Wherein We Try To Quantify the Unquantifiable
Our equation for calculating the desirability of a two-door coupe based on a sedan platform is pretty simple: Does the two-door version offer enough additional visual appeal to offset the loss in practicality that is the inevitable result of the loss of two doors, rear-seat space and trunk capacity? This is the basic question we sought to answer in our first opportunity to drive the 2011 Cadillac CTS Coupe.
But first, let us give you a couple examples of how this math works, one on each end of the practicality-versus-beauty scale.
Despite using many of the same building blocks, there's a world of difference between the desirability of an Audi A4 sedan and an Audi A5 coupe. Safe to say that in the minds and eyes of those around our office, the A5's beauty more than offsets its loss of capacity.
Once upon a time, when two-door versions of sedans were more commonplace, there were both four-door and two-door versions of the Dodge Aries K-car. Now, the decision between those two might be just as easy as between the Audis, but the result would be different.
Unless you happen to be viewing the coupe from the front, there's no mistaking it for the sedan with which it shares almost all of its mechanical systems. Sure, it shares a certain Cadillac-style angularity, but the coupe is a shocking thing to behold on the road. In the grand scheme of things, the greater the differentiation between the sedan and the coupe, the better. And to the eyes of most on our staff, the coupe is unusually handsome.
It does not follow the basic silhouette of the classic coupe — that smooth-and-sexy style executed so nicely on the A5 and the BMW 3 Series coupes. It looks, well, it must be said, like a hatchback of sorts. The angle of the backlight and trunk lid is so similar that from several paces away, it's not obvious that the CTS Coupe even has a trunk in the conventional sense.
The arrangement means that the rear flanks of the coupe cover an unusual amount of square footage. Some love it; some dislike it intensely, but everyone can agree that it's going to look its best when wearing very, very large wheels. Our pre-production test car wore the optional 19-inch wheels that come with the Summer Tire package. We wouldn't go any smaller. The base-level car wears 18s.
And for a brand that's still climbing out of the doldrums of its recent history, polarizing, unconventional styling isn't a bad thing. Then again, unconventional styling can be much less, um, attractive. We're looking directly at you, BMW 6 Series coupe.
We're buying wholeheartedly the shapes of the CTS Coupe's rear, yes, even the showy, chrome-rimmed exhaust outlets in the rear bumper cover. And we flat love the vertical taillights with their sharp peaks and the thorny-looking center brake light/spoiler. To offset all these vertical emphasis, Cadillac gave the coupe a wider rear track than the sedan (by about an inch).
Another uncommonly attractive detail is the inset touchpads that replace the sedan's conventional door handles. They allow for an uninterrupted flow along the car's flank, and their angular shape nicely suits this origami car.
For us, then, the CTS Coupe scores high on the design side of the coupe-vs.-sedan equation. And because it's American (built in Lansing, Michigan, it is), you can refer to it as a "coop," and not the pretentious European "coo-pay."
Now you're saying, "Sure, you've convinced me of this car's beauty and rightness with your eloquent prose, but what do I have to give up for that?" Well, you can't pretend that you're going to fit three across in the rear seats. This is because there are only two buckets back there, separated by a center console/armrest. And those two rear passengers get about an inch less legroom compared to the sedan, according to Cadillac's figures.
Once back there, though, you'll feel as if you've lost more than that, or rather you will for possibly the first time in your life feel like Wilt Chamberlain, at least dimensionally. And you're going to want to leave your head at home. There's no room for it. But that's how coupes are, chief. But at least, unlike the CTS sedan, you know it's going to be a chore getting into the rear quarters instead of being surprised by a swift thwack to the head by the sedan's oddly shaped rear door openings. So there's that.
Surprisingly, you don't give up as much outward visibility as you might think, given the short side windows, super-fast backlight and high rump. The interior doesn't feel as expansive thanks to the tall window sills. But the vibe is more "ensconced" than "trapped." The interior's instrument layout and detailing are identical to the sedan — not a bad thing at all.
Other trade-offs? Well, the coupe will be slightly pricier than a sedan with the same engine and drivetrain configuration. Cadillac hasn't set pricing yet, but our auto-equipped rear-wheel-drive car with the Summer Tire Performance package (which comes with 19-inch Continental ContiSportContact 3 rubber) and a few other niceties, should list for around $45,000. The coupe will be available only with the 304-horsepower 3.6-liter direct-injection V6.
It Is Better To Feel Good and Look Good
We don't mean to be flippant when we say that driving the coupe is very much like driving the CTS sedan. That is to say it has a very solid, vaguely heavy feel we typically associate with German cars. And the suspension, at least the high-performance 19-inch-tire-wearing version we drove, is pretty stiff over frost heaves. Only those highly sensitive to ride quality or those who regularly balance things on their fingertips while driving will find it objectionable. Besides, what are you going to do? Get the 18-inch wheels? Forget it.
The coupe not only has a slightly wider rear track than the sedan, its multilink rear suspension also uses a thicker antiroll bar (25.4mm hollow vs. 20mm hollow). This is in an effort to give the coupe a more neutral handling character (read: less understeer). We'll have to wait until we get a test car on the track to see if this measurably increases the coupe's handling limits. It's not that we didn't slide the coupe around in our brief early exposure to it, since snow and high-performance tires despise each other. It's just that those slides were more of the hooligan variety than the scientifically repeatable kind.
The coupe should be slightly quicker than the sedan, despite weighing almost exactly the same as a similarly equipped four-door. The coupe is equipped with a shorter final-drive ratio (3.73:1 on the automatic-equipped coupe vs. 3.42:1 on the automatic sedan). If you opt for the optional all-wheel-drive system, you get the same 3.23:1 rear gear as on the all-wheel-drive sedan. The coupe can also be equipped with the same Aisin six-speed manual transmission as the sedan, but comes with the 3.73:1 rear gear.
Should that not be enough performance for you, a V-series version , using the same 556-hp supercharged V8 as the V sedan, will make it to dealerships a couple months after the standard coupe arrives in June. Cadillac General Manager Bryan Nesbitt says he would also like to be able to offer a convertible off the coupe platform, although cost constraints around the modern GM won't likely allow for that to happen for years. A luxed-up Platinum edition is not out of the question, though. This would be consistent with the character of Cadillac coupes from the days before the company looked to Germany for role models. Hello, 1967 Eldorado.
So, how does the 2011 Cadillac CTS Coupe score on our simplistic visual-appeal-vs.-lack-of-practicality equation? We suppose that's a question you must ask your aesthetic outlook. We've made our decision.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.