ASSOCIATE EDITOR GRAHAM KOZAK: Anyone still skeptical of Cadillac's ability to compete on the world luxury-performance stage is probably wondering why the Vsport line exists. They might acknowledge that the new CTS is a comfortable, composed and -- after the most recent styling updates -- exceptionally dramatic luxury sedan, and even grin like an idiot behind the wheel of a bonkers, supercharged CTS-V. But Vsport? Is Caddy still playing catch-up with something that sounds suspiciously like BMW's M Sport? Is this really a necessary addition to Cadillac's slowly growing portfolio?
Were Vsport just a vanity package like BMW's M Sport, I'd side with the skeptics. Having driven it, though, I can say that it stands on its own as a good road car -- not just a bargain-seeker's substitute for the V (the price should help make it clear). Think of the Vsport as analogous to Audi's S line, which gets a performance edge over base cars but isn't quite as irresponsible as the RS upgrade. But thanks to its distinctive powerplant the CTS Vsport isn't just a detuned version of Caddy's performance range-toppers. The Audi RS 7, for example, feels like an amped-up S7. The CTS VSport's twin-turbocharged V6 isn't at all the same as the muscular V's supercharged V8.
But it is still a good, responsive motor hooked up to a decent transmission riding on a refined platform. All the performance musts were there: The brakes on this lower-mileage tester bit confidently and steering was direct. There are neat, geeky features built in, like a boost gauge that you can enable on the digital instrument cluster. Yet the cabin remained quiet at expressway speeds; without the faked engine note, you probably wouldn't hear anything beyond a smidge of wind noise above and beyond the speed limit.
Hell, even CUE -- a sleek system loaded with capacitive buttons and switches that manage to confound anyone who tries to use it -- finally clicked during my time in the car. Once I stopped over-thinking where to run my fingers over the (non) buttons, I found it to be fairly intuitive; it even worked without me taking off my leather gloves, which I find to be a little bit creepy. I am not sure if GM changed the sensitivity of the system, but I think I'm ready to say that I could live with it day-to-day.
My one ergonomic quibble was the traction control switch. Located very close to the mode selection button, it was very easy to tap by accident. The result was that, when switching into “snow” mode for crappy roads, I managed to turn TC off and not notice until I was going more than slightly sideways. Oops.
The car's performance and refinement comes at a price, and at $72,140 as-tested, it's a double-take inducing one. 2014 CTS-V sedans don't get the VSport's updated looks (and boy, those old fascias seem dated compared to the new design, don't they?), but you can apparently still snag a whopping 556 hp for a lower sticker price.
Considering the way Cadillac's foreign competition structures and prices their lineups, I think the Detroit automaker is behaving in a reasonable way here. Introduce a new, intermediate performance line as you bump up prices across the board, and you'll be in a position to charge even more for your range-topper (that'd be the CTS-V, of course) when the new version emerges.
It's too bad that the grin-inducing performance of the CTS-V will be pushed even further out of the reach of the average enthusiast. Fortunately, Cadillac has presented a credible alternative -- if not a perfect substitute -- in the CTS Vsport. It's a good car; you should try it. It might even be more appealing to your daily-driving sensibilities than its brawny, supercharged bigger brother.
DIGITAL EDITOR ANDREW STOY: The more time I spend in this latest crop of Cadillacs, the more comfortable I get with them. That may sound like a no-brainer, but as often as not a car's annoying quirks grow more prominent as the days pass; in the case of the ATS 2.0T first, and now this 2014 CTS Vsport, however, the cars have broken in like a good pair of shoes, always comfortable to put on, up for anything and stylish in any situation.
In a previous review of the CTS 2.0-liter, I remarked about how the chassis magic from the ATS has been preserved on this bigger car; part of it has to be due to curb weight, which is amazingly under 2 tons. Where the four-cylinder turbo was a bit overwhelmed, though, this twin-turbo V6 is just about perfect, especially coupled to the eight-speed automatic. I'm not in love with the slightly coarse exhaust note (it's more late-'90s Pontiac Grand Prix 3800 than Audi S4), but everything else is just about perfect for this sedan -- output, shift schedule, you name it.
GM engineers either worked overtime on brake and throttle feel or they lucked into perfect progression, because the CTS V-sport does precisely what's expected with pedal pressure applied. Seems like an obvious expectation, but linear throttle and brake response is a far rarer characteristic than it should be. Add in great sight lines from the cockpit, supportive seats and a meaty steering wheel (heated, I might add), and the CTS just delivers a satisfying sports sedan driving experience.
