2016 Cadillac CT6 review: Cadillac's new flagship is smaller, smarter than you might think
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 Escalade. 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 the BMW 7 series and Mercedes-Benz S-Class. 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 5-Series and E-Class 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 Maybach S600, 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.
The tech: Cue's new touchpad
We've already talked about the OnStar 4G LTE data connectivity, in-car Wi-Fi network and optional rear-seat entertainment.
The CT6's dashboard also features a large color touchscreen for its Cue infotainment system. We've seen Cue in action on the latest generations of Caddy's CTS and ATS models, and it's thankfully just as good here. While I'm not a fan of the aesthetics, I loved that the system is well organized with shortcuts to the major functions ever-present at the top of the screen and customizable "presets" along the bottom that can be programmed to call up radio stations, audio sources, destinations for navigation and more with a single tap.
This generation of Cue debuts a new touchpad controller located on the center console. It operates a bit like Lexus' Remote Touch controller and even offers haptic feedback in the form of vibration when the onscreen cursor snaps to a button or icon. I wasn't a fan of Lexus' pad, and I'm also not loving Caddy's; I find both of them weird and frustrating to use. Cadillac says that the trackpad will keep drivers from having to stretch to reach the touchscreen, but I didn't find that the main display was so far away that I needed to use the pad and defaulted to just touching the screen or using steering wheel controls for the vast majority of my interaction.
Cue also supports Apple CarPlay when connected to an iPhone for those who'd prefer to bring their own apps into the dashboard. Android Auto wasn't available during my initial testing session, had been added to the feature list when the CT6 arrived in Roadshow's garage for extended testing. Interestingly, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto can only be controlled directly via the touchscreen; the console's remote touchpad does not work with the smartphone technologies.
Most users will likely plug their smartphones into the USB ports in the center console -- especially if taking advantage of Android or Apple's mirroring tech. There's also optional Qi wireless charging point for mobile devices on the center console. Just drop a compatible phone onto the pad (or a phone wearing a Qi adapter case) to begin juicing the battery.
The sound: Bose Panaray audio
The crown jewel of the CT6's infotainment tech offerings is a new Bose Panaray audio system, custom designed for the CT6's cabin. This system uses 34 speakers in 19 location to deliver a seriously immersive listening experience. The Panaray rig is loud and very clear, but what it really brings to the table is excellent staging for every seat in the house.
Up front, four 70mm high-excursion, horizontally opposed woofers beneath the floor add a tactile nature to the bass that you can feel in the soles of your feet. A mix of direct and cross-firing tweeters and midrange drivers provide solid stereo separation for both front-seat passengers while enveloping them in sound. Drivers hidden in the headrests -- similar to those we saw on the Mazda MX-5 Miata -- help with immersion without drawing attention to themselves.
Out back, the rear passengers get their own direct and cross-firing tweeters and a dedicated center fill for the second row located on the center console. A powered subwoofer on the rear parcel shelf provides bass you can feel in the cavity of your chest. Typically, the staging for the rear-seat listening experience is overwhelmed by the drivers behind your head, but Bose has created a system that gives the same great front-and-center listening experience for the rear passengers. Close your eyes and you can hear the lead singer ahead of you and the instruments around, rather than feeling like you're sitting with your back to the stage. I was thoroughly impressed.
At about $3,500-ish bucks, I was also impressed by the price of this system. It's certainly not cheap, but in a world where luxury audiophile car audio systems from Naim, Bang, Bowers or Burmester can push into $10,000 territory, the Panaray rig is a steal.
A safety first: No mere mirror
The CT6 is the stage for Cadillac's most ambitious rollout of driver-aid technologies yet.
Fully loaded, the CT6 boasts no fewer than seven cameras. Four cameras (front, sides and rear) are for the around-view monitor system. Interestingly, the front and rear cameras are also tied into an onboard video recorder system that allows them to operate like a dashcam system. Drivers can manually save video from either of these cameras on an SD card in the glove compartment for retrieval later, and in the event of an accident, the video data leading up to the event is automatically stored for use at the driver's discretion. In the event that the car's alarm is tripped, a snapshot from all four cameras is also stored.
Camera no. 5 is a forward-looking camera used in concert with a hidden radar sensor for the pedestrian and large animal detection system, forward precollision mitigation system, and the lane-departure prevention system. The sixth is yet another forward-looking infrared camera for the optional night vision system. And finally, there's a seventh camera on the rear end used for the rear camera mirror.
The center rear-view mirror operates about like you'd expect it to, with auto dimming and a decent view out of the rear glass. However, when you flip a switch, it switches to display a live widescreen view of the area behind the car via a camera mounted on the rear trunklid. The live camera view offers a wider angle than the optical mirror's, is unobstructed by rear passengers, headrests or pillars, and is independent of the driver's position, meaning it's always aimed perfectly.
The rear camera mirror is an industry first. Other automakers have offered camera displays integrated into the rear mirror, but those have only been usable while reversing and occupied part of the mirror. Cadillac's system is the first that can be used full time, totally replacing the mirror during normal driving.
However, it takes some getting used to. When you look at a mirror, you're not focusing on the mirror, your eyes are focusing beyond the mirror. But when you glance at the screen, it's much shorter distance, so it took an hour of driving with the rear camera mirror active to overcome the slight crosseyed-ness of two decades of eyeball muscle memory. What also took some getting used to is the viewing angle of the camera; when a car came to a stop behind me at a traffic light it looked, at a quick glance, like it was literally parked in the backseat.
Later, I was able to experience the mirror at night and was pleased to find that it automatically dimmed in low light. Whether day or night, it wasn't a distraction at all once the novelty (and initial weirdness) wore off.
Rounding out the driver-aid tech is available blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alerts, adaptive cruise control with full speed range for use in slow traffic, and front and rear automatic braking at low speeds tied into the pedestrian detection and cross-traffic alert systems. If that's not "gee whiz" enough, there's also semi-autonomous parallel and perpendicular parking to wow friends and family with the car steering itself into an available space while the driver controls the accelerator and brakes.
The Cadillac flagship
I was impressed with the Cadillac CT6 from the moment I laid eyes on its sharply creased sheetmetal. It's a car that wears its size well and isn't afraid to do things differently; the logical evolution of the new Cadillac that we saw birthed with the new CTS and ATS models.
There is a phrase "The Cadillac of..." When a salesman says that you're buying the Cadillac of mattresses, they mean you're getting the biggest, softest bed in the building. A beach cruiser is the Cadillac of bicycles, it's big and heavy, lumbering but comfortable.
That was the old Cadillac. The new 2016 Cadillac CT6 is lighter and smaller than convention would dictate. It's powered by two excellent turbocharged engine options and makes good use of innovative technologies such as rear steering, all-wheel drive and magnetic suspension to enhance its performance. Its cabin is connected to the web and features the well sorted tech that its drivers and passengers will actually want to use.
The 2016 Cadillac CT6 starts at $54,490 for the base model with the 2.0T with rear-wheel drive (including a $995 destination charge) and peaks at $88,460 for the fully-loaded, all-options 3.0TT Platinum with all-wheel drive.
That's a pretty wide range of prices and features that puts the CT6 into conflict with a lot of very strong competition in the luxury sedan game. For now, things look pretty good for the Cadillac; it made a very strong first impression and offers a pretty good value when compared to the established luxury players. However, there is another upstart on its way, and I think that the Volvo S90 will give the Cadillac a lot of trouble when it reaches the market later this year.