The Cadillac CT6: The Rebirth of the American Sedan

Every time I hear the jangly intro to Iggy Pop's "The Passenger," I'm instantly transported to the shotgun seat of a big American sedan, scoping some busted Midwestern city from the posh confines of a domestic luxury car. Only there are a couple of problems with that daydream: The Michigan native wrote the song in Berlin, and America hasn't done a high-end titanic sedan in a decade or more.

Cadillac's CT6 is changing that. In the brand's newest bid for relevance, the 114-year-old company vies for drivers who may otherwise consider a BMW 7-Series, the Audi A8, or a Mercedes-Benz S-Class. But the CT6 is perhaps more unique. Maybe a little more threatening. And a lot more American.

Aside from the prominent vertical LEDs and undulating hood, the CT6 sets itself apart with a linebacker-like solidity despite the sedan's relative lightness. (The S-Class weighs a thousand-plus pounds more than the CT6.) Its multimaterial frame is about two-thirds aluminum; most of the other third is ultra-high-strength steel that allows for more rigidity. And there's another benefit: Underneath the cabin, "close-out" panels seal out noise like an assassin's silencer. Word of warning: If you mumble something under your breath, whoever's in the passenger seat will definitely hear it.

Of the three current powertrain options, we drove the twin-turbocharged V-6, which delivers 404 horsepower and lets the all-wheel-drive CT6 dispatch stoplight traffic with distinction, channeling much of the sedan's torque to the rear Pirellis. You could also opt for a two-liter four-cylinder or a 3.6-liter V-6. A hybrid version — like, a real one that actually plugs in — will be built in China, where Caddy sales are suddenly through the roof. It reaches our shores next year. Meanwhile, a much less green alternative, a ball-busting twin-turbocharged V-8 variant, is also rumored to be in the works.

But the CT6's handling is what will really make you think bigger is better. Cadillac's special sauce continues to be its magnetically dampened shocks, which keep the car balanced on rough pavement without numbing road feel, so you can still sense the way your micromotions at the wheel are affecting your car. Here the shocks are paired with a kind of four-wheel steering that seemingly shrinks the big machine around you. The rear wheels pivot up to 3.5 degrees, shortening the radius of turnarounds and quickening lane changes at highway speeds.

But will the CT6, in its near greatness, restore Cadillac's glory after years of subpar sales? Probably not. Sedans simply aren't selling these days, no matter how many auto writers loudly pound out treatises about the car's superior handling. So what's going to save Caddy? The crossover, of course. The brand has planned a product onslaught that will see up to 10 additional models arrive before 2020, more than half of them crossovers or SUVs. You can catch a glimpse of the coming offensive in the new XT5, a five-seat crossover designed to part yummy mummies from their Audi Q5s.

In some ways, the five-seat XT5 is the antithesis of the CT6. Instead of the latter's healthy menu of powertrain options, the XT5 gives you just one: a 3.6-liter V-6 with 310 horsepower, paired with an eight-speed automatic. It's capable, though it lacks the CT6's bravado. But the XT5 also bears some of the sedan's innovations, indirectly and directly. It has dropped weight, down 290 pounds (versus Cadillac's outgoing SRX), features smart handling that feels settled but not indistinct, and offers a cosseting cabin cloaked in swaths of sueded microfiber and wood trim. The XT5 has also stolen some trick tech from the CT6, like a rearview mirror that shows a wide video view of what's behind you, blind-spot-free. Pretty cool, but we'll still take the big, mean American sedan any day.


Cabin Tech

The CT6's cockpit is as impressive as its sleek exterior. A 10.2-inch touchscreen provides access to a 360-degree camera that films 24/7 and a Panaray sound­ system built by Bose. The optional 34-speaker setup costs $3,700, but it blows away other car audio systems — the sound is thunderous. [From $54,490, 404 HP, 0–60 in 5.3 secs; cadillac.com]