I'm less enamored of CUE, the Cadillac User Interface, which still seems prettier than it is usable (form before function, in other words); I suspect with an hour or two of customization time, getting an owner's phone, radio presets, navigation settings and gauge preferences set, using CUE would become second nature, but for someone who's jumping in a car to drive for a day or two a simpler knob-based system like Mercedes' COMAND or Audi MMI is more intuitive. Then again, I'm someone who doesn't think MyFord Touch is that bad, so pick your poison.
Price is still a problem. At $72,100, the CTS Vsport is sitting right at the upper end of Mercedes-Benz E550/BMW 550i territory, and darn close to an Audi S6. Those are stout, established, exceptionally good competitors, offering turbo V8 engines and AWD for less than Cadillac's RWD V6. Cadillac still needs to prove itself to this audience; do they do so by refusing to compromise on price, insisting they're every bit as good as the German competition, or do they undercut the competitors on price ever so slightly to get brand-conscious buyers to give Cadillac a try again?
Obviously Caddy has chosen the former route, and the CTS Vsport is a premium product in nearly every respect. But it's hard to see how Cadillac is going to make sales inroads by pricing itself above superior -- at least on paper -- German cars.
EDITOR WES RAYNAL: I think I've driven all CTS variations now. If there's one I haven't, I don't know what that is. I count myself a Cadillac CTS fan for sure. They look good inside and out across the range, drive well and feel solid like a Benz. They drive like a big ATS and that's a compliment.
The 2.0-liter turbo is my CTS preference, but that's just personal opinion. It feels lighter and slightly wieldier, and is a whopping $14K cheaper than the Vsport's twin-turbo V6. Besides, I don't love this engine sound, especially at lower revs. Doesn't sound like a $72K car to me, though it does have a nice exhaust note above, say, 3,500 rpm. Not saying the twin-turbo six isn't a good engine in this car, it is. I'm just not sure if it's $14K better than the turbo four.
The chassis is tight as any out there, and the car just feels so engaged whether one is going slow, fast, or in between. It just always feels spot-on to me. Chief engineer Dave Leone and crew nailed this one big time.
The car is excellent but as noted above, price is an issue. This particular model's price tickles the well-established Germans, also noted above. Not sure Cadillac has the cred to try that pricing strategy quite yet. The car itself is as good, but will a Benz or BMW customer cross shop when the CTS costs as much if not more?
SENIOR MOTORSPORTS EDITOR MAC MORRISON: The more I drove Cadillac's CTS Vsport, the more it impressed me. My colleagues have covered the inevitable point about this car's price, and while it is certainly high, the main thing that makes me cringe about it is awareness that there are a handful of arguably better -- and also mentioned above -- competitors.
Strip the pricing questions aside, however, and the Vsport is a top-notch sport sedan with few foibles. The chassis rides firmly but comfortably, and turns eagerly into corners. Nicely weighted, accurate steering is also quick to respond to input, and you have loads of fun putting this CTS into little (or big) slides knowing that it's a relatively drama-free affair to rein the car back in.
The brake pedal is surprisingly firm, inspiring confidence and making a joy of pressure modulation; I don't left-foot brake a lot of cars, especially on the street, due to poor pedal placement and lack of pedal feel, but in this car I started doing it naturally and almost immediately, and never switched back to my right foot. Top marks here, Cadillac.
This eight-speed, ZF-supplied automatic gearbox doesn't do a bad job selecting the appropriate ratio for just about any given situation or driving style, but in manual paddle-shift mode especially, it at times delivers jolting first-gear engagement. This occurs even if you select first while crawling to a stop. I experienced the same thing a couple of times in automatic mode, too. This is nowhere near a deal breaker, and the transmission in general is up to its assigned task in this application, but a true twin-clutch setup would make the Vsport even sportier, and more fun.
Inside, there's also a lot to like: Meaty steering wheel, quality trim and materials, nice seats. I'm one of the people who find the CUE setup absolutely maddening; I think Andy has a point about owners being likely to become used to it, but one thing I never get used to is its irritatingly inconsistent response to commands. Sometimes it seems to respond quickly, other times I find myself touch … touch … touching the screen repeatedly (and cursing at it) to get it to respond almost at all. I'd also like to see the steering-wheel-mounted controls for the sound system -- the volume and channel/track up/down buttons -- repositioned, as the channel/track buttons especially are awkward to reach from my natural 9 and 3 hand position.
