2020 Cadillac CT4 Review

Christian Wardlaw, Independent Expert | Oct 15, 2020

Introduction - Find the best Cadillac deals!

Cadillac still thinks luxury sedans have a chance at success, and the proof is in the new-for-2020 compact CT4 and midsize CT5 models, which replace the ATS and CTS in the company’s lineup. For one year only, they drop into line beneath the large CT6, which is discontinued for 2021 to make way for electric models such as the upcoming Cadillac Lyriq.

To create the 2020 Cadillac CT4, the company restyled the previous ATS sedan rather than build a new car from the ground up, adding design cues from the automaker’s Escala concept vehicle. A contemporary interior, the latest safety and infotainment technologies, and new drivetrains complete the car’s transformation into the CT4. The price is nice, too, reduced by almost $1,500 compared to the 2018 ATS model’s starting window sticker.

Cadillac says the CT4’s job is “to appeal to a new generation of sport-luxury customers.” The idea is to bring younger people into the Cadillac family earlier in their lives and to keep them as customers for decades to come. As such, it serves the same purpose as models such as the Acura ILX, Audi A3, BMW 2 Series, and Mercedes-Benz A-Class and CLA

2020 Cadillac CT4 Premium Luxury Black Front View

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

Luxury is the base trim level, kicking off at $33,990. From there, buyers choose Premium Luxury ($38,490) or Sport trim ($39,590). The V-Series is a performance-tuned model and costs $45,490. For this review, J.D. Power evaluated a CT4 Premium Luxury equipped with all-wheel drive, the Driver Awareness Package, the Climate Package, a navigation system, a Bose premium sound system, and wireless smartphone charging. The price came to $44,190, including the $995 destination charge.

What Owners Say… - Find the best Cadillac deals!

Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the Cadillac CT4, it is helpful to understand who buys compact premium cars and what they like most and least about their vehicles.

According to J.D. Power data, 63% of compact premium car owners are male (vs. 60% across the entire auto industry), and the median age of a compact premium car owner is 55 years (vs. 56).

Owners say their favorite things about compact premium cars are (in descending order) the exterior styling, driving feel, powertrain, feeling of safety, and interior design. Specifically, these five things about this type of vehicle rank highest in comparison to the overall automotive market:

  • Power of engine/motor
  • Smoothness of engine/motor
  • Exterior styling
  • Sound of engine/motor
  • Vehicle feel when started up

Owners indicate their least favorite things about compact premium cars are (in descending order) the setting up and starting, driving comfort, infotainment system, getting in and out, and fuel economy. Specifically, these five things about this type of vehicle rank lowest in comparison to the overall automotive market:

  • Getting in and out of the second row
  • Getting in and out of front seats
  • Ability to carry everything
  • Ease of loading/unloading (in a tie)
  • Rear seat comfort (in a tie)

The Cadillac CT4 went on sale too late for J.D. Power to include it in the 2020 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study.

What Our Expert Says… - Find the best Cadillac deals!

In the sections that follow, our independent expert provides his perceptions about how the 2020 Cadillac CT4 measures up in each of the ten categories that comprise the APEAL Study.

Exterior

Cadillac’s application of Escala design cues to the ATS sedan is mostly successful. Crisp styling and clean detailing are the rule until your eyes round one of the car’s rear corners. Here, an amalgamation of disjointed angles, rounded bulges, and incongruent surfaces takes a step backward from the old ATS. But, this is the risk when taking themes from a car designed from the start to wear them and applying them to a vehicle that wasn’t. 

2020 Cadillac CT4 Premium Luxury Black Rear Quarter View

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

Interior

Fortunately, Cadillac executes the CT4’s interior update to greater satisfaction. The design, layout, technology, and displays all represent advancement, though some materials do not. The plastic used for the lower door panels and front seat bases, for example, are Chevrolet-grade.

2020 Cadillac CT4 Premium Luxury Cinnamon Leather Dashboard View

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

Decked out in Cinnamon perforated leather upholstery color-matched to the armrests and door panels, the test car’s cabin had an appealing, high-contrast look. Tasteful metallic accents also elevate the CT4’s interior to upscale status, along with subtle nighttime ambient lighting.

