Chris Walton, Chief Road Test Editor
We all make our own fashion choices. Neckties, tiger-print parachute pants, 4-inch heels, body piercings or tattoo art (hopefully not as an ensemble). Sometimes it's painful to be a conforming nonconformist. Sometimes it's better to buy a sport sedan.
What does this have to do with the arrival of the two-door 2011 Cadillac CTS Performance Coupe?
It's about fashion. The kind of fashion that comes at the expense of comfort, utility or functionality — or simply being able to pass through an airport metal detector without setting off the alarm.
If Style Is Everything and Function Is Nothing...
Then our rear-wheel-drive 2011 Cadillac CTS Performance Coupe (base MSRP $43,430) might be for you. Or maybe you'd prefer one of the five other permutations of the CTS coupe, from the Base RWD model at $39,990 all the way up to a Premium AWD model that starts at $49,735 before adding options.
The detailing and craftsmanship apparent here are outstanding. The more we look at the 2011 Cadillac CTS Coupe, touch it, close its reassuringly heavy doors and field unsolicited questions about it, the car's presence and gesture remind us of how cars were once rolling pieces of automotive art to be simply admired rather than justified with babble from overly compensated designers.
The mystique and sense of occasion of seeing an early Cadillac Eldorado float down the road is lovingly rekindled with the CTS coupe, albeit in a thoroughly modern fashion. There isn't a radius larger than a half-inch on anything but the steering wheel in the CTS coupe. And there's nothing retro about this car (unless you know what "shaved" and "Frenched" mean).
The Compromise of Style
We'll start with the driver seat that must, by its articulated purpose, accommodate access to the rear seats. If it rocked on its hinges only half as much as the infamously flaccid seat in the Corvette, we might be able to excuse it. We assume it's because of the active head restraint that the lump between our shoulder blades forced us to hunch forward like a lifetime bookkeeper. And all of this did nothing to improve the too-short seat cushion that met our thighs in only about half the distance we'd prefer.
Then there's the lack of front headroom, 2 inches less than the CTS sedan; we suggest that 6-footers forego the optional $700 moonroof. Admittance to the rear seats has its share of compromises, too. Front seatbacks fold forward almost enough and rest there, but they spring back on their side bolsters so they're never quite trustworthy. Once you get back there, you'll find 2.6 inches less headroom than you get in the CTS sedan.
We all understand that most coupes have limitations in rear visibility, yet the 2011 Cadillac CTS Coupe's C-pillar sail panels are particularly enormous. Luckily, the outside mirrors are large and rear parking sonar is standard equipment. This car also had the optional back-up camera as part of the $2,440 PDW Performance Luxury package. The view through the rearview mirror, however, convinced us we were at the front of a parade of ill-proportioned Chinese copies of vehicles we only vaguely recognize.
Compromised Ride, Cargo
Around town, our CTS coupe (equipped with the $2,090 Y43 summer-tire + FE3 suspension package) behaves too much like a car meant to turn a lap time at the Nürburgring instead of drive into town on a Saturday night. The undulations of the freeway make it feel as if we are boating through a 6-foot swell, with the stern of the car settling in a way that makes us almost queasy.
We've tested many examples of the CTS sedan including cars equipped with this same Y43 option (though with 18-inch Michelin PS2 tires rather than the coupe's 19-inch Continental ContiSport Contact 3 tires), and none have felt as out of sorts as this coupe. Experience tells us the rear springs are too soft and the rebound settings of the dampers are too aggressive.
Speaking of maritime metaphors, there's no room for a steamer trunk in the back of the 2011 Cadillac CTS Coupe. The trunk offers a reasonable 10.5 cubic feet compared to the CTS sedan's 13.6 cubic feet, but the opening is like the book return slot at the library, and the trunk lid's gooseneck hinges force you to pack things in the shape of a pyramid to clear them. The high liftover into the trunk would be manageable except for the threat of burning your shin on the center-mounted exhaust beneath the bumper.
A lot of this might seem like complaints from someone who is paying too much attention to packaging instead of performance, but even at the test track this car had its challenges.
