Cadillac has long prided itself on being America’s premier luxury brand, and whilst Lincoln might beg to disagree, they will tell you that for the last 70 years they have had no real domestic rival at the top of the market. But in the last 40 or so years, things have been much tougher for them, with ever increasing sales of luxury cars initially from Europe with the Jaguar XJ6 and XJ12 and Mercedes S Class of the 1970s firing the first salvos. soon followed up by BMW’s 7 Series and more recently Audi’s A8. As if that was not enough, the Japanese entered the battle ground with the Lexus LS400 in 1989 and a few years ago the Koreans have had a go with the Genesis, initially a model aimed at the 5 Series but latterly a stand-alone brand with their G80 and G90. Cadillac’s top of the range models remained resolutely American in styling and execution, with lazy V8s and soft wallowy suspension and whilst these continued to find a steady stream of buyers in the 80s and 90s, the average age of the owners of these cars meant that repeat business was not that likely. Cadillac looked like it could die nearly as quickly as its stereotypical owners. After a number of false starts with slightly smaller cars such as the Seville of 1975 and the disastrous Cimmaron of 1982, the first truly serious step to try to reinvigorate the brand came with the launch of the CTS in 2003. Its bold styling and well-engineered chassis found plenty of new friends and was the start of a series of new era Cadillacs which have been quite popular in America but not really impactful anywhere else in the world. But the top of the range was more of a problem. The deVille became the DTS in 2005 but apart from the new name and the use of shared componentry from its more agile GM stablemates, the ethos remained. And the same was largely true for the XTS of 2012 which replaced both the DTS and the slight smaller STS with a front wheel drive car that was based on the same Epsilon-II platform as the Chevrolet Impala and Buick LaCrosse. Not long after, though, rumours started to persist that Cadillac was going to add a new and more serious contender to top their range, and the result, called CT6, appeared at the 2015 New York Auto Show, going on sale a few months later as a 2016 model. Unlike the XTS, this was a rear wheel drive car, Cadillac’s first for their largest car since 1996, based off an enlarged and revised version of the Omega platform that underpins the latest CTS. The CT6 was even larger than the XTS, which would remain in production, measuring over 17 feet in length. With luxury levels of equipment, this was conceived as a true flagship, aimed at the lower end of the S Class, 7 Series, A8, Lexus LS and the Genesis G90 ranges with a proposed CT8 planned to follow on to take on the upper echelons. The CT6 was well received on launch but sales have not been that strong, with US numbers only just exceeding 10,000 cars in 2017 and quickly dropping off after that. Hertz acquired some CT6 for their US fleet in 2019 and it was a car I was eager to try, to see for myself whether this really is a true rival for those European and Asian rivals, or whether this is yet another car that only a sense of American loyalty can make one think it is competitive. I managed to secure one for a day whilst in Los Angeles, to see what I thought of it.
Cadillac offer the CT6 with a choice of four different engines: Luxury and Premium Luxury models come as standard with a 257 bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine and rear-wheel drive, while a 3.6-litre V6 engine with all-wheel drive is available. Sport and Platinum models feature a 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged V6 engine with all-wheel drive, which gives you 404 bhp. The CT6-V boasts a 4.2-litre twin-turbo V8 with 550 bhp and all-wheel drive. All models have a 10-speed automatic transmission. The test car had the 3.6 litre V6 engine. It develops 335 bhp. There is keyless starting, and it is only really by looking at the rev counter that you can see that the engine is now running, as this unit is always quiet. It is also very smooth. The CT6 is rapid but not as fast as you might expect, but few will find that this car lacks power. They are more likely to be impressed by the smoothness and the fact that the car is quiet underway, with all sources of noise well suppressed. It does actually accelerate well, with extra speed available no matter where you are starting from. The 10 speed transmission is well matched to the engine and the car changes gear without you really realising it. During my day with the CT6, I covered 153 miles and it needed 6.18 gallons to refill it which works out at 24.76 mpg US or 29.58 mpg Imperial, an impressive result for such a large and heavy car.
Although the CT6 is first and foremost a luxury car, it needs to be decent to drive as well if it is to stand a chance against its rivals. That is one reason why Cadillac reverted to rear wheel drive after producing the front wheel drive XTS, with all wheel drive available on even the least powerful cars and standard on the more potent ones. They’ve largely succeeded as I found the car was nicely fluid on the sweeping bends of the canyon roads north of the LA basin where I took the car. The steering is well weighted with some feel and the Cadillac handles tidily, taking to the bends with a pleasing poise, and nothing much in the way of body roll. It remained comfortable, too. The test car came on 245/40 R19 wheels and the combination of these and well-judged suspension which is soft but not overly so meant that the ride was smooth even when the roads were not. There is an automated braking function, which thankfully I did not get the chance to test out. In normal mode the brakes were perfectly fit for purpose, well able to stop what is a rather heavy car. There is an e-brake operated by a button the dash.