Interior storage is a common source of dissatisfaction among compact premium car buyers. Still, the CT4 provides enough of it in the form of accommodating door panel and center console bins, a smartphone tray with available wireless charging, and a sizable glove compartment.

Getting In and Out

When it comes to other common sources of complaint with compact premium cars, the CT4 offers no improvement. Low-slung and equipped with small rear doors and a sharply angled opening to the back seat, this Cadillac isn’t especially easy to get into or out of – especially if you’re an adult assigned to a rear seating position.

Cargo space is crunched, too, the CT4’s trunk offering just 10.7 cubic feet of it. The trunk opening is also small and has a tall sill, so loading and unloading heavy items might prove difficult.

Setting Up and Starting

Cadillac’s latest driver information center and infotainment system are easy and intuitive to use, so it takes no time at all to get a CT4 set up to your personal preferences. As long as you’re familiar and comfortable with modern smartphones, everything will make sense.

Push the engine start button, and the standard turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder comes to life with an unfortunate note that immediately helps you to understand why the CT4 is so affordable. 

Infotainment System

With an 8-inch touchscreen display, crisp graphics, fast response to input, and an intuitive user experience, the CT4’s infotainment system is a model of simplicity and refinement. It even comes with a volume knob, a tuning knob, a “Home” button, and controls on both the steering wheel and the center console.

Truth be told, this is the same excellent infotainment technology widely used across all General Motors brands. Nothing wrong with that, however, as nearly everything about it works well. The only complaint relates to how the manual tuning function works when changing a radio station. It doesn’t start you off on the station you’re currently listening to, which is confusing.

Highlights of the system include standard Near Field Communication Bluetooth pairing, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Cadillac Connected Services, including a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot (subscription required). Choose the Navigation and Bose Premium Audio Package and, well, you get navigation and a Bose premium audio system, plus wireless smartphone charging.

During testing, the CT4’s voice recognition technology proved impressive. The Bose speakers, less so.

Keeping You Safe

When it comes to the Cadillac CT4, advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS) are optional rather than standard equipment. Not only that, you need to upgrade to Premium Luxury or Sport trim to get them. And then it costs another two grand to equip the CT4 with the Driver Awareness Plus and Driver Assist option packages.

All but the CT4 Luxury include forward collision warning, pedestrian detection, low-speed automatic emergency braking, a Safety Alert Seat, and rear parking sensors. To this, the test vehicle added the Driver Awareness Plus Package, which installs blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic warning, lane change assistance, lane departure warning, lane-keeping assistance, a safe following distance indicator, and automatic high-beam headlights.

This collection of ADAS worked well during testing. However, the lane-keeping assistance technology is hard to trust because it operates subtly and appears sophisticated enough to discern when you’re purposely departing a lane and when you’re not. The CT4 can also alert the driver to upcoming school zones with a short Safety Alert Seat vibration followed by a notification on the infotainment system. It is a thoughtful and practical feature.

Since the test car did not have the Driver Assist option package, we did not assess the CT4’s available adaptive cruise control, high-speed automatic emergency braking, or rear automatic braking systems. Cadillac’s Super Cruise highway driving assistance technology, a Level 2+ system on the autonomous driving scale, won’t be available until the 2021 model year.

Furthermore, neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has performed crash tests on the new CT4.

Powertrain

Compact premium car owners rank the power, sound, and smoothness of their engines as strengths compared to other vehicle segments across the automotive spectrum. No doubt, these types of cars almost always offer more powerful engines than a non-premium compact, and often with greater noise isolation and refinement unless they’re performance-tuned versions with throaty exhaust systems.

Here, the Cadillac CT4’s standard 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine fails to impress. It is rated to make 237 horsepower and 258 lb.-ft. of torque, this engine pales in comparison to what the previous ATS sedan offered from its 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, which made 272 hp and 295 lb.-ft.

