2011 CTS Coupe – More than the sum…

CTS Coupe SunriseLet’s do us both a favor…be sure to re-read both the tCE reviews of the CTS (2008 model reviewed) as well as the Sport Wagon and the CTS-V Sedan might be a nice read as well – though not required to understand where we start from here. These will get us both through the repetitive nature of the things that we like about the CTS family (‘portfolio’ if you want to be pretentious like the Cadillac.com site).

I’ll wait…

There, now you know about how the cars are put together, how we typically take exception to the user interface of the infotainment suite, how hands-free features are a bit lacking, how iPhones like to act up occasionally – even with the special Cadillac cable, etc, etc.

Now, let’s get to the business of talking about what is significant about the new CTS Coupe.

CTS CoupeThe Coupe made its debut as a ‘concept’ at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit back in 2008. At the time, the public and press fell in love with the aggressive lines and how much more than simply a 2-door CTS sedan Cadillac had brought to bear. I put concept in quotes because, much like most manufacturers over the past decade, most concepts are put on the stage after a production car’s design is final and are simply dressed up to seem fancier than anything you’ve driven…instead of the classical floating of designs to see what consumers are interested in, concepts have become simply a means to get buyers used to a design before bringing it to market.

Originally a pet project of Cadillac design to see how much of the swagger of the Cien concept could be maintained in a package that might actually get past the suits (that it neatly targets the Infiniti G coupe, BMW’s 3-series and 6-series coupe…or at least the gap between, and Audi’s A5/S5 likely made the business case easier as well) – it didn’t take long for production to be confirmed.

It was a while after before we saw spy photos confirming how close the production model was going to be to the concept everyone loved…except for loss of the V-series-esque body-kit – practically all the design made it through to the production model and design lovers around the world rejoiced.

Practically everything we’ve come to fear from decades of GM-led disappointment seems to have, somehow, been skirted with this car…at least at first glance.


CTS CoupeMuch was made of bringing in Bob Lutz to GM years ago. He is supposed to have reviewed much of GM’s product development ‘bible’ and tore out the pages that were keeping the General from making cars that would set the world on fire.

If ever you needed a design that proved that these conservative rules are not in force at the company any longer – it is the CTS Coupe.

CTS CoupeIt is impossible to imagine a car with this steep of a rear glass, a unique and steeper front windscreen, lower mounted seats to clear the new low roofline, the mid-mounted exhaust tips that exit through the rear bumper, or even a sunroof that only vents (not allowing for it to open fully) having ever made it through the design reviews of old. Imagine this car with any one of these elements compromised and you start to see how we ended up with cars like the Pontiac Aztek – and how the Chrysler under Lutz produced cars like the Viper and Prowler…in Lutz’ GM, design is king. We lament the fact that he’s no longer with the company post-bankruptcy.

However, all is not rainbows and gumdrops at even this new GM…and it all centers around one element that should be proof positive that the designers rule the roost. On the concept, you first noticed a very show-car element – there were no door handles.

Now, shaved handles are a great style trick on custom cars – but often you don’t see them on even the priciest of exotics. What Cadillac had done is provide a scoop with a pressure switch within to that triggered an electronic release. On the concept the sheet metal of the rear fenders plunged cleanly into this pocket with deep draws that suggest great craftsmanship and a mastery of the metal stamper’s art.

Then we get this on the production car…

CTS Coupe CutlinesThe pocket is still there, but marred in this execution with plastic inserts that are almost certainly a concession to getting to the mechanism if something fails…the problem is this introduces a myriad of cut-lines that scream ‘cheap’ at the one place an owner or potential buyer is going to see/touch before ever making it inside (and the buyer will see this every time they get in for the entire ownership experience). Some bean-counter or wuss of an engineering manager should be shot.

Then inside, there is a marred interior treatment also driven by this electronic release. Next to the front seats are a long, somewhat cheaply executed emergency release.

Could Cadillac have been this concerned of failures of the electric releases or of the switches themselves? This is a Cadillac for crying out loud…spend an extra $50 per door to make this fool-proof or to execute the safeties in a way that really shows how well it can be done.

Once you are past these warts, the car is everything you think it is. It is amazing how such minor changes from the sedan can result in such an exotic and special feeling machine. Where the sedan, years after its release, has much the feel of a well executed family car, the coupe is special. From its steeply raked front glass and low roof all the way back to its practically horizontal rear window and wider rear track…the coupe makes even dedicated coupes from Infiniti and Audi seem staid in comparison. This is a design tour-de-force that it would be difficult to imagine from any volume manufacturer.

Inside, you have the aforementioned lower mounted seats and a seriously bolstered 2-place rear seat (which is quite claustrophobic given the broad and steeply raked rear roof pillars. Also, the rear glass extends right over the rear seat passenger’s heads…so pack a hat. Also, don’t put anyone back there taller than about 5′ 7″ if you care about them.

Ultimately, everything you need to know about this car you get at first sight as I heard the first day I had it for testing. I was driving down a Boulder city street and heard a passer-by say to his friends…”There goes the hottest car in Boulder”

Performance and Handling

Suspension and powertrain changes for the coupe are, according to Cadillac, very slight. Having driven the sedan, wagon, and CTS-V sedan, I can tell you either that God is in the details or Cadillac PR is staffed with liars.

Changes that they will admit to include a new for 2011 sound absorber in the dash/firewall, the uniquely tuned center-exit exhaust, the wider rear track, the lower mounted seats, and in this example the sport suspension tuning.

None of this would immediately explain the incredibly sporty, connected, sports-car feel this car has. In many ways the handling seems more direct, more in tune with the road, more exciting and involving even than the CTS-V Sedan. Steering is razor sharp. The engine sounds from the standard 3.6l direct-injection V-6 we’ve all come to know and love, seeminly absent in the regular CTS and wagon seem piped directly to the driver. Body roll is largely absent. This car presents as arguably the sportiest variant of the family – if not the fastest (300-ish vs 550-ish hp is certainly to blame). Given a choice of CTSes as a driver’s car – I’d be hard pressed to choose the V sedan over the base coupe – it really is that good.

Driving the V Coupe is now high up on the list as we’d expect it to combine the bank-vault build of the V with the driving dynamics of the coupe. That could be one of the best cars on the road – and certainly the best you could get for its sub-70k starting price.


CTS CoupeWhat you really would need to know about the coupe your eyes already tell you. If this type of car appeals than you will likely not be disappointed by the drive either.

Chances are the quirks of the driver interface as well as the execution of the electric actuated door releases are likely something you’d be able to overlook.

If the infotainment system is going to stop you or if a couple cheap pieces of plastic (inside and out) are deal-breakers – than this car likely wasn’t for you in the first place.

The CTS Coupe is about driving an extreme automotive sculpture – and often art is about making compromises of your own.

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