SANTA BARBARA, CA – A good car just got great. The ’14 Cadillac CTS is funneling onto U.S. dealership lots now, and the third-generation model whisks the nameplate from a blue plate special to the pièce de résistance of a proper feast.

The impeccably crafted and smartly engineered Cadillac CTS now deserves a place at the table alongside the Mercedes E-Class and BMW 5-Series. In fact, the CTS might be the one slicing the turkey this year.

For years, the CTS tasted like leftovers. The first- and second-generation cars, released as ’03 and ’08 models, contained luxury interior parts and powerful V-6 engines but lacked the lip-smacking completeness of German rivals.

Not any longer. The CTS menu reads like a 7-course meal with its authentic wood, leather, carbon fiber and metallic trimmings complementing a spacious, comfortable and exotically lit interior.

Emerging standard and available equipment such as a full-color and fully reconfigurable driver information center, magnetic ride control, electronic limited-slip differential and up to four selectable driving modes accompany a plate of powertrain choices that includes a twin-turbo V-6 with enough baked-in technology to make 420 hp and deliver up to an estimated 25 mpg (9.4 L/100 km).

That sound you just heard was the folks in Stuttgart and Munich choking on their schnitzel.

But while the first-generation CTS did yeoman’s work for the brand when it bowed, the car was rather forgettable. The second-generation model raised the bar significantly yet struggled for an identity as it straddled vehicle classes and sold mostly because it was a cheaper alternative to the Germans.

This third-generation model deserves five Michelin stars. It gets bigger, so it lines up nicely against the 5-Series and E-Class in terms of roominess. It’s more powerful, with each engine choice spiriting its lightweight body down the road with gusto. And perhaps most important, the CTS boasts interior styling, technology and functionality superior to any other in its class.

That’s a heaping helping of praise, but it’s well deserved.

The centerpiece of the CTS interior is the Cadillac User Experience, the brand’s infotainment system that marries up to a smartphone and works like a tablet via an 8-in. (203 mm), full-color and high-resolution touchscreen. CUE allows occupants to finger through any number of vehicle controls, and the colorful, 3-D graphics of the navigation system are fun and functional.

The fully reconfigurable driver-information center complements CUE, and if it were not so simple to set up and navigate it would draw comparisons to the cockpit of an F-14 jet fighter for combining high-tech instrumentation with analog gauges. There’s also an available head-up display to make drivers feel like pilot.

GM spares no expense on materials or comfort. The dash and door panels use real wood with irresistibly textured grains. It’s hard not to brush a hand across it. Carbon fiber and aluminum trim pieces reconfirm the technical aspect of the car.

Leather seats are well-bolstered, especially under the thighs, for excellent support during performance driving, and the cut-and-sew stitching hints at the elegance of a tailored suit.

The interior will yield some Cadillac converts, but also expect rivals to dial up their game in response.

Exterior styling retains its edginess but adds a sculptured appearance. The car looks as if it’s lashed to the pavement, ready to tear away at any instant. A classic, long dash-to-axle design suggests a powerful engine. In the evening, exterior LEDs in the front and rear heighten its dramatic presence.

In this vehicle class, however, good looks go only so far, and the CTS matches gentlemanly handsomeness with bar-bouncer brawn in the form of three powertrains that punch well beyond their weight.

The range-topping CTS Vsport has a twin-turbo V-6 matching or surpassing what the Germans currently wring from some V-8s. Mated to an 8-speed transmission, this Cadillac-exclusive powerplant makes a rocket ship out of the CTS, although fuel-economy degrades quickly with two turbos working.

Dialing vehicle dynamics up to the “track” or “sport” settings, the CTS thunders along the pristine blacktop here, while a newly available electronic limited-slip differential combines with magnetic ride control for fantastic handling. It’s the sort of addictive driving experience these sorts of cars are meant to deliver.

Such hedonism, however, comes at a price. The Vsport tested here eclipses $70,000, and another version outfitted with a naturally aspirated V-6 costs just as much. A model equipped with a stout 2.0L turbocharged 4-cyl., which GM expects will be the volume option, stickers for $60,000.

That’s simply the price of a 21st Century Cadillac, and it’s been a long time coming.

jamend@wardsauto.com

 

'14 Cadillac CTS
Vehicle type 5-passenger, RWD sport sedan
Engine 3.6L DOHC twin-turbo direct injection 6-cyl.; aluminum block/heads
Power (SAE net) 420 hp @ 5,750 rpm
Torque 430 lb.-ft. (583 Nm) @ 3,500 rpm
Bore x stroke (mm) 94 X 85.6 mm
Compression ratio 10.2:1
Transmission 8-speed automatic
Wheelbase 114.6 ins. (2,910 mm)
Overall length 195.5 ins. (4,966 mm)
Overall width 72.2 ins. (1,834 kg)
Overall height 57.2 ins. (1,453 mm)
Curb weight (base) 3,616 lbs. (1,575 kg)
Base price $59,995
Fuel economy 17-25 mpg city/hwy est. (13.8-9.4 L/100 km)
Competition BMW 5-Series, Mercedes E-Class, Audi A6, Lexus GS, Infiniti M
Pros Cons
Racy twin-turbo V-6 Heavy foot gulps fuel
World-class interior Rivals not resting
Highest order of sport sedans Lofty praise = lofty pricing