Cadillac CTS 3.6

Can a competitive price sway buyers towards angular US contender?

If image is everything, the latest CTS must have the lot. The identity of US cars used to be given away by their bloated looks, but when it comes to style, the Cadillac makes a strong first impression. A large gaping grille sets the tone, and the wedgy profile and flared arches create a muscular shape. Compared to the subtle curves of the Lexus, there’s no contest if you want to make a dramatic arrival. The CTS is big, too, measuring 285mm longer and 150mm wider than its rival.

And you’ll feel the difference inside, because the cabin is more spacious than the Lexus’. In the back you get 60mm more legroom. However, that sharp roofline comes at a cost – it’s easy to bang your head on the steeply angled C-pillar on the way in.

Cabin quality is a traditional weakness for US makers, who typically struggle to match their European rivals, but the CTS is a breath of fresh air. The choice of materials is good and build quality is impressive – there’s even a classy leather dashboard.

A racy trio of circular instruments feature glowing red needles that are reminiscent of Alfa Romeo (although the speedo has confusing increments), and the ventilation controls on the centre console are neatly arranged and simple to operate.

The options list is brief, as most kit is fitted as standard. An integrated touchscreen, which operates the sat-nav, Bose surround-sound stereo and full colour TV, rises from the centre console. Full leather upholstery, cruise control and xenon lights are also included in the £32,995 list price. Only our car’s metallic paint and panoramic sunroof were options.

The gruff note of the 306bhp 3.6-litre V6 provides a hint of the performance on tap. With a 102bhp advantage over its rival, the CTS wins against the clock. The 0-60mph sprint takes 6.5 seconds – 1.4 seconds quicker than the Lexus – and the difference is just as pronounced in-gear, where the responsive engine reacts with much more ferocity than the refined Japanese saloon.

When it comes to comfort, the CTS loses ground. At high speeds the cabin is refined, but the standard sports suspension fails to filter out even the smallest bumps.

The steering is also uncooperative. It works perfectly well at low speeds, but increase the pace and it provides little feedback and offers too much resistance when you turn sharply into a bend. There’s plenty of grip, though, and body roll is well controlled for such a big saloon. Impressive brakes and a smooth six-speed auto complete the package.

With distinctive looks, dynamics that are far removed from older US imports and arguably the best cabin we’ve seen in an American car, the CTS is a surprising package.

Details

Price: £32,995Model tested: Cadillac CTS 3.6Chart position: 2WHY: Overpowered, over-styled and over here! Can the Cadillac succeed without diesel power?

Economy

Looking at the numbers does the CTS few favours. It is £3,308 more expensive to buy than the Lexus, sits in the top £400 per year VED banding and has inferior fuel economy. According to our test, driving 12,000 miles a year in the Cadillac will result in a £3,934 petrol bill at today’s prices – the lower powered Caddy makes more sense. Private buyers will also get hit by its poor residuals compared to the IS, and business users get stung by its 35 per cent company car tax rating, making the CTS a costly option. Servicing bills are also much more painful in the Caddy. You’ll need to set aside more than £1,000 for three years’ maintenance.

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