New standard for a new world.Cadillac has long professed to be the "Standard of the World," but, unfortunately, the world changed too fast for the brand to keep pace. By the end of the 20th century, the old standard Cadillac once adhered to was dead in the water. A new standard had emerged, and it came from Germany.

The 2020 Cadillac CT5 is the automaker's latest attempt to regain relevance in this new world order where the luxury German sport sedan reigns supreme. The rear-wheel-drive, midsize sedan is priced like a BMW 3-Series but measures a half-size bigger, which is the same game the original Cadillac CTS played in the early aughts. And like the old CTS, the Cadillac CT5 continues to offer luxury and performance in equal measure.

New name in a familiar package. The CT5 replaces the CTS, but similarities abound between the new car and its predecessor. Besides the midsize, rear-drive architecture, the CT5 continues to offer an angular look, though the lines have been softened and the creases have been smoothed. The front end has a renewed emphasis on width. The rear keeps the vertical taillights that have been a Cadillac hallmark for decades. The overall look is clean without being watered down.

The interior has taken a definitive step forward, with its new modern design putting an emphasis on technology. Chief among the tech wizardry is a 10-inch touchscreen with the latest version of the brand's CUE infotainment software and standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

The CT5's revised CUE is leaps ahead of what the CTS was saddled with. The updated system is logical to use and fast to react, not something that could be said for the old version. There's also secondary physical controls for the radio and climate system for those who don't want to mess with a touchscreen while driving. There's no longer any reason for potential buyers to be concerned with the system.

The tech we want to see come to the CT5 is Super Cruise, which is the brand's semi-autonomous driving system that can handle highway cruising, lane changing, and even interchanges without any input by the driver. It's slated to become available next year, but we're disappointed that 2020 buyers will miss out. Were it our money, we'd wait.

CT5-V power for the people. There's no doubt the old Cadillac CTS-V was a total powerhouse, but near-six-figure pricing limited its appeal to those in the highest tax brackets. Cadillac has seen fit to change that with the CT5-V.

The new strategy hasn't been without its share of naysayers. On first glance, it's a big and ugly surprise – the new V has nearly 300 less horsepower than the old one. But that's not the whole story. Cadillac is repositioning the V line to represent an intermediate step on the performance ladder; it's now something decidedly sportier than a base model car but not quite a Chevrolet Corvette Z06 in disguise. That role will go to an upcoming, as-yet unannounced flagship performance model.

Until then, buyers must choose between a base CT5 and the CT5-V. The standard CT5 is powered by either a 237-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder or a 335-hp, 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6. Both pair up with a 10-speed auto and come standard with rear-wheel-drive. All-wheel drive is optional.

Of those, you'll want the V6, because the four-cylinder is disappointingly slow and rather unrefined when pressed. With both engines, the 10-speed automatic transmission shifts well and doesn't seem to get overwhelmed by the large selection of gears it can pick from.

The CT5-V ups the ante with a retuned version of the twin-turbo V6, here making 360 hp and 405 pound-feet of torque. The CT5-V also enjoys adaptive dampers and an electronically-controlled limited-slip differential, among other performance goodies. The result is a car that handles sharply and can sprint to 60 mph in under five seconds. It's our choice of the litter, and its sub-$50,000 price tag means it's also a bargain compared to the BMW M340i or Mercedes-Benz AMG C 43.


Cadillac CT5

Practical considerations. Cadillac knows that the CT5 won't succeed without being practical and relatively affordable when measured up against the competition. The CTS floundered in some of these respects, and so there's been a concerted effort by the brand to rectify that car's flaws.

It's not all roses and lollipops, though. Cargo space a particular sore spot with the CT5. The 11.9 cubic feet of trunk space is more sports car than midsize luxury sedan, and unsurprisingly trails most of the competition. It's a good thing the rear seats fold down, or otherwise a Costco trip would become an in-trunk Tetris adventure.

It's a decidedly better story with rear leg room. There's been enough of a stretch in the wheelbase of the new CT5 to bring about a 1.4-inch increase in second-row leg room. The total leg room, now nearly 38 inches, is excellent for the class and tops that of the BMW 5-Series by 1.5 inches.

Standard active safety features are plentiful and include forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, and a safety alert seat, among others. There's other optional features available as well, such as adaptive cruise control, but Super Cruise can't join the option sheet soon enough.

Fuel economy doesn't particularly impress. The four-cylinder models are best, with an EPA-estimated 23 miles per gallon city, 32 mpg highway, and 26 combined. But move into one of the V6-powered models and things fall off quick. The 19/26/21 mpg (city/highway/combined) of the V6 is mediocre at best, and the 18/26/21 mpg of the CT5-V isn't any better.

Final thoughts. We're sad to say that the 2020 Cadillac CT5 feels like one step ahead and two steps back. That's most clear from behind the wheel, where the sharp handling of the old model has been traded off for numb steering and a more flaccid chassis.

The entry-level engines don't do much to impress either, though the V model has the chutzpah to keep the M340i and AMG C 43 at bay. And the upcoming range-topping CT5 should be a riotous machine.

But good sport sedans shouldn't lean on the unattainable halo models to carry their reputation. The ordinary and affordable trims are just as critical – if not more so – to building a proper fan base. Yet, a drive in the CT5 suggests that Cadillac hasn't put forth the effort necessary to make a proper BMW-beater. The result is a car that's good but not good enough.

Without some additional polishing, the CT5 will struggle to free itself from the deadly trap that is being average. For a brand that once billed themselves as the Standard of the World, this is a sorry thought indeed.

Check prices for the 2020 Cadillac CT5 »