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HENRY PAYNE

Payne: Best. Cadillac. Ever.

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

In the Age of Ute, Cadillac’s decision to roll out a full-size flagship sedan – the CT6 – has been met by rolled eyes from many in the auto press. Tough crowd. But as I tell anyone in the luxe shopping aisle these days: You gotta drive this car.

It is the best. Cadillac. Ever.

The luxury brand’s comeback has been longer and more frustrating than that of Tiger Woods. Like the golfing great, Caddy deems anything short of No. 1 a loss. As Woods benchmarks to Spieth and McIlroy, so has GM’s luxury brand benchmarked to BMW, Audi, and Mercedes – the kings of performance luxury.

Like Woods, Cadillac may not make its way back to the top. The competition is formidable. Not just the German gold standards but also a new player named Tesla which has electrified the full-sized sedan market with the Model S.

On its way back Caddy has put up some impressive product. Stuffed with a Corvette Z06 engine, the ferocious CTS-V sedan is a supercharged rival for BMW M5 and Mercedes-AMG S63. The handsome ATS sedan is an asphalt carving knife, challenging its German peers for best handling car in segment. Combine that handling with a 464-horse, twin turbo V-6 and the ATS-V rivals the legendary BMW M3 for best performance sedan.

But with each entry there have been as many minuses as pluses. The Vs’ chain-mail grille and high price tags makes them a tough sell. The ATS’s backseat would cause anyone but small children leg cramps. And all suffered from a CUE infotainment system that had owners running from their cars screaming. To beat the most desired brands on the planet, “as good” isn’t good enough. You have to build superior, transformational (see Tesla) product.

For the first time, Cadillac has done it with the CT6.

The CT6 advantage begins with a look. The Caddy’s loooong hood is a head-turner. Credit rear-wheel drive architecture compared to the outgoing XTS which was less elegant giving its cab-forward, FWD proportions. With most of its bulk set over the rear wheels, the car has a crouched, catlike stance. Gorgeous. Combined with the signature, vertical Caddy running lights and a sculpted face – wide mouth, headlights pushed to the edges – the 6 demands you get to know it better.

You gotta drive this car.

Inside the Caddy is equally impressive. Gone is the (trying-too-hard) cut-and-sewn dash replaced by an elegant, horizontal layout. Significantly, the CUE infotainment system has been overhauled. Its maddening slider controls have been replaced by more workable buttons, and the screen – once lazy to the touch – jumps to your command. The change comes too late for my friend Dicran – he ran screaming from his XTS to buy an Audi A6 after one CUE snafu too many. And after a lease with Audi’s maddening, remote rotary dial control, he’ll come back to Caddy for a second look.

With a workable interface at last, the console’s deeper details impress. Apple Car Play and Android Auto come standard. The imposing, yacht-like gearshift slides easily along its track next to twin upholders. A clever phone slot hides just under the storage console – itself brilliantly designed with a left-and-right hinge so that it is equally accessible by driver and passenger.

The roomy rear seat is a nice place to be even for a 6-foot-5 circus freak like me. Adjustable seats, multi-functional center armrest. I could lounge back there all day – were the CT6 not such a blast to drive.

You gotta drive this car.

Because once Caddy has sucked you in with eye candy, it reveals its transformational trick: a 3,657 pound-chassis that makes this car handle like a sports coupe. That’s 600 pounds lighter than a Mercedes S-Class. Or 1,000 pounds lighter than Tesla. More than any big car I’ve driven, the CT6 demands to be thrown into turns like an oversized Miata.

All this for just $54,490 – or $30,000 cheaper than a BMW 7-series. My only caveat is the base 4-cylinder doesn’t belong in it (well, two caveats – the eight-speed tranny can be curiously clunky at low speeds). Not because it can’t pull 3,600 pounds (it can), but because a 4-banger just doesn’t sound right in this upscale athlete. The CT6 is a no compromise package – so don’t compromise by choosing anything but the superb, all-wheel-drive, twin-turbo V6. Still 900-pounds lighter than a comparable Tesla, still (at $72,170 loaded) $10k less than a base 7-series.

Best Cadillac ever.

“Oh, I thought you were just saying that as a good Detroiter,” said my friend Julie as she slipped into the CT6. “But this really is a stunning car.”

Cadillac has a lot of baggage. Keep building CT6s and it won’t be carrying it around for long.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

2016 Cadillac CT6

Specifications

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

Price: $54,490 base ($72,170 AWD, twin-turbo V-6 as tested)

Power plant: 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: 3,657 pounds (base, 4-cyl, RWD); 4,085 pounds (Twin-turbo V6, AWD as tested)

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: Athletic proportions; modern, elegant interior

Lows: Turbo 4-banger out of place in this athlete

Overall:★★★★

Grading scale

Excellent ★★★★Good ★★★

Fair ★★Poor ★