2020 Cadillac CT5-V AWD Review: The Junior Varsity Sports Sedan that Mostly Delivers

The CT5-V doesn’t get much wrong, but it also doesn’t hit enough home runs to truly stand out in a tough segment.

byJames Gilboy|
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To say Cadillac has a lot riding on the CT5 is an understatement. It's not just GM's latest attempt to beat the Germans at their game of luxurious four-doors; it's among America's last rear-drive sedans, and only exists by the graces of an architecture shared with the Chevy Camaro. Humble though these roots may be, they make the CT5 the perfect platform for a high-performance sedan, one whose V badge identifies it as a legitimate rival to anything built by BMW's M.

Or, it would, if Cadillac's V-cars were still its top performers. Today, that honor belongs to its new varsity team, the Blackwings, confusingly named for a twin-turbo V8 they won't use. V itself now only signifies a junior performance spec, with sharper handling, extra power, and visual cues borrowed from their badder Blackwing brethren—but none of their fury. Diluting performance brands has (mostly) worked for the Germans, so when trying to beat them at their own game, it's best to be thorough.

2020 Cadillac CT5-V AWD, James Gilboy

While terrifying, Blackwing-worthy performance doesn't alone make a memorable sports sedan, it would go a long way toward making up for a car's less impressive areas. I still found more of those than I would've liked in my week with the 2020 Cadillac CT5-V AWD, but there's also a lot of potential in the package Cadillac's putting forward today.

2020 Cadillac CT5-V AWD, By the Numbers

  • Base price (as tested): $48,690 ($57,680)
  • Powertrain: 3.0-liter, twin-turbo V6 | 10-speed automatic transmission | all-wheel drive with electronic rear limited-slip differential
  • Horsepower: 360 at 5,600 rpm
  • Torque: 405 pound-feet from 2,350 to 4,000 rpm
  • Fuel economy (MPG): 17 city | 25 highway | 20 combined, 23 achieved in testing
  • Curb Weight: 3,975 pounds
  • 0 to 60 mph: 4.6 seconds
  • Quick Take: It's almost there. Almost! 

Reading like a leetspeak version of the snarling old CTS-V and using an enhanced version of its chassis might lead some to believe the CT5-V is a similar car. It isn't. In place of a supercharged 6.2-liter V8 from the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 is a comparatively muted 3.0-liter, twin-turbo V6 whose 360 horsepower and 405 pound-feet of torque zip through a 10-speed automatic to either the rear or all four wheels.

Power (not to mention the nearly two-ton curb weight) is further managed by a limited-slip differential on the rear axle, GM's unflappable Magneride suspension and 13.6-inch Brembo brakes up front. The buyer's choice of all-season or high-performance summer tires encircle 19-inch alloys shared with the lesser Sport trim, though the V's mesh grille, rear diffuser, exhaust tips, and dark exterior accents are exclusives.

The CT5-V tested was realistically optioned with a short list of big-ticket items, notably all-wheel drive and Driver Awareness Plus, good for automatic high beams, a head-up display, following distance monitors, and lane assist. V Premium bundles multiple smaller packages such as climate, lighting, and navigation, not to mention a 15-speaker Bose sound setup. And while these make the CT5-V feel premium indeed, they don't take it as far as fancy.

Leather and its simulacrums are abundant, but so is textured hard plastic, which feels on loan from one of GM's weirder show trucks. Add in patches of carbon fiber and the result is a mishmash of finishes and textures that form no coherent aesthetic. Similarly disjointed are the unintuitive HVAC controls splayed out below the 10-inch infotainment screen, which commits the design sin of looking like a tablet docked in the dash. And its Cadillac User Experience (CUE) software has the tendency to automatically resume the last played song on your phone—embarrassing if you were listening to J-pop—with remarkable clarity through those 15 Bose speakers. Apple CarPlay or Android Auto are on hand, though.

