“Be safe on Ortega. The road is fun, but gnar-gnar,” my Porsche-owning friend texts me. I understand his concern. Ortega Highway, a 34-mile stretch of California State Route 74 that connects the Pacific Coast with inland Lake Elsinore, is one of SoCal’s more dangerous stretches, with curves and elevation changes that would make the Nürburgring take notice.
Perched upon a mountain overlooking the lake 1,800 feet below, I push the 2020 Cadillac CT4-V‘s start button and head back toward the coast, down the stretch of Ortega that I just ascended. I have no worries about the challenging tarmac ahead of me, for I’m driving one of the most planted-feeling machines I’ve ever tested. Cadillac‘s new, small sports sedan was made for roads like this.
The CT4 is Cadillac‘s replacement for the ATS, which also has fantastic handling. Both cars share the same GM Alpha chassis—one of my all-time favorite platforms. A few years ago, I got to shake down an ATS-V at Willow Springs International Raceway and I was blown away by how that car felt more at home on a racetrack than a few supercars I’ve tested.
Behind the wheel of the CT4-V, I feel a similar level of confidence. The new Caddy rides on MacPherson struts up front and a five-link setup in back. My all-wheel-drive tester uses ZF MVS (Modular Valve System) passive dampers, which do a great job at minimizing body motion while still offering a comfortable ride. The standard, rear-wheel-drive CT4-V uses even more advanced magnetorheological shocks, which I can imagine are even better for handling and ride.
The CT4-V’s impressive suspension is complemented by the most remarkable summer tires I’ve experienced on any car. The model is shod with Continental’s new SportContact 6 SSR run-flat rubber. These tires amplify the vehicle’s superb chassis tuning, and are so much fun and confidence-inspiring at—and even just past—the limits of adhesion. The tread pattern is rather slick but very grippy. Take a turn too fast, and the CT4-V progressively begins to step off its arc, giving you plenty of reaction time for adjusting the throttle to get the car back in line. The prodigious grip also translates to incredible stopping power, giving me clearance to dive harder into turns.
Quick-ratio steering makes easy work of Ortega’s tight turns, and there is an acceptable amount of feedback through the wheel, too. The tires feel like they represent the next generation of performance, offering traction rivaling streetable track tires, while at the same time, providing a level of quiet found in grand-touring, all-season rubber. The soft tread will likely wear out quickly, however.
The CT4-V is powered by GM’s L3B 2.7-liter, turbocharged, four-cylinder engine making 325 hp and 380 ft lbs of torque. That’s enough to hurl the 3,746-pound Caddy to 60 mph in less than 5 seconds. The engine—which debuted in the 2019 Chevrolet Silverado—is paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission, an odd choice considering the L3B is so tractable. Six speeds would be just fine. The transmission’s programming keeps revs high when you’re in the Cadillac‘s sportier drive modes, but the engine drones anywhere north of 5,000 rpm. I prefer the quick-reacting manual mode, which allows me to keep the motor in its 4,000 rpm sweet spot.
When I’m not canyon-carving with it, the CT4 proves to be incredibly relaxing. The cabin is a tranquil place to spend time, but crank the bumpin’, 14-speaker Bose audio system and it’s a dance party on demand. The seats are comfortable and supportive, especially with the standard adjustable side bolsters. My tester’s available seat ventilation and power lumbar massage are nice added touches. There’s plenty of space for taller drivers and front passengers to stretch out, but the passenger side footwell is on the narrow side. And seating at the back is pretty cramped. At 5-foot, 10-inches tall, my skull touches the headliner, so anyone taller should forget about riding in the rear.
Interior quality isn’t outstanding, but is now decent enough to be segment-competitive. The biggest departure from last year’s CT4 predecessor is in the gauge cluster that now looks luxury-car appropriate. The 2019 ATS’s instruments appeared as though they were lifted from one of the rental Chevy Malibus I was driving 20 years ago.
Cabin tech is also a major improvement. Cadillac’s interface is now the same that you’ll find on other GM vehicles, meaning the system is much more attractive and easier to use. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto also come standard. Curiously, activating the turn signals is more of a challenge than it should be. The stalk is placed an inch farther forward than in most cars, so you have to awkwardly stretch your fingers to reach the control. It will be interesting to see whether owners get used to—or tire of—the weird signal-stalk placement.
As far as exterior impressions, I find that the CT4-V’s design is handsome, but the rear end appears busy. The 2020 CT4-V starts at $45,490, which puts it right in line with competitors like the BMW M235i xDrive Gran Coupe, as well as the Mercedes-AMG A35 and CLA35. My loaded, all-wheel-drive tester rings in at $54,185.
With its incredible performance, solid luxury and pleasing front-engine and rear-wheel-drive proportions (setting it apart from its front-wheel-drive-based competitors), the new CT4-V is hard to pass up. To the power junkies lamenting the loss of the 464 hp ATS-V, I hear that a more powerful CT4-V is on the way. That version should simply be hard to pass.