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First Drive: 2017 Cadillac CT6

Shooting to become the “standard of the world”…again.

by on Jan.26, 2016

The 2017 Cadillac CT6 will run from around $60,000 to $88,000 for a loaded Platinum edition.

We’ve seen some intriguing entries from Cadillac in recent years, such as the third-generation CTS and the smaller ATS line. But it’s been a seeming lifetime since the Detroit luxury brand could lay honest claim to being the “standard of the world.”

Now that it’s moved its headquarters to New York and laid down plans to roll out a procession of new models, might General Motors’ flagship brand finally be back on the right road? If any new model gives us an indication of where Cadillac is heading, it’s got to be the new CT6 sedan.

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Yes, the name is confusing, as it signals plans to tweak the brand’s alphanumeric model designations — again. But don’t get hung up on the name. The 2017 Cadillac CT6 is the maker’s first new offering we’ve seen in years that serves up an unabashed challenge to dominant import luxury marques like Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Lexus.

To get a sense of what Caddy has come up with we helicoptered in – quite literally – to Ramona, a small Southern California town an hour inland from San Diego. Waiting for us, Cadillac had lined up an assortment of new CT6 models, including all three of the new powertrain variants it will offer when the new sedan starts rolling into showrooms in the coming weeks.

The new CT6 picks up on Caddy's familiar cues, but downplays the Art & Science theme.

Like the original CTS, the CT6 is something of a tweener car. In terms of length, it sits somewhere between full-size offerings like the Mercedes E and S-Class and BMW 5 and 7-Series models. It boasts nearly the interior space of the bigger sedans and yet, at a base curb weight of just 3,657 pounds, it’s lighter than the smaller German models.

Before flying down to the San Diego foothills we had a chance to view a cutaway of the new CT6 that revealed just how much work had gone into the new model. The body and platform bring together a mix of aluminum and high-strength steels designed to deliver a rigid ride, five-star safety ratings, and the added performance, handling and fuel economy benefits of what industry types like to call “lightweighting.”

Visually, the CT6 is an impressively imposing beast, something you expect in a premium luxury sedan. It shares many of the design elements we’ve come to expect since the debut of Caddy’s Art & Science design language more than a decade ago. That includes, most notably, the vertical head and taillamps framing the large Cadillac grille. All lighting, incidentally, is now LED, which creates an even more luxurious appearance at the end of the sedan’s long nose.

The big, plush back seat was inspired by the demands of Chinese motorists.

But where the original CTS was a traffic-stopper, there’s a bit more go-with-the-flow look to the 2017 Cadillac CT6. The look is still visually appealing but a lot less exaggerated. The styling team doesn’t even use the term, “Art & Science” anymore, revealed lead designer Taki Karras.

And perhaps that’s the way it should be. The new Cadillac CT6 has to be more than just an exercise in extreme styling. It needs to deliver the sort of comfort, luxury touches, handling and performance that can stand up to the established order in the premium luxury sedan segment. And, with only a few exceptions, it delivers — and then some.

The interior is, without question, the most richly appointed we have seen on a Cadillac, with the right blend of hand-stitched leathers, woods and metals. That’s true whether you’re sitting up front or in the back seat – and that’s critical for Cadillac’s goal of becoming a major player in a Chinese luxury car market that’s second only to the U.S. A large share of buyers there prefer to be chauffeured.

(Caddy opens new plant for CT6 in China. Click Here for more.)

The 10.2" display runs the updated CUE system - and adds a remote touchpad control.

For the driver, traditional gauges have been replaced by an amply sized reconfigurable LCD display. Unlike some competitors, it boasts the resolution and contrast to present simulated instruments so realistic you might be convinced they’re conventional analog dials. There’s also a usefully programmed head-up display, or HUD system available, depending upon the trim level.

And Cadillac, which pioneered the concept of infrared Night Vision is back with the proverbial new-and-improved system. The display fills out the center of that reconfigurable gauge cluster and this time, you not only get an infrared view of the road ahead, but highlighted images of pedestrians and large animals. “Targets” are framed in yellow, switching to red if there’s a strong chance you might hit them.

The 2017 Cadillac’s CT6 safety package adds radar-guided forward collision warning and emergency auto-braking to reduce the likelihood of an impact. And there’s a full complement of all the other safety gear you’d expect, such as Lane Departure Warning and Blind Spot Assist.

The world's first camera rearview mirror can be a bit difficult to adjust to at first.

Cadillac also has introduced the world’s first rearview video mirror. With a flick of a switch, you can opt for a standard mirror or the video display. It uses a rear-mounted camera so you don’t have to worry about obstructions, such as backseat passengers. In this configuration, it offers an unusually wide-angle view that we found a bit difficult to get used to, though it could become addictive over time.

There’s yet another video display up front, a 10.2-inch touchscreen topping the center stack that handles all of the car’s infotainment duties. It’s paired with a new, laptop computer-style touchpad on the center console that can recognize various 1, 2 and 3 finger motions, such as pinching and zooming. We’d also like to see a knob for things like rapidly zooming in on the navi screen, however.

For those in the backseat, there are twin video screens that pop out of the front seatbacks. And Caddy has even added HDMI inputs to maximize the options you have for video sourcing.

We do have two minor complaints: the latches for the back seatbelts on the prototype sedans we drove were a struggle to engage – something we’re told will be quickly corrected. It may take a bit longer for Caddy to revise the front seats. Under normal driving, they’re just fine, plush and comfortable, with a variety of adjustments available from the door mounted controls, including a massage function.

