It’s not unusual for luxury brands to experience an image slump. Sometimes they recover, like Gucci has, while others, such as Bill Blass, Halston and Anne Klein, never do.
For Cadillac, their attempts at reclaiming their status as “The Standard of the World” remains a work in progress, something that could be said of the brand for at least the past two decades, if not longer.
And while the Escalade may define the essence of Cadillac for modern consumers, its spirit isn’t always apparent in the rest of the lineup. After all, the Escalade’s unsurpassed swagger, size, style, power and comfort make it a modern-day Fleetwood Brougham, albeit one with all-wheel drive, 22-inch wheels and nine inches of ground clearance. Yet these same virtues seem absent in Cadillac’s other offerings.
That said, the new 2020 CT4-V makes a compelling argument that many of the qualities that make for a great automobile are present.
Just in case you haven’t noticed, Cadillac is changing the model name nomenclature. All crossovers start with letters XT, except for the Escalade, which will still be called an Escalade, while all cars start with the letters CT, the 2020 CT4 being the smallest car in the lineup, replacing the 2019 ATS.
Whatever the name, you’ll be tempted to call it handsome, at least from the front, where it wears many of the styling cues of the Cadillac Escala concept car. Its look is menacing yet refined. Something you can’t say of the back, which suffers from the hunchback look used on too many GM sedans. It’s not nearly as refined as the front of the car.
But such thoughts fade once you hit the starter button.
The CT4 is built on Cadillac’s rear-wheel-drive sedan platform and is offered in Luxury, Premium Luxury, Sport and V-Series trim. All-wheel drive is optional. Most CT4s are powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine rated at 237 horsepower and matched to an eight-speed automatic transmission. Standard on the V-Series and optional on the Premium Luxury is a 2.7-liter turbocharged engine that generates 309 horsepower in the Premium Luxury, and 325 horsepower in the V series. Both join to a 10-speed automatic transmission. That’s a significant decrease from the ATS-V’s 464-horsepower twin-turbo V-6, but Cadillac has an even sportier CT4 coming — the CT4-V Blackwing — although details have not been released.
So for now, the CT4-V remains the hottest model, and it’s far from disappointing.
From the first few miles, it’s evident that Cadillac engineers did their homework. Handling is very impressive, as there’s a surprising amount of road feel, and the steering is quick and nicely weighted. So, too, are the throttle and brakes, with a nice, progressive feel. Emergency braking proved short and straight, with a modest amount of nose dive. As you might expect in a new-age Cadillac, the ride is firm, but the suspension soaks up the rough pavement without feeling punishing. Road and tire noise are minimal; wind noise is absent, as is body lean. This is a very agile athlete, one that makes the cut and thrust of commuting a joy to experience.
The powerful, responsive engine makes wonderful noise when pushed, and the transmission is well behaved most of the time, although it can be a touch slow to downshift when requesting a brief shot of power. The solution is to shift into manual mode. That’s when this car comes alive brilliantly and brutally as you extract every drop of torque. It’s truly world-class fun as you shut down cars that cost three times this car’s price, which is why most drivers will never miss the power that’s gone missing from the ATS-V — there’s plenty of it available.
Front seats firmly hold you in place during abrupt maneuvers, and the seat bottoms extend for those with longer legs. The seats are covered in buttery-soft leather and are heated, but not ventilated. Note to car designers: with global warming becoming a problem, a black interior is not a great idea.
Nevertheless, legroom is generous. The same can’t be said of the rear seat where, just as in the ATS that it replaces, there’s minimal rear leg room. The trunk is adequately sized, but poorly trimmed; it would look out of place in a Chevrolet, let alone a Cadillac.
The same charge could be made of the interior, and it’s truly this car’s Achilles heel. Sadly, Cadillac interiors continue to suffer from miserly, penny-pinching accountants. The interior functions well enough and is easy to use. But it just doesn’t seem commensurate with the price, something true of most Cadillacs, and something that can be seen in the dreadfully cut-rate lower door panels and map pockets, and the power lock switches. The center console lacks padding on the sides, so that your legs rest against hard plastic. And it would be nice if the automatic headlights came on when the automatic wipers go on, as in competitors’ cars.
On the flip side, the tech package is seamless, with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay and Qi wireless charging. The Cadillac User Experience infotainment system responded quickly and its interface proved easy and quick to use. The audio system furnishes good sound, although the controls for it on the steering wheel take getting used to.
The 2020 Cadillac CT4-V proves once again the continued excellence of GM engineering. From that standpoint, it stands alongside the best cars you can buy in this segment. The same goes for the technology package. It makes this car positively grin-inducing.
But until Cadillac delivers a truly luxurious interior, they will continue to lag behind the competition. And this car is far too good to deserve such a fate.
2020 Cadillac CT4-V
Base price: $44,495
Engine: 2.7-liter DOHC dual-volute turbocharged four-cylinder
EPA fuel economy (city/highway): 20/28 mpg
Fuel required: 93 Octane
Length/Width/Height: 187.2/71.5/56 inches
Cargo capacity: 10.7 cubic feet
Towing capacity: 1,000 pounds
Curb weight: 3,600+ pounds (estimated)