A week with the 2011 Cadillac CTS Coupe

I’ve never driven a car that got as many looks as this one.  Never.  Ever.

That’s the truth.  Sitting behind the wheel of this 2011 Cadillac CTS Coupe, I could feel the stares at every single intersection, when I was driving and from all sides.  Honestly, people will stop what they’re doing to look at this car and they will turn and let their open-mouthed stares follow you down the street.  If you want looks, just buy this car.  I feel as though I clearly helped many people break our new distracted driving law when I drove by.  It draws as much attention as many exotics do and I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I write that.

This was a “Premium” rear-wheel drive coupe, which starts at CDN $47,450.  The options on this example rang in at a healthy CDN $10,250 and so, with destination included, this car is priced at CDN $59,250.  The options are the $7,100 Preferred Equipment Group, the $1,800 Sport Package (which includes lovely wheels and tires, performance oriented cooling, handling and braking systems and the “paddle” shifters) and the gorgeous $1,300 Crystal Red Tintcoat paint.  Those options are recommended, because the car was great the way it was equipped.

Under the CTS Coupe’s hood which is nicely supported by a gas shock, you’ll find a 3.6 Litre V-6, making 304 HP @ 6400 RPM and twisting out 273 ft.lbs of torque @ 5200 RPM.  This jam is pushed through a very smooth 6-speed automatic transmission, which you are able to shift manually at the shifter or with “paddle” buttons on the steering wheel.

I do have to comment on one other thing I found under the hood.  A very interesting strut brace that is almost a piece of art is what I found under there.  It’s a fantastic looking smooth triangular aluminum bar, gently curved over the engine bay.  It’s brutally welded to some rough cast pieces sitting atop the strut towers.  The difference between finishes and the obviousness of the welds has to be by design, and I’m not sure I follow the logic, but whatever it is, it’s a sculpture of sorts and you can’t miss it when you pop the hood.  Other than that, it’s a typical modern engine bay – a yawner, shrouded with apologies of plastic.  I miss the days where a company couldn’t wait to show you the wonder that is the engine under that hood.

It’s not the most efficient car out there, but considering the numbers and the weight this engine is pushing around (over 3900 lbs), its mileage isn’t surprising.  Fuel economy is rated at 11.4 L/100 km (17 mpg) in the city and 6.9 L/100 km (25 mpg) on the highway.  I drove with a very heavy foot, and exclusively in the city with plenty of commuting and averaged 15.1 L/100 km (15.6 mpg).  The first day I drove it, I took it easy and was averaging in the neighborhood of 11 L/100 km (about 21.4 mpg) which I thought was quite impressive.

The Exterior

This is the Coupe’s trump card.  Although it wear’s Cadillac’s current design language, including the corporate nose, and the front end of the car is unmistakably a CTS…. it becomes a very different animal as your gaze progresses beyond the back of the hood.  Sharp, creased lines, rakish slants and angles, low roof, outlandish bubble butt with a sharp triangular beak.  It’s got it all.  In my opinion, this car looks very aggressive, especially from the side.  The rear fenders flare out behind the doors – it’s an integral part of the muscular design, and necessary to accommodate the massive rubber boots on the back.   The 19″ rims, part of an option package, are beautiful and really suit this car – they are shod with 245/45s in the front, and gargantuan 275/40s at the back.  The rear comes to a triangular point, reminding me at times of a reverse of Acura’s new corporate beak, and will be the most subjective part of the design.  At the bottom of that “beak”, you’ll find a stylized stainless dual exhaust tip in the lower bumper.  It was the one part of the car’s design I didn’t like very much, and I prefer the two honest centrally mounted exhaust pipes on the CTS-V Coupe.  With that said, almost everyone liked the exhaust tip.

Nothing physically “sticks out” of this car’s shape, other than the shark-fin antenna on the roof.  That includes the door handles – there aren’t any.  There is a gap at the door’s rear edge – you put your hand into it and pull the door toward you and it electronically unlatches.  Very slick.  I found the side-view mirrors to have an extremely irregular shape (probably about 7 sides), including the mirror glass, but they work just fine.  You’ll find great HID headlights, which are adaptive and turn into the corners with you, and very nice LED rear lights – not to mention a cool vectoring upper brake light.

I really thought this car’s design would be more subjective with people, especially the rear beak, but almost every single person who came to have a closer look at it (and there were many!) said they loved it.  “Space ship”, “wedge” and “hot” were some of the words that people used to describe it.

