Payne: State-of-the-art Cadillac CT6 sedan

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

Let’s talk big sedans. Sleds, boats, land yachts. Leather-stuffed boulevard limousines popularized by the Big Three in the 1950s and later refined by the Teutonic trio of BMW, Mercedes and Audi. The flagships of luxury, they represent the rise of graceful European luxury and the decline of Detroit’s dinosaurs.

Which is why I am driving a 2016 Cadillac CT6 around the Cuyamaca Mountains east of San Diego. Not just driving it; wringing its neck.

The tires squall as I rotate the 203-inch-long sedan like a two-door coupe through a 110-degree right-hander. In “Sport” mode, the car’s computer keeps the twin-turbos spooled at 3,000 rpm in third gear. I floor it on exit from the turn, and the 3.0-liter six roars its approval, leaping like a big cat. Brembo brakes haul it to Earth before the next cliff-carved curve. I’d pity the passenger in the plush rear seat, but I’m joy-riding, not limo-commuting.

Joy-riding? Squalling tires? Time to reset all you know about Cadillac.

CT6 designer Taki Karras likes to say the chrome chin of the CT6 is a tip of the hat to the legendary, Corsair-fighter-inspired, 1956 Coupe Deville. Yeah, OK. If I squint a little. A lot, actually. Because the CT6 resembles nothing in Cadillac’s antiquated land-yacht past.

The cut-and-sewn leather dash reflects design restraint.

This hasn’t happened overnight. Cadillac telegraphed the CT6 like a Bugs Bunny windup haymaker. The Alpha platform that is the foundation for the compact ATS and midsize CTS (and exquisite Chevy Camaro) is widely admired as the best small platform around. Further stiffened with a batwing brace and motivated by one of Caddy’s new twin-turbo mills, the ATS-V performance sedan is the first competitor to make BMW’s M3 sweat.

Let’s talk big sedans. The CT6 is the state-of-the-art in four-door design today. It not only shames Cadillac’s outgoing front-wheel-drive XTS, it exceeds the Germans’ high bar.

Consider the specs on CT6’s clean-sheet Omega chassis: Mixed aluminum and steel frame. Single-cast A-pillars reducing 35 parts to a single, high-strength unit. There are 3,073 alloy spot-welds, 591 feet of structural adhesives, 13 high-pressure castings for a 20 percent parts reduction. The result is a stiff, 3,657-pound base car that is a staggering 600 pounds lighter than a comparable Mercedes S-Class. Call it Cadillac Lite. So lightweight is the full-size CT6 that it tips the scales 58 pounds shy of its midsized CTS sibling and 38 pounds lighter than a Camaro SS.

The rear camera mirror with streaming video could use some fine-tuning.

Wrap your head around that for a moment: Cadillac’s flagship sedan weighs less than the featherweight of the muscle car coupe class.

The general leading this big car revolution is Cadillac President Johann de Nysschen, a big man himself. At 6-foot-3, the commanding South African looks like he could have led elephant safaris in his native land. De Nysschen’s double-barreled CT6 exhaust is aimed right at the heart of German luxury dominance: S-Class, BMW 7-series, Audi A8.

“Why are we making a large sedan?” asks de Nysschen rhetorically at a time when Cadillac is investing billions in SUVs (along with Jaguar, Maserati, Bentley — even Lamborghini, for goodness sake) to slake consumers’ thirst for high-riding Conestoga wagons.

“Because our technology is leading the charge in taking on the world’s finest. We know that if we take them on in a segment there they are strong, that is the fastest way to build back our reputation.”

Those are bold words backed up by a bold car.

The CT6’s quiet interior boasts plush rear seats that are heated and adjustable, and offer enough room for a reclining giraffe.

But not bold in the old tail-finned, chrome-encrusted Trump Tower sort of way. This Cadillac does more with less, starting with a sticker price $20,000 south of the Mercedes S-class. Where the Mercedes needs a big V-8 to motivate its 4,600 pounds, the CT6’s twin-turbo V-6 will do for 4,000 pounds, thank you very much. So light is the CT6 that the base rear-wheel drive model comes with the same 265 horsepower turbo 4 that is the most popular CTS engine because — ahem — the CT6 is lighter by 100 pounds.

Happily, the big Caddy’s inner sanctum is buffered against all this hard-core performance engineering. Sealed in silence, passengers ride on a flying carpet of leather seats and road-absorbing magnetic shocks. The rear seat acreage could easily fit a reclining giraffe, and are heated and adjustable.

The front thrones are predictably comfortable, but more importantly Cadillac has worked hard to address console issues that have haunted it for years. An upset CTS owner approached us at a pit stop along the route to complain of his decade-old Caddy’s cheap chassis construction and chipping paint icons. He brightened up when he learned of the CT6’s body-by-Jake exercise routine — and its upgraded graphics, digital displays and Apple Car Play and Android Auto compatibility. And if Cadillac stubbornly sticks with its CUE infotainment system, at least its touchscreen response now approximates a smartphone rather than an old ATM.

The rear passenger infotainment screen is offered as an option.

Not all upgrades are welcome, however. My media colleagues and I went cross-eyed trying CT6’s much-ballyhooed rear-camera mirror. Back to the drawing board, boys.

Pleasing, however, is the car’s conservative cut-and-sewn leather dash. That restraint is also evident on the car’s exterior where chief designer Karras refined Cadillac’s sharp edges. A CT6 grille looming in your mirrors commands respect.

The rear end, however, is so conservative as to be undistinguished. The signature vertical taillights have been neutered. Chrome detailing is microscopic. “Is that a Chevy or a Cadillac?” snickered a colleague as we gained on another CT6. This Cadillac could actually benefit from more chrome.

“There aren’t many Cadillac customers in Germany now, but our readers are buzzing about Cadillac’s technology,” said a European car-magazine colleague who had made the trip to California.

Sixty years after it defined automotive luxury, U.S. manufacturers are leading the way again.

And for just $72,000, the all-wheel drive Cadillac CT6 makes a $98,000 Mercedes S-Class 4MATIC feel like a land yacht.

The CT6’s front shines but the view from behind is undistinguished.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Email him at hpayne@detroitnews.com. Follow him on Twitter @HenryEPayne.

’16 Cadillac CT6

Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear or all-wheel-drive, five-passenger sedan

Price: $54,490 base ($72,170 twin-turbo V-6 luxury; $59,590 turbo-4)

Powerplant: 2.0-liter, turbocharged 4-cylinder; 3.6-liter V6; 3.0-liter twin-turbo V-6

Power: 265 horsepower, 295 pound-feet of torque (turbo-4); 335 horsepower, 284 pound-feet of torque (V-6); 404 horsepower, 400 pound-feet of torque (twin-turbo V-6)

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 5.1 (twin-turbo V-6, Car & Driver est.)

Weight: 4,085 pounds (AWD twin-turbo V6); 3,657 pounds (RWD turbo-4)

Fuel economy: EPA 22 mpg city/31 mpg highway (turbo-4); EPA 19 mpg city/29 mpg highway (V-6); EPA 18 mpg city/26 mpg highway (twin-turbo V-6)

Report card

Highs: Handling of a car two sizes smaller; best Caddy face yet

Lows: Disorienting rear camera mirror; blah rear end


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