It sounds awful, too, with a grainy and groaning note that is far too loud for what is supposed to be a luxury car. When accelerating, you’d swear you were piloting a rented Chevy Malibu and not a Cadillac. And if you drive with enough enthusiasm to engage the Performance Algorithm Shifting software, or you switch the car into Sport mode, the transmission holds revs. It makes the cacophony even more clamorous, encouraging you to slow down if for no other reason than to quiet the raucous engine.

An 8-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters powers the CT4’s rear wheels, and a relatively simple and basic all-wheel-drive system is available. Shifting is nearly imperceptible, but with the racket coming from under the hood, it almost sounds like the car has a continuously variable transmission. 

Cadillac offers a turbocharged 2.7-liter 4-cylinder engine for the CT4, the same one used in the Chevy Silverado pickup truck. With 310 horsepower and 350 lb.-ft. of torque (325 and 380 in the V-Series), it likely makes the CT4 more rewarding to drive. It probably sounds better, too.

Fuel Economy

When equipped with AWD, the CT4’s standard engine is rated to return 26 mpg in combined driving. The test car averaged 25.5 mpg. With its 17.5-gallon fuel tank, this means a CT4 AWD can travel 446 miles on a tank of gas. You’re likely to get fuel every 400 miles or so.

Driving Comfort

Equipped for maximum comfort, the test vehicle had soft leather upholstery, 12-way power-adjustable front seats, heated and ventilated cushions, and a heated steering wheel. Plus, the air conditioning system is phenomenally effective in 95-degree heat.

Adults can squeeze into the CT4’s rear seats by folding themselves into the car. The cushions are comfortable and supportive, and Cadillac supplies rear air conditioning vents, but the legroom is quite tight, and hard front seatback trim doesn’t help.

Road noise is an issue on anything but glass-smooth pavement. In combination with the engine noise, the CT4 is rarely a quiet car and infrequently comes across as a refined automobile.

Driving Feel

When the Cadillac ATS first went on sale for the 2013 model year, critics favorably compared its driving dynamics to BMW and Mercedes-Benz. The firmer CT4 Sport and adaptively damped CT4 V-Series may continue in that tradition. The softer Luxury and Premium Luxury suspensions are not quite up to the expectations set by ATS legend.

Mainly, the issue is excessive rear suspension movement on sharper bumps and dips, combined with reasonably tame 235/40R18 self-sealing all-season tires. The CT4’s steering and brakes are excellent, and while a rear-driver would probably put a broader grin on a driver’s face, the AWD system certainly helps to pull the car out of a corner apex and down to the next curve in the road.

When you’re not pretending like your local back roads thread through German mountains and forests, the CT4 Premium Luxury’s ride and handling are commendable aside from extra rear suspension bounce from time to time.

Freeways were my favorite driving environment in this Cadillac, specifically Southern California’s 101 southbound running along the coast. With the cruise control set at 75 mph, the CT4 effortlessly sliced and diced through Sunday evening traffic as I drove toward Los Angeles from Santa Barbara, the sun setting into the Pacific to the right rear corner of the car. 

Here, the near-flawless pavement, low engine revs, and enough volume from the Bose speakers to overcome the rush of wind and road noise made the CT4 feel both comfortably cozy and effortlessly capable.

Final Impressions - Find the best Cadillac deals!

There is plenty to like about the 2020 Cadillac CT4, but the standard engine and suspension calibration do not make the list. Neither does the tiny trunk, nor the requirement to buy Premium Luxury or Sport trim to get safety technologies that come standard on a Toyota Corolla.

If Cadillac wants this car to draw younger, aspirational customers into the fold, it needs to make a more compelling argument in favor of the CT4, specifically in the areas of value and refinement.

Christian Wardlaw is a veteran digital automotive journalist with over 25 years of experience in test-driving vehicles. In addition to JDPower.com, his work has appeared in numerous new- and used-car buying guides, newspapers, and automotive industry trade journals.

The opinions expressed in this review are the author’s own, not J.D. Power’s.

No portion of these reviews may be reproduced, distributed, publicly displayed, or used for a derivative work without J.D. Power’s written permission. © 2020 J.D. Power

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