Latest Cadillac offers a premium interior and decent driving dynamics, however the CTS can't compete with its German rivals in Europe

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The Cadillac CTS is back. And if you’re expecting me to tell you that this time they say it’ll all be different, and they’re going to sell Cadillacs in Europe by the bucketload, think again.

Fact is, Cadillac knows that selling 1000 cars a year across Europe, and across its range, will be a decent result. Especially given that, in the UK, this new CTS (now in its third, BMW 5 Series-rivalling generation) will be available only in left-hand-drive.  

What matters to Cadillac, though, is not whether you’ll see lots of them on the M6 motorway. What matters is that it’s selling cars here at all. Partly because the income in Europe is worth having, but more valuable is “a credible presence” in Europe, which helps sales in China. If you’re in Europe competing with the big boys, it buys you prestige that counts in China. And given Cadillac registered a 66 percent increase in Chinese sales last year – to 50,000 cars a year - that’s prestige worth growing.

So here we are: the new CTS. Longer, lower and leaner than its predecessor. In the US they’re quite proud of how it competes against a 5 Series. It’s built on the newish Alpha platform (like the 3 Series sized Cadillac ATS) whose multi-metal shell allows it to be lighter than a 5 Series by as much as 200kg in some specifications (we’re not getting those), and by 120kg in the form we are taking the CTS. It’s a stiff body, there are struts at the front, multi-link at the rear, and magnetically controlled dampers all-round as standard. 

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There are also four engines to choose from - the entry-level four-cylinder, 2.0-litre turbocharged engine punching out 268bhp, a naturally aspirated 3.7-litre V6 producing 335bhp, and a twin-turbo version of the V6 creates 420bhp makes up the conventional CTS range. A 620bhp version of Cadillac's 6.2-litre V8 engine is the unit of choice to power the CTS-V forward.

Leather Is standard inside and the materials you think you see are what they actually are. So the leather is leather; the wood is wood, not veneer; any carbon fibre is real carbon fibre, not plastic. They’re expensive touches which mean this car starts at around $45,995 in CTS trim which adorns the car with smartphone integration, keyless entry, rear parking sensors, a reversing camera, a Bose sound system and 17in alloy wheels.

Upgrade to Luxury gets you a heated steering wheel, ventilated front seats, sat nav, lane departure warning and a sunroof, while Premium Luxury gets you adaptive suspension, a 360-degree camera system, 18in alloy wheels, tri-zone climate control and rear sunblinds.

The range-topping V-Sport models add an electronic limited slip differential, a leather upholstery and a sporty bodykit, while V-Sport Premium Luxury includes a 12.3in digital instrument cluster, head-up display, heated rear seats and adaptive cruise control.

For starters, it feels pretty good inside. Material choices are right up there, no question, and while it feels a touch American inside, it’s not so in the accepted, brash sense. Chrome and brightwork has been used sparingly, fit and finish is equally up to the class standard, and the array of digital displays – centre and dials – are clean and crisp. It’s not a cabin that feels out of place on this side of the Atlantic – at least, it wouldn’t if you were sitting on the right side of the car. Rear accommodation is fine and the boot (447 litres) is long.

Initial driving impressions are positive, too. The steering’s direct and pleasingly responsive. It doesn’t have the same kind of nose for straight ahead that you’d find in a 5 Series or Mercedes E-Class, which make them seem very stable at high speeds, but it’s far from nervous. It’s closer in feel to the system in Jaguar’s Jaguar XF, albeit heavier; which I mean as a compliment.

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The ride’s well controlled too. Bigger imperfections create a thump but no crash, and it’s a mature, solid feel. You’re left with the impression that there’s a lot of stiffness in the shell, which translates to good suspension control. No doubt the magnetorheological dampers play a part. At 60mph, their stiffness is being monitored and adjusted every inch, and they can go from full-soft to full-firm within 2.5 metres, so they’re quick to respond. 

And because there’s only a 2.0-litre engine, the kerb weight is 1640kg (despite a length of 4.97m), so the CTS feels relatively agile, too, turning crisply in the rear-drive form we’ve tried it. Weight distribution is around 50:50 front:rear because lots of aluminium is used in the body, particularly near the front, so the CTS is a good thing to drive. It’s competitive, certainly.

Where it’s less so is in the powertrain department. It’s not that there’s anything intrinsically wrong with the 2.0-litre petrol itself. In fact it’s a pretty good motor, capable of 0-62mph in 6.6sec, and with a decent spread of torque. It’s a tough gruff at higher revs and the auto ‘box isn’t as responsive as the best in class, but its generic problem isn’t those things, it’s that it will forever be a 2.0-litre four that’s less smooth than the six you’d find in its BMW rival at this price point. 

Interestingly, you won’t find an Audi A6 or Mercedes E-Class rival at this point at all, because the market for near £50k petrol cars is such a small one. Why? The official fuel consumption for the CTS is likely to be confirmed at 32.2mpg/198g/km. Not only is that less impressive than BMW’s 535i or the considerably cheaper four-cylinder 528i (which admittedly is a bit less powerful), it’s miles off a similarly priced diesel, which would be a 50-plus mpg car at this price point. 

It’s unlikely, though, that fuel consumption shenanigans are going to be the deal breaker on whether you buy a CTS or not. In the UK at least, where it’s currently only sold through one dealer (Bauer Millett in Cheshire), and arrives in left-hook form only, you probably won’t get even as far as browsing the price list. I understand that. Heck, even Cadillac understands that. 

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It’s a pity, because there’s a very good car at work here that, in the right market conditions, we’d give a higher rating. In fact, if you think you must have one even in the UK, I suspect you’d enjoy it. And if not? Well, if you get a job in the States or China, place it on your shortlist.

Cadillac CTS 2014-2019 First drives