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2020 Cadillac CT5 Test Drive Review

To create the new 2020 Cadillac CT5, the company takes an already-tasty luxury sport sedan recipe and makes it better.

8.2 /10
Overall Score

Since its debut nearly 20 years ago, the Cadillac CTS has enjoyed praise from critics and consumers alike. At the height of the car’s popularity, it came in sedan, coupe, and wagon body styles, all three available in high-powered, performance-tuned CTS-V variants—with manual transmissions. Those days are over because y’all want SUVs and can’t use a clutch pedal. Still, Cadillac thinks there is life left in luxury cars. The new 2020 Cadillac CT5 replaces the CTS in the company’s lineup, and though based on the previous CTS' Alpha platform, it’s an entirely different car that deserves your consideration.

Look and Feel

9/ 10

Cadillac is modeling the styling cues for all of its cars and SUVs on the Escala concept vehicle. More than any other model wearing the brand’s familiar crest, the new 2020 CT5 looks most like that sleek and elegant vision of Cadillac’s future.

Perhaps more important, there isn’t a line or a detail wrong on this car. Sure, you can quibble with the spear of chrome that extends too far back on the rear roof pillars, which visually shortens the CT5 in an unflattering way. But otherwise, there isn’t a line or a proportion wrong on this Cadillac, something that could never be said about any of the CTS models that came before it. And though the test car sticks with the standard 18-inch wheels and tires, they don’t look too small or awkwardly inset from the body. The Red Obsession Tintcoat paint, however, at $1,225, is an unnecessary extravagance.

When you shop for a 2020 Cadillac CT5, you’ll find Luxury trim at the bargain price of $36,895. Don’t get this version of the car. It comes only with a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine unfit for use in the smaller Cadillac CT4, let alone this larger and plusher midsize sedan. Mainly, the problem with that engine is its absolute lack of refinement, though it is also down on power from the 2.0-liter turbo Cadillac used in last year’s CTS.

Sport trim ($42,690) is an upgrade, but you’re still stuck with the turbo four. That’s why we recommend the Premium Luxury ($41,690) or the V-Series ($48,690). A twin-turbocharged V6 is optional for the Premium Luxury and standard for the V-Series, and it is a far more satisfying power plant. Every CT5 comes with rear-wheel drive unless you spend thousands extra to add all-wheel drive.

Our test vehicle had Premium Luxury trim and the V6 engine, plus the high-priced paint and the Platinum Package, which adds nearly every upgrade to the car. It came to $57,995 MSRP including a mandatory $995 destination charge. And that represents a serious bargain when compared to most other midsize luxury cars.

The Platinum Package equips the CT5 with premium semi-aniline leather in a brown color called Sedona Sauvage. It pairs with carbon-fiber dashboard, door panel, and center console trim to create an exclusive cabin unavailable in other versions of the car. The look is appealing, though a choice in open-pore wood trims is more appropriate for the Premium Luxury Platinum version of the CT5.

Quality is higher than the smaller CT4, but Cadillac could still improve with regard to the plastic on the lower door panels and seat-base surrounds. Nevertheless, from the perspective of what you can see and typically touch while sitting in the driver’s seat, nothing about the CT5’s cabin offers a quick explanation for its affordable price point.

Performance

7/ 10

The CT5 Luxury and CT5 Sport have an unrefined 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Unless you’re looking to save money (and if you are, maybe you should be shopping for a Chevy instead of a Cadillac), skip this engine. You want the twin-turbo 3.0-liter V6.

To get it, you’ll need the CT5 Premium Luxury or CT5-V. It is a $4,850 option on the former and standard on the latter. With Premium Luxury trim, power ratings are 335 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 400 pound-feet of torque between 2,400 rpm and 4,400 rpm. The engine makes more power in the CT5-V, and lower in the rev range: 360 hp at 5,000 rpm and 405 lb-ft from 1,500 rpm to 4,000 rpm.

Like the standard turbocharged four-cylinder, the twin-turbo V6 uses a 10-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters. To maximize fuel economy, Active Fuel Management allows the engine to operate on fewer cylinders under certain driving conditions while an automatic engine stop/start system saves gas when the car is stopped. Drivers can turn off the stop/start technology if they dislike it. Our test car is EPA rated at 21 mpg combined. Our result was 20.1 mpg.

