- Larger than the competition
- CT4-V’s great drive
- Good looks
- Lacking luxury
- Poor engine sounds
- Rear seats for kids only
If you were the betting type, you might think that the odds-on favorite to win our 2021 Car of the Year award would be the Cadillac CT4. Why’s that? Pedigree. Twice this past decade, a car underpinned by General Motors’ excellent rear-drive Alpha platform has driven off with the Golden Calipers. The second-generation Cadillac CTS did so in 2014, followed two years later by the 2016 Chevrolet Camaro. Further, the Cadillac ATS, a car that in some ways the CT4 replaces, was a finalist in 2013.
View Other 2021 Car Of The Year Contenders And Finalists Here
So yes, GM’s luxury brand has been known to bring it. The new 2021 Cadillac CT4 rides on an updated version of that chassis—unsurprisingly dubbed Alpha II, which it shares with the larger CT5. The CT4’s pedigree is certainly there, but how does it stack up against the criteria?
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“I’m pleasantly surprised,” features editor Christian Seabaugh said. “It’s sort of the compact, rear-drive luxury sedan that cars like the E30 BMW were: tiny, luxurious, little sport sedans.” Of course, luxury is in the eye of the beholder, and Buyer’s Guide director Zach Gale has a different eye. “The Mercedes CLA 250 looks like a luxury car even though parts of the interior don’t feel like it,” he said, “but this Cadillac doesn’t look or feel like a luxury car inside. I need a touch more flair or flash, Cadillac.”
Most judges felt ho-hum about the AWD Premium Luxury CT4 but at the same time loved the CT4-V. “A huge difference here compared to the CT4 is the tires’ grip and braking power, which are intertwined,” testing director Kim Reynolds said.
Here’s where things get interesting: The two CT4s use the same 2.7-liter turbocharged inline-four. However, the optional 309-horsepower, 348-lb-ft version in the Premium Luxury CT4 is straight out of a Chevy Silverado, quite literally. “Hard acceleration really dramatizes a very poor, cheap, and unpleasant engine note,” continued Reynolds, a man who has been professionally listening to cars for 39 years. “It sounds like an econocar. There’s no excuse.” Editor-in-chief Mark Rechtin called the engine note “thrashy.”
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Ride quality was pretty solid in both versions of the CT4. Said Seabaugh: “Even without the magnetic dampers, the ride quality and body control don’t suffer in the regular CT4.” Most felt that the V version rode even sweeter, though a few of us noted that at freeway speeds, the CT4-V wasn’t comfortable. From associate road test editor Erick Ayapana: “Solid ride quality, but the CT4-V seemed to struggle with straight-line stability at highway speeds. Maybe it’s just the 405?”
Getting back to overall ride quality, Cadillac’s preference to build “tweeners” rather than a “right-sized” car (the CT4 is larger than the Audi A3, BMW 2 Series, and Mercedes A-Class/CLA-Class it competes against) actually pays nice dividends. That’s just what longer wheelbases do.
The more powerful CT4-V (325 hp and 380 lb-ft) uses a whole bag of tricks to sound better (active exhaust, synthesized noises via the stereo, and noise-canceling frequencies). It also drives better. One reason is (perhaps) the extra power, but GM’s fourth-generation MagneRide shocks no doubt help, as does CT4-V’s good old rear-drive motivation. Across the board, we all enjoyed the CT4-V. As the ever-wary Gale put it: “The V model feels more alive than the standard model. What I’m really curious about, though, is what the likely stronger-selling 2.0T engine is like.” Yep, Caddy didn’t offer us the base engine to test. Hmm.
In the end, we really were left with a tale of two Cadillacs. One we simply did not care for. “If I was excited about the CT4-V, the regular CT4 is plain meh,” MotorTrend en Espanol managing editor Miguel Cortina said. “There’s nothing here that’s engaging or special.” Cadillac, here’s your wish list for what to do for the refresh.
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