2020 Cadillac CT5 Review

Ron Sessions, Independent Expert | Sep 29, 2020

Introduction - Find the best Cadillac deals!

2020 Cadillac CT5 front view

Photo: Ron Sessions

Despite a shift to sport-utilities and crossovers in recent years, about a quarter to a third of new vehicle buyers still prefers conventional sedans, coupes and convertibles. Even as Cadillac fills holes in its SUV lineup and prepares for an electric vehicle blitz over the next few years, the premium General Motors’ brand has revamped its gasoline-powered sedan roster for 2020 which consists of the limited-production V8-powered full-size CT6-V flagship, the compact CT4 (which replaces the outgoing ATS), and the subject of this review, the CT5.

The 2020 Cadillac CT5 is a premium midsize sedan that replaces the previous CTS. Like the CTS, the new CT5 is built on General Motors’ well-sorted Alpha platform which has been the basis for the best-handling rear-wheel-drive Cadillac sedans during the past decade. Compared to the old CTS, the new CT5 gains additional rear seat legroom courtesy of a longer wheelbase and a more streamlined silhouette with an Audi A7-like fastback roofline. The CT5 also rolls out new 4-cylinder and V6 powertrain choices and updated infotainment and safety technology. 

But the biggest change is the reduced price of the CT5 compared to the old CTS. Instead of going head to head with the European competition in the premium midsize space, the CT5 undercuts them by thousands of dollars. Including the $995 destination charge, the 2020 Cadillac CT5 lineup consists of the $37,890 Luxury (2.0T), $41,690 Premium Luxury (2.0T), $45,190 Premium Luxury (3.0TT), $42,690 Sport (2.0T) and $48,690 CT5-V. All-wheel drive is an available upgrade from rear-drive on all trims, costing $2,600 on Luxury, Sport and CT5-V models and $3,090 on Premium Luxury. 

Unlike last year’s fire-breathing V8-powered CTS-V, the twin-turbo V6-powered 2020 CT5-V is more of an everyday performance luxury sedan not unlike the 2019 CTS V-Sport, but with a price tag that’s around $20,000 less dear.

For this review, J.D. Power evaluated a 2020 CT5-V equipped with all-wheel drive, two-tone leather seats, a V Premium package consisting of imbedded navigation, Bose premium audio, heated and cooled seats and a heated steering wheel, and a Driver Awareness package consisting of automatic high beams, a head-up display, a following distance indicator, 8-inch color gauge cluster and lane-keeping assist with lane departure warning. The total including the $995 destination and delivery charge was $57,680.

What Owners Say - Find the best Cadillac deals!

Prior to discussing the findings of our 2020 Cadillac CT5 evaluation, let’s take a look at who buys this midsize premium sedan and what they like most and least out it.

According to J.D. Power data, 65% of Cadillac CT5 buyers are male, which aligns well with the midsize premium car segment as a whole at 64%. However, at a median age of 68, the CT5 buyer is significantly older than the segment average for all midsize premium cars, with considerably higher numbers of Pre Boomer and Baby Boomer buyers and much fewer Gen X and Gen Y buyers than the segment in total.

In the APEAL survey, owners said their favorite attributes of the Cadillac CT5 were (in descending order) its exterior design, driving feel, safety technology, interior features and driving comfort. Specifically, they rate the following five things about the CT5 the highest compared to the midsize premium car segment:

  • Exterior styling
  • Driving range
  • Operating the vehicle remotely
  • Usefulness of infotainment functions
  • Attractiveness of displays

Conversely, owners indicated that their least favorite aspects of the CT5 (in descending order) are setting up and starting, infotainment, ingress and egress, the powertrain and fuel economy. Specifically, the five areas that owners ranked lowest compared to the midsize premium car segment are:

  • Engine smoothness
  • Engine sound
  • Engine power
  • Quietness of cabin while driving
  • Maintaining cabin temperature

In the J.D. Power 2020 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, the Cadillac CT5 was ranked second out of five in the midsize premium car segment. 

