I like evidence as an antidote to spin, and the evidence suggests that, after more than a decade and half of scheming and dreaming to little effect, General Motors is making real progress with its Cadillac premium.
Exhibit A: Products – The 2014 CTS sedan is no longer a tweener, a car caught in the middle trying to compete with both the BMW 5-Series and 3-Series. With Caddy’s ATS there to duel with the 3 – and winning awards along the way – the CTS is straight-up aimed at the 5. GM officials mince no words; they say unequivocally that the CTS is a better car – lighter, more nimble, better-equipped dollar for dollar, with a superior infotainment system and better quality.
This brings us to Exhibit B: In the most recent three-year J.D. Power and Associates Vehicle Dependability Study, the Cadillac brand ranked No. 3 over all, behind Lexus and Porsche, and ahead of Mercedes-Benz, Acura, Audi, BMW, Infiniti and Jaguar. BMW, Infiniti and Jaguar were, in fact, all ranked below average. Quality is not an issue with the Caddy.
Exhibit C: GM chief executive Dan Akerson has shown increasing impatience with Cadillac’s progress as one of two global GM brands – the other being Chevrolet. But, unlike past CEOs who have also been disappointed with Caddy’s performance, Akerson has not been shy to make changes.
Last year, Akerson brought in a new executive from outside to lead Cadillac’s global ambitions. Bob Ferguson is accountable for Caddy’s business on a global scale. While that may sound grand, the reality is that Caddy’s presence in important markets such as China and Europe is underwhelming, and that’s being kind.
China accounted for only about 30,000 of the 149,782 Cadillacs sold last year globally. GM wants to triple Caddy sales in China within three years. For his part, Ferguson has been busy shuffling the executive ranks within Caddy. He wants performance, not platitudes. Those not able to perform have been moved along or have moved on. The “new” GM, apparently, will no longer tolerate underachieving executives.
My question is: What took so long? Cadillac, once the “Cadillac” of luxury brands, has been reduced to niche status. BMW sells 10 times more vehicles than Caddy worldwide. In the United States, GM is profitable and slowly shedding its Government Motors status, but Cadillac is the key to corporate riches in the future and those numbers don’t cut it.
When it comes to Cadillac, the urgency within GM is palpable. “If we’re going to make this brand what it needs to be for GM,” one senior Cadillac executive told trade journal Automotive News, “we’ve got to take quantum leaps in terms of where we are from a sales standpoint, from a brand-positioning standpoint.”
The 2014 CTS I just previewed certainly is a vast improvement over its predecessor. It is not only longer and lower, it’s leaner. The engineers put their car on a diet worthy of a late-night infomercial. Some versions of the new CTS are about 175 kilograms or 385 pounds lighter than a comparable BMW 5-Series.
That’s huge. Consider: the third-generation CTS is 127 mm, or 5 inches, longer and has a wheelbase that’s grown 30 mm, or 1.2 inches. It’s a bigger, roomier car. That makes it quick and agile yet equal in size to the 5. “The new CTS is the lightest, most agile car in its class,” says Scott Meldrum, the CTS product manager in Canada, adding that his car is better than a 5-Series in almost every way.
Cheaper, too. The base, rear-drive CTS, powered by a 272-horsepower, 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder, starts at $50,895 – more if you want all-wheel-drive. The BMW 528i with its four-cylinder turbo motor lists for $54,600, while the Mercedes-Benz E300 4Matic with AWD – the only drive configuration offered in Canada – goes for $58,800. More Caddy for less money than a Bimmer and a Benz.
Meldrum is keener to compare the upmarket CTS models against German rivals. The CTS 3.6L Twin Turbo has more horsepower (420) than twin-turbo BMW 550i xDrive (400 hp) and is faster from 0-60 mph (4.4 seconds versus 4.9, according to factory-supplied numbers). Why? This CTS weighs 249 kilograms less.
Some of the off-the-line performance is explained by the fact that the twin-turbo CTS is available only as a rear-driver while the BMW is an all-wheel-drive sedan. If you want AWD in the CTS, you must get either the 2.0-litre four or the 321-hp 3.6-litre V-6. CTS pricing tops out at $74,495.
The takeaway here is that the CTS appears to be evidence of a seriousness at Caddy that I haven’t seen in a quarter-century. I’ll wait for more seat time to make any deep judgments, though even a preview was eye-opening.
If nothing else, remember this: the most senior executive at GM, Akerson, is taking a personal interest in Cadillac, and he’s not known to be a patient boss.
2014 Cadillac CTS
Type: Mid-size premium sedan
Price range: $50,895-$74,495 (destination charge $1,720)
Engines: 2.0-litre four-cylinder, turbocharged/3.6-litre V-6/3.6-litre V-6, twin turbo
Horsepower/torque: 272 hp/295 lb-ft for four; 321 hp/275 lb-f for V6t; 420/430 lb-ft for tein-turbo
Transmissions: Six-speed automatic/eight-speed automatic
Drive: Rear- and all-wheel
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): Not available
Alternatives: Acura RDX, BMW 5-Series, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Audi A6, Lexus GS, Infiniti M