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2020 Cadillac CT5 first drive review: Core competencies

Before GM’s premier marque takes a swan dive into the pool of electrification, it has some more traditional new vehicles on the way. One of them is the 2020 CT5, a replacement for the CTS that aims to slot right into the busy compact-luxury sedan segment. After several hours behind the wheel of a V6 model, I think GM’s core competencies are on display, but so are some of the automaker’s usual missteps.

I liked the way the outgoing Cadillac CTS looked, and I have plenty of praise to offer this new body. The CT5’s fastback silhouette makes the car look more fashionable, as every automaker under the sun has decided that a racy roofline is the way to go. While it’s not as rectilinear as the outgoing CTS, there are still some sharp lines front and rear that give the CT5 some aggression. Its slimmer headlights and taillights also contribute to a sedan that is quite handsome.

The exterior isn’t infallible, though. That array of sloping metal and glass in the back means rear headroom is at more of a premium, with my 6-foot frame being less comfortable in the second row than originally anticipated. The side mirrors, while svelte, are Camaro-like in that you wish there were twice as much glass as what’s available. The door handles introduce unnecessary complexity with an electronic release that doesn’t feel very satisfying. There’s also the matter of the three-digit badge on the back. For some reason unknown to sentient life, GM decided to start badging its new cars based on a rounded torque output measured in Newton-meters. There’s a bit of a “big numbers good,” lowest-common-denominator approach going on here.

Credit where it’s due, the CT5’s interior represents a big step forward for Cadillac. Its design is far more interesting, making greater use of layering and interesting angles. The standard leather-appointed seats are supportive without being tight, and the cowhide itself feels posh. Physical switches play alongside the 10-inch infotainment screen, and I vastly prefer how they feel to the CTS’ weird half-touchscreen buttons. Everything is laid out nice and sensibly, and at no point am I left wondering where a certain feature might be hidden – if I think a feature is going to be in a specific spot, there it is. There’s some solid storage in here, too, between the sizable-enough door pockets, glove compartment and console armrest cubby. The trunk is pretty competitive at 11.9 cubic feet, as well.

But, with all that good comes more shades of Old GM. With a starting price just a hair under the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, there is more hard plastic than I’d like, stretching to areas like the steering wheel, under the infotainment screen and surrounding the display dial on the center console. My tester’s glossy wood immediately dates the interior – additional matte options would convey a far more premium feeling. The console’s cupholders aren’t sizable enough to accommodate larger travel mugs. And then there’s the gear lever, which remains an obvious German facsimile — and a bulbous, ugly one, at that.

If there’s one thing GM is exceptional at, it’s throwing too much motor into a car, slapping it on the ass and lettin’ ‘er rip. Despite lacking the performance-oriented loadout of the hotter V model, the 2020 CT5’s optional V6 engine is still a delight. This 3.0-liter, twin-turbocharged V6 puts out 335 horsepower and 400 pound-feet of torque, all of which is sent to the rear wheels through a 10-speed automatic transmission. The six-pot absolutely rips, generating grin-inducing torque with even a moderate squeeze of the right pedal, and it sounds pretty damn delightful at full throttle. The 10-speed automatic can be manhandled like a dual-clutch, rattling off quick shifts in both directions, but it’s also content to putt along lazily, smoothly swapping cogs in the background. I cannot imagine how batshit insane this car will be when GM puts its tried-and-true, 6.2-liter supercharged V8 under the hood.

The CT5’s powertrain pendulum swings in both directions, though. While I enjoy the V6’s noise at speed, I loathe it between 70 and 80 mph, where it has this incessant medium-pitched drone that sounds like a not-too-distant washing machine on the spin cycle. And for as good as the gas pedal is, the brake pedal is odd, feeling stiff and making modulation difficult.

The standard CT5’s twin-turbo V6 might not make as much power as the CT5-V’s engine, but it’s pretty darn close, and it’s still tons of fun.

Andrew Krok/Roadshow

The remainder of the Cadillac CT5 driving experience is peachy. A stiffer body combines with luxury-oriented suspension for a ride that is finally approaching Teutonic levels of composure. The rough stuff gets eaten up in equal part by the dampers and the Michelin all-season tires wrapped around my tester’s 19-inch wheels — opt for Magnetic Ride Control, which my tester lacks, and things will get even better. Rougher roads will showcase a bit of tire noise, but generally, the cabin remains at the hushed level commensurate with any other luxury car.

Another place GM has been killing it these days is the infotainment system. The latest iteration of the Cadillac User Experience (CUE) system shows the automaker at the top of its game, with a straightforward-but-pleasant aesthetic, zippy boot times and responsiveness and a boatload of standard features, like Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and OnStar’s 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot (subscription required). User accounts let drivers access their own radio presets and navigation destinations. Best of all, every CT5 trim gets the same 10-inch screen, which looks perfectly proportional to the rest of the dashboard. My tester packs both USB-A and -C ports under the armrest, and I really like the little “Phone Shrine” (their words, not mine) that holds my phone for quick access once I’ve stopped. I also spy an optional 8-inch color display between the gauges for fast referencing of basic vehicle information, along with what’s playing through the speakers and turn-by-turn directions. If that’s still too much, a compact HUD displays just the pertinent stuff.

I have just one gripe here. Like the Camaro before it, it’s clear that GM’s interior designers may not fully understand how humans sit in a car. In the CT5, the CUE display is tilted upward, away from the driver and passenger both, which looks weird but at least it’s better than the Camaro’s screen, which is pointed at the floor. The physical gauges flanking the cluster screen also appear to be oriented slightly downward. It all looks very odd.

The interior is fine — above fine when compared with Cadillacs of yore — but it still lags behind its German competition.

Andrew Krok/Roadshow

Cadillac (and GM at large) remains a notable holdout in the democratization of its safety systems, but it’s getting better. My CT5 tester’s Premium Luxury trim comes standard with automatic emergency braking, rear parking sensors, blind-spot monitoring and lane-departure warning. If you want lane-keep assist and a following distance indicator, that’ll cost you $1,300. Looking for adaptive cruise control? Don’t worry, you just have to spend $1,950 on top of the aforementioned upgrade — after also adding packages costing $2,090, $1,090 and $600. Get it together, Caddy. And that’s before Super Cruise comes into play, which won’t happen until the 2021 model year. My tester doesn’t even have all that good stuff, and it still costs $53,345 after destination, quite the hike over the V6 Premium Luxury’s starting price of $46,540. 

The 2020 Cadillac CT5 is a big step forward for GM’s fanciest child. Attention to detail is way up, while GM continues to do what it does best in terms of infotainment technology and potent-powertrain prowess, and it’s finally rolling out a car that complements these strengths, rather than existing despite them. It’s not perfect, as the automaker still has some growing up to do, but the CT5 is proof that Cadillac is moving in the right direction.

About the author: SubSellKaro

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