The 2020 Cadillac CT5 and CT5-V are under-the-radar gems
If you’re shopping mid-price luxury sedans, then your head is no doubt swimming in letters and numbers. Do you want a 540i, GS350, E350, Q50, or G70? Or perhaps you would prefer an XF, a TLX, a CTS, or an A6 45 TFSI? It might help you decide if you have an Envy 5055, which would be an excellent name for a car but is, alas, an inkjet printer from HP.
You could be forgiven for thinking that the auto industry just produces part numbers rather than whole cars. Which is why America’s two main luxury brands, Cadillac and Lincoln, have either returned to real model names or, in Cadillac’s case, announced that they will do so by 2022. Until then, behold the new Cadillac CT5 sedan, which replaces the old CTS and will go directly against the GS350, E350, Q50, and etc.
Cadillac and Lincoln have been on a tear lately, each receiving fresh resources for a product blitz. The goal is to elevate their status from graying domestic relics known primarily for their jumbo trucks, the Escalade and Navigator—which do very well with word names, thank you—to globally recognized luxury portfolios on par with those of Audi, Mercedes, Lexus, and BMW. This is especially the case in China, a huge luxury market where the CT5 is being launched simultaneously from its own assembly plant there.
The 2020 CT5 (and sportier CT5-V) for U.S. consumption will come from good old Lansing, Michigan, with prices that GM earnestly kept back from the $50,000 cliff where sales volume falls into a chasm. The base, rear-drive, 237-hp 2.0-liter CT5 starts at $37,890, or $40,490 with all-wheel-drive. A 3.0-liter twin-turbo V-6 takes the horsepower up to 335 and the starting price to $45,190. The CT5-V pushes the V-6’s horsepower up to 360 and the price to $48,960. You can just tip the car over 50 grand by optioning all-wheel drive on the V. Forget a manual transmission, it’s not at all available in the CT5.
The various models, as well as the forthcoming shorter CT4 sedan, represent a further evolution of GM’s rear-drive Alpha architecture, an exquisite pile of aluminum and steel components that together have made for some very lovely pavement-skimmers. Alpha was a revolution for GM when it debuted in 2012 under the compact ATS sedan. It was a breakthrough in weight reduction, assembly sophistication, chassis refinement, steering response, and whole-car integration that, alas, was compromised by poor interior packaging, sub-par infotainment technology, and chintzy plastics.
GM is determined to correct errors in the new CT5 and CT5-V. It starts with lean and clean lines defined by the two prominent vertical blades of the daytime running lights. Though the grille is bluff and imposing (and ample, with various tributary grilles of both the functional and fake variety) designers have successfully cheated the hoodline as low as possible, a fact that you can’t help but notice when one comes at you looking very squat to the road. The CT5 has serious stance, especially in darker colors when all that excessive grille action (plus the fake quarter window behind the rear door) blends in to make one sinister shape.
It also has serious space, with more rear-seat stretch room thanks to a 1.4-inch increase in the wheelbase. While the wheels are further apart, the car’s overall length is actually down slightly from the old CTS, adding to that stance thing. And the interior design and materials are all significantly improved in the dash and door-panel areas, whether you opt for the more luxurious wood accents or the sportier carbon details. That’s not to say that probing fingers can’t find hard plastic with mold part-lines. The front seat-backs, for example, are two plastic clamshells that face the rear-seat passengers as C-average reminders of old GM.
But counterweighted to that vestige is an electrical architecture upgrade yielding high-def screens with fast processors to both the center console and instrument cluster, as well as a variety of drive modes tailored to your mood. Also, a new and improved version of Super Cruise, Cadillac’s limited self-driving system, is said to be available on the car starting in 2021.
The CT5’s few interior oversights can be forgiven once you’re on the road. Thrown hard into some bends in the mountains above Palm Springs, California, the new Cadillac proved that the old CTS was no fluke when it routinely beat German competitors in magazine comparison tests. The steering is sharp, reactive, and organic, and the body control is every bit as refined as anything from a European stable. Besides extra horsepower, the CT5-V adds MagneRide magnetic shocks which GM calls MagneRide 4.0, a hardware and software upgrade said to be quicker and more natural-feeling.
It’s nice but, frankly, you don’t need it. The base suspension tune is that good. Cadillac got here the same way the Germans did years ago, by spec’ing good components. Standard passive shock absorbers with multi-valve internals allow the shocks to dampen differently based on the input. A hard, sudden impact is buttered over, while wallow and roll meet with firm, well-measured resistance. Bosch (formerly ZF, the best in the business) supplies the electric power-steering rack, Michelins are fitted all around—from Primacy tourers on the base models to Pilot Sports on the sportier models—and Brembo components ride the front discs on the V.
The V glowers a bit, with blacked-out window trim where brightwork lightens things up on the luxury models, and four exhaust finishers on the rear bumper from which a healthier growl emits, especially when the internal exhaust flaps are open. All CT5 versions get some sound augmentation through the stereo system. In the base 3.0-liter twin-turbos and the V, the sound is meaty with the occasional buzz-bang of an induced backfire on hard upshifts, but some ears may tire of the V-6’s robo-drone after many freeway miles and wish there was an off switch to the noisemaker. Also, unless you live in snowy areas, don’t bother with the all-wheel-drive V, as it’s an all-weather system that, in the dry, only enhances understeer.
Until now, none of the Alpha-platform cars have sold particularly well, and they remain a secret gem for those in the know. But Cadillac takes heart in the fact that the mid-priced luxury sedan segment is holding its own even as sedan sales overall are declining. Part of that is the Tesla Model 3 effect, part of that is demographics, Cadillac believes. There’s evidence that younger buyers aren’t quite as obsessed with SUVs. Maybe.
While attractive, modern, and well appointed, the CT5 is also somewhat conservative in a world where something outrageous like a Tesla Cybertruck can propel a stock into orbit. When asked why they didn’t do something more different, even a hatchback a la the Audi A7 or Kia Stinger, GM’s global design chief, Michael Simcoe, had a litany of reasons why it would have compromised the design. Well, somehow the A7 and Stinger pull it off, but Cadillac is sticking with its sedan formula for now.
And you can’t really argue with the result. If you’re not one of sheep who buys a BMW or a Lexus based entirely on brand alone, Cadillac has a very formidable alternative.