A strange thing has happened in the premium car world.
Between the rising popularity of crossovers, established compact sport sedans ballooning in price and premium brands pushing their entry-level products further downmarket, what was historically the most popular premium car segment almost appears to be disappearing. Happily, nobody seems to have told Detroit this. Just last year, the new Cadillac CT4 debuted to offer a true entry-level sport sedan. But does this 2021 Cadillac CT4 Premium Luxury have what it takes to compete with the added tech and cachet of the latest German competition?
On the outside, the CT4 cuts a sharp silhouette with modern garnishes on a traditional conservative form. There’s no dramatic sloping roofline or floating c-pillar treatment here, just an attractive three-box silhouette with a long hood and short deck in classic sport sedan tradition. Up front, dramatic vertical daytime running lights meld with the slim horizontal main headlamp design to create a planted, aggressive look.
Along the sides, a dramatic undercut character line above the sills dominates the profile while appropriately-sized 18-inch alloy wheels fill the arches well on our Premium Luxury test car. Possibly the most radical part of the design is out back, where the trunk lid stretches down to meet the license plate recess in an SUV-like fashion.
As expected from a compact sport sedan, rear seat space is a little on the tight side. While a five-foot-ten adult can comfortably sit behind their own driving position, taller individuals may struggle a bit. That being said, it’s still roomier back there than in a Genesis G70 or Mercedes-Benz CLA and no less commodious than an Audi A3 or BMW 2-Series Gran Coupe. As for trunk space, here’s where the packaging constraints of a rear-wheel-drive platform make themselves known. Cadillac has to fit a big differential between the rear wheels, so the trunk floor is fairly high.
To complicate things slightly more, the extremely short rear deck on the CT4 really limits the size of the trunk opening to the point where loading larger boxes can require some tricky pivoting. However, the CT4’s trunk does have one big upside and it’s something that panders to twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings beautifully. On the right side of the trunk, there is a narrow yet significantly recessed tray that’s perfect for transporting a bottle or three of wine in.
As for interior tech, the CT4’s infotainment is a massive step up from Cadillac’s old CUE system. Apparently, we all complained enough to Cadillac that they’ve ditched capacitive touch controls entirely and have given CT4 drivers up to four ways to interact with the infotainment system. First, there’s the obvious. The eight-inch screen perched atop the dash is a touchscreen that lets users tap, swipe and zoom. Then, just below the screen and to the right of the volume knob there’s a little knob for scrolling through the screen’s menu structure. Also on tap are voice commands which work better than most, although aren’t quite as deft as say, Mercedes-Benz’s “Hey Mercedes”.
Finally, popping for the big engine with the Navigation and Bose Premium Audio package switches out the traditional gear lever for an electronic one and adds both a rotary control wheel for the infotainment and a second volume knob just behind the shifter. While this all sounds more complicated than one of Ok Go’s Rube Goldberg machines, Cadillac’s Burger King-style Have It Your Way infotainment controls just mean that the driver can do basically whatever they want to control the touchscreen and it will work exactly as expected.
What isn’t as expected, however, is the optional Bose premium audio system. Historically, GM Bose systems have been an exception to the audiophile saying of “no highs, no lows, must be Bose.” Unfortunately, the CT4’s Bose system is quite flat, a trait further emphasized when surround sound is turned on. It’s a very acceptable listening experience with surround sound turned off and a warm-v equalizer setting, but some competitors do offer better audio systems.
Standard power for the CT4 comes from a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine which is probably very adequate. With 237 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, Cadillac estimates it’s good for a low six-second 0-60 time. That’s sprightly enough, but it trails behind leading competitors. However, tick the box for the Premium Luxury trim and suddenly another engine option appears. For an extra $2,875, Cadillac offers, and there’s no other way of putting it, a truck engine. The 2.7-litre turbocharged four-cylinder out of a Silverado 1500, to be precise.
It’s easy to scoff at the big four-pot’s yeoman origins and low five-and-a-half-thousand RPM redline, but it puts in genuine work. Power is a very respectable 310 horsepower and torque is a 350 lb-ft thrill ride that starts at 1,500 RPM and goes all the way to four grand. Suddenly, the 0-60 time drops below five seconds. Make no mistake, this isn’t a slow car. What’s more, the ten-speed automatic operates with deft precision, keeping the engine in the power band and allowing for seemingly endless thrust. It’s not as electric as a higher-revving motor would be, but it’s certainly relentless.
As for fuel economy, the government’s combined rating is 9.9 L/100km and we averaged 10.4 L/100km with somewhat of a bias toward city and rush hour traffic. Not bad at all for the level of performance on tap.
When the road gets twisty, the CT4 simply gets even better. The steering has this wonderful, analogue, granular quality to it that telegraphs changes in grip and road camber right up to the driver’s fingertips. There’s so much grip available from the chassis that it almost feels endless and when the tires grow weary, the CT4 settles into the extremely gentle slight push typical of a well-balanced neutral handling setup. You know that feeling when scissors start to glide through wrapping paper? That’s precisely what scything through traffic in the CT4 feels like.
When it comes to actually stopping the CT4, Cadillac has done something unusual. Instead of a normal brake pedal, the CT4 uses a version of brake-by-wire called eBoost that has a physical backup but under most conditions, actuates the brakes electronically. While brake-by-wire systems in the past have been panned for poor pedal feel or poor brake modulation when pulling to a gentle stop, we noticed no such issues with the CT4.
Instead, the baby Cadillac’s brake pedal felt firm and predictable, delivering confidence-inspiring stopping power that was easy to modulate. We do wish the suspension tuning on our Premium Luxury trim was a touch firmer as large road undulations can really pitch the CT4 up and down but we presume anyone looking for an even more driver-focused CT4 would pop for the V trim.
Comparing the CT4 to its main rivals, the Cadillac just makes sense. The Mercedes-Benz CLA is very expensive when any sort of options are added, the A3 is starting to feel like the older product that it is and the 2-Series GranCoupe is a bit frumpy and comes with the mark of shame of buying a front-wheel-drive BMW. Even the Genesis G70 2.0T, a brilliant car, is simply outgunned here. With nearly fifty extra horsepower, ninety extra lb.-ft. of torque and proper rear damping, the CT4 2.7T takes a page out of Indiana Jones’ book, reaches into its pocket, pulls out a Smith & Wesson M1917 and blasts a bagel-sized hole in the four-cylinder G70.
And that’s before even factoring in the price. Even with frivolous items like $1,395 in paint, and a $120 set of wheel locks, our test car clocked in at $49,018. True value seekers can skip the aforementioned paint and wheel locks, a $695 special finish on the wheels and the $2,200 all-wheel-drive system and nab an otherwise identically-equipped CT4 for $44,608 which is several thousand dollars cheaper than a comparably-equipped Mercedes-Benz CLA 250 or BMW 228i GranCoupe.
The fact of the matter is, the 2021 Cadillac CT4 Premium Luxury with the 2.7T engine is simply brilliant. Who’d have thought that in 2021, Cadillac would be the brand making a world-class blue-blooded entry-level sport sedan that sacrifices nothing?