2020 Cadillac CT6 first drive review: Going out with a Blackwing bang

The 2020 CT6 is, in many ways, the perfect embodiment of the brand Cadillac wants to be. It's handsome and comfortable, and with the new twin-turbocharged Blackwing V8, powerful and sporty. Plus, this fullsize luxury sedan is loaded up with all sorts of innovative technologies, including the Super Cruise highway assist system.

But it's also a bit bittersweet, because the CT6's days in Cadillac's North American lineup are numbered. After developing a new engine, new sheetmetal and new tech for the 2019 model year, North American production will come to a close in January of 2020. It's a shame, really, because this new CT6 is still so good.

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The Blackwing V8's engine is signed by the builder, just like AMG does.

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The Blackwing V8

Behind its reshaped fascia, CT6 Platinum and CT6-V models boast Cadillac's new Blackwing V8, a small-block, 4.2-liter, twin-turbocharged engine that is hand-built in General Motors' Bowling Green, Kentucky-based Performance Build Center. There's even a signature-etched plaque on each engine's head to let you know which of the six master engine builders assembled that powerplant. (How very Mercedes-AMG.)

In Platinum spec, the Blackwing makes 500 horsepower and 574 pound-feet of torque. That power makes its way to Cadillac's all-wheel-drive system via a 10-speed automatic transmission that boasts closer ratios over a wider range than the old eight-speed gearbox. This is certainly a smooth powertrain combo under most conditions and I was impressed by how quiet the CT6 could be when cruising. However, the Blackwing was eager to stretch its legs when it was time to pass or merge on the highway with a satisfying surge of power and boost.

Balancing the ride between sporty and subdued is a standard (at the Platinum trim level) magnetic ride-control suspension that leaned a bit more toward comfort even at its sportiest setting. Active rear steering also helps the large sedan feel nimble and agile at low speeds, but planted and stable when changing lanes on the highway.

The CT6-V

The more performance-oriented CT6-V builds on the Platinum model's hardware with a more aggressive software tune for the Blackwing V8 that bumps output to 550 horsepower and 640 pound-feet of torque. Here, the V8 breathes through a true active valve sport exhaust that actually sounds louder in its Sport and Track modes, with less need for electronic sound sweetening.

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In addition to a more potent tune for its engine and electronics, the CT6-V feature functional aerodynamic upgrades and a meaner look.

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The new 10-speed feels like a better all-around gearbox. The balance of smoothness and speed didn't leave much room for complaint and I'm told it's more efficient overall. However, I once again miss the snappier shifts of the old ZF eight-speed during more dynamic driving.

The CT6-V also features unique and more athletic tuning for its steering assist, adaptive suspension, stability control and rear-wheel steering systems. There's a carbon fiber spoiler out back and a more aggressive lower fascia, both of which are aerodynamically functional and help reduce lift at high speeds. Braking duties are handled by the same large, Brembo stoppers as the Platinum model, with four-pot calipers up front and two-piston grabbers at the rear. However, standard 20-inch wheels shod in stickier Summer tires help the CT6-V grip better whether braking, accelerating or cornering.

The V shines when it's time to drop the hammer with a grin-stretching snarl from its exhaust and a shove of power that presses the driver into the seat. The steering feels more awake and responsive, and the fullsize sedan is more than willing to dance around a twisty road with the agility of a sporty midsizer. Overall, the CT6-V feels more dramatic and raw than the Platinum V8 -- which was already a pretty good drive -- with just a bit more engagement in the handling and performance of the engine.

But don't go thinking the CT6-V feels dramatically different from the Platinum -- there's still a lot of hardware shared between these trim levels. As such, there's still a lot of Platinum comfort and softness around the edges in there that keeps the CT6-V from feeling as raw as the old CTS-Vs of yesteryear, even in its sportiest Track settings. On the other hand, the CT6-V makes almost no compromises to its comfort outside of the sport modes, becoming almost indistinguishable from the Platinum model in its softest Touring setting.

New CUE

The CT6 got a major cabin technology update for the 2019 model year, which persists unchanged for the 2020 CT6 Platinum and V. At center stage is the newest generation of Cadillac's User Experience (CUE) infotainment software. Now based on GM's Infotainment 3.5 platform, CUE features a completely new menu structure and interface that's so much more pleasant to look at and to use than the previous generation.

