Riding in the rear seat of a car means one thing to an auto journalist: it's time to touch everything. It's rare that I get to be a passenger in this business, instead moving from one cockpit to the next, clutching the steering wheel, the shifter, or occasionally stabbing at a touchscreen, my attention primarily fixated on the drive itself rather than the wrapper it comes in.
On those occasions where I do find myself in the second row, my hands are rarely idle. I trace the contours of the leather on the door panels, pick at the stitching on the seats, push, pull, and prod this panel or that one, even fold down armrests and then pull them open like some maniacal, blind pirate searching for the Braille map to his forgotten plundered booty.
That Cadillac asked me to sit back and enjoy the ride in the 2016 Cadillac CT6 when I was picked up at Los Angeles International Airport rather than immediately slip behind the wheel seemed to activate a chemical trigger in my brain. The all-new sedan's prodigious dimensions, ample rear quarters, and none-too-subtle play for the hearts and minds of buyers in the Chinese market (where the well-to-do are driven, rather than drive themselves) led me to conclude that maybe, just maybe, Cadillac had something to hide when it came to the car's dynamics. This impression was given further weight throughout the first day of my 48-hour CT6 experience, when any and all attempts to actually log some time piloting the automobile were rebuffed.
Conspiracy theories began to multiply in my head. Was the new sedan another creampuff in a long line of soft, supple, but ultimately unsatisfying big posh pastries wearing the full-size Cadillac crest? Would tomorrow's drive route consist of carefully curated roads to be floated down for the briefest of moments before being chauffeured back to the hotel and eventual flight home?
As I sat there in traffic, one hand absently stroking the vehicle's door panel while raising and lowering the side window sunscreen with the other, I couldn't have known just how spectacularly wrong the next morning would prove me to be regarding Cadillac's stunning achievement with its newest, and largest car.
Cadillac is no stranger to enormous cars, as anyone with more than a passing familiarity with the history of Detroit iron can attest to. What's altogether new to the brand is the concept of marrying yacht-like beam with minnow-esque mass. Unlike Cadillac's other full-size four-door offering, the XTS, the CT6 matches up nose-to-tail with Euro-sourced luxury liners like the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and the BMW 7 Series and then deftly shames them all to the tune of 450 kilograms on the scale. The sedan's phenomenal 1,670 kg base curb weight is nearly unheard of in a segment of the industry where iron-clad panzers routinely shake the earth on approach to the valet stand.
The answer to how Cadillac managed to achieve such a light platform on which to build the CT6 is an interesting one – elaborate aluminum castings consolidate many parts into singular panels and pieces, arranged around a steel passenger cage – but the 'why' is far more fascinating. It seems that somewhere along the way to building its new four door, Cadillac's engineering and design team decided that there was nothing mutually exclusive about a car you'd want to drive and one whose keys you'd be equally comfortable turning over to your chauffeur. Once through the looking glass, it was full steam ahead in assembling a sedan that used its lightweight chassis as the fulcrum of a lever capable of upsetting the entire luxury world.
The 2016 Cadillac CT6 might be at its most svelte in its base rear-wheel-drive, 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder edition, but stack on the kilos by way of the options sheet and you're likely to have an even better time out on the road. There are two six-cylinder versions of the Cadillac, one which squeezes 335 horsepower from a 3.6-litre unit and another that ups the ante to 404 horses and 400 lb-ft of twist by way of its twin-turbo 3.0-litre V6. Each of the latter comes standard with all-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic transmission, and the top-tier CT6 also includes the brand's new four-wheel steering system (optional on lesser models, too).
Although the twin-turbocharged Cadillac CT6 nearly pushes past the 2,000-kg mark, the extra weight simply melts away with your right foot to the floor, all six cylinders pulling smoothly past the 160 km/h mark in a straight line. Crinkle the map and you'll be as shocked as I was to discover that the big man can dance, too, at least to the degree required to parse some of California's more challenging two-lane canyon passes.
Although I was unable to detect the additional stability provided by the rear-wheel steering rack while changing lanes on the highway, within the tighter confines of secondary roads, the system reduced understeer to an almost undetectable level, even when coming into a corner too hot. If anything, it was the sheer length of the CT6 that informed its handling profile more so than its V6 TT bulk.
All This And Tech, Too
The 2016 Cadillac CT6's shockingly competent corner carving characteristics served as my comeuppance for questioning the intentions of its designers. But what of its interior, whose topography had so occupied the tips of my fingers while I was relegated to its expansive rear quarters?
It's true that Cadillac has continued to underscore the tech quotient that is part and parcel of its entire line-up. Features such as on-board 4G LTE Wi-Fi and the CUE touchscreen infotainment interface remain present, although the latter has been modified to feature more traditional buttons on the steering wheel (good) and a new touchpad on the centre console (not only bad, but a feature no buyer was actually asking for).
Safety looms large as well, what with an array of active equipment that includes a night vision camera system and a new rearview mirror that can be flipped between a traditional reflective panel and an integrated LCD screen that displays an ultra-wide angle view of the road behind (generated by a pair of bumper-mounted cameras).
The arrangement takes a lot of getting used – it's particularly off-putting to flick your eyes between the road ahead and the very different frame-rate of the video image receding behind you – and the cameras will undoubted be useless during the winter months due to road grime, snow, and salt. Fortunately, you can flip back to the standard mirror, a technology that's worked without fail for close to a century now, whenever you wish.
Cadillac has also made an effort to use materials throughout the cabin that reflect its status as a near-$100k car (when fully loaded – base models start just above $60,000). It's a success, for the most part, particularly when it comes to the leather on the seats and door panels. There are a few spots, however, that greet the hand with more plastic than one might expect, and flex a little too easily. I was also disappointed by the lack of rear passenger controls for the car's climate and entertainment features in certain versions of the CT6, which I found to be an unusual oversight on the standard equipment list.
I'm not the best passenger. I fidget, I scan through the radio stations, and I gaze longingly at the steering wheel regardless of which position I'm assigned to. This was particularly true of my time in the Cadillac CT6, a vehicle which, more than any other high-end saloon car save perhaps the Jaguar XJ, had me preferring the left front seat over all others. A big sedan that drives well is one thing, but a leviathan that's fun to throw around is something else entirely. Given the company's track record over the course of the last five years – a time period that has given us the ATS, the new CTS, and the astonishing V editions of each of those vehicles – it would seem as though 'something else entirely' is what we should expect from Cadillac from this moment forward.