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BBC Autos

Cadillac CTS tries on standard-bearer role

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Cadillac may well have its mojo back with the 2014 CTS sedan.

"This is a journey," said Cadillac chief engineer David Leone on the eve of the 2013 New York auto show. "We have moved the brand one large step closer to the standard of the world, he said, evoking a resurrected tagline from bygone glory days.

But when luxury is measured by the application of features so curious they might have never occurred to any prospective buyer, Cadillac is already there. The 2014 CTS has – no joke – a power-operated cupholder cover. It retracts in the manner of a CD being drawn into the player's slot, the company reports. A power-operated cupholder cover is a gratuitous tomahawk slam-dunk performed by a brand that plays best above the rim; they did it because they could. Luckily, that brashness is translating into more important areas of their products.

In its deep refresh for 2014, the CTS embraces the longer/lower/wider paradigm, lending the vehicle a great stance, with a nearly non-existent front overhang and handsome character lines that stretch from the headlights to the taillights. "This car is all about the long, lean lines," said Mark Adams, Cadillac’s executive director of global design.

Exterior detailing is on a par with the ELR, the plug-in hybrid Cadillac showed at the 2013 Detroit auto show, with brushed aluminium trim serving as understated jewellery for the fundamentally sound lines.

Inside the story is even better, with open-pore wood trim that allows you to feel the wood grain.  Similarly, the semi-aniline leather seats and trim have an untreated appearance and feel, with just enough pigment or clear finish to protect the surface and provide a uniform colour. Aluminium door releases have cool heft to the hand rather than the flimsy feel of cheap chromed plastic. For those who like to command their own shifts from the eight-speed automatic transmission – the brand’s first – cast-magnesium steering-column-mounted paddles are standard equipment on rear-drive models (the paddles are also standard for six-speed automatic models).

The base engine is a 272-horsepower 2-litre turbocharged four-cylinder, and the middle choice is a 321hp 3.6-litre V6 – both of which being found in the smaller ATS sedan. The excitement, however, centres around the Vsport model, which is powered by a 420hp twin-turbo version of the 3.6-litre V6, which propels the car from a standstill to 60mph in 4.6 seconds.

This is not to be confused with the CTS-V model, which will retain its small-block V8 power when it is introduced at an undisclosed date. (The everyday models will arrive in showrooms in the fourth quarter of the year, at prices to be disclosed closer to their sale dates.)

And though Cadillac is evoking a bygone slogan these days, one critical difference with products of its halcyon past comes down to weight: the CTS is 7% lighter, at 3,600lbs, and 40% stiffer than the outgoing model. If Cadillac wants to challenge the likes of BMW and Mercedes-Benz, this is much sounder strategy than piling on superfluous gadgetry. If they succeed, the power floormat fluffers can languish, forever, in prototype phase.