Driving Northwest: The 2011 Cadillac CTS Coupe


by TOM VOELK / KING5 Car expert

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Posted on October 21, 2010 at 11:18 AM

Automakers do just about anything to make their cars stand out from the pack: clever technology, far out names, and expensive ad campaigns are the usual approaches. The Cadillac CTS Coupe needs little of that. With sheet metal that’s as dramatic as a teenager before prom, this 2+2 is easily mistaken for a low flying stealth fighter. Attention is no problem.

A few people will grimace at the sight of the latest Art & Science design piece but they’re vastly outnumbered. This is the kind of car that people wait by in the parking lot in order to talk to the owner. The photographer side of me finds this car fascinating, every detail and angle the lens falls on frames up beautifully.  Unlike another brand doing angular design, CTS avoids looking like an angry robot, its sharp creased lines maintain an elegant and dangerous demeanor.

More than just bold lines

The coupe is about two inches wider, lower and shorter than the sedan and shares only one body panel with it and its Sport Wagon siblings- the front fender (technically the grille element as well). Nestled in the nicely trimmed engine bay is the expected 3.6-liter direct injected V-6 pumping out 304 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque @ 5,200 RPMs. It drinks regular gas at a rate of 17 city, 27 highway whether it’s rear or all-wheel drive.

The engine note sounds good with a techy burble. Looks good too with center mounted bee stinger exhaust ports. CTS is keyless, turn the knob and entertainment begins with sweeping gauges and flying Cadillac graphics on the screen rising from the center stack. Choose between a six-speed manual or the six-speed automatic I’m driving. Manual shifts can be done on the console. Order the 19” Summer Performance Tire Package and it adds steering wheel shift buttons.

Fast and faster

My rear drive tester quickly runs from 0-60 in just over 6 seconds (go for the V model if you really think you need 556 horses). The engine is smooth with the proper amount of exhaust reaching the ears. Cornering? If you still think Cadillacs handle like waterbeds I hope you understand that those Little House on the Prairie episodes you’re watching are re-runs. Soft floaty rides are in Cadillac’s past. CTS coupe is a true driver’s car, one of the most satisfying performance vehicles on the road today. Perfectly weighted steering, excellent road feel, and minimal body roll make this machine a joy to pilot. 

Ride quality is quite good considering lower profile rubber and a firm sporty suspension. My only gripe with the overall dynamic is that the automatic transmission is a bit sluggish to respond to manual shift inputs. A dual-clutch unit this is not. Brakes are as aggressive as the paper airplane design, the anti-lock binders have great pedal feel and stopping ability.

Dramatic inside too

CTS Premium gets a cabin done up in excellent materials, the instrument panel looking especially rich with hand stitched material and Sapele wood inlays. Premium models add LED light piping that flows from the instrument panel to the front doors for a subtle accent at night. The doors are electrically operated with a touch pad on the exterior and a button inside. No confusing user interface here, Cadillac uses well placed buttons and knobs on the center stack in tandem with a touch screen.  It’s pretty easy to figure everything out (except pairing a Bluetooth phone, there I gave up and cracked the manual).

Talk the dealer into an extended test drive because the firm heated and ventilated chairs feel a bit odd at first. After an hour they magically reveal they’re supremely comfortable, though they could use deeper bolsters for hard cornering.  Taller drivers should find a significant bump on the test drive. Hit one and you’ll find the structure is very solid and the headroom is modest.  I nailed my noggin when hitting a significant dip in the road.

The Bose 5.1 surround sound system is very good. iPods are supported or rip music to the 40 gig hard drive. Want to hear the rest of Car Talk but can’t stick around? The CTS can record it while you’re gone. The sunroof only tilts, it doesn’t slide open. Got to love the heated steering wheel though.

Widely overlooked is GMs OnStar system that is infinitely useful. Preload directions into the nav system from your home computer, talk to a real person for restaurant suggestions and driving directions or get emailed diagnostic summaries of the car. It will also notify emergency services in the unfortunate event of an accident and pinpoint your location for a speedy rescue.

Moving to the rear

If you’re thinking of pressing the coupe into family duty understand that it’s a chore to get in and out of the back seat, even with high mounted latches and seat controls. The kids will soon revolt. At 5’9” I don’t have enough headroom. The sedan has belts for three, this 2+2 only a couple but center mount drink holders, map pockets and a power port are handy.

The CTS coupe has a terrific sculpted back end, we should all look so good from behind. Pop the decklid to reveal gooseneck hinge arms that take up space. To achieve a nearly perfect 50-50 weight balance the battery is stashed back here. There’s no spare tire, just a repair kit (sadly a bit of a trend). It gets tricky when it comes to cargo capacity. 5 packs will fit in the space but those hinge arms swing down unusually low, crushing cargo. So in the end (no pun intended) there’s only room for 4 packs between those struts. On the plus side the trunk can be expanded by folding the split seat backs.

So the CTS coupe isn’t exactly the practical choice. But where else can you get luxury, concept car design, and performance for a reasonable price. CTS Coupe starts at 39 grand, this Premium model with the Summer Tire Package option retails for $50,035. That’s pretty competitive to Audi A5 and S5 and the BMW 335i coupe (which runs around $4,000 more comparably equipped). CTS offers up swaggering bravado that the Germans just can’t match. It looks like the work of a passionate artist, not a committee. If you can’t afford a cubist Picasso, this piece of art is the next best thing.