It's a surprising improvement over the ATS and CTS.
It seems like every decade or so, Cadillac reinvents itself. Countless years of being outsold by BMW and Mercedes-Benz will do that to a company. You'd need to look back to 1998 to find a year where Cadillac exceeded the sales of either of the two German luxury brands. Cadillac's latest restructuring effort involved axing the popular ATS and CTS, which had developed a sizable following as American rivals for the 3 Series/C-Class and 5 Series/E-Class, respectively.
Those two sedans were replaced, though not directly, by the 2020 Cadillac CT5 and CT4. The CT5 straddles the line between a compact and a mid-size. It's smaller than the outgoing CTS but larger than an ATS. Reentering the sedan market with a new tweener model might seem like an odd move, but after spending some time with the CT5, we believe Cadillac may have stumbled onto an interesting formula. Here's what we liked about the CT5 and what we think needs fixing.
If you read nearly any review of the outgoing ATS or CTS, the cabin stood out as the most significant drawback. Those cars did not feel premium enough to compete with BMW, but with the CT5, Cadillac seems to have made noticeable steps towards improving the materials. Soft materials and leathers fill the cabin, and carbon fiber trim provides a sporty motif. The interior design feels more bright and dynamic than BMW's, and the ergonomics are well thought out. There are two areas to stick your phone, one of which also charges it wirelessly, and the controls fall nicely into hand.
Cadillac has made some curious design choices with certain controls and materials. For example, the infotainment can be controlled using the touchscreen but there is also a separate rotating dial on the center console that can scroll through the menus. We never found the dial to be as intuitive as the touchscreen, nor did we rely on the secondary volume knob located above it. It just feels like a cheap imitation of BMW's iDrive knob. Likewise, the shift knob, an obvious BMW ripoff, doesn't fit in with the rest of the cabin design.
The turn signals are another small, but noticeable ergo quirk. The steering wheel itself is shaped nicely but its position requires you to hyperextend your fingers to reach the turn stalk. It's a small detail that becomes annoying after a long period of time. And while Cadilac has done well with the cabin materials this time around, there are a few too many of them to look cohesive. The surfaces of carbon fiber, silver trim, black leather, brown leather, brown stitched black leather, and black plastic, almost look as if they were all taken from different cars.
Cadillac's second-generation CUE infotainment is a massive improvement over the old, laggy system, and works flawlessly. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay come standard and look crisp on the standard 10-inch touchscreen. Cadillac has seamless integrated Amazon Alexa for voice commands and the high-resolution graphics work wonders for the 360-degree camera system.
Working in tandem with the cameras, the CT5 can park itself into perpendicular and parallel spots. Like the Buick Encore GX we recently tested, this system is more intuitive than most. Cadillac has also given the CT5 other standout features like a rearview camera mirror, and massaging seats.
By making the CT5 larger than a 3 Series but smaller than a 5 Series, Cadillac has seemingly put itself in a unique position to capture buyers who value rear seat space but still want a compact vehicle. The back seat offers a roomy 37.9 inches of legroom, which blows away the 3 Series' and C-Class' 35.2 inches. As a minor drawback, the CT5's sloping roofline limits headroom considerably and the seatbacks in the second row are quite firm.
Cadilac has prioritized legroom over cargo capacity, though, as the trunk only offers 11.9 cubic feet. The BMW utilizes its space more efficiently, offering 17 cubic feet of cargo capacity. The CT5 also suffers from having a small passthrough into the cabin, which limits its ability to store oversize objects.
The base engine in the CT5 is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder producing 237 horsepower and 258 lb-ft. This engine is nothing special, which is why we highly recommend the optional 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged V6 found in our test car. The larger displacement engine puts out 335 hp and a whopping 400 lb-ft of torque in its standard guise or 360 hp and 405 lb-ft in the V model. The sprint to 60 takes just 4.9 seconds with RWD or 5.1 seconds with AWD. Cadillac's 10-speed automatic rips off quick shifts as the V6 engine produces a vibrant tone. This 10-speed automatic ranks among the best we've ever tested, including BMW's highly-praised eight-speed.
Cadillac has included fuel-saving technology like engine stop/start, though it didn't activate a single time during our week of testing. Even the V6's ability to shut down to a V4 didn't seem to help efficiency because, at the end of a week, our fuel economy average was just 17.5 mpg, falling far short the of the EPA-rated 25 mpg average.
CT5 pricing starts at $36,895 for the base 2.0T model, making it around $4,000 less than the least expensive 3 Series. Higher up the range, the CT5's value proposition becomes stronger. Our Premium Luxury tester with AWD and the all-inclusive Platinum Package rang in at $59,395. For that price, you will struggle to find a 3 Series or C-Class with a six-cylinder engine and more than just a handful of options.
The CT5 also includes features not found on the German options such as massage seats and self-parking, while the 2021 model will get Cadillac's advanced Super Cruise system. Combine that with the CT5's gusty engine, unique styling, improved interior, and roomy back seat, and we could make a compelling reason to choose it over one of the German options.