What Our Expert Says - Find the best Cadillac deals!

In the following sections, our expert shares his own perceptions about how the 2020 Cadillac CT5 measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the APEAL Study.

Exterior

2020 Cadillac CT5 side view

Photo: Ron Sessions

Design inspiration for the 2020 CT5 comes from the Cadillac Escala show car first shown at the 2016 Pebble Beach Concours. Although wider and nearly a foot and a half longer than the new CT5, the Escala’s evocative design translated well to the midsize premium sedan. Practical considerations prevented the CT5 from adopting the Escala’s frameless side glass and its bigger-than-life 22-inch wheels, but designers maintained the essence of the show car’s dominant vertical running lamps, eloquent shield grille, deeply scalloped flanks and fastback roofline.

In profile, the CT5 looks road-ready on its 18- or 19-inch wheels, but fussy detailing with boomerang-like moldings where the rear roof pillars join the rear quarter panels dim the brilliance of an otherwise enticing design.

Interior

2020 Cadillac CT5 dashboard interior view

Photo: Ron Sessions

The CT5 cabin is appealing in a durable goods sense and though not as richly appointed as some competing European premium sedans is a haven of upscale complimentary colors, soft-touch surfaces, aluminum and (depending on the model) open-pore wood or carbon-fiber trim accents. Many of the controls have been simplified compared to the previous CTS, with attractively and logically arrayed hard buttons for the standard dual-zone automatic climate control, front seat heating and ventilation and other functions. All climate-control functions are accessible without the need to scroll through menus or deal with jumpy capacitive-touch sliders.

The cockpit is driver-focused with large, easy-to-read white-on-black analog gauges flanking an attractive, driver-configurable color information display. In addition to door pockets, a roomier center console with cup holders adds space for snacks, electronica and other small items. Sport and CT5-V trims get a standard 15-watt wireless phone charger for Qi-enabled devices. Other standard CT5 fare includes rain-sensing wipers, a HomeLink garage-door opener, pushbutton start, remote engine start and a manual tilt/telescopic leather-wrapped steering wheel. A power tilt/telescoping steering wheel is optional.

Getting In and Out

2020 Cadillac CT5 rear door opening

Photo: Ron Sessions

One unusual feature of the new CT5 is its exterior door handles. To open a door, you reach behind the handle and press a button on the back side of the handle that’s an electric switch which, in turn, unlatches the door. The handle itself doesn’t move but is fixed to the door. It feels strange the first few times you do it, but becomes routine with practice.

Getting in and out presents no challenges thanks to generously sized door openings, particularly in the rear where the CT5’s added wheelbase makes for longer doors than in the previous CTS. Also, the CT5 front seats, while well bolstered, don’t have hard wires or tall sides that the driver or front passenger must slide over to get in or out of the car. In the rear seat, the only impediment to getting one’s footing is the transverse crossmember at the rear of the footwells that adds to the car’s exceptional body rigidity and dynamic handling but steals foot space. 

Compared to the previous CTS, the new CT5 is shorter overall bumper to bumper and this diminishes trunk space to just under 12 cubic feet. Loading and unloading, however, is unaffected and the CT5 keeps the handy 60/40 split-folding seatbacks that were in the previous CTS and enable pass-through functionality for longer cargo items. Optional is a hands-free decklid release on Sport and higher trims that works by waving a foot between the rear bumper and a Cadillac crest logo projected onto the ground.

Setting Up and Starting

2020 Cadillac CT5 driver mode

Photo: Ron Sessions

As always, it’s worth taking a few moments familiarizing yourself with the CT5’s features in the driveway before venturing out. With your foot on the brake, push the engine start button. Then, using the prompts in the center infotainment touchscreen, pair your phone (the car has a one-touch near field communications option), set up Android Auto or Apple CarPlay (both of which need a USB connection), Wi-Fi and all other infotainment options.

