If we judged everything on appearances, the world would be a different place indeed. Supermodels would fill the Senate, pandas would be household pets and the 2011 Cadillac CTS Coupe would be the best luxury sport coupe on the market. But alas, we live in an automotive world where substance typically counts more than style.
That's all the more unfortunate for the 2011 Cadillac CTS Coupe. In the time we had our test vehicle, it was turning enough heads to keep plenty of chiropractors in business. But the optional Summer Tire Performance package added more harshness than handling, the seats were as stiff as folding chairs, the trunk was short on usable space, and we kept hitting our heads on the sunroof rail. The car's dramatic styling also negatively impacted rear visibility to the point that we felt a rearview camera should be standard.
Yes, looks will only get you so far, and the CTS coupe isn't exactly up against a brace of ugly ducklings, either. In this segment you'll find competitors like the Audi A5, BMW 335i, Infiniti G37 and Mercedes-Benz E350 coupe. Except for the Benz, all of these choices outperform the CTS coupe in regard to acceleration and handling. And in terms of comfort and function, the Cadillac finishes well behind the lot. The 2011 Cadillac CTS Coupe has these cars in its sights, but it's a long way off from having them in its mirrors.
The 2011 Cadillac CTS Coupe is powered by a 3.6-liter V6 that produces 304 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque. Our test car came with the six-speed automatic transmission (with manual shift control) and rear-wheel drive. A manual transmission and all-wheel drive are available as options.
In instrumented testing, the CTS coupe accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 6.7 seconds, which is on the slow side compared to competing luxury coupes. Braking from that speed returned an impressive 106 feet, with little fade and nose dive. Taking the CTS's hefty 4,000-plus-pound curb weight into consideration, it handles surprisingly well. It weaved through our slalom at 67 mph and pulled 0.83g on our skid pad — figures that are reasonably close to rival two-doors. Fuel economy is also comparable to the competition at an EPA-estimated 17 city/26 highway mpg. In our hands, the CTS coupe managed 18.4 mpg in mixed driving.
All of these figures bode well for the coupe, but it was the drivetrain's flexibility and wide range that impressed us most. Driven conservatively, the CTS performs just as you'd expect for a Cadillac. At low speed there's plenty of torque from the V6 while the transmission shifts smoothly. Driven more enthusiastically, the engine livens up considerably above 4,000 rpm. Shifts can be controlled manually via steering wheel-mounted buttons and are executed with reasonable immediacy. The steering effort is light at parking-lot speeds but the assist drops off a bit too much and too early for our tastes.
On tight canyon passes, our 2011 Cadillac CTS Coupe cornered flat and with surprising confidence, a nod to the optional FE3 suspension and summer tires. But that level of performance came at the expense of ride comfort.
Many of our editors were struck by the hardness and shape of the front seats. The padding seemed as hard as a park bench, and the top of the seatback pushed uncomfortably against our upper backs. To even this out, we set the lumbar support to maximum, which helped, but in the process lateral support was diminished. (Oddly enough, after several hundred miles behind the wheel, the seats were actually quite comfortable, so there might be a break-in period for the padding, much as with Mercedes-Benz seats.) The rear seats were equally hard, and only smaller adults were able to fit under this coupe's low roof line.
To compound our sense of interior discomfort, headroom was also at a premium for front-seat passengers. The optional sunroof was the culprit here, with a rather large and unyielding roof bulge directly over the front headrests. On more than a few occasions, we smacked our heads hard when driving over bumps on the highway.
These rather unceremonious blows to the head were made even more dramatic by our CTS coupe's optional FE3 sport suspension. Obviously, sportier tuning will adversely affect ride quality, but in this case we feel it's a bit extreme. It seemed that every bump and rut in the road was felt with a harsh jolt throughout the cabin. If it were our money, we would opt for the more sedate stock suspension.
The 2011 Cadillac CTS Coupe also gets points deducted for other missteps, though they are less disagreeable than the aforementioned foibles. As with all coupes, the wide doors make front-seat access a bit difficult in tight parking spaces, while reaching the rear seats is even harder. Wind noise is pleasantly absent, but road noise was noticeably loud on even moderately coarse surfaces. Also, rear passengers will find a lack of protection from the sun, as the raked rear window leaves their heads exposed at almost any time of day.
Just as the CTS coupe's handling with its performance suspension option has consequences when it comes to comfort, so, too, the styling has its downside as it obscures visibility. The thick A-pillars can block the driver's view through tight corners (though this isn't so unusual these days). Rear visibility, however, was appalling. The sweeping C-pillars presented an obstruction large enough to hide a minivan. Plus, the shallow rear window angle distorted the already limited rearward view and forced us to rely too heavily on the rearview camera. But even the camera view had its own issues, with bright sunlight causing a significant amount of glare as it reflected off the surrounding chrome trim and bright silver paint.
On a more positive note, the controls for the various cabin systems were well-placed and easy to use. Front passengers each benefit from a small group of buttons that operate individual climate controls and seat heating/ventilation. The optional 10-speaker premium Bose sound system was also user-friendly, with an iPod interface that presented quick and logical search menus. Sound quality from this system was excellent, producing clean tones and powerful bass in an immersive environment.
Internal storage was less impressive, though, with a lack of pockets and bins to hold our personal items. The cupholders were also notably small and the door pockets shallow. A rear-facing child seat can easily fit, however, while still affording enough space for an average-size adult in the seat in front.
Another drawback to the two-door CTS is its small trunk. It can accommodate only 10.5 cubic feet of luggage, which is much less than its competitors. Cargo capacity is further compromised by the long gooseneck hinges that swing right down into the trunk when closing the lid. The trunk opening is also narrow, requiring a fair amount of jostling to fit a set of golf clubs, which have to be placed diagonally across the trunk floor.
Design/Fit and Finish
The 2011 Cadillac CTS Coupe is a head-turner. Its beveled, angular design language and raked-back front and rear glass make other luxury coupes look commonplace by comparison. We're especially keen on the flat sides, with door handles replaced by electric touch pads located in the body indentations.
The interior design is essentially the same as the CTS sedan. Most surfaces are soft to the touch and well-textured. The plastic gracing the center console did have a flimsy feel to it, though. Throughout the cabin, panels were tightly joined, with no detectable squeaks while driving.
Who should consider this vehicle
In terms of performance, comfort and build quality, the 2011 Cadillac CTS Coupe ranks below the Audi A5, BMW 335i, Infiniti G37 and Mercedes-Benz E350 coupe. However, if you find the CTS coupe's styling worth the sacrifices, we would suggest sticking with the base suspension and going without the sunroof.
† Edmunds.com received the highest numerical score in the proprietary J.D. Power 2014 Third-Party Automotive Website Evaluation Study℠. Results based on responses from 3,381 responses, measuring 14 companies and measures third-party automotive website usefulness among new and used vehicle shoppers. Proprietary study results are based on experiences and perceptions of owners surveyed from January 2014. Your experiences may vary. Visit jdpower.com.