There should be few problems with visibility, as technology is applied here to improve things. That said, the door mirrors are on the small side. The rear-view mirror features a video-streaming camera, which takes a bit of getting used to. This does offer a wider field of view, which is useful, but I also found that it suffers from reflections, so it is not always that good en route. You can turn the camera function off. One of the CT6’s party tricks is the Parkview system. This is effectively a 360 degree camera system which projects images onto the central infotainment screen. It has five options for what to project. There are all the latest electronic safety aids here including Lane Departure Warning (which is not always welcome) and Blind Spot Assist (which is).
One look inside the CT 6 shows that Cadillac think – perhaps with some justification – that what Americans want in a luxury car is not quite the same as the way European brands envisage things. So whilst the interior of the CT6 largely uses quality materials, there are far too many of them – a mix of leather, veneer, stippled leather, wood effect and carbon fibre effect being the main ones – for it to look really classy. There is a heated leather wrapped steering wheel which is pleasant to hold. The instrument display of the test car featured the optional 12″ electronic instrument dials. There is a central speedometer with the rev counter to the left along with a distance to next car display and on the right are water temperature and fuel gauges as well as what is playing on the audio system. The overall effect is rather busy, though the markings are clear. In addition, there is a head up display and you can choose exactly what it shows. The column stalks are recognisably GM, and operate indicators, wipers and lights. There are rather a lot of buttons on the steering wheel boss, as well as superfluous piece of plastic wood which looks so out of place. These cover audio repeater, cruise control, and settings for the trip computer displays. The centre of the dash features the integrated touch-sensitive colour infotainment screen. This has been revised recently, with the introduction of some physical buttons, aimed at making it more usable. I found the system could be a little slow to respond but generally, it was not hard to do what I wanted, either from the touch interface or a control wheel in the centre console. The 10 speaker audio system is one from Bose and features XM Satellite radio as well as AM and FM wavelengths. Apple Car Play and Android Auto are also included. There is a navigation system here, as well. Under this are touch pad based areas for the dual zone automated climate control. Cadillac have successfully decluttered the interior, apart from that steering wheel, and most functions are easy enough to use.
Front seats have 16-way electric adjustment, as you might expect from a luxury car and there is a two position memory so you can store the precise setting once you have discovered it. Both front seats are heated and cooled. The steering column has electrically-assisted adjustment in/out and up/down. The seats are large but they proved comfortable and there is a definite feeling of space in here, with ample headroom even though there is a twin sunroof which might take a little off the available clearance.
There is plenty of space in the rear, with lots of legroom even when the front seats are set well back. Headroom is equally generous. There is a narrow but quite tall central console, but this should not too much of a problem for a middle seat occupant. In keeping with the luxury spec of the car, though it was part of an option package, the rear seats are heated. There is a drop down central armrest which includes a stowage tray and pop up cup holders on its upper surface. There are side-window sunblinds. Oddments can be put in the map pockets on the back of the front seats are using the door pockets.
There is electric assistance both to open and close the boot. The opening is large and it would not be hard to get golf clubs or other large items in here. The boot floor is quite a bit lower than the base of the boot lid. There is quite a lot of space lost around the boot hinges and it should be noted that the space tapers noticeably between the wheel arches so the overall capacity is not as great as you might be expecting for a car of this size. It will probably be large enough for most needs, though. There is a ski flap but the rear seat backrests are fixed. Inside the cabin, there is a good-sized glovebox, door pockets, lidded cupholders and an armrest cubby which should suffice, though there is no open area in the centre of the car for things like a mobile phone.