Keyfob-linked memory functions for the driver’s seat and side mirrors are set with buttons on the driver-side door panel. Head-up display content and positioning on CT5’s so equipped are done with a row of buttons by the driver’s left knee. If all else fails, there’s always the owner’s manual.

Drive Mode setup is done (this is, after all, a driver’s car) via the toggle switch forward of the shifter. You’ll see the results in the driver-configurable display between the tach and speedo. 

Tour mode is what you’ll want for everyday driving and the system defaults to that setting after every key cycle. Snow/Ice mode reduces engine torque at low engine speeds for less wheelspin on slippery surfaces. Sport mode delivers quicker shifts, keeps engine revs higher, increases steering effort and engine sound, delivers quicker brake pedal response and on CT5-V models, firms up the damping rates of the Magnetic Ride Control system. Track mode, only available on the CT5-V, sets up throttle response, transmission shifts, shock damping and steering effort to maximum performance. Track mode also enables Performance Traction Management giving the driver the ability to manage engine power, traction and stability control systems in a track setting according to five levels of driving ability. Do not use this setting on public roads.

Further customization of these settings is available with My Mode and V-Mode (the latter available only on the CT5-V and accessed with a steering wheel switch). 

Infotainment System

2020 Cadillac CT5 infotainment system

Photo: Ron Sessions

The CT5-V test car was equipped with the recently updated third-generation Cadillac User Experience system featuring a larger, horizontal-format 10-inch high-res touchscreen. In recent years, previous versions of CUE have come in for criticism for being menu-intensive and potentially distracting to use on the road. In addition to the system’s touchscreen functions, CUE 3.0 now uses a console-mounted rotary controller that you twist for highlighting screen items and depress to select them. Shortcut buttons adjacent to the knob are used to select navigation and phone menus, audio source, back and home functions. Audio system volume and tuning functions are handled by analog rotary knobs under the screen as well as a second volume knob and scan buttons adjacent to the console. Why the system has two audio volume adjusting knobs is unclear.

Standard in the CT5 is a 9-speaker AM/FM stereo with SiriusXM and HD Radio. The test car was equipped with the optional imbedded navigation system and rich-sounding 15-speaker Bose premium audio. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto cellphone mirroring via USB cable for familiar apps are standard. USB ports are stashed away out of sight in the bin under the center armrest.

The system is now easier to use and takes less eyes-off-the-road time to make selections and adjustments. Voice assistance, initiated via a steering-wheel button, is improved over past iterations with most commands easily understood using plain language. 

Keeping You Safe

In safety testing, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gives the 2020 Cadillac CT5 a full five out of five stars rating overall with five stars for front and side impacts as well as rollover resistance. NHTSA also gave the CT5-V version five stars for side impacts and rollover resistance but did not rate front-impact performance. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has not yet tested the 2020 Cadillac CT5. 

Like many of Cadillac’s European luxury-brand competitors, most of the CT5’s advanced safety and driver-assistive tech is optional. The CT5 does, however, get a standard backup camera, forward collision alert, automatic emergency braking, front pedestrian braking and a General Motors exclusive, a safety alert seat. The safety alert seat warns the driver of potential hazards by buzzing the lower seat cushion with a haptic pulse in the direction of the hazard, whether it be another vehicle or a pedestrian. It complements other audible and visual alerts. There is also a standard rear seat reminder that flashes a reminder to check the rear seat for anyone or anything that might get left behind if a rear door was opened since the last key cycle.

Sport, Premium Luxury and CT5-V trims add standard ultrasonic rear park assist, rear cross traffic alert and lane change alert with side blind zone alert. The upper trims also can be optioned with a Driver Awareness Plus package that includes lane keep assist, lane departure warning, a following distance indicator, a head-up display and automatic high-beam control. Also available is a Driver Assist and Advanced security package that adds items such as adaptive cruise control, high-speed auto emergency braking and reverse automatic braking.

