Rating: 9.3
Bottom Line:
The 2014 Cadillac CTS is every bit a BMW fighter — and more. It handles better than the BMW 5-Series, which has grown a bit too heavy in its middle age. Cadillac may have trouble convincing customers of that fact, and the CTS' high pricing (which is in line with its European competition) could limit sales.
Pros:
  • Best-in-class handling
  • Three strong engines
  • Beautiful inside and out
Cons:
  • Expensive
  • Lacks European cachet
  • Touch-sensitive controls

The BMW 5-Series has been considered the best midsize luxury sports sedan for four decades. But like many model lines in today's automotive market, the 5-Series has grown bigger with each successive generation. In fact, the practice has gotten so out of hand that the current 5-Series shares its platform with the full-size 7-Series, and as a result the 5-Series is heavy and not as sporty as in generations past.

Now Cadillac is redesigning its CTS sedan and aiming straight at the 5-Series. The main difference: The CTS is based on a lightweight platform that underpins the well-received smaller, compact ATS sedan. As a result, the CTS captures much of the agility and sporty feel that the BMW has lost. Get ready to think of Cadillac as the king of the sports sedans — or at least a top contender.

View Pictures:  2014 Cadillac CTS

Model lineup
The 2014 Cadillac CTS is offered in 2.0T, 3.6L and Vsport variants, with trim levels — called Collections — that consist of Standard, Luxury, Performance and Premium. The Standard comes with cloth upholstery, 14-way power-adjustable driver's seat with memory, Bose audio system, 10 airbags, Brembo brakes and 17-inch run-flat tires on alloy wheels. The Luxury adds leather upholstery, HID headlights and a Driver Awareness package with numerous advanced safety features. The Performance Collection gets 18-inch wheels, Cadillac's Magnetic Ride Control suspension, a navigation system, a panoramic sunroof and a head-up display. The Premium Collection has a 20-way adjustable driver's seat, full leather trim, a reconfigurable 12.3-inch instrument cluster and even more safety features.

The Vsport features 18-inch summer tires, Magnetic Ride Control, electronic limited-slip rear differential, automatic parallel parking, larger front brakes and leather upholstery. A Vsport Premium is also offered. Pricing starts at $45,100 for the Standard Collection and tops out at $69,070 for the Vsport Premium. Pricing is up on average $6,000 to $8,000 per variant, but Cadillac says the Standard Collection has 20 more features than the outgoing base trim.

Under the hood
The 2014 Cadillac CTS comes with three engine choices. The base engine is the 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder from the smaller ATS. Tweaks to the turbocharger give it the same 272 horsepower as the ATS but increase torque from 260 to 295 lb-ft. The next step up is the 3.6-liter V6, also from the ATS. It produces 321 horsepower and 275 lb-ft of torque. The top engine is a new twin-turbocharged version of the 3.6 that spins out 420 horsepower and 430 lb-ft of torque.

The 2.0 and all-wheel-drive versions of the 3.6 come with a 6-speed automatic transmission, while rear-drive versions of the 3.6 and all cars with the turbocharged V6 engine get an 8-speed automatic. Both transmissions have manual shift capability through steering-wheel paddles.

Environmental Protection Agency fuel economy estimates are 20 mpg city/30 mpg highway with the 2.0 and rear-wheel drive, 19/28 mpg with the 2.0 and all-wheel drive, 19/29 mpg for the 3.6 with rear-wheel drive, 18/26 mpg for the 3.6 with all-wheel drive, and 17/25 mpg for the turbocharged 3.6.

Inner space
The CTS grows 4.2 inches overall and adds 1.2 inches of wheelbase. That gives the CTS good, but not great, interior space. The driver's seat choices are supportive and comfortable, and Cadillac offers as many as 20-way power adjustments. Four adults should ride with ease, and five can fit in a pinch. The CTS' trunk has 13.7 cubic feet of cargo room, which is competitive for the class.

The CTS represents the best in General Motors interior quality. It's so nice, in fact, that Cadillac's interiors have to be considered among the best in the world. The look is attractive, and the materials are top quality. Soft-touch surfaces adorn all touch points, and the fit and finish is exemplary. Cadillac even provides a motorized lid over the cupholders.