The Interior

This car is lower than you expect.  However, the door openings are big and the sills are not wide, and getting in is easy.  You’ll find yourself surrounded by nice materials, including leathers and woods.  This car had a pretty two-tone interior – light on the bottom, a beautiful wood trim surrounding the cabin above that, and dark materials around the top of the cabin.  The dark material around the top is a leather-textured soft material that has contrasting stitching around the dash, the instrument hood and the door panels.  It looks great and a number of people commented on it, especially the stitching.  The center stack and console are clad in a brushed-finish silvery plastic that doesn’t quite keep up to the quality of the other materials.  It doesn’t necessarily look cheap, it just doesn’t look good enough.

You sink into a low leather-clad seat with nice, perforated panels in the center of the back and seat pad – seats are power adjustable, heated and cooled on either side.  The driver’s seat has a 2-position memory.  The bolstering is adequate, but definitely not intended for sporty driving.  As you swing the door closed for the first time, you’ll notice there is no door lever on the inside either – there is just a button that falls to your thumb to press, which will open the door.  On a side note, it only opens when you’re in park.  That makes sense, but it took me quite a long time to figure that out – while I was trying to get into parkade and couldn’t reach the ticket dispenser.  Awkward!  Headroom in the front seats is tight.  Truth be told, it’s the tightest I’ve ever seen headroom in the front seat of a vehicle.

From the driver’s seat, you look into a clean and easy to read 3-gauge cluster comprised of a tach, a speedometer and a multi-gauge (fuel level, coolant temperature and oil pressure).  Under the speedometer, there is an irregularly-shaped information screen which handles trip meters, range, fuel economy, etc and is controlled by 5 buttons on the dash to the left of the steering wheel.  Speaking of, it is a very nice power-adjustable steering wheel made of wood and leather, and it has control buttons for cruise, volume, media and handsfree.

The center stack has a motorized touch-screen that pops up out of the dash when you want it to (or when the rear-view camera is activated) – it’s controlled via an up/down button.  The screen advises you as to your navigation needs, your media sources and controls, and your system settings and it responds pretty quickly to touch commands.  When the screen is down, it still exposes about 1.5″ high of the screen’s full width, which leaves enough space to show you the essentials of what the radio is playing, etc.  It’s a great interface, either way.  Also, when the screen is down, its eyebrow lid blends right in the dash contours, and looks very clean!  Below that is a classy analog clock, flanked by volume and tuning knobs.  Underneath that, there is a cluster of function buttons surrounding a central control knob for the nav screen – I found the buttons to be a bit busy.


The media system feeds off of AM/FM and XM satellite waves, as well as CDs, DVDs and a hard-drive that you can rip your tunes to.  You can pause/record radio, and pick up where you left off, which is pretty cool.  The stereo is a Bose 5.1 system, with 10 speakers including a centre speaker and a sub – it’s well-balanced and sounded great to me.  As with all GMs now, OnStar is included (activation for 1 year here), and that brings you turn-by-turn navigation which works very well.  The maps aren’t the best in the industry and the street names and text are a bit crunchy but it’s still a very good system.  I found the voice recognition to be outstanding – it never faltered, even though I often ordered it around quickly, reminding this car that it was dealing with a German person.  The back-up camera is fine – I found the quality of the picture to be a bit gritty – and it’s complemented by a parking distance sensor with an audible alarm, but no trajectory aids.

Up above, you’ll find a Homelink garage door opener, and a sunroof with power tilt and a power sunshade, but it won’t slide back and out of the way – likely due to the car’s form factor.  The visors include one of my favorite little touches – the little plastic clips that will hold parking passes or some papers.

The car has a dual-zone automatic climate control system, and on either side of the center stack, lower down, you’ll find a set of buttons and a small screen.  It lets each passenger control their zone’s temperature, as well as their seat heater and cooler.

The car comes with a keyless entry and ignition system, and you just need to have the FOB on your person to do either.  Interestingly, there isn’t a push-start ignition.  Even though no key is required, there is still a very key-like plastic ignition switch that you need to twist just like would a key.  It’s also located right where a key would be.  Old-school thinking with new tech behind it, I guess.  I always wanted to pull out the key after turning that thing off, because it’s the same action you perform with a key.  I guess you’d get used to the fact that it’s just a fixed key thingy.