When you want instant, enormously gratifying, acceleration, the twin-turbo V6 delivers. It transforms this otherwise mild-mannered sedan into a rocket, and when the engine revs hard, it sounds terrific. It is worth noting that only once during more than 140 miles of driving did we use the engine’s maximum potential, and that was when accelerating down a short freeway on-ramp to join fast-flowing traffic. With all that torque located right where you need it, there simply isn’t a need to run the car hard for most driving situations.

Switch from the Tour to Sport driving mode, and the powertrain can sense when you’re driving enthusiastically, holding lower gears for longer periods. This behavior is rarely appreciated, though, and the louder engine note accompanying the added engine revs isn’t terribly rewarding.

Furthermore, this powertrain behavior makes the car less enjoyable to drive. While slinging the CT5 down a mountain grade with enthusiasm, the software determined that it was time to hold gears. Establishing a nice rhythm as we sluiced the Cadillac down the writhing stretch of road, we pitched the car into a decreasing-radius turn. It was at this exact moment that the transmission determined an upshift was a good idea. As revs dropped, reducing engine braking, the car went a little wide just as the corner tightened. This change in vehicle behavior required us to add braking pressure, which unsettled the CT5 to a small degree.

After that curve, we determined that we couldn’t trust the car and slowed down. It’s too bad because right up until then, we were really enjoying the CT5, and then suddenly we weren’t.

Of course, you can use the paddle shifters to take manual control over the transmission. But with 10 gears to choose from, and the CT5’s quick and nearly-imperceptible shift quality, using the paddles doesn’t help much and actually dulls the driving experience.

Cadillac needs to do better here, but it’s possible that the CT5-V doesn’t cause the same level of consternation. Cadillac builds the CT5 Premium Luxury for a different customer who is less likely to explore the car’s performance potential. As such, it is less engaging and rewarding to drive near its limits than I expected, but at the same time is (mostly) competent and confidence inspiring.

For example, the Premium Luxury model’s suspension tuning is on the soft and compliant side. You need to slow down for speed humps, driveway aprons, and drainage ditches, or the sound of the chin spoiler scraping on the pavement will be your constant companion.

Yet, in the real world, where pavement often has bumps, holes, cracks, and dips, the CT5 Premium Luxury soaks it all up without filtering all of the information about the road surface. You know the road scars are there, but the communication about them is never punishing, harsh, brutal, or even loud. For the real roads that real people drive on every day, the Premium Luxury’s suspension tuning is fantastic.

Furthermore, the rack-mounted electric steering feels terrific in your hands, and the brake pedal is perfectly calibrated in terms of response and modulation. These components, combined with a nearly flat cornering attitude and the twin-turbocharged V-6, encourage rapid transit. Just keep in mind that the Premium Luxury model’s all-season tires tend to give up early.

Overall, this car is most pleasurable when driven up to 8/10ths of its limits. Beyond that, you’ll probably want the Cadillac CT5-V, or the upcoming CT5-V Blackwing model.

Form and Function

8/ 10

Thanks to a new interior and a stretched wheelbase, the CT5’s most significant improvement over the old CTS is its cabin. From the controls and displays to the comfort levels, Cadillac delivers true midsize spaciousness in a compact-priced luxury car.

Offering 18-way power adjustment, including the side bolsters and extending thigh supports, the Premium Luxury Platinum’s front seats were outstanding. The test car even had a lumbar massage function, automatic heating and cooling, and an automatic heated steering wheel. The premium semi-aniline leather was soft and lush, and the Platinum Package also installs a cabin air ionization feature. As a result, the CT5 feels like it delivers all-day driving comfort.

The old Cadillac CTS had a relatively small rear seat. Thanks to its stretched wheelbase, the new Cadillac CT5 does not. In addition to a comfortable cushion and backrest, there is plenty of legroom for adults. Plus, air conditioning vents help to keep rear passengers cool.

Interior storage space is impressive. In addition to a smartphone tray with wireless charging and a sizable center console, the CT5 offers a large glove compartment and door-panel bins that accommodate personal items. A smartphone storage box allows you to pass USB connection cords through its bottom for a clean implementation of connected devices. For 2021, wireless connectivity is coming to the CT5 as well.

Cargo space is not impressive. The trunk measures just 11.9 cubic feet, and the floor isn’t flat. Enclosed hinges contribute to the volume problem, but at least you can pack every nook and cranny full of your stuff without worry that you’ll crush it. And Cadillac includes a handle to help you swing the lid shut.

Tech Level

9/ 10

Though Cadillac still refers to the CT5’s infotainment system as Cadillac User Experience (CUE), it is entirely different from what came in the previous CTS under that name.