However, the interior does give up some utility for design. The CTS uses touch-sensitive controls for the radio volume, climate settings and other controls. These controls take some getting used to and they aren't as easy to use as traditional buttons and knobs. The Cadillac User Experience infotainment system also has a steep learning curve.

CUE is run through a capacitive-touch 8-inch center screen that provides haptic feedback when the virtual buttons are pushed. Icons on the screen lead to the various infotainment options, much like a tablet computer.

Also like a tablet, it employs drag-and-drop functionality to move icons and a pinch-and-stretch feature to zoom in or out. Programmable favorites buttons pop up from the bottom of the screen, and they can be used to set radio stations, as well as commonly used phone numbers, navigation destinations and apps.

CUE is certainly one of the more advanced control interfaces on the market, but not all of the controls are intuitive. Other publications have dismissed it outright, and we agree that it is very complicated. However, the look is attractive and we think owners will eventually get used to it. Hopefully, Cadillac will improve it over time.

On the road
During CTS development, Cadillac engineers stretched the Alpha platform that underpins the compact ATS, all while doing their best to keep weight out of the car. More high-strength and ultra-high-strength steel was used, but Cadillac also formed the doors from aluminum and used lighter materials or smarter designs for many underbody components. The result is a body that is 40 percent stiffer and a car that is 250 pounds lighter in its base version. At 3,616 pounds, the CTS with the 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine is 200 pounds lighter than the BMW 528i, and model for model it is as much as 400 pounds lighter than its Bavarian counterpart.

On the road the CTS drives smaller than its size. In fact, it feels very much like the ATS, which has proven itself to be the sportiest of the compact sports sedans. Even the base version is agile. With weight balances that vary from a perfect 50-50 for a rear-wheel drive 2.0 to 52-48 for the AWD V6, the handling is very neutral, too, without the understeering "push" through turns that plagues most of today's cars. Handling becomes more agile with the 18- and 19-inch wheels and Cadillac's Magnetic Ride Control suspension, which monitors the road and firms up the dampers during aggressive driving. A Sport mode and an available Track mode sharpen the responses further, as do the Vsport's summer tires. The ride is firm but supple in most variants, but some drivers may find the Vsport a bit too harsh.

The steering enhances the driving experience. Ratios change by variant, and the Vsport has variable ratios, but in all versions the steering is sharp, direct and has nice heft. Electrically assisted power steering hasn't been well received in many vehicles, but this version is quite satisfying.

There isn't a bad seed in the CTS engine family. We expected the base 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine to feel weak in this larger car, but a tweak to the turbocharger gives the engine the extra bit of torque it needs to feel confident off the line. Cadillac says zero to 60 mph takes 6.1 seconds, and that feels right to us. Power is delivered smoothly, and the engine emits a sporty note. The 3.6-liter V6 is just slightly more powerful, cutting the zero-to-60-mph time to 5.9 seconds, while letting out a refined growl. While fuel economy suffers little, that slight jump in power doesn't seem to be worth the $2,700 premium Cadillac charges for the 3.6.

The price of entry for the Vsport with the twin-turbocharged 3.6-liter V6 engine is just under $60,000. That's quite a chunk of change, but for buyers looking for unrelenting power it's the way to go. With the turbocharged V6, the CTS sprints to 60 mph in just 4.4 seconds and keeps building thrust all the way up to 172 mph. It's not quite as ludicrously powerful as the supercharged V8-powered CTS-V, but it's close.

Right for you?
Stylish, sporty and comfortable, the 2014 Cadillac CTS is an excellent choice for those who want a finely crafted machine instead of just a car. While BMW and Mercedes have traditionally been the go-to cars for that type of customer, Audi has made headway in the market and now you should consider Cadillac, too. With its 2014 redesign, the CTS has earned a spot among the world's best sports sedans.

(As part of a sponsored press event, the automaker provided MSN with travel and accommodations to facilitate this report.)

Kirk Bell has served as the associate publisher for Consumer Guide Automotive and editor of Scale Auto Enthusiast magazine. A Midwest native, Bell brings 18 years of automotive journalism experience to MSN, and currently contributes to JDPower.com and Kelley Blue Book's kbb.com.