During the 2019 model year, Cadillac changed the available trim levels available on the CT6, Early on, the 2019 Cadillac CT6 came in four trim levels: Luxury, Premium Luxury, Sport, and Platinum. Luxury and Premium luxury models come standard with a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine and rear-wheel drive, while the 3.6-litre V6 engine with all-wheel drive is optional. Sport and Platinum models feature a 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged V6 engine with all-wheel drive. All models have a 10-speed automatic transmission. A high-performance CT6-V with a twin-turbo V8 engine was announced to be joining the line-up later in 2019. Even the base car, which was priced to offer good value, came with a long list of amenities at a relatively low starting price for a luxury large car. It also gives you the option of adding several active safety features in one package. Starting price for the 2019 Cadillac CT6 Luxury was at $50,495, with the standard four-cylinder engine. With the optional 3.6-litre V6 and all-wheel drive, prices started at $55,495. Standard features include leather upholstery, 14-way power-adjustable front seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, dual-zone automatic climate control, rain-sensing windshield wipers, proximity keyless entry, push-button start, remote start, and an 8-inch digital instrument display. Standard driver assistance features include a rearview camera, front and rear parking sensors, and the Teen Driver system. The standard infotainment system features a 10.2-inch touch screen, Bluetooth, two USB ports, an eight-speaker Bose premium sound system, satellite radio, wireless device charging, a built-in Wi-Fi hot spot, Android Auto, and Apple CarPlay. Most major options for the base Luxury trim are found in the Driver Awareness and Convenience package. For $3,500, you can get active safety features like automatic high beams, a safety alert seat, a following distance indicator, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, forward collision warning, pedestrian detection, and low-speed automatic emergency braking. It also comes with heated front seats, a sunroof, and navigation. However, Cadillac cut the Luxury trim and the four-cylinder engine part way through the model year. That meant that the new base setup became the Premium Luxury trim with its 3.6-litre V6 engine. This was the spec of the test car. The CT6 Premium Luxury started at $58,095 with the standard powertrain and $62,595 with the midrange V6 and AWD. At the time that the Luxury version was deleted, so the only available Premium Luxury model became the one with the included AWD. Additional features in this trim include a 10-speaker Bose surround-sound stereo, 16-way power-adjustable and heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, a hands-free power trunk, automatic parking assist, and a surround-view parking camera. The Premium Luxury model also comes with all the features in the base trim’s optional package. For $2,000, the Comfort and Technology package comes with ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, a head-up display, a rearview mirror camera, and a 12-inch digital instrument display, and this would appear to have been included in the spec of the test car. The Rear Seat package ($2,700) includes four-zone automatic climate control and a second-row entertainment system. In models with the V6 engine, you can spend $6,000 to get a package with Cadillac’s Super Cruise driver assistance technology, along with adaptive cruise control, night vision detection, and reverse automatic braking. This package also includes magnetic ride control, active rear steering, and a choice of upgraded wheels. You can also get just the magnetic ride control and rear-wheel steering for either $2,600 or $3,300, depending on your choice of wheels. The 2019 CT6 Sport retails for $66,595. It features a twin-turbo V6 engine and standard all-wheel drive, along with a unique, sporty interior and exterior design elements. The CT6 Sport has mostly the same list of standard and optional features as the Premium Luxury trim. The Cadillac CT6 Platinum trim starts at $86,795 and comes fully loaded with most of the features you can get in the car. It includes 20-way power-adjustable, ventilated, and massaging front seats; heated, ventilated, massaging, and reclining rear seats; four-zone climate control; a rear-seat entertainment system; a head-up display; a rearview mirror camera; a 34-speaker Bose stereo; the Super Cruise function and its associated advanced safety features; magnetic ride control; and rear-wheel steering. Top of the range is the new for 2019 Cadillac CT6-V, a high-performance, limited-production model. It boasts a twin-turbocharged V8 engine, all-wheel drive, Brembo brakes, and a limited-slip rear differential. Prices start at $87,795.
I enjoyed my day with the CT6, and would have happily spent longer driving it, but it was the last of a series of test cars in Los Angeles before flying on to Phoenix, so time was against me. The CT6 does everything well, with no significant weaknesses that I could discern. However, in this part of the market, buyers expect more than that, with nothing short of excellence being the standard to be achieved. And whilst the CT6 is good, there are plenty of rivals that offer that bit more in some way or other, which could explain why CT6 sales have not been that impressive. Hertz categorise the CT6 in the same rental group as the BMW 740i, and there is no question that if you had the choice of the two, you would take the BMW. However, on the retail market, you would probably not look as these two cars as direct competitors, and might think instead of the smaller 5 series, or perhaps an Audi A7 or Mercedes CLS, all of which are excellent in every way. As are the Genesis G80 and G90, high-end luxury cars for those who want the non-obvious choice. So unless buying American is paramount – and in Trump’s America, that may be the case for a handful of buyers – then you really do need to have a good look and a test of all the protagonists before making your choice. At the rental car counter, it might be easier as few of the rivals feature, so pick the CT6 and enjoy it for the duration.