Does stature ever come back?
We’re watching the slow-motion rebirth of one of the oldest automotive brands on the planet–once the standard of the world, Cadillac suffered a serious fall from the throne into a shambolic pit of depression and aging demographics.
Enter the Cadillac CT6—a lithe, lean, looker, and arguably the most luxurious American sedan in decades. By joining high-end capability and revolutionary production methods with the brand’s new found bombast, the CT6 was supposed to announce Cadillac as a different breed.
Instead, it’s a harbinger; a peculiar equation of style, speed and stupidity that works in ways, doesn’t in others, and at one point, induced utter confusion.
The big Cadillac looks like it was carved from a solid block of sex appeal. Soft enough to be alluring, yet sharp enough to stab you through the heart; its sleek three box shape and razor cut edges unmistakably belong to Cadillac’s unique Art and Science design ethos. Stare into the CT6’s compassionately crying eyes and it eerily whispers “I’m not like the others,” which is a dangerous statement once you start believing.
The pair of us interlope through the financial district catching bizarre cut eye from baffled bankers— the CT6 weeping for the silver sea of same, same saloons shipped over from Europe. Making things worse, the sardonic sedan is under the control of a long-haired hooligan wearing a Blue Jays cap low over his eyes, dancing while he drives.
Backing its flash with significant dash is an utterly weaponized 3.0L twin-turbo V6 which feeds 404-hp and 400-lb. ft of torque to all four wheels through GM’s ubiquitous 8-speed automatic transmission. Anyone who respects fine machinery will need to add the $3,895 ($3,300 US) Active Chassis Package; bringing 20-inch polished aluminum wheels, MagneRide suspension, and an absurdly good Rear Wheel Steer system that works against the front wheels for maneuverability in tight places, and with them for more stability when putting the car through its paces.
Whoever did the Ride and Handling work on the CT6 is a terrible enabler and some kind of grinning assassin– as one particular Monsieur and his Mercedes discovered, to copious chagrin.
We’re on the highway heading westbound with significant pace, when out of the corner of my eye I spy a black CLS wearing Quebec plates coming down across four lanes of traffic with every intention of taking our pavement away.
After gladly returning the favor with a quick dip into the twin turbo’s torque, our French friend is indignant with rage, promptly gluing himself to our back bumper, giving us the single finger salute—but he doesn’t know we’re the pros from Dover.
Two shifts down with the left paddle and the tach shoots up to 5,000 rpm, the CT6 hangs and slows for a second, the nose of his Merc dives in panic— oh you’re fucked now.
At five grand the 3.0TT is still making peak torque while power is just getting ready to climax—which it does on cue at 5,300 rpm— as we slashed through a disappearing gap, rupturing his confidence and leaving him trapped between a Volvo and a mini-van, gobbling up the Gardner Expressway giggling to Old Muleskinner Blues pouring from the Bose Panaray.
The CT6 is a placid performer and yet laughably fast when asked; instilling its handler with uncanny coolness and induces an appetite for the audacious in any scenario. But outside of a few extremely incurable individuals, executive saloons aren’t usually bought for their inherent acrobatics.
The drivetrain may be enthralling when strung out, but its 8-speed automatic transmission can sometimes lash out in average conditions. Most egregious were several low speed thunks when creeping on the idle in traffic, along with stereotypical bouts of angsty gear selection which can lead to unintentionally large leaps forward when asking for more gas.
Magnetic dampers that measure the road every millisecond make for an engaging drive, but not always the most comfortable ride. Even in Tour, the plushest suspension setting, the dampers are still overly aggressive downtown—instead of absorbing imperfections in the pavement MagneRide counters them—the CT6 doesn’t necessarily float over the road, but attacks it, always, for better or for worse.
Sadly, the CT6’s exterior charm contrasts horribly with its lack of internal substance.
Besides suffering from blinding lens flare at night, the CT6’s revolutionary Rear Camera Mirror is also utterly useless in the rain. It’s not much more useful during the day either, as your eyes are required to constantly refocus as they flutter between looking down the road and looking at the rearview screen.
The seats are wide expanses of boring blandness with only basic adjustability; no changeable bolstering, tilting headrest, or thigh support like other upscale saloons. Some of the switches come from GM’s big parts bin; the car is started with the same black plastic button as a Chevrolet hatchback, and the windows are operated with switches borrowed from Buick, but tipped in cheap chrome in an effort to trick your fingers into thinking they’re touching something premium.
I would also like to know why the dashboard features a faux pas blend of bronze brushed carbon fiber mingling with glossy wood and leather—but I digress.
Cadillac’s CUE system is displayed on a gorgeous 10.2-inch touchscreen, easily GM’s most visually stunning application, but little niggles conspire to ruin it.
If you use the touch screen your forearm inadvertently moves the volume slider, or the alternative is a little laptop trackpad mounted between the cup holders and the center console. I tried to use it once to set the navigation and it infuriated me, I thought about using it a second time on the highway but that just seemed suicidal.
The Bose Panaray system can bump with the best of them—Bose worked closely with Cadillac to cleverly integrate 34-speakers in just about everyplace imaginable to create an immersive sound experience—which is great, until something goes wrong.
The noise cancelling Bose system in our CT6 developed a habit of adding noise, instead of eliminating it.
Sunday morning, 2:30 am, circling the outskirts of Toronto on a highspeed highway loop, riding the ramps, enjoying the loneliness of late night giggle sessions and good music. Just as we meet the apex of this sweet little right hand ramp to head back south, the cabin fills with the sound of a tortured bird.
“JESUS CHRIST, is that a safety feature!?!?”
Regaining my composure, I wanted to try and replicate the sound to record as evidence. Going back three more times, twice it happened again with more speed and once it did not, with less.
I played the sound for a guy from Bose who thought it was likely a glitch in the noise cancelling technology, where instead of muting the left rear tire squawking under heavy load, it was actually feeding a garbled replay back into the cabin. In all fairness to Cadillac, the culprit was probably a crossed wire during installation at Hamtramck.
In and of itself the CT6 is visually striking, effortlessly elegant on the road, and frankly, flat out fast. But evaluated as the current cornerstone of Cadillac’s brand promise and it becomes duplicitous, at best.
Cadillac is creating an unforgiveable dichotomy between what its products actually are and its own public relations braggadocio. I don’t know if corporate considerations forced certain choices on the car, but those shouldn’t exist in the first place—the CT6 literally debuted Cadillac’s “Dare Greatly” rebranding—not when the brand claims to be this disruptive force for disruptive people.
There may be a fistful of patents relating to the CT6’s development and production methods, but that isn’t tangible or visible to shoppers.
Until Cadillac aligns what it says with what it does, the brand will continue on inadequately, achingly close to achieving its dreams, yet still maddeningly off the mark.