The 2017 Cadillac CT6 is offered with three powertrains options, two more yet to come.

The problem is only apparent when you’re really flogging the CT6 around hard corners, like we did during a day of driving in the California mountains. The back of the seats provide reasonable support but the bottom cushions don’t offer nearly enough bolstering.

That’s something you’d likely not even notice if you were driving the likes of a Lexus LS or most other competitors in the premium luxury sedan segment. But the 2017 Cadillac CT6 just demands to be driven as aggressively as a compact or midsize sport sedan.

That’s true, it turns out, even if you opt for the base, $54,490 model, with its rear-wheel-drive turbo 2.0-liter inline-four. Making 265-horsepower and 295 pound-feet, that might seem fine for a Chevrolet Camaro, but it turns out it creates a surprisingly nimble package in a Cadillac CT6, as well, thanks to that emphasis on lightweighting. While a lot of potential buyers will likely go for the bigger 3.0-liter engine, we’d suggest they check out the smaller turbo option, as well.

For those looking for the maximum seat-of-the-pants thrill, the engine of choice is the 400-horsepower V-6. It’s a matter of gospel a sedan in this segment must offer a V-8. This 3.0-liter twin-turbo powertrain might have you rethinking that mantra. Again, thanks to the reduced mass, you’ll get the off-the-line launch feel of even some of the biggest V-8s, and thanks to the CT6’s intuitively tuned throttle, you can really use all its torque to your advantage as you wiggle and waggle through tight turns.

At 205 inches, the 2017 CT6 is nearly as big as a BMW 7-Series but lighter than the 5-Series.

And the rigid Omega platform only enhances the ride. You’ll discover very little body roll. Steering is precise and predictable, and the brakes help you scrub off speed in a hurry.

Heading into the town of Jerome – best known to travelers for the local pie shop – we took a narrow band of tarmac that most motorists would scrupulously avoid in a sedan of this size. The CT6 made us want to go back and run the route all over again. Were it not for those seats we’d have likely forgotten we were driving a full-size sedan.

Another joy is the resonant roar that blasts out of the quad exhaust pipes if you’re driving the 3.0-liter twin-turbo. Sixes, especially those using turbochargers, generally don’t match the primal note of a V-8. Cadillac’s engineers have pulled off some acoustic magic. At the same time, we should note that when your foot isn’t mashed to the floor, the new CT6 cabin is nearly as quiet as the tomb-like Lexus LS.

All three engines are paired with an eight-speed automatic that shifts seamlessly. You can opt to use the paddle shifters, of course, and the sedan features three driving modes, including Sport, which adjusts a variety of functions, including steering feel, transmission shifts and, if you have it, the magnetic ride control system.

GM will import its new Cadillac CT6 plug-in electric hybrid from the company's plant in Shanghai.

If you’re ready for a tongue-twister, that electronic suspension relies on something called magnetorheological fluid. Apply a little magnetic flux and it can change its viscosity from soft to rock-solid. And it can do so in the distance it takes to travel a mere couple inches at 60 miles an hour.

The MR suspension is offered with both the twin-turbo six and the naturally aspirated 3.6-liter engine packages. Both come standard with all-wheel-drive, as well.

On paper, the CT6 lags behind the performance of such competitors as the 445-horsepower BMW 750i, and the 449-horsepower Mercedes S550. But real-world experience reveals that the numbers don’t always tell the full story.

Incidentally, Cadillac will have two more powertrain options coming in the not-too-distant future. About a year from launch, look for the debut of a plug-in-hybrid model that, according to Caddy President Johan de Nysschen, will match the power and performance of the twin-turbo six.

The twin-turbo V-6 makes 400-hp.

A couple years later, or so the plan goes, Cadillac will finally add a new V-8. Like the 3.0-liter package, it will be a twin-turbo displacing 4.2-liters and, while de Nysschen wouldn’t speak the numbers, we were certain his head nodded a bit when we suggested a figure in the 600-hp range.

(For TDB’s exclusive story on the new Cadillac V-8, Click Here.)

That engine will be shared, we must note, with an even bigger sedan now under development. The Cadillac CT8 will be a more direct competitor to the stretched versions of the Mercedes S- and BMW 7- lines.

For those who want the absolute pinnacle of premium luxury, well, Caddy isn’t quite there yet. But if you’re looking for something just a wee bit smaller, and a heck of a lot of fun to drive, the 2017 Cadillac CT6 should clearly be on your shopping list. From less than $60,000 to $87,465 for the Platinum edition – with every bell and whistle you could imagine – Cadillac has shown that it’s intent on being taken seriously again.

Who gets to wear the crown as the “standard to the world”? That’s once again up for grabs.

(GM scores 3rd consecutive year of record sales. Click Here for the story.)

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3 Responses to “First Drive: 2017 Cadillac CT6”

  1. Paul Schroeder says:

    It’s Ramona, not Ramone.

    • Paul A. Eisenstein says:

      Corrected. Thanks for the catch! Paul E.

  2. GT101 says:

    I don’t think Caddy “will be quite there” for a long time. How much work did it take to bolt a Chevy grille in between two caddy fenders? What many in Detroit just don’t get is that the driving experience isn’t just the sum of numbers for power, weight, or video displays etc.