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A look inside the Cadillac CTS' big price increase

The 2014 Cadillac CTS, shown at its debut in New York, is 5 inches longer, with a roomier rear seat, but sheds 250 pounds by swapping aluminum for steel.

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -- The redesigned 2014 Cadillac CTS sedan that rolls out next month will be priced from $6,000 to a whopping $16,000 above comparable 2013 models. Some Cadillac dealers are quietly grumbling that those lofty stickers will alienate loyal customers.

It's steep, no doubt. But after driving the next-gen CTS during a media launch here, here's my take on why it's not as outlandish as you might think.

  • The leap forward in performance and refinement makes any '14-to-'13 comparison almost impossible.

The next-gen CTS moves to the same lightweight platform on which the critically praised ATS compact sedan rides. Two new engines enter the lineup: a 2.0-liter turbo and a 3.6-liter twin turbo V-6.

The mid-sized sedan is 5 inches longer, with a roomier rear seat, but sheds 250 pounds by swapping aluminum for steel in the doors and engine cradle, for example. It's faster, more powerful, more fuel-efficient and handles better. Behind the wheel, you're hard-pressed to remember that you're not piloting an ATS.

  • Of course, redesigned cars should always outperform those they replace; that doesn't give General Motors license to jack up the price indiscriminately. But consider the loads of added content: More than 20 features come standard on the 2014 CTS that weren't on the 2013. They include the CUE infotainment system; an eight-speed transmission on rear-wheel-drive V-6 models; Brembo brakes; selectable drive modes for icy weather or track time; a bevy of safety gear; and enough LED lights to ring the top of GM's Renaissance Center headquarters back in Detroit.
  • The ATS, launched last year, gives cover for a pricier CTS.

The CTS has pulled double duty in Cadillac's lineup since its debut in 2002, serving both as the brand's entry-level offering and as a mid-sized luxury car expected to take on the Mercedes E Class and BMW 5 Series. Now "we've got that support below from the ATS," says Lisa Sieradski, CTS product manager. She expects some price-sensitive CTS shoppers to gravitate to the ATS, "which isn't a bad thing."

  • The CTS' price is still below that of the E class and 5 series and in line with the Audi A6.

This is probably the most important factor. Cadillac engineers gushed that the new CTS is 200 pounds lighter than the segment-leading E Class, more agile and better handling than any competitor, and just as luxurious. Why not price it accordingly?

Consumer Reports magazine stuck a feather in the cap of Cadillac's price planners this week, touting the CTS as "the more fun-to-drive and the less conservative alternative to Lexus and the German brands."

Some dealers and loyal Caddy customers will wonder whether the price increase is too far, too fast. Consider it inevitable growing pains along Cadillac's path back to luxury credibility.

You can reach Mike Colias at autonews@crain.com

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