The 2014 Cadillac CTS has a power-operated cup-holder lid. This is important for the sheer reason that it's so inconsequential. Not long ago, a power cup holder would've been the most innovative thing about a new Cadillac, a pathetic gimmick intended to distract you from the manifest awfulness of the car itself. (I would know, because I've owned two Eighties-era Caddies.)
But with Cadillac striving for world-class status for the first time since the Sixties, a power cup holder is merely a footnote in a sport sedan armed with Brembo front brakes, an eight-speed transmission, and up to 420 horsepower out of a twin-turbo V-6. The new CTS takes it to the Germans so thoroughly – with sights set squarely on BMW's 5-Series, Audi's A6, and Mercedes' E-Class – it should've been introduced on a beach in Normandy.
I have a theory that GM's performance cars began the climb to world-class status once GM had built its own racetrack, the so-called Lutzring in Milford, Michigan. The course is brutal, designed to unsettle a car in every possible way, and the new CTS benefits from the Lutzring's rigors in the same way the 2014 Corvette does. The only glitch I uncovered is that in really aggressive driving, the motorized seat belt keeps cinching tight because its sensors perceive that you're having an accident. On one hand, that's annoying. On the other, it's cool that this car corners so hard that the seat belt thinks you're in the middle of a 10-car pileup.
The new CTS, which starts at $46,000 and climbs to the $60,000 range with a few options, uses the lightweight architecture of Cadillac's smaller ATS, which means that it weighs up to 400 pounds less than an equivalent BMW 5-Series. You can hammer it around a track, and it feels poised, controllable, and willing to sink its claws into 95-mph corners all day long. Yet it's not tuned for the track at the expense of the street – the magnetic ride-control suspension softens up for street duty, and its communicative steering is as fun at 40 mph as it is crucial at 140. When the first CTS came out, Caddy was attempting to imitate BMW's chassis tuning. Now it should certainly be the other way around.
There are three available motors, including a turbocharged four-cylinder and the familiar GM 3.6-liter V-6. What you really want, though, is the option behind door number three: the Cadillac Twin-Turbo, available in the new $60,000 Vsport model. With 420 horsepower and 430 foot-pounds of torque, the Vsport packs nearly the same power as last year's Corvette. The turbos also seem to improve the V-6's sound quality, adding a hint of sexy turbine noises to the intake symphony. More important, the 0-to-60 time drops to 4.4 seconds, which is quicker than the Mercedes E550 4Matic and its twin-turbo V-8.
If you look at the best cars in the world, the most esteemed machines tend to be the ones that have been around forever, honed and refined and distilled over decades of development (see Porsche 911 or BMW 3-Series). Other than the CTS, I can't think of another car that ascended to the front of the pack in just three generations, let alone in a category as competitive as this one, which includes the best efforts from Europe and Japan. Given GM's recent brush with insolvency, it has demonstrated that adversity really focuses the collective effort.
I wasn't around during Cadillac's last heyday, so this is the first time I've ever written the following words: The car to beat, the best car in its class, is a Cadillac. You're done playing offense, Cadillac. I hope you can learn how to play defense.