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2021 Cadillac CT5-V AWD Review

2020 CT5-V lead2.jpg

Cadillac reprises the V moniker with a tamer but more forgiving sport sedan this time around.

The Cadillac CT5-V competes in the luxury compact sport sedan segment. Over the past 20 years or so, Cadillac has invested huge amounts of capital and effort into building up the V brand to compete with the likes of BMW’s M and Mercedes-Benz AMG cars. Previous V-branded vehicles took the fight directly to the competition, often with impressive results and shattered egos. This repositioning of the V brand now represents a newer category of milder, more street-friendly machines with approachable performance. Cadillac hopes there's enough fondness for the V sub-brand, and the CT5-V is an excellent, albeit misunderstood first foot forward.


  • BMW M340i
  • Mercedes-AMG C43
  • Audi S4

Disclosure: Cadillac provided Bestcovery.com with a 2020 CT5-V AWD to test out for a week.

(Editor's note: Due to certain unforeseen circumstances that we're all aware of, Cadillac was unable to procure a 2021 model year CT5-V for testing purposes. The 2020 model tested here is mechanically identical to the 2021 offering, with the sole differences being color availability and restructured option packages.)

Quick specs:

  • Starting MSRP excluding destination: V-Series RWD $47,695, V-Series AWD $49,695
  • As tested price: $57,680
  • 3.0L 6 cyl twin-turbocharged engine 360 horsepower/405 lb-ft torque
  • 10-speed automatic transmission
  • 245/40R19 summer tires, 19” alloy wheels
  • 1st row/2nd row Headroom (Inches): 39.0/36.6
  • 1st row/2nd row Legroom (Inches): 42.4/37.9
  • Cargo volume (CU.FT.): 11.9
  • Fuel Tank (Gals): 17.0
  • Fuel Economy (City/Highway/Combined): 17/25/20
  • NHTSA Overall Safety Rating: Not yet rated as of publishing

Before we talk about the 2020 Cadillac CT5-V, let’s get up to speed if you haven’t visited a Cadillac showroom recently. The ATS and CTS sedans are out of production; replacing those two are the CT4 and CT5, respectively. The fire-breathing ATS-V and CTS-V variants have been discontinued, unfortunately. Cadillac's lineup now features the CT4-V and CT5-V, but hold onto your horses because these are not direct replacements for the ATS-V and CTS-V.

Enter the CT5-V; though the new car prominently features the “V" name and badge, Cadillac has adjusted the "V" brand and concept. Compared to the cars that until now wore the vaunted letter, the newest Cadillac "V" cars have been distanced from the snarling, high-horsepower monsters that the “V” badge previously stood for. Cadillac’s new CT4-V and CT5-V models are middle-of-the-road offerings, much in the same vein as the now-discontinued CTS V-Sport. This allows Cadillac to better compete with Audi's S cars, BMW's M-Sport models, and Mercedes-AMG's midrange series. Cadillac has acknowledged that there is a plan to bring higher-performing cars to market at a later date; these top-level performers will don the new V "Blackwing" name. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let's check out the CT5-V.

How does the CT5-V drive?

Once you get past the confusing nomenclature, the CT5-V is a capable and fun-to-drive sports sedan. Despite being re-cast as the junior performer in Cadillac's lineup, the CT5-V includes some genuine performance bits. For starters, a 3.0L twin-turbo V6 replaces the base 2.0L turbo 4 found in the standard CT5. It's a significant bump in output compared to the base car, pumping out 360 horsepower at 5,400 RPM and 405 lb-ft of torque from 2,350-4,000 RPM. It's paired with a quick-shifting 10-speed automatic that somehow always manages to be in the right gear in any situation. Other goodies include a dual-mode quad exhaust, Brembo front brakes, performance-biased Magnetic Ride Control, and an electronic limited slip differential. That last inclusion is one of the biggest hints that the CT5-V is a product of GM's best chassis engineers; here, it's paired with the same uncannily good Performace Traction Management system found in Corvettes and high-spec Camaros. From the specs alone, it's clear that Cadillac means business.