The twin-turbo V6? I like it a lot, and unlike some people, I enjoy its sounds regardless of how “genuine” they are. Past 3,000 rpm there's serious pull, and personally, I have a feeling I'd find it difficult to opt for the forthcoming true CTS V and its eight cylinders unless I planned to race it seriously -- and if that was my desire, I would be looking at entirely different beast outside of the Cadillac range. But in the realm of road-going luxury sport sedans, I'll happily drive a CTS Vsport at every opportunity.
ROAD TEST EDITOR JONATHAN WONG: My first experience with the 2014 Cadillac CTS Vsport was last fall at GM's Milford Proving Grounds. I got the chance to do some instrument testing and bang around the proving ground's road course, and I came way hugely impressed. It hit 60 mph in 4.5 seconds and covered the quarter-miles in 12.8 seconds at 112.8 mph. in a 3,900-pound sedan. It was also a ball around the road course, where it felt very much alive for a midsize luxury sedan. And keep in mind that this Vsport isn't going to be the performance pinnacle for the CTS range as the full-zoot CTS-V is still to come.
Instead, the Vsport is here to be the second most sporty CTS model to fill the sizable performance divide that existed in the previous CTS generations between the regular versions and the supercharged CTS-V monsters. To do that the Vsport gets the force-induced V6, which is the first twin-turbo engine ever offered by Cadillac, along with an eight-speed automatic transmission. It also gets 18-inch wheels covered wrapped in Pirelli P Zero tires, a quicker steering ratio, Brembo brakes with more aggressive pads, upgraded cooling system, electronic limited-slip differential and a track mode with specific steering and magnetic ride control calibrations for the suspension. All of that stuff I listed off above does come at a price, but we have to keep in mind that our particular test car is a Vsport Premium model that packs a bunch of other features like 20-way adjustable front seats, a reconfigurable gauge cluster, your choice of either real carbon fiber or wood cabin accents, color configurable head-up display, aluminum pedals, adaptive cruise control, front and rear automatic braking with collision preparation, a giant sunroof, tri-zone climate controls, heated rear seats and fancier wheels. If you can live without all that stuff, then you'll be able to just get the regular Vsport model that starts at $59,995 and save $10,000 from the jump.
After driving a Vsport on track last fall, I came away impressed with how engaging the car was. The car is real communicative, letting you know what's going on to let you comfortable pushing it through corners. Turn in is quick, brakes let you go deep into corners and the suspension along with those sticky tires kept the car well attached to the pavement. It also sounded great at high rpm with the Bose audio system enhancing the noises that the engine makes and piping them into the interior. And now after my drive of the Vsport on normal roads doing regular commuting, I'm still impressed by it.
The magnetic suspension can be softened for a well-damped ride, and the engine is also at home just fine motoring along through traffic. Interior surroundings look and feel top-shelf, which isn't something you could say about all Caddys in the past. Seats are comfortable and the sound insulation is free from tire and wind noise.
Like in other current Cadillac vehicles, I'm not a fan of the touch-sense controls for climate and radio because they still aren't responsive enough to commands. I can say the rear automatic braking system worked -- it kicked on when I was backing slowly into a parking spot one night. It's an alarming thing to experience. And I did experience a few rough first-gear engagements, as Mac pointed out above.
Those few grumbles aside, I'm still very much a fan of the CTS Vsport as an all-around luxury sports sedan. It can hold its own on track and be comfortable and sedate on road. The thing that impresses me the most about the latest Cadillac vehicles is that they seem to be developed with the driver in mind. Both the ATS and the CTS are legitimately fun cars to toss around, and have interiors that no longer require apologies.
2014 Cadillac CTS Vsport Premium
Base Price: $69,995
As-Tested Price: $72,140
Drivetrain: 3.6-liter twin-turbocharged V6; RWD, eight-speed automatic
Output: 420 hp @ 5,750 rpm, 430 lb-ft @ 3,500 rpm
Curb Weight: 3,952 lb
Fuel Economy (EPA City/Highway/Combined): 16/24/18 mpg
AW Observed Fuel Economy: 18.0 mpg
Options: Kona brown interior with jet black accents, semi-aniline full leather seats ($1,650); majestic plum metallic paint ($495)
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