by Frank A. Aukofer

Driving the 2021 Cadillac CT4 Premium Luxury sports sedan brought back memories of when the General Motors flagship brand started its move to a new neighborhood, mainly German.

It was a national press introduction of an all-new 2003 Cadillac, the CTS, at the storied Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey County, California, then sponsored by Mazda and now by aftermarket manufacturer WeatherTech. 

It was Cadillac’s first foray into performance-oriented sedans that bore little resemblance to the plush but mushy land-yacht Fleetwood and De Ville models that had characterized the brand. The idea was to butt bumpers with the Germans and co-opt some of their customers.

The CTS came first. It had sharp, edgy styling, solid performance and rear-wheel drive, reversing years of Cadillacs with front-wheel drive. Earlier, of course, all American cars had rear-wheel drive, and the conventional wisdom was that rear drive was superior to front-wheel drive for sports sedans. 

Although the CTS was a bit bigger, its intended targets were the compact luxury sports sedans: BMW 3-Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Audi A4 — and even the Lexus IS, as well as the larger Lincoln LS/Jaguar S-Type, which shared platforms and some parts.

The Laguna Seca press introduction was an eye-opener for some of the automotive journalists, including this reviewer. So capable was the CTS on and off the track it stirred feelings of chauvinism that an American sports sedan could compete so handily with the best of the Europeans.

Some of those same impressions surfaced recently driving the 2021 Cadillac CT4 Premium Luxury sedan. It is among eight automobiles voted as semifinalists for the North American Car of the Year, nominated by an independent 50-member jury of automotive journalists from the United States and Canada (including this writer).

Like its predecessor CTS, the new CT4 also comes in a V Blackwing version, designed to competed with the ultra-performance BMW M models, the AMG versions from Mercedes-Benz and S models from Audi. The CT4-V comes with a price tag that starts around $58,000. 

However, the tester here is the midlevel Premium Luxury model. It comes with a turbocharged 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine that delivers 325 horsepower and 380 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force. It also comes with a lower base price of $38,590, including the destination charge, and a bottom-line sticker of $44,990. 

To borrow from a popular movie candy, it’s good and plenty. With its 10-speed automatic transmission, the tested CT4 can nail 60 mph in about five seconds, with a top speed of 165 mph, according to tests by Car and Driver magazine. There’s a manual-shift mode with paddle shifters but you’re not likely to do any better shifting for yourself. The onboard computer works best.

As with its European and Japanese competitors, the CT4’s other strong suit is handling. Though it rides on self-sealing, all-season tires (there’s no spare), it has a firm grip on curves, abetted by a tightly snubbed suspension system and accurate steering. Of course, that means it lacks a traditional cushy Cadillac ride. On some surfaces, it gets shaky but overall, the CT4 does a decent job of absorbing road chop without getting unsettled.

There’s a raucous bark under hard acceleration and some engine drone during highway cruising, though not enough to overcome Taylor Swift on audio and discourage long-distance traveling. Front seats, upholstered in perforated leather, are comfortable with good seatback bolstering for rapid driving. Outboard back seats, tight on head and knee room, also are supportive, though getting back there takes some agility through the small door opening. The center-rear seat is a bummer with a hard perch, giant floor hump and crunching head room.

Out back, there’s a smallish trunk that is fairly deep and nicely finished with C-hinges that are isolated to not damage contents. With no spare, activate the OnStar if you blow a tire.

The tested CT4 Premium Luxury came with full safety equipment, including forward collision alert and automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind spot alert, lane departure warning with lane-keeping assist, and rear parking assist. 

Comfort and convenience items, some optional, included a navigation system with Bose premium audio, SXM satellite radio, wireless smart phone charging, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated and ventilated front seats, heated steering wheel, power lumbar support for front seats, Apple Car Play and Android Auto connectivity, OnStar emergency services, HD radio and LED headlights.

Though the CT4 is a driver’s car, you can also order SuperCruise, Cadillac’s semi-autonomous driving system.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Cadillac CT4 Premium Luxury four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 2.7-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 325 hp, 380 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: 10-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and rear-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 7 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/trunk volume: 90/11 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,615 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 20/30/24 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $38,590.
  • Price as tested: $44,990.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Photos (c) Cadillac