Complaints with the CT5-V's interior pretty much reach their end there. The front row is row is as comfortable for people as it is their electronics—kudos to any center console with a built-in USB port that easily allows a cord to run out with the lid closed—with a heated steering wheel and front row seats (also ventilated) coming in very clutch on the cold morning of my big road test. Park assist and rear cross traffic alert, while valuable, proved less useful backing out of a parallel-parked spot than the camera and the vibrating driver's seat, which shook to warn that the neighbor had parked their Suburban too close again.

On the go, pedestrian braking and automated emergency braking could've come in handy if my attention wandered from the road, but, you know, I'm a professional. Though the well-optimized optional HUD does help there too. This system also visualized a following distance indicator looped into the active cruise control which, with the aid of lane-keeping assists and a blind spot monitor, eased the mental load of highway driving.

Driving the 2021 Cadillac CT5-V

When interstates finally yielded to passes through the Rocky Mountains, switching over to sport mode demonstrated how seriously Cadillac takes the V badge. Exploring the same limits Jonathon Klein did when he took the CT5-V on track earlier this year would've been irresponsible, but driven with indifference to advisory speed signs, it proved itself a more than proficient canyon carver. Lively, sharp steering aids in aiming this two-ton Cadillac, while Magneride and Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires claw back the agility of a much lighter car. These elements plus a deceptively small turning circle make the CT5-V nimble through anything back roads can throw at it, even right-hand hairpins.

Low gears in the 10-speed automatic are appropriately perfectly to rocket back out of these tight turns, provided it's left in manual mode—automatic constantly shuffles gears to maximize mileage. Its twin-turbo V6 generates torque ample for passing local Sunday drivers as dotted yellows permit, but produces only a modest rumble, and its flat-foot redline shift backfires seem like a software contrivance.

Being all-wheel-drive, and with a limited-slip rear axle, it doesn't wag its tail on full power like rear-drive cars can, and despite modestly sized tires, it showed no tendency toward pushy understeer the way some AWD cars do. It's all quite manageable for something this real-world quick, though pressed to its limits on track or even a phenomenally good road, brake feel may prove unsatisfactory. The pedal is light to the point of being too easy to over-apply, especially in twitchy Sport mode.

Above highway speeds, all-wheel drive's inertia would also begin to dampen acceleration the same way it does to fuel economy on the public road. The CT5-V averaged 23 mpg over my week with it, which while mediocre, is unavoidable sacrifice if you want an upscale, 300-horsepower sedan with AWD at the CT5-V's price. Only the Genesis G70 3.3T, Lexus IS 350 F Sport, and forthcoming Acura TLX Type S can claim similar, and they do so at a slightly smaller size than the CT5-V.

The Verdict

After six hours behind the wheel, I got out of the CT5-V feeling as fresh as I did when I got in, owing largely to sublime seats and, again, the magnificent Magenride. Second-row occupants might not have been as enthused as I was, as back seat head room is lacking and forces taller adults to hunch over. Taking that into account, I can't see the CT5-V occupying the one-car garage of anyone with more than one adult acquaintance in their life, but at the same time, it doesn't have the indulgent qualities you'd want in a dedicated weekend car. Its solid, but not stunning performance wouldn't make it an exceptional track day car, nor would its unremarkable interior make it a date night top pick.

None of this is to say the Cadillac CT5-V is somehow a bad car. It's good in many ways we can put numbers on, but mostly uninspiring in the ways we can't. The CT5-V needs to bring something novel to the table, and it just doesn't. Not for the 2020 model, that is, because on the 2021 model, Cadillac has introduced its industry-leading advanced driver assist system (ADAS), Super Cruise, which permits driving some 200,000 miles of American highway with no hands on the wheel.

This might be the party piece the CT5-V needs to become not only a comfortable and competent sports sedan, but also the ADAS all-star that Tesla wishes its purported "Full Self-Driving" was.

2020 Cadillac CT5-V AWD's contours, James Gilboy

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