The 3.0L twin-turbo V6 under the hood of the CT5-V measures up to its competition on paper, but it seems like an odd choice for the CT5-V to take a step back from its direct predecessor - the supremely competent CTS V-Sport. That car had a larger 3.6L twin-turbo V6 with 420 horsepower, but the CT5-V is nearly able to keep pace despite a 60-horsepower deficit - all thanks to its smartly-geared transmission. Cadillac estimates a 4.6 second 0-60 time, which is not too far off what the CTS V-Sport was capable of. What's more relevant is that the CT5-V isn't quite as sprightly in a straight line compared to its direct competitors, but we're guessing that's mostly due to its larger dimensions and heftier weight. The Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-AMG all reach 60 MPH in the low 4-second range. Comparing specs, the Mercedes is the horsepower champ with 385 ponies while the BMW comes in at 382. The CT5-V ranks a distant third, while the Audi's output is the lowest at 349 horsepower. On the flip side, the CT5-V boasts the most torque in its class while the next-torquiest Mercedes trails at 384 lb-ft.

Out in the real world, the bench racing takes a back seat thanks to the CT5-V's impressive road manners. On some of the more technical back roads, all of the CT5-V's components work together to give you a sure-handling partner with satisfying responses. The CT5-V is built on GM’s Alpha II platform, which itself is an evolution of the Alpha platform that made the ATS and CTS handling wonders. The Magnetic Ride Control is downright magical in soaking up bumps while maintaining control of body motions. There’s a small amount of turbo lag on power, but the CT5-V gains pace quickly once the turbos spool up. Power delivery comes on smooth and feels more like a wave of power; it's not the frantic “push into your seat” thing that the boosted Germans do. Though the transmission is generally unobtrusive and is transparent in most cases, we did occasionally find ourselves wishing for quicker downshifts. More annoyingly, the transmission had a tendency to upshift well short of the indicated 6,300 RPM redline, diluting the sporting feel of the powertrain. It's understandable given that the horsepower peaks at a (relatively) low 5,400 RPM, but the transmission really needs to let the revs stay higher during spirited driving in order to complete the package.

Once the pace settles down, the CT5-V does a good job of disguising itself as an everyday car. Set in Tour mode, the magnetic dampers help keep the ride supple without feeling floaty in the least bit. It's perhaps not as cushy as the Audi S4 on choppy surfaces, but there's no real reason to complain about the Cadillac's ride quality under any circumstances. The quad exhaust provides a throaty, evocative soundtrack when the CT5 is pressed; it settles down during relaxed highway cruising, pleasantly humming in the background to remind you that you're driving the sporty CT5.

Is the CT5-V interior luxurious?

As you'd hope to expect from a Cadillac, the interior is a nice place to spend time in. The choice of materials is on par with the competition from Mercedes, Audi, and BMW but the German cars somehow seem to pull off a better execution. Still, there's lots to like about the CT5-V's interior. Our tester was equipped with the Whisper Beige/Jet Black combo; here, the two-tone effect adorns the seats and door panels with a pop of color to avoid creating a cave-like environment. In a nod to its performance credentials, there's red contrast stitching throughout the cabin. Even the carbon fiber inserts join in on the fun with hints of red peeking through the weave.

Other nice touches include heated and cooled front seats with a massage function. The seats are firmly padded and feature enough lateral bolstering to support the car's sporting intent, yet remain comfortable for longer freeway jaunts and road trips. The adjustable thigh extension is also a welcome addition; it really needs to be something all cars are equipped with, not just the sporty ones. Rear seat comfort is also at the top of the class - in one instance, two 6-foot-something adults fit comfortably in the back and had no complaints about space. That's not too surprising given Cadillac's justification for one of the most controversial aspects of the CT5: the odd C-pillar treatment disguises the roofline that was required to accommodate taller passengers in the rear. This arrangement also compromises rearward visibility due to the thickness of the pillar and the small rear window, but the blind-spot monitoring and backup camera both go a long way towards turning this into a mere annoyance instead of a genuine problem.

The CT5-V's interior technology is a mixed bag. Cadillac’s 10” infotainment touch screen features crisp graphics, and the vibrant display remains easy to read in bright sunlight. The touch screen responds quickly to commands, and the interface is infinitely superior to the earlier versions of CUE that were unanimously panned by journalists and owners alike. The backup camera shows a high-resolution image, finally allowing Cadillac to avoid unfavorable comparisons with economy cars that cost a fraction of the CT5. The full-color Head-Up Display is also impressive, providing information without requiring drivers to look away from the road. Additionally, there’s a wireless charging station built into the base of the center console. Three USB ports are provided (2 USB-A and 1 USB-C) for plenty of connectivity, but the CT5 lacks wireless Android Auto or Apple CarPlay so you’ll have to make do with connecting via USB cable.

