The 2020 Cadillac CT5-V Is a Proper Sport Sedan
With the old ATS and CTS, Cadillac built cars that compared to BMW in a way few expected. Excellent chassis tuning made them benchmarks, and in high-performance V form, they were favorites of the folks who work for this fine publication. The problem was that no one bought them. Cadillac’s had a rethink.
The ATS and CTS have been replaced with the CT4 and CT5, which are a little smaller and cheaper than their predecessors. The CT4 is aimed at the Audi A3 and Mercedes A-Class, while the CT5 is up against the mighty BMW 3-series. The CT5 is longer and wider than the 3er, but is also slightly less expensive.
Previously, the V-series cars were real fire-breathers with serious track credentials—now, they’re a little more mild and road oriented. Think BMW M340i rather than M3. True successors to the old Vs are coming, with a name to be announced.
To be honest, it seemed Cadillac was diluting its sedans. Refocusing its priorities away from driver engagement to something with more mass appeal. To my pleasant surprise, this doesn’t seem to be the case. The new CT5-V can hold its head high among the M340i, Mercedes-AMG C43 and Audi S4.
Cadillac invited us to drive the new CT5-V in Palm Springs. Before we got a turn in the fast one, we got in a CT5 Premium Luxury and pointed southwest towards the Palms to Pines highway. The evocatively named road runs up into the mountains with a good mix of tight hairpins and open flowing bends.
Even though the Premium Luxury isn’t the explicitly sporty model, it’s still a fine sport sedan. Thank the chassis. The CT5 rides an updated version of the GM Alpha platform originally designed for the ATS and CTS. A lot of the changes made were aimed towards adding refinement to the platform, while improving the ride-handling balance.
As we’ve come to expect from Cadillac, the chassis tuning for the Premium Luxury is spot-on. There’s just the right amount of wheel travel, letting the car breathe with the road beautifully. You don’t get GM’s excellent MagneRide dampers, but the passive Sachs shocks used here provide compliance in town and the ability to deal with whatever weirdness the Palms to Pines threw at it. At one point, the surface material changed at the bottom of a small crest, and the CT5 just soaked it up and kept pressing. Steering is accurate, though the extra effort added in Sport mode is a little gratuitous. The good news is that you can set up a custom driving mode, so lighter steering can be paired with more aggressive drivetrain settings.
Speaking of the drivetrain, while the Premium Luxury comes standard with a 2.0-liter turbo-four and a 10-speed auto, the car we were driving had a 3.0-liter twin-turbo V-6. It’s effective, if not entirely characterful, serving up 335 horsepower and 405 lb-ft of torque. It’s delivered with absolutely minimal turbo lag, and the 10-speed manages the short ratios well. The transmission responds well to the wheel-mounted paddle shifters, and if you’re driving aggressively in Sport mode, you can let it downshift for you under braking, and hold gears through corners. All in all, it’s a big improvement over Cadillac’s old eight-speed auto, even if the two extra ratios feel superfluous.
In the V, the engine is cranked up to 360 horsepower, while the torque figure remains the same. The CT5-V also gets MagneRide dampers, an electronically controlled limited-slip differential, GM’s Performance Traction Management (PTM) system, Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires, and a handful of other suspension tweaks. It’s a far more serious car than the Premium Luxury, more tied down and confidence inspiring on the Palms to Pines. This is the one you want if your commute involves a canyon road.
The old ATS-V was a little too stiff for the real world. By contrast, the CT5-V feels just right. Not so soft that it can’t tear up a good road, but never harsh over bigger imperfections. The CT5-V doesn’t feel that much less sporty than its predecessors, even if it’s down on power. In other words, no, Cadillac hasn’t forgotten how to make a proper driver’s car.
Cadillac also invited us to drive the CT5-V at the Thermal Club’s desert circuit. Their minders were quick to point out that these aren’t all-out track cars, lacking the extra cooling hardware that allowed the old Vs to lap all day without worry. They had us run through the pits each lap, though I suspect they were just being overly cautious.
At Thermal, the chassis balance shined, as did the totally seamless PTM system that helped get the power down with ease. You don’t get gobs of steering feel, but it’s easy to intuit grip levels through the seat of your pants. The Michelins will make a little noise when pushed too hard, but their limits are quite high.
All-wheel drive is optional—a first for a V-series car. On track, it understeers a bit more than the rear-driver, and the steering seemed a touch lighter. Neither in extremes, though. Torque split between the front and rear is variable, and it’s hard to feel the system shuffling torque around. Really, you just notice the extra weight.
While the transmission shined on the road, it came up a little short on track. In automatic mode, you get downshifts right on turn-in, and sometimes mid-corner. They don’t upset the balance of the car; they just point to a lack of refinement. So you switch to the paddles, and quickly realize that 10 ratios is just too many to manage. There are so many short gears in the middle of the ‘box, it’s easy to lose track of where you are and hit the rev limiter. The transmission certainly isn’t bad, but its clumsiness had us wishing for the ATS-V’s six-speed manual.
I couldn’t help wondering why Cadillac fit the CT5-V with PTM and an electronic limited-slip—expensive stuff that really only comes into its own on track—and not the extra cooling components you need to run laps without worry. Maybe that’ll be an option package. Certainly, that stuff will come on the yet-to-arrive higher-performance version of the CT5. Overall, though, the CT5-V impressed on track, even if its natural home is the road.
We left the track and headed for Los Angeles in a CT5 Premium Luxury, which gave us a better look at how it performs where people will actually use it. It’s quiet and refined, and while the interior isn’t flashy, it’s far better than the capacitive-touch-control hell of the ATS and CTS. Cadillac’s innovative Super Cruise hands-off highway driving system will also be available in the CT5 for the next model year.
I actually found myself gravitating a bit more towards the Premium Luxury than the V. It’s got most of the back-road chops and pace as the V, with understated styling and nicer interior trim. And it’s around $2000 cheaper.
We should talk a bit more about pricing—the CT5 Premium Luxury 3.0 starts at $46,540 while the V is $48,690. All-wheel drive adds a little over $3000 to the price of the former, and $2600 to the latter. The base prices of the BMW M340i and Mercedes-AMG C43 are a little higher, while the Audi S4 is a little cheaper. But add options and they’re all within the same ballpark. Cadillac gives you a bit more space than all the Germans and a chassis that matches the BMW for driver engagement. And unlike with the last Cadillac sports-sedans, you don’t sacrifice too much luxury for it.
Is the CT5 a benchmark? I think it’s a little too early to say. I’d like to drive it back-to-back with a 3-Series and the other entry-luxury upstart darling, the Genesis G70. But this drive was promising. This is a real-deal sports sedan, built by and for enthusiasts. Now, we wait to see if customers respond.
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