Also available on upper trims is a Parking package consisting of a 360-degree around-view monitor with an overhead view and five selectable camera angles, a rear camera mirror, rear pedestrian alert and automatic parking assist with braking. The camera mirror replaces the conventional rearview mirror with a camera image from the rear of the car, bypassing things blocking the driver’s view to the rear such as rear passenger’s heads, headrests and rear roof pillars.

The optional head-up display projects information such as speed and cruise control settings, navigation directions and audio system source, channel and artist on the lower portion of the windshield.

The adaptive cruise control system in the CT5-V test car had no problems maintaining the set speed on a 200-mile drive over undulating terrain in southeast Arizona. Super Cruise, GM’s hand’s free semi-autonomous driving system for well-marked interstates and freeways, won’t be available in the CT5 until the 2021 model year.

Powertrain

2020 Cadillac CT5 powertrain

Photo: Ron Sessions

Two engines are available in the 2020 CT5. The Luxury, Premium Luxury and Sport models come standard with a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder that’s a close cousin of a transverse-mounted one from the GMC Acadia, Cadillac XT4 and XT5 SUVs. Rated at 237 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, it’s down 31 hp and 37 lb-ft from a different 2.0-liter turbo that powered the 2019 CTS. However, the new 2.0-liter turbo develops its peak torque from just 1500 rpm, providing good low-speed grunt for around-town flexibility even as high-speed performance for passing and freeway merging is diminished. Acceleration from rest to 60 mph takes about 6.5 seconds, not bad for an Accord but not as rich as some long-time Cadillac buyers have come to expect from a $50,000+ luxury sedan. Further, the 2.0-liter 4-cylinder turbo has a graininess and non-premium soundtrack that feels out of synch with a luxury-sedan offering, factors that likely contributed to weak scores in these areas for the CT5 in the 2020 APEAL Study. Most of the early builds of the 2020 CT5 were equipped with this engine.

Only recently has the second engine, a twin-turbo 3.0-liter V6, been available in the CT5 Premium Luxury and CT5-V models. In the CT5 Premium Luxury model, it makes 335-hp and 400 lb-ft of torque. A higher-output version of this engine propels the CT5-V with 360 hp and 405 lb-ft of torque on tap. The biturbo V6 livens up performance a bit, giving the CT5-V 4.6-second 0-60 acceleration capability. But more important, the smooth-running, sonorous 3.0-liter V6 sounds the part of premium sedan offering and aligns better with expectations of buyers who have experienced Cadillac’s ample V8 and V6-powered predecessors over the decades.

Both 2020 CT5 engines are paired with a quick-shifting 10-speed automatic transmission with available paddle shifters for manual control in hilly or performance driving.

Enthusiasts longing for the lusty V8 rumble and supercharged 6.2-liter, 640+ horsepower punch of last year’s CTS-V will have to wait for the 2021 CT5-V Blackwing, due out later in the model year.

Fuel Economy

While not a major purchase consideration in this price and size class, the 2.0-liter 4-cylinder turbo in the 2020 CT5 offers better fuel economy than the 2.0-liter powerplant in the 2019 CTS. EPA estimates for the CT5 2.0-liter engine are 26 mpg combined with rear drive, 25 mpg combined with AWD, both estimates 1 mpg higher than the 2019 CTS 2.0-liter achieved. With the CT5’s 17.4 gallon fuel tank, that makes for a respectable 450-or-so mile cruising range between fill ups.

Premium Luxury and CT5-V models with the 3.0-liter biturbo V6 net EPA combined fuel-economy estimates in the 20-21 mpg range which equates roughly to a truncated 350-mile cruising range. In a week with the 2020 CT5-V, I observed a 17.3-mpg average over 260 miles of fairly enthusiastic driving around town, on the interstate and over winding, rural two-lane highways in 105+ degree heat.

