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The 2020 Cadillac CT4-V.

Matt Bubbers/The Globe and Mail

Cadillac is well past its heyday as depicted in Mad Men, the television show about skinny ties and the New York ad industry in the 1960s. In it, leading man Don Draper walks into a Cadillac showroom and admits he drives a Dodge. “Those are wonderful if you want to get somewhere,” the salesman deadpans. “This is for when you’ve already arrived,” he says, nodding at a glistening 1962 Coupe DeVille.

Fast-forward to this year’s launch of the CT4-V and CT5-V, a pair of mild-mannered new sport sedans.

Even without the headwinds of a pandemic, it’s going to be an uphill battle for Cadillac to make a serious dent in a market dominated by German cars such as the prolific BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class – and at a time when Tesla has arguably usurped Cadillac’s historic position as the flagbearer for American luxury.

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Cadillac’s rebuilding effort isn’t helped by the fact that it keeps jumbling up letters and numbers in a model-naming strategy that seems inspired by alphabet soup. The all-new subcompact CT4-V and compact CT5-V sedans replace the outgoing ATS and CTS sedans.

Unlike Caddy’s previous models bearing the “-V” suffix, these new sedans don’t have fire-breathing V8 engines and are not meant as racetrack weapons. Instead, they are intended as daily-driven rivals to mildly sporting sedans such as Audi’s S3 and BMW’s M340i. (To confuse matters, Cadillac confirmed that fire-breathing V8 versions of the CT4-V and CT5-V are coming, but with a new suffix, “Blackwing.”)

Under the hood of the CT4-V and CT5-V you’ll find, respectively, a 2.7-litre turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine with 325 horsepower and a 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 with 360 hp. Both new CT sedans have limited-slip differentials and rear-wheel drive, a point keen drivers will appreciate, with all-wheel-drive available as an option.

The larger CT5-V is powered by a 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6.

Matt Bubbers/The Globe and Mail

The company hopes the -V badging, combined with the cars' everyday usability, will help attract new buyers. Think of these cars as the automotive version of athleisure clothing – technically capable, but ultimately used mainly for loafing around.

The CT5-V’s V6 feels mighty, with more than enough low-end grunt for any ambitious overtake thanks to a flat torque curve that peaks at 405 lb.-ft. Both cars feel precise, and you do notice the balanced, rear-led handling through longer corners.

The 10-speed automatic gearbox spoils the fun somewhat; it’s sluggish even in the sportiest mode and doesn’t downshift as quickly as you’d hope. The steering, while accurate, doesn’t provide much sense of the available grip, and a weightier setting only makes the steering heavier, not better.

The cabin in both cars is bland, especially with the black-on-black colour scheme of our test cars. It feels uninspired compared with alternatives such as the Mercedes A-Class, with its huge widescreen displays, or even the new BMW 3 Series, with its enormous variety of colour and trim options. Carbon-fibre panels and a suede-like fabric on the steering wheel are the only obvious nods to the car’s sporting intentions.

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The test cars featured bland black-on-black interior cabin styles.

Matt Bubbers/The Globe and Mail

The biggest thing working in favour of the new CT twins is that they look great, and nothing like the usual German luxury suspects. The headlights, with a crisp strip of light running vertically up each corner, have become a brand signature. Both cars are spacious, too; the CT4-V is significantly larger in terms of overall length than its subcompact German rivals.

The cars have decent, if not flashy, infotainment systems with thoughtful high-tech features that you slowly come to appreciate. For example, the CT5-V will flash a warning as you enter a school zone, and the voice-controlled navigation system is good at finding destinations without you having to type them in.

Cadillac’s Enhanced Super Cruise, an advanced driver-assistance system, will be available on 2021 model-year cars, according to the company. It’ll be a pricey option but probably worth waiting for.

The strip of lights running up the front corners have become a Cadillac design signature.

Matt Bubbers/The Globe and Mail

The price difference between the CT4-V and CT5-V is only $4,400. With prices starting at just under $50,000 for the larger CT5-V, it is likely a better choice for most people. It has significantly more rear legroom, and the V6 is a nice upgrade over the inline-four.

The bottom line is that both of these new Cadillacs are good, but not so spectacular (or so cheap) that legions of drivers are likely to abandon more established luxury sedans for them.

Cadillac has been clawing its way back to relevance for years now. In 2015, the brand moved its headquarters to Manhattan to be closer to the kinds of new customers it wanted to attract. In 2018, the company announced it would move back to Detroit. The fully electric Lyriq SUV concept unveiled this summer is meant to “usher in a whole new era for Cadillac,” according to one company executive. While the concept looks great, it won’t hit the road until 2022; meanwhile, rivals including Audi, Jaguar and Tesla already have electric SUVs in showrooms. But there are some positive signs.

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Cadillac’s compact XT4 SUV is selling well against tough competition, as is the new three-row XT6, despite the pandemic. More promising is Cadillac’s new full-size 2021 Escalade. Thankfully, the company hasn’t given its flagship SUV an alphabet-soup title, so the Escalade has name recognition on its side, plus a spectacular high-tech interior.

Expectations are high for the upcoming V8-powered CT4-V and CT5-V Blackwings too, which should be true alternatives to BMW M and Mercedes-AMG cars. While Cadillac hasn’t arrived yet, it does seem to be getting there, slowly.

The size of the CT4-V and CT5-V means plenty of space for people and cargo.

Matt Bubbers/The Globe and Mail

Tech specs

2020 Cadillac CT4-V and CT5-V
  • Base price: $45,398 (CT4-V); $49,798 (CT5-V)
  • Engine: 2.7-litre turbo inline four-cylinder; 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6
  • Transmission/drive: 10-speed automatic/rear- or all-wheel-drive
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 kilometres): 11.5 city/8.2 highway (CT4-V); 13.1 city/9.1 highway (CT5-V)
  • Alternatives: Acura TLX, Alfa Romeo Giulia TI, Audi S3 and S4, Genesis G70, BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe, BMW M340i, Chrysler 300C, Mercedes A-Class, Mercedes CLA and C43, Volvo S60, Jaguar XE, Lexus IS

Looks

Both cars manage to stand out in a crowded market full of similar contenders, and they do it by looking good, rather than overly aggressive or downright strange.

Interior

The cars' interiors are fairly bland but offer ample space.

Matt Bubbers/The Globe and Mail

Spacious but bland. Familiar performance-car trappings such as bits of carbon-fibre trim aren’t enough to make a car feel special these days. The intricate analog dashboard instruments, reminiscent of a chronograph, are a nice detail though.

Performance

Good for daily-driving duty. A handy “V” button on the steering wheel lets drivers quickly select a customizable driving mode.

Technology

No big flashy screens, but everything works well. The seats rumble to warn drivers of obstacles when parking, which is shocking if you’re not expecting it.

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Cargo

These cars are physically larger than many rivals, which means plenty of space for people and cargo.

Verdict

Highly capable but lacking excitement, which should come with the Blackwing.

Matt Bubbers/The Globe and Mail

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