The new software is cloud-connected, which allows for more deep app integrations and profile syncing between Cadillac and GM vehicles, which is handy for households that share one or more cars. Navigation features predictive destination suggestions and traffic data with better arrival time estimates. And you still have the choice to bring your own Google or Apple Maps on the road along with a plethora of audio and communications apps thanks to standard Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity.

The new software lives on a widescreen 10.2-inch HD touchscreen that is crisp, vibrant and responsive to inputs. It also sits flush with the dashboard and looks fantastic. (Though I will miss the old secret compartment behind the previous generation's motorized display.)

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New tech is great, but hooray for volume knobs!

Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

New CUE also features a physical control knob on the center console similar to the COMAND or MMI controllers that Mercedes-Benz and Audi, respectively, have started to phase out. I appreciated this jog wheel hardware, which allowed me to control CUE without getting my fingerprints all over the new display. And I was so excited to see the simple volume knob next to the controller that I yipped with joy, knowing I'd never have to fiddle with the old CUE capacitive volume bar again. 

Super Cruising

The CT6 is, for now, the technology flagship of the Cadillac brand, so the Platinum trim level is loaded up with all sorts of driver-assistance goodies. 

At the top of the windshield, you'll still find Cadillac's Rear Camera Mirror, which debuted with the CT6 in 2016. This gadget allows drivers to toggle between an optical rear-view mirror and a digital feed from a camera mounted on the rear of the car with the flip of a switch. The camera view takes some getting used to, but I've grown to love its unobstructed, glare-free view.

The CT6 also boasts full-range adaptive cruise control that works in stop-and-go traffic. There's also lane-centering steering assist, automatic emergency braking and more. Its best party trick is Super Cruise, however, which allows drivers to go hands-free on the highway under certain conditions. Super Cruise is a Level 2 automated system, so a camera makes sure that the driver's eyes stay on the road.

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It takes some getting used to, but the visibility boosting Rear Camera Mirror is one of my favorite CT6 innovations.

Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

Super Cruise only works on highways that have been precision-scanned by Cadillac. But the good news is that Caddy just announced that it will be adding another 70,000 miles of roads in the US and Canada to its current database of around 130,000 miles, so there'll be a total of over 200,000 miles of Super Cruise-able roads by the end of 2019. Drivers will bring their CT6 to the dealership when the first update goes live and will receive over-the-air updates going forward. (I'm told that includes 2017-2018 models.)

In the 2020 CT6 Platinum, the technology is just as awe- and confidence-inspiring as it was when I first tested it. But anyone buying the CT6-V will have to do without Cadillac's premiere driver-aid technology. The feature isn't available on the hotted-up model.

Fate of the CT6

Elsewhere in the 2020 CT6 lineup, the 3.6-liter V6 engine option persists, making 335 horsepower and 284 pound-feet of torque in both rear- and all-wheel drive flavors. The short-lived plug-in hybrid variant is no more and the 2.0-liter turbocharged model is also gone. But the turbo-four will persist along under the hood of the Chinese-built-and-sold CT6, even after the sedan disappears from North America.

Cadillac is evaluating moving production to a new plant or even importing the CT6 to the US from China, but the CT6's future in the States is pretty grim. Still, the CT6's best parts will live on. The Blackwing may eventually find a home in the EscaladeCT4-V or CT5-V and Super Cruise will spread to other models in Cadillacs lineup by the end of 2020.

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It saddens me that this may be the last we see of the handsome and smart CT6 sedan.

Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

The last run of the 2020 Cadillac CT6 starts at $59,990 for the entry point Luxury trim level. The mid-tier Premium model is the cheapest way to get Super Cruise at $75,490. However, the 550-horsepower, high-performance CT6-V starts at much pricier $95,890. Topping the lineup is the fully loaded Platinum V8 with Super Cruise at $97,490 before destination charges. 

Cadillac plans to only produce about 475 examples of the hand-built, Blackwing V8-powered CT6 Platinum and V with around 275 of those already being spoken for as preorders. So, if your ideal Cadillac flagship is a sedan and not an SUV, well, get 'em while they're hot.


Editors' note: Travel costs related to this feature were covered by the manufacturer. This is common in the auto industry, as it's far more economical to ship journalists to cars than to ship cars to journalists. While Roadshow accepts multi-day vehicle loans from manufacturers in order to provide scored editorial reviews, all scored vehicle reviews are completed on our turf and on our terms.

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