For generations of Americans, their parents and grandparents bought Cadillacs that were built for cushy comfort, with softly-tuned suspensions that approximated the ride quality and handling agility of a water bed and seats that felt like living room couches.
You can still get that old-school Cadillac experience with the brand's XTS sedan and Escalade SUV models, but those who haven't been carefully watching General Motors' luxury brand will likely be astonished by the brilliantly executed sports sedans dominating the rest of the lineup: the ATS, the CTS, and Cadillac's current flagship sedan, the CT6.
The CT6 – which comes priced starting at $55,090 and can run beyond $90,000 – has a spacious interior, rides smoothly and quietly, and despite its' full-sized footprint delivers the sprightly handling of a vehicle a size smaller – a level of handling once the exclusive provenance of European luxury brands.
Such sporty handling was once hard to find on cars that weren't made by BMW. But as the European luxury carmakers have put more effort into American-style quiet and comfortable luxury, Cadillac has built a reputation as a builder of luxurious but agile sedans (not counting the aging XTS).
Base models of the CT6 keep the cost down compared to most full-size luxury sedans by offering a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, rated for a respectable 25 miles per gallon in mixed driving. Buyers who want the spacious interior of a full-sized sedan but prefer value and fuel economy over maximum performance will appreciate this option; it lets Cadillac undercut its' European and Japanese competitors by tens of thousands of dollars.
For more performance and a richer engine note than the 265-horsepower four-cylinder, a choice of V6s is available: a 3.6-liter with 335 horsepower and a 3.0-liter turbo with 404 horsepower, each rated for 21 mpg. There's also a plug-in hybrid version of the four-cylinder engine with a range of 31 miles on battery power alone before it needs to start burning gasoline. In addition to the impressive powerplant offerings, a brilliantly tuned suspension ensures that the CT6 remains comfortable on bumpy roads, at least based on a brief drive.
The interior of the CT6 is respectably spacious and well-finished, but even a fully loaded model isn't quite up to the standard of decadence typified by the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, Lexus LS, BMW 7 Series, Audi A8, or even the Genesis G90. The difference between those impressive vehicles and the CT6 is that Cadillac's offering is a driver's car that isn't set up to pamper a rear seat passenger. It does come with enough interior room to carry adults in comfort, but if the owner plans to ride in back, it's the chauffeur who would end up with the best experience.
While we're on the subject of the front seat experience, it may seem like a nitpick but because many of its' controls are merely touch-sensitive areas on a flat plane of plastic, the CT6's simple-looking is unexpectedly fussy to use compared with ones featuring physical buttons and knobs. Not only are physical controls easier to operate quickly and correctly in a moving car, but they're also much safer because drivers can find and use them without ever needing to take their eyes off the road.
For big luxury sedans at a relatively affordable price point, the CT6 competes against the Genesis G90 and the Lincoln Continental. Both are similarly spacious and well-finished, but they lack the Cadillac's sportiness.
The Lexus LS is another option as an all-out luxury sedan that costs less than a BMW or Mercedes. Fully redesigned for 2018, the new LS is due on sale next month priced from around $75,000. Even the base LS 500 model, however, comes with a potent 416-horsepower turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 engine and lots of standard equipment.
Based on a brief preview drive, the LS retains Lexus' focus on comfort and luxury without the Cadillac's sportiness. For 2018, Lexus has imbued the LS with more distinctive styling that adopts a more uniquely Japanese design aesthetic. Inside and out, the LS features more creases and swoops than European or American competitors. The cabin also offers available cut-glass trim and origami-inspired upholstery patterns. At a rear seat occupant's fingertips is a full set of controls for the radio and climate systems, while the front passenger-side seat pivots forward to provide those riding behind with extra legroom.
Like the CT6, the LS has some foibles in its controls. Rather than a touchscreen, the infotainment system's large display relies on an awkward remote controller between the front seats. The gear selector's unconventional layout is also an unnecessary complication, and the car doesn't support Android Auto or Apple CarPlay smartphone integration.
In addition to the 416-horsepower V6, which is expected to achieve EPA ratings in the low 20s in mixed driving, there's also a 28-mpg LS 500h hybrid with 354 horsepower. It's not a plug-in hybrid like the Cadillac, but it still achieves excellent gas mileage while offering much more power and avoiding the need to ever plug in a charging cable.