The 2011 Cadillac CTS Coupe & Our Search For A Road To Rival Mulholland Drive
In our week long test of the 2011 Cadillac CTS coupe, we found no one likes the look of the car – they either love it or hate it. The majority of people loved it. We all know Cadillac nailed the looks with the 2nd generation CTS that was introduced in 2008, so they did the logical thing and decided to milk the looks even more by creating this coupe and a wagon version.
Knowing that the coupe has the same 304 horsepower direct injection V6 found in the sedan and still weighs about 4,000 pounds (almost the same as the sedan), we knew this would be no tire shredding rocket car, but we also knew (from our time with the sedan) that Cadillac built the CTS to be a handling dream and gave it enough power to still be fun.
Besides a road course, when you think about testing the limits of a car’s handling, you probably think Mulholland Drive? Well, we do too, but, we also did not feel like driving 1,600 miles (one way), on I-10, through the nothingness that is west Texas, southern New Mexico and Arizona just to carve a canyon road and fight to share space with cyclists. So, rather than heading west, we ventured northeast, out of Houston, in search of a southern alternative to Mulholland Drive.
With our trusty Passport 8500×50 radar/laser detector installed, we set out on a journey that would test every aspect of the coupe’s handling, performance, looks, ride, comfort, interior and least importantly when considering a coupe – unpaved surface capabilities.
When looking to drive great distances in the least amount of time, common sense should tell you this is best achieved at times when traffic is light. Throwing common sense to the wind, our journey began the night before Thanksgiving. According to AAA, 42 million people were expected to travel this day, and 93% of those travelers will be in cars. However, as it turned out, the night before Thanksgiving, after everyone has gone over the hill and through the woods (including the officers), the roads were empty.
First up to be tested was the ride quality. The Cadillac of old always had the stereotype of swaying down the road on its super soft suspension – I’m still not sure if the swaying was caused by the car or by the blue haired old ladies peering over the steering wheel (we’ll save that debate for 4pm dinner rush at Luby’s). The first leg of our journey was on a smooth, straight, wide open, eight lane Texas highway. This proved to be a good test of ride quality as well as some straight line performance. The coupe rode exactly how a sport coupe should ride – not too hard and not too soft – no matter the speed.
The CTS coupe can be optioned with either a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission. Our test car was equipped with the automatic transmission, without the optional steering wheel mounted push button shifters. With the automatic, when you call for a downshift, it is slow but fairly smooth; however, if you nudge the shifter to the right, you will put the transmission in Sport mode. Sport mode eventually became our default drive setting, it holds shifts longer, it shifts quicker, nearly eliminates the downshift lag and allows for slightly more sporty launches.
As the night wore on and the eight lane turned into a two lane and the small towns along the route turned from charming into a nuisance, our attention turned to the interior of the CTS coupe. We began exploring features of the touch screen navigation system, which is simple to use, but could easily overwhelm those three people in the world who have never used that “new fangled technology”. Also included in the tech package is a built in 40gig hard drive that allows you to pause, rewind and record what you are listening to, just like a DVR. At this point we discovered an intriguing feature of the traction control button. If the TC button is pressed twice, fairly quickly, it will put the car into Competitive Mode, allowing the driver to have more fun, while the computers only step in if it detects the driver may be in over their head.
After conquering the navigation and entertainment system, testing the voice command system’s ability to properly react to corny fake accents, locating and eliminating that annoying rattle (driver’s side B pillar) and laughing at the local radio stations, the sun began to rise and reveal what we had come all this way for – roads that could properly test the handling of Cadillac’s first coupe since ending the Eldorado in 2002. The roads were magnificent! S-shaped, elevation changes that would bring discomfort to your ears, signs warning truckers of steep grades, emergency run off lanes, rock slide zones and nearly vertical rock faces on one side of the road with nearly vertical drop offs on the other. But most importantly, our plan had worked, it was Thanksgiving morning and we were giving thanks for being there, on those empty roads, in that car.
Surprisingly, the two-door version of the CTS is only two inches shorter in height and length than the four-door version, but the engineers did give the coupe a slightly wider track. The lower center of gravity and wider track sure paid off in the sweeping corners. The handling of the coupe was precise and predictable, so good in fact, there was little need to pay attention to the signs recommending speeds much lower than this car was allowing us to attack these turns.
Our small town destination had dirt roads, gravel roads, only a couple of stop lights, a general store and certainly no other CTS coupes. The coupe’s sharp lines, HID headlights, LED taillights and center exhaust brought some curious looks and comments of approval. We had one observant admirer of the car point out, and we found rather humorous, that the coupe’s trunk hinge looks and operates nearly identically to a 1:18 scale diecast model and perhaps could bend the shafts golf clubs if the bag was poorly stuffed in the trunk. As much fun as dirt roads are in a rear wheel drive car, it was plain to see this was not the intended CTS coupe demographic area. After parking the coupe in front of some of the beautiful scenery around town for pictures, we set a course back to Houston.
The majority of the return trip’s twist and turn roads were tackled at night, which really demonstrated the usefulness of Cadillac’s optional active headlight system. The active headlight system allows both headlights to turn the direction that the steering wheel is turned (like the Tucker’s center headlight from 1948). As you may imagine, headlights that face the direction the wheel is turned sure provide a neat effect when opposite lock is needed through a tight sliding turn on a mountain road at night.
After a week of spirited driving, a lot of highway cruising and short trips, the coupe managed a respectable 20.4 MPG. Upon arriving in Houston, the car was still receiving attention and double takes, this time not from curious onlookers suspecting we had just arrived from the future, but from Audi, BMW, Infinity, Lexus and Mercedes drivers. It is plain to see that the CTS coupe will not blend in with its competitors and should be strongly considered if you are in the market for a coupe anywhere in the price range of $35,000 to $50,000. However, if you are in the market for a sports coupe, with just a little over $60,000 to spend, we highly recommend the supercharged V8 556 horsepower version of this car, the CTS-V coupe.