LAKE ELSINORE, Calif. -- The Ortega Highway, California 74 running over the Santa Ana Mountains from Lake Elsinore to San Juan Capistrano on the Pacific Coast, is a narrow trace winding through canyons where we're drawing on twin-turbocharged muscle to push the pace in a souped-up CTS VSport, Cadillac's redesigned mid-size premium sports touring sedan.
Our test car, rising off a rigid rear-wheel-drive platform with pliable independent suspension components pinned above every wheel, carries a way-goosy twin-turbocharged V6 engine which translates all of its considerable torque through a malleable new 8-speed paddle-shift automatic transmission and sends it to the rear wheels in classic -- and highly predictable and controllable -- front-engine/rear-drive arrangement as the 18-inch run-flat summer tires claw for traction.
Under a third-generation total make-over, Cadillac constructs the 2014 CTS sedan with three high-tech powertrain choices and four levels of trim: Standard, Luxury, Performance, VSport.
The 2014 CTS amounts to a larger vehicle than the second-generation (2008-2013) predecessor -- the wheelbase extends 1.2 inches longer to 114.6 inches and the overall length increases by 4.2 inches to 195.5 inches. These spatial expansions create a larger 2+3-seat passenger compartment, now measuring to 97 cubic feet with front-seat legroom of 42.6 inches and rear-seat legroom at 35.4 inches.
Exterior styling for the 2014 CTS sedans features bold and crisp lines with unique forms marked by angular shapes and knife-sharp edges.
The aggressive face houses a prominent horizontal louver panel in modern interpretation of the Cadillac classic egg-crate grille, and piercing optics from round projector beam lamps with vertical LED strips plus optional high intensity discharge lamps that swivel in concert with the vehicle's front wheels.
Flanks seem almost sheer below edgy shoulders but fenders flare around large wheelwells.
The roofline remains low, canting in front in line with the windshield and canting in back in opposing lines with blacked-out center pillars to simulate a stretched trapezoidal streak of tinted window glass.
Tail treatment for CTS shows a slick slab bumper in monochrome flanked by tall vertical taillamps, a Cadillac hallmark, with squared oval pipes in chrome protruding below the bumper.
The three engines for 2014 CTS models come with dual overhead cams (DOHC), direct injection (DI) and continuously variable valve timing (CVVT). All orient to rear-wheel-drive (RWD) but electronically controlled all-wheel-drive (AWD) traction is available with two of the powertrains.
Standard plant for CTS 2.OL RWD and CTS 2.OL AWD is a cast aluminum 2.0-liter 4-pack with turbocharger (TC). It runs up to 272 hp at 5500 rpm with 295 lb-ft of torque between 1700 and 5500 rpm and links to GM's Hydra-Matic 6L45 electronically controlled 6-speed automatic transmission.
CTS 3.6L RWD and 3.6L AWD pack an aluminum 3.6-liter V6 which nets 321 hp at 6800 rpm plus torque peaking to 275 lb-ft at 4800 rpm. Shifter is the HM6L45 6-speed automatic.
CTS VSport scores the new aluminum 3.6-liter twin-turbocharged V6 that soars to 420 hp at 5750 rpm with torque of 430 lb-ft between 3500-4500 rpm. Its transmission is the electronically controlled Aisin 8-speed paddle-shift automatic.
All of the go-power for CTS models is countered by a 4-wheel disc brake system by the Brembo brand from Italy with vented rotors and electronic links to an anti-lock brake system (ABS) and traction control system (TCS) plus vehicle skid controls.
Inside a spacious cabin with seats for five, CTS is fitted with high-quality and luxurious materials.
Cadillac's electronics interface -- CUE -- brings a touch-sensitive 8-inch display in the center stack and steering wheel tabs to control climate, audio, phone and optional navigation functions with finger touching, swiping and pinching movements as used with tablets and smartphones.
The optional Driver Awareness Package adds safety features like a Safety Alert Seat, Forward Collision Alert, Lane Departure Warning and Side Blind Zone Alert.
Cadillac posts MSRP points starting at $45,100 for the 2014 CTS 2.OL RWD and $47,100 for CTS 2.OL AWD. CTS VSport lists for $59,070 and the VSport Premium goes to $69,070.