When most people think Cadillac, they think of massive, classic luxury sedans with boat-like handling and supersmooth rides -- or they think of the behemoth. Either way, Cadillac usually equals big. Which is why it's weird that the brand's newest flagship is so compact. Well, compact for Cadillac, that is.
Make no mistake, the 2016 Cadillac CT6 is still a large sedan in every sense of the word, but its 122.4-inch wheelbase sits about 2 to 4 inches below theand . Meanwhile, the Caddy's 3,657- to 4,700-pound curb weight is hundreds of pounds lighter than its direct competitors and more in line with the smaller and models. Straddling classes as it does, either Caddy's carved out a unique niche for its flagship or it is making excuses for being the runt of the litter.
I spent a few days with the new CT6 to figure out which is more likely.
The driven: Backseat comfort and amenities
My experience started in the backseat with a chauffeured ride from the Los Angeles airport in a fully loaded CT6 Platinum.
The sedan offered plenty of leg and headroom on the second row and was equipped with the Platinum model's optional recline and massage rear seats. Of course, the right-rear bucket is the best seat in the house when so equipped, thanks to there usually being more legroom for reclining behind the unoccupied front passenger seat in a chauffeur situation. There's ample space, but this is no, so you probably won't be getting the full recliner experience. Think premium cabin or exit row seat on an airliner, but not quite first class.
Cadillac has stated that it has no intentions of building a long wheelbase CT6 to compete with the longer variants of its competitors, so it will be interesting to see if the brand will eventually add an even larger luxury flagship later or commit to this more compact Caddy.
While being driven, I was treated to the optional rear-seat entertainment system with dual power retractable seatback screens with tilt controls. Wireless Bose headphones provide discrete audio to the second row, or wired connections lets passengers bring their own cans. A Blu-ray player up front can be tapped as a rear-seat video source, as can a rear HDMI input.
I didn't bring my Blu-ray box set of "Fast and Furious" movies along, but someone at Cadillac was clever enough to have outfitted my car with a Google Chromecast. You see, in addition to the HDMI input, the CT6 is also equipped with about six powered USB ports for gadgets and a standard 4G LTE-enabled in-car Wi-Fi network. Plug a $35 Chromecast into the HDMI and USB, connect it to the car's Wi-Fi, and the rear seat entertainment suddenly becomes a streaming media hub. Cadillac has no official partnership with Google -- it just wanted to demonstrate the sort of things a passenger could do with the tech onboard. The Amazon Fire Stick is also confirmed to work and, in theory, so would an Apple TV or any other streaming device that can use Wi-Fi and HDMI.
I noticed that the CT6's ride is firm, but not uncomfortable. The bumps and potholes of downtown Los Angeles made themselves apparent during my ride and were pronounced enough that I found it difficult to make written notes. However, there was no edge to the bumpiness and no discomfort; I'd call the ride firm, but controlled. My assumption was that the CT6 was striking some balance between handling and comfort, but from the rear seat I wasn't able to confirm. To be fair, it's possible that my driver for this segment had the Magnetic Ride Control in its Sport setting rather than the more compliant Touring, but I neglected to ask. With my notes messily made, I queued up some YouTube clips and settled in for the ride.
The driver: Handling and performance
On day 2, I found myself in the the driver's seat on twistier roads and could better experience the balance of handling and comfort. I enjoyed the responsiveness of the suspension and the steering, the latter being helped by the presence of rear wheel steering.
Cadillac's Active Rear Steering turns the rear wheels up to 3.5 degrees opposite to the fronts to tighten the turning circle by a claimed 3 feet -- Caddy claims the CT6 will match the BMW 5 Series' turning radius despite being about 8 inches longer. At high speeds, the rears steer up to 2.75 degrees in concert with the fronts to reduce yaw during lane changes and increase highway stability. Through rear steering, Cadillac claims that it can offer the nimbleness of a much shorter car and the high-speed stability of a long wheelbase while keeping the CT6's physical length in a sweet spot that is urban-friendly.
