Expert Reviews

2016 Cadillac CT6 First Drive

When Cadillac won the Royal Automobile Club of England's “Dewer Trophy” for automotive excellence in 1908, it was preceded by Rolls-Royce in 1907 and succeeded by Daimler in 1909. Pretty good company for Cadillac, then as now!

Cadillac won for the standardization of its parts, standardization being something of an elusive target back in the early days of car manufacturing where everything typically had to be bent and banged into place. For the Dewer Trophy, three Cadillacs were driven to the Brooklands racetrack where they were performance tested. Then they were completely disassembled, the component parts stacked into three piles. Numerous important parts were removed from the piles and replaced with equivalent parts from stock. Then the cars were rebuilt and again tested.

Presumably much to the surprise of the event organizers and the great relief of the Cadillac mechanics, the three cars started right up and each happily drove 500 miles (800 kilometres). One of the cars then won a 2,000 mile (3,200 km) endurance test. Parts standardization was a reality, and Cadillac's achievement was used for years to market the brand as The Standard of the World.

That was over 100 years ago, and much has happened since that in the interest of brevity we will leap over. Suffice it to say that Cadillac's standards were not maintained, its reputation suffered profoundly and it no longer keeps company with the likes of Rolls-Royce and Mercedes-Benz.

But it would like to.

And with the help of a $US12 billion investment, a $384 million retooling of Cadillac's Detroit-Hamtramck manufacturing centre, new people and a new sense of purpose, Cadillac is trying to do just that. A few spells were cast with the latest ATS and CTS models but the real magic is expected from just released the 2016 Cadillac CT6. It's an executive sedan; a big car; bigger than a BMW 5 Series or Mercedes-Benz E Class, nudging well into S Class and Audi A8 territory. Not inexpensive but costing appreciably less than the competition, the CT6 starts at $61,245 and rises to $94,620 for the Platinum version, it will assume the mantle of “flagship” for the Cadillac brand.

Don't scoff. You can get quite a bit from $12 billion, especially if you have good leadership. And Johan de Nysschen, President of Cadillac, definitely talks the talk: “The CT6 is nothing less than an entirely new approach to premium luxury,” he said at the CT6 New York introduction last year. “And an approach only Cadillac can offer.”

But this isn't the first time Cadillac's tried to resuscitate itself (remember the Caddy that zigs?). So understandably, there's some scepticism abroad. In 2015, Mr. de Nysschen was standing next to a pre-production CT6 on a stage in New York; in Los Angeles at the car's international launch last week, here we were next to a fleet of newly minted production CT6s, all buffed and ready for close scrutiny and actual road testing (it goes on sale in March).

Clearly, unless the Cadillac people are completely delusional, the CT6 better be some kind of car.

First of all, I think it absolutely has the looks. It's got great presence on the road, and its clean, understated lines are original, distinctive and appealing. Secondly – and not to detract from the fine ATS and CTS models currently on sale – the attention to detail in the CT6 is meticulous; the visible component parts surely at a Dewar Trophy standard! Even in areas not easily seen, the car is finished to a very high level (inside the map pockets in the doors, for example). The buzzwords are craftsmanship, authenticity, quality, design. “If it looks like wood...,” says Chief Designer Andrew Smith, “ is wood. If it looks like metal, it is.” This is encouraging.

Speaking of metal, the new Omega architecture is pretty much all aluminum. There's a steel occupant cell, but Executive Chief Engineer Travis Hester is quick to point out that the CT6 is up to 440 kg (almost 1,000 lb) lighter than a Mercedes-Benz S Class. More surprisingly, it's lighter even than the midsize Cadillac CTS. Constructed from just 13 castings, the body is also extraordinarily rigid (Cadillac has actually patented several new bonding and joining technologies, including aluminum spot welding, in the development of the CT6 structure). The focus of the team, said Mr. Hester in Los Angeles, was appearance, size, driving dynamics and quietness. “It's a big car,” he says, “but on the road it feels much smaller.”

