with the paddles, and they work like a manual holding gears unless you decide otherwise. This gives the driver full control. One can still simply grab the left paddle a couple of times to quickly downshift, and when not in “M” the car will then return you to automatic quickly. This is smart.

CTSV4 back seat

Cabin Comfort, Ergonomics, and CUE

The CTS4 feels “right-sized.” It is not large just for the sake of size.

Seats are very comfortable and supportive up front, but space is just adequate in back. When hauling around my six-foot-tall teen boys, they wanted the front seats pulled up a smidge. The trunk is large, but under it, we found no spare tire. A disappointment, given the size of the CTS.

The CUE infotainment system is easy to navigate and very intuitive. Past CUE reviews by other writers were generally negative, but we had no trouble synching our phone via Bluetooth or finding things in the menus.

The Apple Car Play works as advertised, but this writer still doesn’t get why connecting a smart phone via cord makes any sense. My son was able to connect to Apple Car Play to pull up his phone content immediately, and he had never heard of Apple Car Play before I asked him to use it.

With 4GLTE on-board there is no reason for passengers to connect to Apple Car Play and with an excellent Nav system for the driver, again, we are not sure why Apple Car Play is needed. It is new to us. Maybe we will learn to love it.

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As much as we did love the CUE system, the capacitive touch-sensing controls for everything from the heat to the glove box door didn’t work well for us even after a week of familiarization.

The virtual buttons take the place of ones you move to actuate. They are just spots on the dash you touch.  Many times we would reach over and touch a button, and it would not do its job. Out of frustration, we would tap it again, and it would work. When it does work you get haptic feedback.  Basically a bump you feel.

The system looks great, but it is hard to use, and that is a shame because the Chevy Equinox we tested earlier this month had a perfect system we loved, with real buttons.  Cadillac also removed the volume and tone knobs.

One last demerit.  Our tester seemed to suffer finger prints much more than other vehicles with touch screens we have tested (see image).

The driver is treated to a larger TFT (thin-film transistor) screen that shows a speedometer and many other needed bits of information in the gauge cluster area. Coupled with the clear and adjustable head-up display there was little reason to take one’s eyes away from the road. At night, the adaptive headlights move from side to side as you turn and were among the best we have tested.

CTS4 rear

Safety Technology

Our CTS4 had every manner of active safety system. Around town the lane keeping assist was excellent. If one lets the CTS4 stray, the steering moves the car back to the center of the lane without any fuss or odd feelings. But it should be easier to turn off: we grew tired of fighting the wheel when we tried to steer around pot holes. The haptic seat shaking vibrations of the proximity sensors when parking are less annoying than audible alerts.

Cadillac is trying new things and the CTS4 feels modern.  With forward collision warning, rear cross traffic alert, and OnStar’s post-accident automated help capabilities the CTS4 is well outfitted for safety by any standard.

Conclusion

The 2016 CTS AWD 3.6L Premium Collection is a vehicle for those that want the responsiveness and look of a sporty sedan with superior style and an outstanding interior.  This car comes with the cachet that the Cadillac name has earned back.

2016 CTS AWD 3.6L Premium Collection

Base Price: $64,685

Price As Tested: $67,925 (Including destination charge)

Likes

  • Refined Drivetrain
  • Style and Attitude
  • CUE Simplicity

Dislikes

  • Touch-sensitive Controls Aren’t
  • Price
  • Sedan-Style Low Ride Height
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John Goreham

John Goreham