Active Rear Steering works in concert with the optional Magnetic Ride Control adaptive suspension, the optional all-wheel drive system, transmission and power steering systems -- featuring sport and touring drive mode settings that change the attitude of the vehicle at the touch of a toggle. Put all of that under a lightweight, stiff chassis and things start looking good for the big Caddy.
In practice, however, blitzing a series of switchbacks on a mountain road is not really the aim of this or any big luxury sedan. Thankfully, Caddy's done a good job of managing the inherent handling limitations of a car this big and delivered a great ride, all things considered.
The sedan handles a corner much better than I expected it to. The CT6 settles into sweeping bends nicely and offers quite good grip. On tighter, more technical bends I was able to push just a little bit harder than would be proper for a vehicle of this size before it started to push back, and I was impressed by the responsiveness and seat-of-the-pants feedback.
The power: Two turbocharged engine options
The new CT6 is available with three different engine options. At the entry point is 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that is, frankly, surprising to see in a vehicle of this size. Outputting 265 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque to the rear wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission, the CT6 2.0T is also the lightest configuration.
I was totally prepared to be underwhelmed, but was pleased to find that this little engine more than exceeded my performance expectations. The throttle is very responsive, and the transmission always seems to be in just the right gear to deliver respectable levels of torque for passing and accelerating. Coming in at about 3,800 pounds with me in the driver's seat, I was also able to best experience the CT6's excellent handling in this configuration. With sweeping curves and little traffic, I really appreciated the 2.0T's midrange torque, quiet operation and off-the-line responsiveness. However, the engine started to feel a bit taxed during a steep uphill climb, which made me wonder if I'd be having nearly as much fun with a full complement of passengers and luggage.
Next in line is the midrange 3.6-liter V-6, a naturally aspirated engine that features an anti-idling auto stop-start system and variable displacement tech. That last bit means that the engine can deactivate two of its cylinders during light-load operation, such as highway coasting downhill, and effectively operate as a V-4 engine to save fuel. I was not able to test this 335 horsepower, 285 pound-foot configuration, opting to jump to the top trim for the final leg of the trip.
The top trim is a 404-horsepower, 400-pound-foot twin-turbocharged V-6 option displacing 3.0 liters. This engine is mated with an eight-speed automatic transmission that sends torque to the road via Cadillac's all-wheel drive system. Around town, this engine just feels more confident and effortless than the four-banger and has a slightly more pronounced exhaust note that is much more pleasing to the ear. The additional weight of the all-wheel drive system is noticeable when cornering and doesn't really add much to the handling.
However, the all-wheel drive does aid in making sure that the 404 ponies reach the road as efficiently as possible. Stomp the right pedal and the sedan simply launches. What I like most about the 3.0TT is that its performance is accessible and immediate. The eight-speed automatic's downshifts are lightning quick, allowing the CT6 3.0TT to go from cruising to passing in a heartbeat and into triple-digit speeds if you're not careful. Whether in the automatic Sport mode or while fingering the manual paddle shifters, I was able to have some real fun with so much power on tap. All the time, the CT6 felt stable and safe; its handling light and surprisingly nimble, but never squirrelly.
Fuel economy for the CT6 peaks at 22 mpg in the city and 31 on the highway for the 2.0-liter turbo and is at its lowest at 18 city and 26 mpg for the naturally aspirated 3.6-liter engine. The 3.0TT also features the same auto stop-start fuel saving tech as the 3.6-liter and the first implementation of variable cylinder management on a twin-turbo engine. Additionally, it only sacrifices one highway mpg when compared to the midtier model.
The Cadillac's eight-speed automatic transmission, which served so well on the highway and during spirited driving, may have been the source of one maddening little annoyance that reared its head at lower, city speeds. When slowing, just before coming to a stop, the vehicle would jerk or shudder slightly. At first, I thought it was the auto stop-start system or the variable displacement system, but experimentation seemed to indicate that it was the transmission oddly timing one last downshift at the root of the unrefinement. It's a small annoyance, but a persistent and very un-Cadillac one that seemed to happen at every traffic light. Interestingly, I don't remember this being an issue during my initial testing, I only noticed it during the week of extended testing around our home offices, so maybe the shudder was unique to that example.