Cadillac moved to New York, renamed its cars and crossovers, and made cutting-edge technology one of its pillars. It’s fighting hard to attract new customers and kill its outdated reputation as an old-man car brand in the United States. Change happens slowly, and then sometimes, all at once. Enter the 2016 Cadillac CT6.
This is Cadillac’s range-topping sedan. It’s almost as long as the Mercedes S-Class and BMW 7 Series, yet in some configurations, it’s lighter than their smaller siblings, the E-Class and 5 Series. The CT6 is a rolling showcase of General Motors’ latest and best technologies, with potential breakthrough features like Super Cruise semi-autonomous driving waiting in the wings.
It comes in a wide variety of flavors. The CT6 starts as low as $54,490 with a four-cylinder engine and rear-wheel drive, which is the car that Cadillac hopes will be cross-shopped with the mid-tier Germans. The top-end CT6 Platinum with all-wheel drive and the 404-horsepower V6 begins at $84,460, and it could make S-Class and 7 Series buyers rethink American luxury.
Put simply, the CT6 means everything to Cadillac, but it will mean different things to its customers. It can be the executive chauffeur with all the backseat accouterments. Or it can be the massive yet somehow kinda sporty and nimble rear-wheel-drive sedan that weighs only 3,657 pounds. We tried both versions and came away impressed with both the strategy and the execution.
Taking the wheel on a sunny, cool day in rural San Diego County, we wonder if a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine has what it takes to really move this giant. Our concerns quickly dissipate – this engine is also under the hood of the Chevy Camaro, and its 265 hp and 295 pound-feet of torque are more than up for the task. The big sedan handles curvy mountain roads adeptly. There’s not a lot of roll for a car this size, even when we’re aggressively whipping through tight turns. This poise comes from the CT6’s rigid, lightweight aluminum and steel structure called Omega. We switch through the driving modes but settle on sport for the dash to the lunch spot. The steering is surprisingly tight and the brakes have strong response with little pedal travel.After a quick bite in an old mining town called Julian, we take off in the spotlight CT6, the Platinum trim, powered by the 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6. It’s an enjoyable car to stretch out on the highway. There’s a growl when you lay on throttle and take off with aggression. The quad exhaust pipes give this car a sinister sound, but it’s not uncouth. All CT6s come with an eight-speed automatic transmission, which is smooth and well-calibrated. On the highway, we grab the paddle shifters, drop down a couple gears, and pick off slower traffic for fun. The potent V6 is competitive though outgunned by twin-turbo V8s in the BMW 750i (445 hp) and the Mercedes S550 (449 hp). This is a good example of where the CT6 is just short of the Germans’ top-end models, and it’s a little strange to think that Cadillac doesn’t offer a V8 in its biggest sedan.
Inside, the CT6 is serene and sophisticated. Conversation is easy, and the outside world is largely kept at bay. Cadillac designers are proud that all of the materials are authentic. There’s no leather-like trim or wood reproductions here. It’s all real. Our Platinum tester festooned in a color combo called “very light cashmere with ample sugar” is as syrupy as it sounds. It’s basically a gorgeous layout of wood and tan broken up by the 10.2-inch Cue touchscreen in the middle. Cue used to be the centerpiece in Cadillacs, but now it’s just the tip of the car’s technological iceberg.
The clever Rear Camera Mirror helps us know when another CT6 creeps up on our bumper in a parking lot. A normal mirror wouldn’t catch that, and the wide angle offers an early warning of a child approaching on the sidewalk. This feature uses a high definition camera to stream video through the rear view mirror. Because it’s a camera filming the car’s wake, we don’t see pillars or passengers that would normally obscure a traditional rear view mirror. On the highway, we toggle between the mirror and the video version (using what was the tilt switch). We love the clear stream of cars approaching, but sometimes it’s hard to tell how close they get. We need to try this with people in the backseat and for a more extended period of time, but our initial impressions are favorable.
Speaking of the backseat, we rode around in several loaded CT6s with the optional 10-inch screens that use Chromecast. The extended comfort seats were quite nice, and the massage feature (with the seat heaters up) was cathartic after a long flight to the West Coast.
The CT6 is so loaded with clever features we couldn’t try them all thoroughly. The Bose Panaray sound system has 34 speakers and puts out a sound that’s enveloping, though we usually kept the volume down so as to not miss turns and get lost. That did happen, and the Active Rear Steer helped us pull a tight u-turn. It makes the CT6 handle like a much smaller car and would be great for parking lots. Other notable elements, like the Enhanced Night Vision offer a Predator-like experience for tracking humans and animals, though our time behind the wheel was entirely during daylight hours. Then there’s Super Cruise, which is GM’s foray into semi-autonomous driving. It’s been delayed, and is expected for 2017.
The CT6 is unavoidable, not just for its looks and technology, but because GM is spending billions to re-launch Cadillac as a luxury player. For that to gain traction, this sedan must be the business. All of Cadillac’s cars posted sales declines in 2015, though they were offset by gains from the ancient XSR crossover and Escalade SUV. The CT6 has to break this slump, industry trends be damned. It’s the most important car the brand has made in years and its biggest step forward since Caddy began producing powerful, athletic sedans that could go toe-to-toe with the Germans on the Nürburgring. Cadillac needs a car that will define the brand as it moves forward. It has to win. This is the start of Cadillac’s next chapter, and it’s a winner.