The Penalty of Affordability: The 2021 Cadillac CT5 Premium Luxury


2021 Cadillac CT5 Premium Luxury Sedan front 3/4 view

The 2021 Cadillac CT5 Premium Luxury sedan is a very nice sedan.


It's just not expensive enough to be a Cadillac.

2021 Cadillac CT5 Premium Luxury rear 3/4 view

By that I don't mean leave it alone and jack up the price. No, I mean Cadillac doesn't charge enough for the new CT5 to make it as special as a Cadillac ought to be. I say this having driven the new Escalade just two weeks before. The Escalade is a six-figure vehicle and it justifies the cost.


When you try to do a Cadillac sedan (the largest remaining Cadillac sedan, at that) at a starting price of $36,995 for the base model, you're building a Chevy. Maybe a Buick. But you can't build a Cadillac for that price. Even the $40,795 starting point for the Premium Luxury trim like our tester isn't enough.


Trying to build a Cadillac at that price point, you move it out of contention with Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi and put it in a zone where it's competing with---well, Acura.

2021 Cadillac CT5 Premium Luxury and 2021 Acura SH-AWD A-SpecTLX  front 3/4 view

2021 Acura TLX SH-AWD A-Spec and 2021 Cadillac CT5 Premium Luxury rear view

By chance, the 2021 Acura TLX SH-AWD A-Spec showed up two days before the CT5 Premium Luxury left, so I had the chance to compare them directly. As you can see, they're in the same size class, and possess a similar amount of presence, though the Acura is clearly projecting more of a sporting character. The Acura had a base price $5,455 higher than the Cadillac. Its as-tested price wound up $4,635 lower. Why? Mostly because it came with everything, where the Cadillac had extra-cost options, which still didn't quite equip it to the Acura's level (our Cadillac didn't have adaptive cruise control, which would have required an extra $1,950 for the Driver Assist and Advanced Security Package. But Toyota can make it standard on the $24,000 C-HR).


I'm not going to do a point-by-point comparison here and the full review of the Acura will be posted tomorrow, but it illustrates the problem, which we've bemoaned with other low-entry price Cadillacs (XT4, CT4 V-Series). Namely, it costs money to make them competitive, and merely competitive isn't, or shouldn't be, what Cadillac's about.

2021 Cadillac CT5 Premium Luxury hood up

2021 Cadillac CT5 Premium Luxury engine

2021 Cadillac CT5 Premium Luxury engine close

2021 Cadillac CT5 Premium Luxury engine detail

The standard engine in the 2021 Cadillac CT5 Premium Luxury is a 2.0-liter turbo four with 237 horsepower. Sixty miles an hour from a standing start would be about 6.6 seconds. Not bad at all. But our tester had the optional ($3,500) 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6, which has 335 horsepower and cuts that 0-60 run down to 4.9 seconds.


Both engines deliver their power through a ten-speed automatic transmission. Our tester also went for the optional all-wheel drive ($2,000). The EPA fuel economy estimate is 18 miles per gallon city, 26 highway.

2021 Cadillac CT5 Premium Luxury trunk open

2021 Cadillac CT5 Premium Luxury trunk

2021 Cadillac CT5 Premium Luxury rear seat

2021 Cadillac CT5 Premium Luxury front seats

2021 Cadillac CT5 Premium Luxury instrument panel

Interior materials are absolutely a step up from the last CT5, but there's still a lot of GM parts-bin gray plastic, and switchgear that could be in any GM product.


The base price, as noted above, for the 2021 Cadillac CT5 Premium Luxury is $40,795 (plus the $3,000 for the twin-turbo V6 and the $2,000 for the all-wheel drive). The window sticker is at the end of this review so you can see for yourself, but among the standard equipment highlights at that price are 18-inch alloy wheels with Manoogian silver finish, self-sealing tires, 14-way adjustable power front seats with four-way power lumbar and driver memory, leather seating surfaces and leather-wrapped steering wheel, rain-sensing wipers, remote start and wireless phone charging.

2021 Cadillac CT5 Premium Luxury steering wheel and gauge cluster

2021 Cadillac CT5 Premium Luxury gauge cluster

2021 Cadillac CT5 Premium Luxury infotainment and HVAC

And, apart from the twin-turbo V6 and the all-wheel drive, our tester had other extra-cost options: $1,350 for a 15-speaker Bose Performance Series premium audio system and navigation, $1,090 for the Climate Package (heated and ventilated front seats, heated steering wheel), $600 for the Lighting Package (illuminated front door sill plates, LED cornering lamps), $500 for the Driver Awareness Plus Package (automatic high beams, following distance indicator, lane keep assist with lane departure warning), $455 for a dealer-installed rear spoiler and $600 for the very rich-looking Shadow Metallic paint.


With $995 destination charge, the as-tested price of the 2021 Cadillac CT5 Premium Luxury is $51,910.

2021 Cadillac CT5 Premium Luxury front view

2021 Cadillac CT5 Premium Luxury side view

2021 Cadillac CT5 Premium Luxury

And, honestly, all I can think is what a car this would be if Cadillac had said "Let's build a no-excuses $75,000 luxury sedan." Seriously. Make everything that you can pay extra for on this car standard, and spend the next ten grand on making it special, desirable, uniquely Cadillac.


Like the new Escalade.


Yeah, I know---sedans are a tough sell these days. It's why Chevy and Buick don't make them. It's why Lincoln got out. But consider this: By dumping sedans, Lincoln has made the Navigator and the Aviator the face of their brand. It's raised their stock as a legitimate luxury marque considerably and made more people willing to part with a hundred grand, give or take, for a Navigator and 90 grand for an Aviator Black Label Touring


Maybe Cadillac should do the same, at least apart from the high-performance Blackwings. This is a period of transition for Cadillac, anyway. It's headed for an all-electric future by 2030, and the 2023 Cadillac Lyriq EV is stunning. If they can make every car as desirable as the Lyriq and the Escalade, regardless of its layout, Cadillac has a very real shot at a second Golden Age.


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