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The New CT5 Is a Step Backwards for Cadillac

Car and Driver logo Car and Driver 1/30/2020 Joey Capparella

In realigning its sedan range for the 2020 model year, Cadillac has updated the CTS and recast it as the CT5 to better target the BMW 3-series's segment. At the same time, the previous ATS essentially has evolved into the CT4 to serve as an entry-level price leader similar to the BMW 2-series Gran Coupe and Mercedes-Benz A-class. On the surface, that lineup readjustment somewhat rights the wrongs of those two awkwardly sized outgoing models, both of which had tight rear seats and struggled to make serious inroads into their segments. For the CT5, however, the changes are significant and result in a less impressive machine that, while potentially better positioned, lacks the satisfying handling prowess that had begun to define Cadillac's contemporary sedans.

Research the Cadillac CT5 on MSN Autos

Chassis Tuning Matters

a blue car parked on the side of a road: Cadillac's new-for-2020 sedan remedies some flaws of the previous CTS yet gives up on the driving excellence that had begun to define its cars. © Andi Hedrick - Car and Driver Cadillac's new-for-2020 sedan remedies some flaws of the previous CTS yet gives up on the driving excellence that had begun to define its cars.

General Motors's excellent Alpha platform is a big reason why we loved driving the ATS and CTS so much. It also underpins the CT5, which has a 1.4-inch longer wheelbase than the CTS yet remains a tweener among four-door models. The new car is shorter overall thanks to tighter overhangs, but its measurements still fall closer to a BMW 5-series than a 3-series. That wheelbase stretch translates to a considerably roomier rear seat with more legroom. And it's relatively lightweight. Despite its larger footprint, our rear-wheel-drive CT5 test car with the base turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four weighed just 41 pounds more than a similarly equipped BMW 330i.

a car engine: 2020 Cadillac CT5 © Marc Urbano - Car and Driver 2020 Cadillac CT5

But Cadillac's greater emphasis on the CT5's ride quality and comfort comes at the expense of its predecessor's finely tuned handling dynamics. Indeed, Cadillac has made conscious and consequential adjustments to the CT5's tuning that serve to soften the car's feel and dull its responses. The steering remains nicely weighted if a bit slower on initial turn-in, and the strong and stiff structure still soaks up impacts well. But the new car's damping is overly supple and sacrifices the tight body motions that characterized previous Cadillac sport sedans.

There are still hints of good tuning acumen. The brake pedal's feel is firm and satisfying, with short travel and excellent initial bite. But in the context of the squishier suspension tune and less precise steering, it feels incongruent.

a blue car: 2020 Cadillac CT5 © Marc Urbano - Car and Driver 2020 Cadillac CT5

Summer performance tires are available only on the V-6–powered CT5-V model. We haven't driven that car yet. Our Sport-trim test car came equipped with ordinary Michelin Primacy ZP all-season rubber. Its 0.92 g of grip on the skidpad and its 70-to-zero-mph braking distance of 161 feet are toward the bottom end of the sports-sedan segment. Even the front-wheel-drive Volvo S60 T5 sedan, which doesn't have the same sporting intentions as the Cadillac, delivered nearly identical results with its all-season tires.

350T Is Not Greater Than 2.0T

The CT5 is further off the mark in the engine department. A badge on its trunklid boasts a big number—350T—thanks to a new naming scheme that perplexingly refers to the model's torque output in newton-meters. Yet, the car's new turbo-four offers less grunt than the similarly sized engine in the ATS and CTS. Just 237 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque are on hand in the CT5, decreases of 31 hp and 37 lb-ft, and its acceleration numbers suffer accordingly. Our test car went from zero to 60 mph in 6.6 seconds, or nearly a second slower than a heavier four-cylinder CTS. More offensive is the new engine's character, which emits droning and vacuum-like intake noises that would be annoying in a Chevy Malibu, let alone a $50K-plus luxury sedan.

a car driving on a road: The CT5 Is a Step Backwards for Cadillac © Andi Hedrick - Car and Driver The CT5 Is a Step Backwards for Cadillac

In our straight-line testing, the BMW 330i beats the CT5 by a sizable margin. The four-cylinder BMW is 1.5 seconds quicker to 60 mph and carries a 1.1-second advantage through the quarter-mile. The Bimmer's engine also sounds better than the Cadillac's and is more flexible and responsive, as shown by its results in our top-gear passing tests. The 330i beats the CT5 by 0.8 second from 30 to 50 mph and by 1.1 second from 50 to 70 mph.

We've grown wise enough not to expect a manual transmission in a luxury sports sedan anymore. The Genesis G70 is the only one that offers a stick in this space, and it's not our preferred setup for the car anyway. We don't take any issue with the CT5's sole transmission option, a 10-speed automatic, which shifts smoothly and imperceptibly enough. But the console-mounted shifter is the same electronic unit that we've found slightly annoying in other GM products.

a car parked on the side of a vehicle: 2020 Cadillac CT5 © Marc Urbano - Car and Driver 2020 Cadillac CT5

Unexceptional Environment

That the shifter is the only real functionality quirk inside the CT5's interior is a marked improvement over the CTS, which debuted the much-maligned CUE infotainment system that relied upon silly touch-sensitive sliders and a poorly organized touchscreen interface. From that experiment, Cadillac has built lots of redundancy into the CT5's controls. Audio, navigation, and various other functions can now be controlled by your choice of a touchscreen, several different volume and tuning knobs, toggles and switches on the steering wheel, myriad buttons on the center stack, and even a central control knob aft of the shifter.

The bigger issue is that the CT5's cabin just doesn't look or feel all that nice. Equipped with $1500 two-tone beige-and-black leather upholstery and the Sport trim's tacky carbon-fiber trim, the CT5's interior is an overwhelming mix of too many colors, shapes, and textures. We'd prefer a simpler, more consistent approach even if it meant a slight sacrifice in material quality. Real leather and metal trim pieces can only do so much if they're combined with hard, cheap-looking plastic bits with obvious cut lines from their molding process.

a blue car parked in a parking lot: 2020 Cadillac CT5 © Marc Urbano - Car and Driver 2020 Cadillac CT5

These interior-quality issues would be more excusable closer to the CT5's low $37,890 base price, which undercuts the starting prices of its German rivals by several thousand dollars. But the base model is so sparsely equipped that you'll have to pony up extra to get equipment such as heated seats, adaptive cruise control, or leather upholstery. Our car had several option packages and stickered for $54,590. That's within the realm of what's reasonable for a car in this segment—we've had four-cylinder 3-series test cars pushing nearly $60K—but we wouldn't want to pay that much for the Cadillac considering its duller road manners and comparably drab environs.

Research the Cadillac CT5 on MSN Autos

Other than its more spacious rear seat and improved infotainment controls, Cadillac's CT5 neither remedies enough of our qualms with the outgoing CTS nor boasts the sharp driving dynamics that made those flaws easier to stomach in the first place. Maybe the CT5-V and its upcoming V-8–powered variant will embody more of the driver-machine connection that we've come to expect in modern Cadillac sedans, but the regular CT5 feels like a step backwards.


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