2011 Cadillac CTS Coupe: This Cadillac really zigs

CNET Car Tech takes a preview drive in the 2011 Cadillac CTS Coupe.

Wayne Cunningham/CNET
Cadillac CTS Coupe
The CTS Coupe differs substantially from the sedan in style and dimensions. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

One sunny Tuesday morning we found ourselves gripping the wheel of a 2011 Cadillac CTS Coupe, about to enter a blind turn on a narrow two lane road. Figuring 60 mph might be just a little hot for this corner, we hit the brakes, making the smart six speed automatic transmission decide a gear change down to second was in order.

As the tach needle swung around to brush the 7,000 rpm redline, the engine sounded off with a strained growl, sounding as if someone were putting a beehive through a bandsaw, not one of the best engine notes we've heard. The wheel felt lifeless as we turned into the corner, its power mechanism tuned more for comfort than track days. But the front end of the car pointed where we wanted, and our still considerable speed in the turn made the summer tires start to slide.

Cadillac CTS Coupe
On the approach to a turn, the transmission downshifts as we hit the brakes. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

But the wide track of the car, 2 inches greater than that of the CTS sedan, and the grippy tires kept the CTS Coupe under control. Well, mostly under control. From behind the wheel we felt we had a tiger by the tail, the car on the verge of going over the side. The suspension stayed loose, letting it get a little unsettled. Although not the kind of precision handling supplied by a BMW, we enjoyed it.

Concept to production
Based on the CTS sedan, the CTS Coupe uses a dramatic design. Cadillac did more than just strip the rear doors from the sedan. The CTS Coupe is 2 inches shorter in length and 2 inches shorter in height, yet has a 2 inch wider rear track. The back glass, nestled in the angular rear of the car, seems almost horizontal. With the Coupe's design, the rear pillars are particularly wide, which Cadillac says leads to greater rigidity than the sedan.

The CTS Coupe didn't change much from the concept shown at the 2008 Detroit auto show. The car still has the handle-less door openers, a touch borrowed from the Cadillac XLR. The exhaust still comes out the center rear of the car from two trapezoidal ports. It cuts a striking figure.

Cadillac brought us out for a preview drive in the new Coupe, but much of it was familiar from the CTS sedan. The CTS Coupe uses the same direct injection 3.6-liter V-6 available in the sedan, producing 304 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque. Likewise, the car gets the same six speed automatic with its oh so aggressive sport mode.

Cadillac CTS Coupe
The rear windows are mere triangles due to the low roof line. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

Although we thought its exhaust note could use more bass, this powertrain encouraged our high speed antics over mountainous winding roads. When in sport mode, the transmission recognized our aggressive driving, downshifting to very low gears and holding them, maximizing power. But it was also perceptive enough to tell when we settled into more laid back driving, letting the gears run all the way up to six.

This transmission also includes a manual mode, and shifts quickly on command. But instead of paddles, Cadillac put shift buttons on the back of the spokes, not a great location for sport driving. Aesthetically, we also weren't pleased by the gear indicator display on the instrument panel, showing big red numbers that looked like a 1980s clock radio.

Cadillac representatives told us they would have liked to update the CTS Coupe's instrument panel to something like that of the SRX, which we really liked, but development got halted due to the 2008/2009 economic meltdown. The CTS Coupe kept the same instrumentation as the CTS sedan.

CTS electronics
During the slower parts of our day's drive, we also looked at the CTS Coupe's cabin tech, and found basically the same package as in the sedan. And that is not a bad thing. Like the sedan, the CTS Coupe gets an LCD that rises up out of the dashboard. In its down position, it still shows audio information, while up it shows navigation and lets you browse iPod libraries or the car's onboard music storage.

Cadillac CTS Coupe
The LCD shows a narrow strip for audio information when recessed. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

The hard drive-based navigation system uses easy-to-read maps and reacts quickly to inputs. We like the combination of hardware and touchscreen controller, which let us use the best option for keyboard or menus. But the best thing about the navigation system is its live traffic feature. Not only will it dynamically reroute around problems, it also pops up an alert if there is a problem on the road ahead when route guidance is not active.

The audio system includes the usual sources, such as iPod integration, onboard hard drive storage, and satellite radio. For terrestrial radio, the CTS Coupe gives the driver the ability to pause the broadcast for up to 20 minutes, an innovative feature introduced with the CTS sedan.

These cabin electronics add to the CTS Coupe's luxury capabilities, complementing the well-designed interior materials. Cadillac had BMW in its sights when it designed the first CTS sedan, and the Coupe is intended to be competitive with BMW's 3-series coupes. Although Cadillac is mostly successful, the handling characteristics of the CTS Coupe feel a little sloppier than that of the BMW, but that can be a good thing for those who like to be on the edge of control.

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