It’s wrong to call Cadillac's attempt to break into the top echelon of European luxury brands “Sisyphean.” In the Greek myth, the tricky king cursed to roll a boulder up a hill forever finds it slipping away just as it reaches the crest. In its case, Cadillac has kept the rock rolling — it's just the hill that's grown steeper.
Proof of that arrived tonight in the shape of the 2016 Cadillac CT6, a new flagship sedan for General Motors’ luxury arm and the tip of a $12 billion flurry of eight models arriving by 2020. Billed as the most advanced vehicle ever bolted — or in its case, laser-welded and glued together — by GM, the new sedan will sport up to 400 hp and new technology like four-wheel steering and a 34-speaker stereo system.
In a realm where Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi dominate, Cadillac has made some gains, but not as much as GM has hoped. Starting from the original CTS sedan unveiled in 2002, a car meant to atone for engineering crimes like the Cimarron, Cadillac has steadily built a stable of dynamically accomplished sedans and popular full-size SUVs. What it hasn’t built is an audience; sales in 2014 were down 6.5 percent to in a growing market, as those German automakers threw a parade of new models at American buyers. More importantly, Cadillac’s efforts to charge near-German prices rather than the discount many buyers demanded ran into static from dealers.
The CT6 represents the first model under new Cadillac chief Johan de Nysschen aimed at reversing some of those trends. Built on a whole new chassis, the CT6 has the wheelbase of a large luxury sedan — like the BMW 750i — but the overall size, and more importantly weight, of a midsize car like the Mercedes-Benz E-Class. Between all aluminum body panels and a part-aluminum chassis, the CT6 weighs less than 3,700 lbs., or roughly 200 lbs. less than it would have if made traditionally.
Movement for that mass will come from a choice of three engines, all tied to an 8-speed automatic powering either the rear or all wheels. The base 2-liter, four-cylinder turbo spins 265 hp, while the volume 3.6-liter V-6 makes 335 hp. The top line brings Cadillac a new twin-turbo 3-liter V-6 good for 400 hp.
Between the power and the weight, Cadillac promises a car that can handle better than any similar car in its class. All V-6s come with all-wheel-drive, and the top models also get a new four-wheel-steering system, angling the rear wheels slightly at low and high speeds for additional cornering control.
But it’s in the interior where luxury sedans truly earn their value. Here, Cadillac has gone down a path blazed by Audi and foreshadowed for future products in the Lincoln Continental sedan. Where the current CTS and ATS get some demerits for rear-seat space, the CT6 offers reclining seats with entertainment screens and massage functions, along with 40 inches of leg space. The CT6 does take a marked step forward from Cadillac’s current interiors, which are businesslike if a bit busy.
The CT6 will go into production in Detroit late this year; GM will also build it at a new plant in China, where rear-seat comforts mean more than anywhere else in the world. China has been a small bright spot for Cadillac, which lacks a global sales base like its German competitors. The CT6 isn’t enough to prevail on its own — to truly catch up with customers, Cadillac would need several of those eight future products to emerge as SUVs in the next couple of years. But the CT6 gets a big ball rolling.