Unless you're in the back seat, that is. There you'll find a cavernous rear passenger compartment. With its whopping 3109 mm wheelbase, the front wheels are pushed far forward, leaving hardly any overhang; the space between the dashboard and the front axle (the dash-to-axle ratio) has been stretched producing a long car with wide doors both front and rear.

Why so much attention to rear-seat occupants? Interestingly, at the event hotel in downtown LA, Canadian journalists were outnumbered three-to-one by Chinese media. Turns out that General Motors expects to sell as many Cadillacs in China as they do in North America by 2020. And Cadillac also expects proportionately more CT6s to be driven by chauffeurs in China, meaning that the rear seat environment better be good.

Hence the extended legroom, and the Extended Comfort rear seats that recline, tilt, massage, cool, and heat. For even more relaxation, controls in the armrest featuring USB and HDMI ports allow occupants to control screens in the front seatbacks. When not in use, the screens silently and tidily disappear enabling passengers to work (Wi-Fi will connect your device) or relax (there's a quad-zone climate control system and an available 34-speaker Bose Panaray audio to enjoy). Yes, it's a nice place behind the driver, and a place where occupants will certainly find time to experience and evaluate the CT6 features, materials and ambiance. They need to impress, and they do.

But in North America, more CT6 owners will drive rather than be driven, and they'll want an engaging experience. On the road, the CT6 is agile, quiet, powerful and comfortable. Its responsiveness – to throttle, steering, braking – is quickly evident.

The agility is a result of the rigid and light body, and an available Active Chassis (all-wheel drive, active damping from the Magnetic Ride system, powered rear steering). Additionally, three drive modes – touring, sport, snow/ice – can tailor the drive experience.

The quietness in the cabin is uncanny. We drove on a range of road surfaces and in varying conditions. At high speeds on twisting mountain highways, the cabin was all but silent.

Power is delivered by a choice of three engines: a 2.0Lturbocharged four-cylinder making 265 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque, an all-new 3.6L V6 making 335 hp and 285 lb-ft torque and a new twin turbocharged 3.0L V6 making 404 hp and 400 lb-ft torque. The engines are mated to a superb new eight-speed transmission. Likely the 3.6L V6 will be the “volume seller.”

Comfort goes without saying, but there are several features that should be highlighted. First and overall, the cabin is superbly designed and crafted. There are seven available interior environments featuring a combination of exotic woods, leathers, carbon fibre and metal elements. Presentation is a model of understated elegance. This car doesn't shout quality; it exudes it. Chrome, for instance, formerly a Cadillac obsession, is now thankfully relegated to a very minor role.

Cadillac has also refined its electronic interface. CUE, as it's called (Cadillac User Experience) has been less than well-received, but in the CT6 the controls are easier to operate, the system more intuitive to use. It's a work in progress, but at least Cadillac is working on it!

The rear-view mirror is electronic, capable of displaying an image via a rear camera. That camera is one of four that produce a 360-degree view of the car that can actually be recorded. Of course, all the “nanny” technologies are present, including an automatic park assist that also takes care of the braking.

The 2016 Cadillac CT6 (I know, why “6?” Why not another letter following ATS and CTS? Let's just say the brand's in transition) will be available in March. They won't sell huge numbers, but maybe one BMW at a time, one Mercedes at a time... After all, Cadillac goes back, and when you go back far enough, you get to the former Standard of the World.

Canadian pricing for the CT6 is as follows:
CT6 2.0L Turbo – Starting at $61,245
CT6 3.6L V6 with AWD – Starting at $63,570
CT6 3.0L Twin Turbo V6 with AWD – Starting at $73,103
CT6 Platinum – Starting at $94,620
Destination freight charge is $1,950.

The fuel consumption ratings currently available are:
2.0L RWD – 11.0/7.6/9.5 (city/hwy/comb)
3.0L Twin Turbo AWD – 13.0/9.0/11.2 (city/hwy/comb)