2011 Cadillac CTS Coupe: Audio Review

2011 Cadillac CTS Coupe: Audio Review

The CTS almost singlehandedly revived Cadillac and saved the brand from being viewed as creating only dawdling luxury boats for old folks and bloated bling SUVs for the moneyed soccer moms and rapper wannabes. The CTS set a new standard -- and put import automakers on notice that Detroit could still design and build a world-class luxury-performance sedan.

Now it's finally been followed up with the CTS Coupe, the iconoclastic two-door version of the all-conquering Caddy. While it looks radically different on the outside from anything else on the road, the interior isn't a huge departure from the CTS sedan. And it has virtually the same electronics onboard, including the Bose 5.1 Surround audio system. Hit the jump to see how the system performs with two less doors.

The Setup
The Bose 5.1 Surround system comes standard in the 2011 Cadillac CTS Premium Collection Coupe that I tested and has 10 speakers in a pretty straightforward set up. These include a 3.5-inch "Twiddler" midrange in the center of the dash and a 1-inch tweeter on each end, a 6.5-inch woofer in each door, a 5.25-inch full-range speaker in each rear-seat side panel and a 10-inch woofer in the center of the rear deck, flanked by a pair of Twiddler mids. Bose inexplicably doesn't supply amplifier-power numbers, only offering that the system uses six channels of equalization.

The Sound
As with every system I test, I listened to about a dozen different musical tracks that I've heard in literally hundreds of vehicles to check clarity/lack of distortion, tonal balance, timbre, tonal accuracy, soundstaging, imaging and dynamics. I also used non-musical tracks to test soundstaging, imaging, linearity and absence of noise. For more details on this testing process and the tracks used, click on the Edmunds.com article Sound Advice.

My experience with Bose automotive sound systems has been hit or miss -- sometimes within the same make. For example, the company can create systems that compete with some of the best available, as with the Bose 5.1 Studio Surround system in many Infiniti M models. Or it underwhelms, as with the Studio on Wheels system in the Infiniti G37x.

The Bose 5.1 Surround system in the CTS Coupe is closer to hitting the high mark, but with one significant shortcoming. While the system has smooth sound throughout most of the frequency spectrum, lifelike dynamics, above-average soundstaging, spot-on imaging and solid bottom end from the 10-inch sub in the back of the car, its weak point is midbass reproduction.

I use a few specific midbass-heavy tracks from San Fran mope-rockers Red House Painters and Irish folky Luka Bloom that easily expose weakness in this typically tough-to-reproduce frequency range. RHP's "Cabezon" is dominated by thick acoustic guitars tones and the band's "San Geronimo" is a driving rock track with layers of droning electric guitars and bass, while Luka Bloom's "Cold Comfort" features resonant acoustic guitar and vocals. With "Cabezon" the midbass was distorted and plodding, while "San Geronimo" was a jumbled mess, with little delineation of the song's multiple guitars. In "Cold Comfort, there was some midbass "overhang," but much less than most systems I test.

Otherwise, the Cadddy CTS Coupe's system performed admirably, especially in producing powerful, palpable sub-bass. I use Joan Armatrading's "In Your Eyes" since it starts with several long low-bass notes that usually cause a system to distort, and the bangin' bass of Outkast's "Ain't No Thang" to test for clarity as well as bass extension across several octaves. With both tracks, the Bose's system's 10-inch sub showed little strain and its output blended well with the rest of the music, although the Armatrading track did cause panel rattling.

The soundstage could have been a little wider -- and I wonder if it would be if the tweeters were mounted in the doors on the side-view mirror "patch" as opposed to the corners of the dash -- but it spanned the width of the vehicle, and on some tracks even a little wider. The soundstage also had good depth, giving music a tangible spatial quality, and imaging was accurate, with vocals cemented to the center of the dash. And that the system passed the two non-music test tracks with flying colors only confirmed those qualities. Linearity, a measure of how well the sound holds together at low- and mid volume levels, was only poor-to-fair and fair, respectively, and the system easily aced a zero-bit/absence of noise test.

The Bose system also plays DVD-Audio discs in high-resolution, discrete 5.1 surround. DVD-Audio sound was enveloping and super detailed with the discs I used to audition the surround capabilities of the system. And it reminded me that it's a shame that the format has largely died -- but audiophiles can be thankful that at least it still survives in the car. The system also has Bose's Centerpoint processing to creating matrix surround for two-channel sources, including CD, MP3, WMA, an aux input and XM.

The Sources
The 2011 Cadillac CTS Coupe I tested had an in-dash CD/DVD head unit with AM, FM and XM satellite radio. The car also comes standard with a 40GB hard-drive navigation system, and 9GB is reserved for music storage. It not only accommodate the usual-suspect MP3 and WMA formats, but also AAC, OGG Vorbis and Audible.com files, and they can be ripped from CD as well as a USB thumb drive.

To plug in an iPod, you'll need a special two-pronged cable that comes with the car and connects to both the USB port and the aux-in jack in the center console. The primary interface is the 8-inch touch screen that rises out of the dash and the Menu/Select knob in the center stack. The interface has the typical playlist, artist, album, song menu items on one of three "pages," while the subsequent screens also offer access to the genre, composer and audiobooks menu categories.

You can also plug in a USB drive with music files and get the same functionality. The car doesn't offer Bluetooth audio, although many GM vehicles now do. One audio feature the Caddy CTS Coupe does have, like other GM vehicles, is a Tivo-like Time Shift for AM, FM and XM that allows recording up to an hour of programming -- even if the engine is turned off.

What We Say
It's been awhile since I've gotten as many looks in a car as I did in the 2011 Cadillac CTS Coupe. I came out of my gym to find a 20-something guy I play pickup basketball with slowly walking around admiring the car's unusual lines -- and he admitted he almost wrecked his truck when he parked because he couldn't take his eyes off the thing. It unquestionably turns heads and, except for a few minor quibbles, the Bose 5.1 Surround System delights the ears. And that it's standard on this trim level (with a base sticker price of $47,010) is icing on this cool wedge-shaped slice of Caddy cake.

The Scores
Sound: B+
Source Selection: B-
iPod Integration: B
Cost: A

To find a dealership that knows how to treat shoppers right, please visit Edmunds.com's Dealer Ratings and Reviews.

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