Driving Comfort

While the 2020 Cadillac CT5 is by many measures a driver’s car, it never forgets its luxury focus. Compared to other entries in the premium midsize car segment, the CT5 offers a roomier cabin. That’s true of the front buckets which are as comfortable as they are supportive, but also in the rear bench seat where passengers enjoy extra stretch out space due to the CT5’s extended wheelbase. Despite the sloping fastback roof, rear headroom is acceptable for full-grown adults.

Seat coverings range from attractive and comfortable faux-leather seat coverings to buttery-soft aniline-leather-covered perches, with heated and cooled seats with power backrest bolster adjustments, manually adjustable bottom cushion extensions and seatback massaging functions available up front. Giving bony elbows a break on long trips are well-padded door and console armrests. The sides of the console are padded as well, giving a softer place for knees to rest as well. 

In 105-degree Arizona Summer heat, the dual-zone automatic climate control system had no problem keeping the cabin cool. Helping to maintain the CT5’s luxury car composure, extensive soundproofing damps unwanted powertrain rumble and road sizzle and extra-thick acoustic glass for the windshield and front door windows work to quell unwanted ambient noise from passing cars and trucks. In Sport mode, the CT5-V added just the right amount of engine sound to reinforce its performance mantra.

Driving Feel

2020 Cadillac CT5 driving feel

Photo: Ron Sessions

Twenty years ago, most Cadillacs were big, roomy boats with a floaty ride, pinky-light steering and very little driving precision. Today, Cadillac has one of the best-handling sedan lineups in the market. The CT5 is built on the Alpha platform that also underpins the Chevrolet Camaro, Cadillac CT6 and outgoing Cadillac CTS and ATS. Key attributes that make the CT5 so responsive and such a willing partner to driving enjoyment are its rigid body structure, double-pivot strut front and multilink rear suspensions, balanced weight distribution and precise, rack-mounted, variable-effort electric-boosted steering which delivers pinpoint control with satisfying road feedback. Although it sometimes feels a tad too abrupt and digital, the CT5 is equipped with a new, electronic brake booster that gives quick top-of-pedal response to inputs. Sport and CT5-V models get larger front rotors and Brembo front calipers for better fade resistance in sporty driving.

Available only on the CT5-V this year is Cadillac’s 4th-generation Magnetic Ride Control, which does a brilliant job of managing vertical body motions by adjusting damping in milliseconds in response to changing road surfaces or driving parameters, is now restricted to the CT5-V model and is no longer available on lesser trims as it was in the 2019 CTS. Even with the standard CT5-V’s 245/40R-19 run-flat tires, Magnetic Ride Control takes the edge off potholes and other road disturbances. 

As with other CT5 models, the CT5-V is also available with all-wheel drive. That’s a feature that wasn’t offered previously in the CTS-V or CTS V-Sport. It’s key to making the CT5-V a good everyday performance luxury sedan, even when the3 snow flies.

Final Impressions - Find the best Cadillac deals!

2020 Cadillac CT5 rear view

Photo: Ron Sessions

Stylish, roomy and well contented for its price, the 2020 Cadillac CT5 makes a compelling case for value-priced midsize luxury. The only misstep is the less-powerful base 4-cylinder turbo engine culled from GM’s SUV parts bins that doesn’t quite embody the level of refinement the rest of the car offers in spades. It isn’t that the 2.0-liter 4-cylinder is a bad engine choice, as it offers decent fuel economy and good around-town performance. But the twin-turbo 3.0-liter V6 in the Premium Luxury and CTS-V trims rises to the same level of excellence the chassis delivers and is well worth the extra few thousand dollars for a more refined and enjoyable premium midsize sedan ownership experience.

About the Author

Ron Sessions is a seasoned vehicle evaluator with more than three decades of experience. He has penned hundreds of road tests for automotive web sites, enthusiast magazines, newsletters, technical journals and newspapers.

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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