This version of CUE drops the previous touch-sensing control panel beneath the display screen in favor of stereo knobs, a row of piano-key controls, and a row of secondary-function buttons. In combination with a 10.0-inch high-definition touchscreen display with crisp graphics, a clean and intuitive layout, and instant response to inputs, it is an absolute delight to use, unlike the previous iterations of CUE.

Highlights include Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Cadillac Connected Services through OnStar, a 4G LTE WiFi hotspot, and Near Field Communication one-touch smartphone pairing. Optional upgrades include a navigation system and a 15-speaker Bose Performance Series premium sound system that produces an adequate audio experience.

Drivers can use a cloud-based voice-recognition system to issue commands to the technology, and it passed examination with flying colors, promptly and properly responding to requests. However, the climate system is not voice controlled.

Cadillac also equips the CT5 with a collection of physical infotainment-system controls on the center console, which go unused unless you decide you prefer them to the other ways of interacting with CUE. Unlike with the redesigned 2021 Cadillac Escalade, they’re redundant rather than required.

Additional technologies include a high-definition surround-view camera system and a surround-view video recorder. A rearview-camera mirror provides an unobstructed 180-degree view of what’s behind the car, and parking assist with automatic emergency braking helps take some of the stress out of putting this Cadillac into a space.

A head-up display (HUD) is also available, and it remains visible even when the driver is wearing polarized sunglasses. However, the speed-limit data shown in the HUD frequently proved wrong. For example, while driving on a road with 35-mph speed limit signs, the HUD said the limit was 55 mph. And this wasn’t the only time the data seemed suspect. You probably don’t want to trust it fully.

Safety

8/ 10

As you might expect from the company that offered the first hands-free Level 2 advanced driving assistance system (ADAS) for use on American roads, the CT5 boasts a sophisticated safety-technology game. But you need to upgrade beyond the Luxury trim level to access it.

Equipped with all safety features available for the CT5, the test car issued no false warnings. However, the lane-keeping assistance technology works in such a subtle fashion that it is sometimes difficult to tell if it is operational or not. For example, it allows a driver to purposely drift over the painted lines on the road, issuing a lane-departure warning buzz through the Safety Alert driver’s seat. This behavior led us to question whether the lane-keeping assistance was active. A check confirmed that it was operational, further demonstrated by subtle corrective action when the CT5 drifted unintentionally.

Cadillac also equips the CT5 with an adaptive cruise control system that also offers regular cruise control operation, giving drivers a choice between the two. With the adaptive cruise control engaged, the CT5 smoothly maintains a safe following distance and brakes in a polished manner. When traffic ahead clears out of the way, the car quickly accelerates to resume speed, helped in this endeavor by the twin-turbocharged V6 in our test car.

Super Cruise, Cadillac’s hands-free driver-assist technology, is not available for the 2020 CT5. The company says it will offer the technology for the 2021 CT5.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Cadillac CT5 earns five-star crash-test ratings across the board, including for rollover resistance. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) had not rated the car as this review was written.

Cost-Effectiveness

8/ 10

Ignore the Cadillac CT5’s base price. In Luxury trim, with the four-cylinder engine, this is unlikely a car you’ll want to own and drive. We strongly recommend the twin-turbo V6, which requires Premium Luxury or CT5-V trim.

Still, the upgrading to a higher trim level doesn’t erode the CT5’s value compared to midsize luxury sedans from Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz. Our test car, equipped with almost every option, wore a price tag just slightly higher than where the A6, 5 Series, and E-Class start in terms of their base prices. In some ways, the Cadillac isn’t quite as sophisticated, or as elegant, or as high quality as the trio from Germany. But you get significant bang for your luxury sedan buck with this Cadillac.

The CT5’s real competition is coming in 2021. Acura has a new TLX, Genesis has a new G80, and Jaguar has a freshened and much more affordable XF. All three are priced in this Cadillac’s sweet spot, but the company is planning upgrades to the 2021 CT5, and then in 2022, a new high-performance version arrives in CT5-V Blackwing form.

Given how much we liked our time in the 2020 Cadillac CT5, this car has a potentially bright future if enough people are willing to give it a try, and in the right specification.

Updated

Christian Wardlaw has 25 years of experience reviewing cars and has served in editorial leadership roles with Edmunds, J.D. Power, the New York Daily News, Autobytel, and Vehix. Chris prefers to focus on the cars people actually buy rather than the cars about which people dream, and emphasizes the importance of fuel economy and safety as much as how much fun a car is to drive. Chris is married to an automotive journalist, is the father of four daughters, and lives in Southern California.

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