Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: January 9, 2021
Cadillac’s sedan line-up can be confusing. We’ve got the CT4 and CT5. Wait, didn’t they used to be called the ATS and CTS? Where did those arbitrary numbers come from, because surely they don’t hint at any sort of numeric reference? Introducing a brand new model name and reshuffling the hierarchy doesn’t make things easy for consumers to learn and become attracted to. People still refer to the Mercedes GLE as the ML, and the Lincoln Aviator as the MKX. Make up your mind, people. But we’ll do our best to explain the new CT4-V, the smallest and hottest Cadillac to date.
The CT4 is effectively a direct replacement for the ATS, meaning its dimensions and performance is similar and meant to compete against the BMW 3 Series, Audi A4, and Genesis G70. Cadillac’s pricing however puts it squarely against smaller and more compact rivals like the BMW 2 Series, Audi S3, and Mercedes A-Class. That should give it a performance and value advantage.
The V Series model looks the part too. Cadillac always manages to make their sedans look incredibly appealing. Sporting a sleek silhouette, broad shoulders, and an imposing grill, the CT4-V fails to blend into traffic and garners quite a few looks. The rear end is distinctive with a pronounced trunk lid and quad exhaust tips, though I’ll admit the entire silhouette is not as sleek or as elegant as its CT5-V stablemate.
Instead of a V6, the CT4-V utilizes a 2.7-litre turbocharged four-cylinder that produces a stout 325 hp and 380 lb-ft. That’s significantly more than the Mercedes-AMG A 35 and the BMW M235i xDrive. The CT4-V runs that output through a 10-speed automatic transmission to the rear wheels. All-wheel drive is optional, though standard fare includes a limited slip rear differential, adaptive dampers, and Brembo front brakes. A true ATS-V replacement, the CT4-V Blackwing, should be coming out soon to properly take the fight against the BMW M3 and Audi RS5.
There’s a significant amount of thrust hiding within that powerplant, and the CT4-V manages to feel more urgent and focused than its Germanic counterparts. It seems that extra 700 cc of displacement really makes a difference, even if it’s not exactly a quick- or high-revver. A 2.0-litre engine may be smoother but it feels more strained at the top end, struggling and gasping for air. The 2.7-litre is more relaxed but no less responsive throughout the range, and it shows in the power delivery. Rather than a sudden burst through the seams, torque comes on gradually. Lag is also minimal thanks to the engine’s dual-volute turbocharger, which works in a similar way to a twin-scroll turbo to reduce turbo lag and hasten power delivery.
Co-developed with Ford, the 10-speed is smooth in daily operation and well-matched to the four-cylinder’s high torque output. Though it isn’t as polished as a BMW’s ZF unit, the shifts are undeniably quick, whether it's left to its own devices or manually rowed via the paddle shifters. Ten gears are a lot to get through but keep in mind the top three gears are quite useless as they’re geared towards fuel efficiency. The exhaust sounds good too - throaty with a great deal of bass. It’s definitely one of the better four-cylinder soundtracks on the market. Again, the added displacement helps.
One of the most underappreciated aspects of the CT4-V comes down to its suspension. It rides like a dream. We can’t praise the ride quality enough as it’s the perfect mix of comfort and road holding. The adaptive suspension that Cadillac calls Magnetic Ride Control reads the road up to 1,000 times per second and adjusts the dampers for optimal handling and road control. Keep in mind that this only applies to RWD models. Opting for AWD gets you passive dampers, and it’s an option worth skipping, even if you frequent inclement weather conditions. Our CT4-V wore winter tires and we had absolutely no trouble with braking points and navigating through snowstorms.
Driving the rear wheels exclusively makes the CT4-V quite unique in the segment. Its intended rivals, the M235i and S3 are all front-wheel biased. As such, the CT4-V actually feels like a proper sports sedan. The way it rotates and steers makes it effortless to catch a slide and play with the rear using nothing but throttle and a whiff of steering input. It’s lovely to drive, especially when the roads are slippery.
The brake-by-wire system is impressive too. The brake pedal is electrically boosted but it’s not overly sensitive to input like a hybrid or the tech’s pioneers - Infiniti Q60, Cadillac XT4 - and almost feels like a hydraulic setup. Positively, it only takes a minimal amount of pedal travel to elicit a strong braking response, and it exponentially increases with added pressure. The travel is linear, predictable, and more importantly, replicable time after time, giving you consistent braking force and a build up of driver confidence.
The CT4-V is a solid performance bargain but a luxury bargain? Not so much. And this is where its rivals begin to catch up. While not a terribly bright or characterfully designed cabin, the interior remains functional and ergonomically sound. It’s well built but material quality remains a sore spot. Leather isn’t sourced from the top shelf and the heavy use of black plastics isn’t dressed up at all. The leather in the G70 looks miles better, and the new Mercedes A-Class is a spaceship by comparison.
There’s not much going for the Cadillac in terms of cabin pizzazz but there are some standout features like crisp analog gauges and a substantial steering wheel that feels wonderful to grip. The thick leather wrap, concave nature of wheel, and substantial paddle shifters means the signal stalk is mounted quite far from the steering wheel however, and can be a nuisance to reach for those with smaller hands. On the bright side, Cadillac has conveniently installed a V button within thumb’s reach on the steering wheel. Like BMW’s red M buttons, this conjures up a customizable mode for you to map your engine response, gearbox calibration, suspension setting, steering effort, and exhaust noise. Of course, ours was set to the full extreme, so whenever we pushed the V button, the engine would wake from its slumber, the ride would stiffen up, and the exhaust would snarl to life. Great for quick overtakes and last minute bursts of performance.
The 10-inch touchscreen is standard fare and a breeze to use, a far cry from what used to be known as CUE. The learning curve here is significantly lower and it comes with crisp high-definition graphics, but it also supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto should you prefer a more familiar interface. At first, the flurry of buttons and dials does make functionality a tad confusing. There are three redundant ways to control the touchscreen. You can touch the screen, utilize the knob right below it, or use the larger rotary dial near the armrest. Better more choices than none though, am I right? There are massaging seats too for both the driver and front passenger. Of course, it’s not the adjustable, customizable, and high-strength kind that you would find in the Escalade. There are just four lumbar air bladders that knurl the lower and middle back area, and the button to engage it lies next to the seat controls.
The CT4-V lives in a unique space, in that it’s a rear-wheel drive performance sedan whose price tag puts it squarely against a more handicapped field of competitors. The sizable engine is effective, the suspension is praiseworthy, and the looks are aesthetically pleasing. All that’s left is for Cadillac to invest in the badge, cement its model names in stone, and market the hell out of this thing without causing customer confusion. There’s success to be found underneath that pretty sheetmetal. People just need to know it.
Model: 2020 Cadillac CT4-V RWD
Paint Type: Summit White
Base Price: $45,398
Price as Tested: $57,380
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,756 / 1,815 (without mirrors) / 1,423
Curb weight (kg): 1,680 (est)
Engine: 2.7-litre turbocharged inline-four
Horsepower: 325 hp @ 5,600 rpm
Torque: 380 lb-ft @ 2,000 - 4,000 rpm
Transmission: 10-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, RWD
Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway ) L/100km: 14.1 / 9.7
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 14.5