Where the CT5-V falls behind is the gauge cluster - while the analog gauges are neatly laid out and easy to read, the small-ish display between the tachometer and speedometer carries none of the "wow factor" that's common in the German cars. There's nothing wrong with the functionality of the CT5-V's gauge cluster, but it definitely seems like a missed opportunity that Cadillac didn't provide its own take on the futuristic look and feel found in the competition. (Editor's note: The 2021 CT5-V is available with a configurable 12-inch digital gauge cluster as part of the optional Technology Package, which was not the case for the 2020 model we reviewed.) It’s not as “modern” as the German rivals, but on its own, the interior of the CT5-V is a perfectly comfortable place to be. Overall, the CT5-V's interior technology is a vast improvement on Cadillac's previous efforts.

Is the CT5-V functional?

The CT5 competes in the compact luxury sedan segment against stalwarts like the BMW 3-Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, and Audi A4. If you think it might be too large for the class, the exterior dimensions will confirm your suspicions. The CT5's wheelbase is nearly 4 inches longer than the next-largest BMW, while the overall length is more than 6 inches longer than the Mercedes-Benz and Audi. The Cadillac is also measurably wider than all three of the Germans, giving the CT5 a lower and wider stance in comparison.

However, the larger size doesn't quite translate to interior dimensions or cargo space. In fact, front and rear headroom are right on par with the competition, and that goes for front legroom as well. On the other hand, the longer wheelbase does provide rear passengers with nearly 3 extra inches of legroom compared to the German cars. While the CT5 is equipped with 5 seat belts, only 4 passengers will fit comfortably. The center rear seat is burdened with a large hump created by the outboard seat bolsters; combined with the center tunnel, the middle passenger is left sitting on an uncomfortable perch with legs awkwardly splayed out around the tunnel.

One design limitation of the original Alpha platform was the small trunk, which was a deliberate choice by the chassis engineers in order to focus on a more sophisticated rear suspension design. The CT5's Alpha II platform retains this quirk, with odd surfaces and lots of wheel well intrusion in the trunk. As a result, the CT5’s trunk space is the smallest among the competitive set at 11.9 cu. ft. while others average around 13.5. Happily, the rear seats do fold down for extra utility.

Is the CT5-V safe?

The NHTSA has rated the CT5 RWD and CT5 AWD a perfect 5 stars in all testing categories, including overall, frontal, side crash, and rollover. Strangely, the NHTSA has not provided a score for the CT5-V RWD/AWD in the overall and frontal ratings. Side crash and rollover are rated at 5 stars just like the non-V sedans. Since the CT5-V shares its structure with the standard CT5, we'd guess it performs just as well. The IIHS has not tested the CT5 as of publishing.

Cadillac is generous with safety equipment, with every CT5 featuring 8 airbags, forward collision alert, automatic emergency braking, and front pedestrian braking as standard equipment. Lane change alert with blind spot warning is standard on all but the base trim. Our CT5-V was also equipped with the optional Driver Awareness Plus Package which includes auto high beam headlights, following distance indicator, and lane keep assist with lane departure warning.

Should I buy the CT5-V?

As an overall package, the CT5-V is compelling. It's got aggressive lines and a comfortable interior, with a distinct American flavor that helps it stand out against the German competition. The CT5-V is competitive within its class, but it's not necessarily the best option for everyone shopping for a sport sedan. It's not the quickest in a straight line despite a notable torque advantage, but its road manners and driving characteristics ensure that it's plenty capable of putting a smile on your face nonetheless. If you have a family and want a sporty vehicle with extra rear seat legroom, the CT5-V fits the bill. If you want Cadillac's ultimate performer, you’ll have to wait for the upcoming V8-powered CT5-V Blackwing. Keep in mind that the top rung of Cadillac's performance ladder will come with a corresponding price tag. The CT5-V we reviewed is priced extremely aggressively, and arguably presents one of the greatest value plays in its class. If the "regular" CT5-V is this good, we can't wait to see what the Blackwings will be like.

Bestcovery Staff
Our research team searches out the best of everything so that you can confidently pick the perfect products and services for your needs.
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