When discussing its all-new 2016 CT6, Cadillac carefully avoids the F-word. Not that F-word, but the “flagship” word.
The closest Cadillac came to using the word during the CT6’s press introduction in Southern California was to say that it will “carry the flag” for the brand, presumably until Cadillac’s actual flagship model (or models—there may be more than one) arrives sometime in the future. So the CT6 is a flag-bearer, not a flagship. Big difference.
Even if the CT6 isn’t flagship material, it’s the closest Cadillac has had to such a thing in decades. It is the first car built on General Motors’ brand-new Omega rear-wheel-drive architecture, and it’s fairly large, stretching 204 inches from stem to stern and spanning 74 inches in width. (That’s two inches longer and an inch wider than the front-drive-based XTS, for comparison.) The CT6’s wheelbase stretches more than 10 feet, and the longitudinal engine layout and a long dash-to-axle ratio set up the designers and engineers nicely to give the CT6 the sort of proportions and driving dynamics befitting of a flagship, er, flag-bearer.
Off the Turntable
Did they succeed? Well, when the CT6 was unveiled at the 2015 New York auto show, the design was criticized as somewhat bland. But auto-show turntables don’t tend to flatter cars that make their statement with proportions rather than glitzy adornment. The CT6 is best appreciated in the real world, preferably in motion, whether it be catching the reflections of downtown L.A. skyscrapers or charging along one of California’s challenging mountain roads. The broad, shield-shaped grille and long hood make the CT6 instantly identifiable as a Cadillac, while the signature LED lamps running up the sides serve to make this already-wide car appear even wider. Most other styling elements are restrained, from its straight, crisp surfaces to the minimal chrome trim to the decidedly plain taillamps. Even the CHMSL has been reduced to a narrow strip of LEDs above the rear window.
Given the CT6’s full-size dimensions and long list of standard equipment, its claimed base curb weight of 3657 pounds—within 17 pounds of a comparable CTS—is astonishingly low. (For our part, we predict curb weights between 3750 and 4300 pounds.) Cadillac further claims to have made the aluminum-intensive CT6 even stiffer than the smaller ATS and CTS—and boasts it’s the quietest Cadillac in history. As with the CTS, the base powertrain for the CT6 is a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 265 horsepower and rear-wheel drive. Spendier (or speedier) customers can opt for the available 335-hp 3.6-liter V-6 or the all-new 404-hp twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V-6, both of which bring all-wheel drive. Every CT6 engine is paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission that can be controlled via shift paddles. Later on, a 4.2-liter turbocharged V-8 and a plug-in-hybrid powertrain will appear to broaden the car’s appeal.
Unfortunately, program logistics prevented us from sampling the featherweight four-cylinder CT6. We spent plenty of time in a 3.6-liter model with the standard suspension and in a twin-turbo V-6 model equipped with the $3300 Active Chassis package that includes Magnetic Ride Control, active rear steering, and 20-inch wheels. The 3.6 is perfectly competent, mostly silent but with deep buckets of power in its higher reaches. For a more customized experience, all CT6s offer Tour, Sport, and Snow/Ice driving modes that adjust throttle, transmission, and steering effort, as well as shock stiffness and rear-steering parameters on models with Active Chassis Control (ACC). The modes also shift the torque split on all-wheel-drive examples from 40/60 front/rear in Tour mode to 20/80 in Sport and 50/50 in Snow/Ice. In some cars, driving modes are a gimmick but the CT6’s are legit: In the default Tour mode the CT6 is genteel and smooth, but Sport mode sets the powertrain into a considerably more excited state, with the transmission especially eager to play, holding gears and summoning throttle-blipped downshifts more readily than a number of so-called sports sedans we can think of.
If the 3.6 is sufficient, the twin-turbo 3.0-liter V-6 is decadent. With 404 horsepower and 400 lb-ft of torque, it is 16 horsepower and 30 lb-ft short of the larger twin-turbo 3.6-liter V-6 that helped keep the CTS Vsport on our 2016 10Best list, but the blown 3.0-liter nonetheless has more grunt than most CT6 drivers will ever care to exploit. But we did—and it’s terrific. Bury the accelerator and the CT6 launches like a ground-bound missile. Even better, the power is omnipresent, with nary a whiff of turbo lag. Oh, and it sounds good to boot.
While the CT6 never felt small on the twisty two-lanes on our drive route, the well-balanced, communicative chassis gave us confidence to take some corners at speeds that might send any number of its competitors careening into the weeds. Road textures are transmitted loyally through the steering and suspension, yet the ride remains serene. Even with the standard suspension, the CT6 charged through the curvier sections with stunning accuracy and remarkably little body roll. In those same slow, 20-to-30-mph corners, however, the ACC system’s rear steering made a case for itself with its quicker response and greater sense of steering precision, especially in Sport mode. Our only dynamic misgiving involves the brake pedal, which felt tuned more for “limo stops” than crispness, although the brakes themselves are strong enough.
The CT6 offers more luxury than any Caddy before. The cabin breaks little new ground yet checks the right boxes in terms of ample front and rear stretch-out room, luxurious materials including glossy or open-pore wood trim, and harmonious design. The gently curved, horizontally oriented dashboard represents a departure from current Cadillac dash designs, and we approve. Front passengers get cozy in elegantly contoured chairs that may be Cadillac’s most comfortable ever. The electronic instruments are clear and colorful, if occasionally crowded, such as when text-heavy menus or the Night Vision display gobbles up space. Infotainment functions are once again handled by an updated version of the Cadillac User Experience (CUE) system, which now uses a larger 10.2-inch touchscreen as well as a console-mounted touchpad. We didn’t notice too many groundbreaking software or logic tweaks during our drive, but we already like the touchpad.
The CT6’s prices start at a reasonable $54,490 for the base turbo-four model, and the 3.6-liter V-6 with all-wheel drive seems like a steal at just $2000 more. To get the zesty turbo V-6, however, you’re looking at a minimum of $65,390. Options include a $2450 Rear Seat package with reclining/massaging back seats and dual 10-inch entertainment screens; an incredible $3700 Bose Panaray sound system with no fewer than 34 speakers; and a $4380 Driver Assist package with adaptive cruise control, front/rear automatic braking, and Night Vision. The zenith of the CT6 range is the Platinum model that features all available comfort, safety, and technology packages for $84,460 with the 3.6 and $88,460 with the twin-turbo 3.0-liter. Careful, Cadillac. That’s approaching real flagship money there. We already spec’d out our perfect CT6, and it doesn’t come close to ninety large. And nor does it have to, since the CT6 drives beautifully even without all the bells and whistles.
Article care of Car & Drive (http://www.caranddriver.com/cadillac/ct6)