The car has an electronic parking brake, activated by a rocker switch behind the shift lever.  Definitely not my favorite piece of tech.  You can monitor your tire pressure at all four corners via the information screen.


Erm, so…. there isn’t a lot of it.  Of course, that shouldn’t be a deal-breaker on a car like this.  You’re not buying this car for the spaciousness.  The glove compartment is tiny, and the door pockets are so tiny, I can’t think of much that would ever fit in them.  The bottom of the center stack has a small, essentially useless cubby with a 12V plug covered by a pivoting lid that swings up.  You’ll find two cupholders behind the shift lever, and they can be hidden by a pivoting lid as well.  Finally, the center console bin is very small, and again, almost useless.  It has two levels – one flat tray under the lid, and one mostly vertical space in the bin – there you’ll find a USB plug and a further 12V outlet.

The trunk looks huge from the outside, and it’s actually relatively big, but the opening is small and very vertical, and so accessing the space isn’t ideal.  The rear seats do fold down, in a 50-50 split, to make room for longer objects but the opening behind them is not the full width of the trunk.  It adds some cargo space if necessary, but restricts the width of the space.  A cargo net comes included.  There is no spare tire in the trunk – a compressor is included.  Cadillac has moved the battery to the trunk, hidden behind a panel on the right side, to aid with weight distribution.

The Rear Seat

Getting into the back seat is accommodated by pulling a handle on the front seat backs.  It will fold the seat back forward, but won’t slide the whole thing forward.  Interesting twist on that – there is a power toggle switch on the seat back that will slide the entire seat forward – I guess that’s to get someone into the back more easily, and also to make adjustments to ensure they have enough leg/foot room once they’re seated.  Of course, anyone with a nasty sense of humor can be adjusting the front seats fore and aft for the entire trip if they feel like it, which would be reason enough to beat someone like a bad monkey.  Seating in the rear is comprised of two lovely bucket seats, clad in leather and as in front, adequately bolstered.  Nothing sporty, but not 1990 Cadillac pillows either.  They’re separated by a stylized mini center console – the only thing in it is two cupholders.  Other than that, there are laughably tiny mesh map pockets on the seatbacks.  No additional storage back there.

The back of the center console has a small tip-out bin, which appears to be an ashtray or an afterthought – it’s useless as either – and a 12V plug.  You’ll also find two air vents, which are adjustable, and a control to switch airflow from those vents to floor vents – I thought this was actually a very good solution for rear passengers and wish you’d see that kind of thoughtfulness in more vehicles.  The headroom in the back is terrible, mostly due to the shape of the car.  Adult rear passengers voiced universal pain and suffering in terms of the headroom, but as noted, the rake and angle of the rear of the car should make this compromise an obvious one.  Leg and foot room isn’t dished out aplenty either, but received far less of an outcry.  I guess it’s typical of a 2+2 coupe.

Other than that, you’ll find a couple of ceiling-mounted maplights, for the well-behaved dogs you’ll have sitting back there.  Should you be a devoted masochist, and insist on transporting your children in this car, you will find two sets of LATCH anchors and top-mounted anchors as well.

The Drive

If you hear me heaving a sigh here, it’s because this was the part that left me all befuddled.  Taken as a car and just driven, I would be happy with the way the CTS Coupe performs and drives.  It’s a very competent car.  I just wanted more.

I got in, and found a good dead pedal to step on.  I found the acceleration to be decent and honest.  I liked the brakes, and never found myself wanting for a lot more, although I never pushed the car to its limits.  The transmission definitely is economy-centric and hunts for a higher gear right away, and likes to stay there.  Stepping on it, say to pass or get into traffic from a merge lane, always required a second for the gears to drop into the appropriate one.  You can put it into Sport Mode, but honestly, I didn’t find it much sportier than the normal automatic mode.  It does hold some gears longer, but it also downshifts on you at times – under braking, that can serve two purposes.  Once in a while, it seemed as though the car was reading my mind, and downshifted as I braked into a corner, which was perfect for cruising out of it with no delay.  Other times, it would downshift into 2nd gear totally unexpectedly, and I’d have to clean out my shorts.  Those complaints aside, the shifts from this transmission are almost imperceptible, except for engine noise.  It is an extremely smooth transmission, even on manual downshifts, which I’ve found to be a sticking point with many automatics.

The V-6 doesn’t make any great sounds to write home about, but it lets you know its there with a little rip-snortiness when you get into the gas.  I haven’t found a V-6 yet that has inspired me, in terms of its sonic signature, so it’s not surprising.

