2021 Cadillac CT5 Review: Personality Matters

Chris Davies - Apr 19, 2021, 3:19pm CDT
2021 Cadillac CT5 Review: Personality Matters
Editors' Rating: 7/10
Pros
  • Twin-turbo V6 is powerful and smooth
  • Excellent long-distance cruiser
  • Optional Super Cruise is well worth the money
  • Cabin is spacious with easy-to-use tech
Cons
  • Not really tuned for enthusiastic driving
  • Interior styling is bland
  • Trunk is on the small side
  • Where's that Cadillac character?

For all the luxury sedan segment may be dwarfed by sales of lavish SUVs, that hasn’t made the category any less competitive. On the one side, the German mainstays bring reputation and refinement to the party; on the other, comparative upstarts like Genesis, Lexus, and Acura claw back attention with imaginative risk-taking. What to make, then, of the 2021 Cadillac CT5 somewhere in the middle?

I like Cadillac’s styling, with the CT5’s blend of angles and LEDs making for a handsome sedan from most angles. As with the most recent Escalade, the CT5 isn’t quite as vocal in its aesthetic as its predecessor: the grille feels like it could be a little larger; the side proportions a little beefier. 18-inch alloys are standard, with 19- and 20-inch versions available. I’d say step up at least one size, as the regular wheels look a little small to my eyes.

The 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 is paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission, and is good for 360 horsepower and 405 lb-ft of torque. They’re certainly healthy numbers, and a fair sight more than the 237 hp / 258 lb-ft the standard 2.0-liter turbo-four delivers.

What you can only get on the CT5 V-Series, though, is Cadillac’s upgraded performance suspension and Magnetic Ride Control. The electronic limited-slip differential and Performance Traction Management system are exclusive to the V, too.

It leaves the regular CT5 with independent MacPherson strut front suspension and independent 5-link rear, and it’s all tuned on the soft side. Where the V-Series can flip from comfort to sport at the touch of a drive mode button, switching between Tour and Sport in the standard car is less dramatic. The 10-speed holds lower gears for longer, and the engine sounds louder, but it doesn’t have the sharpened dynamics which leave the CT5-V feeling poised and eager.

The multi-valve dampers on the CT5 simply aren’t so adaptable. It’s not that the sedan can’t hustle, it just doesn’t really encourage that. Long-distance cruising would be a joy in this Caddy, and pickup in a straight line is as urgent as the power figures would lead you to expect. Where some luxury sedans encourage leaving the family at home and playing on the backroads occasionally, though, the CT5 just doesn’t inspire the same.

Doubling down on that road trip ethos is the interior. The CT5’s cabin has plenty of space – for passengers, at least, though the 11.9 cu-ft trunk is a little small – and there’s no shortage of equipment. Premium Luxury trim comes with 14-way power front seats, leather, keyless start, a wireless phone charger, wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and ambient lighting as standard. You get rear parking assistance and cross traffic alerts, forward collision alerts, blind zone warnings, and front pedestrian braking too. That’s all for $40,795.

As well as $3.5k for the V6 and $2k for all-wheel drive, my test car had the $1,350 navigation and Bose 15-speaker audio, the $1,090 Climate Package with heated and ventilated front seats and a heated steering wheel, and the $600 Lighting Package with LED cornering headlamps and illuminated sill plates. $500 adds auto high-beams, lane-keep assistance, and following distance indicator, and $625 gets the Dark Moon Metallic paint. In all, with $995 destination, you’re looking at $51,455.

All the pieces are there, but I wish there was a little more oomph in how they were put together. The CT5’s cabin seems solid and the switchgear generally feels sturdy, but there’s little of the aesthetic consideration that rivals deliver. Shared parts with the rest of GM’s brands, combined with sober finishes that border on dour, feel neither special nor particularly luxurious.

It all works, it just doesn’t go beyond that to delight. Cadillac’s infotainment system feels like just what you’d find in a recent Chevy or GMC (because, funnily enough, it is) whereas the new Escalade serves up something a lot more unique. The chromed switchgear is too clearly plastic when you touch it, while the 10-inch touchscreen looks tagged on rather than integrated. A fully-digital driver’s display is optional, but the smaller standard panel – sandwiched between analog dials – could benefit from nicer graphics. Again, it does the job, it just doesn’t make itself memorable.

Super Cruise is finally available on the CT5, though the $2,500 option was absent from my test car. It’s the enhanced version, too, which can automatically change lanes for you. Honestly, if I was buying a CT5, it’s the option that would be top of my list.

As for economy, the V6 with AWD is EPA rated for 18 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway, for 21 mpg combined. Conspicuous by its glaring absence is any sort of electrification; for a Caddy EV we’ll have to wait for the Lyriq crossover, which is still some way out.

2021 Cadillac CT5 Verdict

So many of my complaints about the CT5 could be boiled down to “just commit more, Cadillac.” There are hints at greatness throughout, but it seldom quite feels like the automaker goes the whole way and delivers on them. The styling is handsome but falls short of gravitas; the cabin is spacious and well-equipped, but feels bland; and the driving dynamics, especially with the twin-turbo V6, are promising yet not quite as engaging as the sum of the parts would lead you to expect.

That adds up to a problem, because rivals aren’t making the same mistakes. BMW’s 3 Series is more engaging, Genesis’ G70 takes more styling risks, and Mercedes’ C-Class has more comfort. Importantly, all three are just more memorable than the CT5.

Cadillac is quick to point out that its sedan is aggressively priced compared to its competitors, particularly the Germans, and that it outweighs them on things like power and standard equipment. Problem is, in focusing on comparisons, the CT5 has forgotten to factor in Cadillac’s own inherent charm: that singularly American presence and borderline-excess. The result is a car that’s good in many ways, but not great, and that’s just not enough in this segment to rise above the crowd.


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