To begin with, the 245/45ZR19 tires ride as if they have too much air pressure, while harsh impacts through the heavy wheels shake both the steering and the cabin itself. There's amazingly little wind noise, but road noise rises and falls noticeably depending on the character of the pavement surface. And when the road begins to turn, steering effort loads up to such a degree by 35 mph and remains so heavy that it feels like you're parallel parking a Lotus — you know, the only car available without power-assisted steering.
Because the CTS coupe and sedan share the same direct-injection 3.6-liter V6 that makes 304 horsepower at 6,400 rpm and 273 pound-feet of torque at 5,200 rpm, we figured the coupe would perform much the same as the sedan, especially since their weights differ only by 24 pounds.
And we were right. Even though the coupe carries a shorter, 3.73:1 final-drive ratio that should make it quicker than the sedan (which has a 3.42:1 ratio), the two-door finishes the quarter-mile in essentially a dead heat with the four-door. Sixty mph arrives in 6.7 seconds from a standstill (6.4 seconds with a 1-foot rollout) and the quarter-mile comes up in 14.9 seconds at 95 mph. We've tested a comparable CTS sedan that reached 60 mph in 6.5 seconds and ran the quarter-mile in 14.9 seconds at 94.6 mph.
We thought the coupe's wider rear track (by 1.2 inches) would make the two-door a superior cone-dodger. But yet again, the car's results in handling tests were comparable to those of the CTS sedan, but not better. With an average speed of 67 mph between the slalom cones and a lateral 0.83g on the skid pad, the coupe proves a fraction slower than the 67.2 mph and 0.89g of a CTS sedan. The 2010 CTS Sport Wagon also nearly matches the coupe's measured agility.
What's more is that we had to wrestle with the coupe's reluctant steering to achieve these results. Why Cadillac tuned the coupe's steering so differently from the friction-free and precise action of the sedan, we do not know.
Filling in the CTS Spectrum
The appearance of the 2008 Cadillac CTS Sedan was widely heralded as the rebirth of not just Cadillac, but of GM. The car proved that General Motors still gets it, so we couldn't help but gush a little as we reported, "Cadillac has stopped trying to be German, something it is not. Instead it has rediscovered itself and produced a uniquely American sport sedan without peer."
But what is this CTS coupe supposed to be? Sporty or comfortable? Sadly, it is neither.
We think it goes like this: utility on one end in the CTS wagon, fashion statement on the other end in the CTS coupe and the sweet spot right in the middle with the CTS sedan. And, of course, don't forget the track-ready CTS-V to bully the rest of the world around.
We've tried to like the 2011 Cadillac CTS Coupe because we love the styling and what it says about Cadillac so much that we don't want to discourage this sort of bold thinking. Yes, the CTS coupe is burdened by myriad compromises, but then again, so are most coupes. It's difficult to decide if the CTS coupe should be like the CTS sedan, only with fewer doors or instead something different. Maybe the problem here is that Cadillac didn't value the perfection of the balance between comfort and performance that the CTS sedan represented before it went in a new direction with the CTS coupe.
The rest of our criticisms just remind us why coupes are simply not as practical as sedans — especially one as world-class as the CTS sedan. So go donate those parachute pants to charity, Mr. Hammer. You're embarrassing yourself.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
Senior Editor Ed Hellwig says:
There is something troubling about a car with such an enormous rump. My gut reaction is to cringe at the sheer acreage of the rear-quarter panels on the CTS coupe. They are, in fact, huge.
But step back a little, take the whole thing in and the CTS coupe is a satisfyingly handsome vehicle. That big rear end balances out a bit once you combine it with that long C-pillar and sufficiently muscular front end. And people do notice this thing, which does matter because, let's face it, the CTS coupe is all about looks.
There is more to it, though. From behind the wheel, this CTS is still an appealing car. The suspension tuning is spot on, at least for the moderately athletic driving I was doing. And the V6 is more than enough motor to make it feel quick. The interior still looks fresh, too.
After driving it for several days, I came to the conclusion that I would consider buying the CTS coupe. No, it won't out-handle a 335Ci or outrun an Infiniti G37S, but it would be close enough. More importantly, it would look good doing it, big back and all.
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