The handling is great and the car feels as though it is well-balanced.  The car stays planted, and it does have some body roll, but overall, it doesn’t surprise you with anything nasty.  When you push it, it will tend to understeer and plow a bit.  The traction control has 3 levels – on, competitive mode which is a little more lax, and off.  Pushed really hard, you can get this car to shake its booty with the traction control turned off, but it doesn’t seem comfortable there.  The ride is fantastic – it’s firm, but it’s supple enough to be comfortable.

Outward vision, especially considering the car’s shape, is quite good.  I had no big issues seeing out of the front, the sides and the back – while driving.  Seeing out the back for low-speed moves, like parking is useless but that’s what the camera is for.  Shoulder checking was a chore, because of the huge back pillars sweeping through your field of vision.

I can say that driving this car was a very pleasant experience.


A short list of issues with this car.  Almost everyone who got a ride in this car commented on this, and it’s one of the first things I noticed as well.  The lower seat pads are extraordinarily short.  They don’t have adjustable thigh bolsters, and during normal driving, fell about 4-5″ short of my knees.  It felt as though there was some major butt support missing, a feeling that I’m all too familiar with on a regular basis.  Maybe I need to lose some weight.

The power door latch button is cool, but obviously needs a manual override in case of power loss.  Cadillac’s solution is a really, really ugly black plastic latch on the floor on either side, next to the door sill.  It’s got some graphics on it, and it’s hard to miss.  Definitely not a clean look, and I suppose it might help get your attention in an emergency when you have to exit your burning car or whatever, but it could have been done more neatly and could have been hidden or integrated better.

The height of the  center console bin is such that my right arm/elbow absolutely had to rest on it during driving.  If I wanted to free my arm, it would constantly be bumping into the lid of the console bin, and I found that irritating.  The lid IS a comfortable place to rest my elbow, but there are times when I don’t want to.  Not every moment of my driving experience is a laid-back highway trip, and I don’t want to be forced into making it that way.

Because of the size and shape of that huge sweeping rear pillar, shoulder checking is a chore.  At this price, I would have thought Cadillac would have added a blind-spot warning system to assist with that.  This is a vehicle that could really benefit from it.

Again, if you’re buying a 2+2 coupe, you’re making compromises left, right and center.  With that said, the front seat belts are conveniently placed half-way up (or down) the B-pillar of the car.  This means that you have to choose whether you want to yank the seatbelt way up and try to crawl under it, or if you want to push it way down and attempt to scramble over it.  Either way, getting into the back of the vehicle isn’t fun, nor convenient, and even my kids weren’t impressed with the seatbelt location.

The Verdict

I think one of this Coupe’s biggest issues for car buffs is that it will just fall into direct comparison with its big brother – the herculean CTS-V with its hairy-chested 556 HP V-8 and all the beautiful sounds it makes, and its magnetic ride control, and its sexy twin exhaust pipes, and everything else that it offers over and above this car.  That’s a shame, because all in all, this is a great vehicle, but the shape and the aggressiveness it exudes is not reflected in its performance.

I really enjoyed this car, there’s precious little wrong with it, and I rate it an 8 out of 10.  But I couldn’t help but want for more.  It seems silly, because this car does way more than I need out of anything I drive every day.  Yet I wanted it to sound snarlier, I wanted the acceleration to snap my neck back, and I wanted the rear end to get all unsettled around the corners.  I guess what I’m saying is that the car is softer than its hard edges suggest, and if that’s an issue, you need to pony up the extra dough and get your butt into the spicy CTS-V which will answer all those questions and settle any bets you might have outstanding.  WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) for this car was very high – she loved the look, the ride and the interior, and would want a CTS Coupe for herself and her daily shopping trips – but it failed as a family-mobile for my three kids.  Obviously that’s a non-issue if you’re buying a 2+2 coupe, but it matters to me when considering a vehicle for my daddy side.

The car is a great all-around coupe, a lovely commuter and a fantastic road trip car for two, but not a sports car.  Don’t confuse it for one, and you won’t be disappointed.

I strongly feel that GM should be letting me spend a week with the CTS-V next, to do a straight-up compare and contrast session.  Am I right?  Hey, while I’m dreaming, let’s make it my dream car – the CTS-V Sportswagon.  Yummy!

Disclosure:  Vehicle was provided by GM.

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