For decades, options for rear-wheel-drive luxury car shoppers were limited to BMW and Mercedes-Benz, maybe Infiniti or Lexus. Yet recently, several other models have become great luxury sedans in and of themselves. If you can do without one of the vaunted German nameplates, two intriguing possibilities are the Hyundai Genesis Sedan and the Cadillac CTS.
Both of these models earn some of our highest ratings here at The Car Connection, but for quite different reasons. The Hyundai Genesis is a great luxury-car value, and a spacious, refined sedan for those looking to use the back seat. Meanwhile, the Cadillac CTS does exactly what those with more performance-oriented luxury-car tastes will expect: offer stunning looks, strong performance, and a truly luxurious interior, with top-notch materials and trims and a great feature set.
MORE: Read our latest reviews of the 2016 Hyundai Genesis and the 2016 Cadillac CTS
With a redesign that arrived for 2015, the Genesis made some major moves to become more stylish and nuanced in its design. You won’t find a Hyundai badge anywhere on the exterior of the Genesis—instead there’s one that’s more than a little Bentley-like. The look is derivative, for sure—borrowing blunt-nosed Audi influence from the front, as well as some inspiration from Mercedes-Benz and Infiniti, but mixing it up with some of the Korean automaker’s own Fluidic Sculpture design moves. Inside, the look emphasizes horizontal lines and succeeds in looking classy and substantial, with materials that are impressive but perhaps not quite “bespoke” enough for the pricier end of this model’s reach.
On the other hand, the Cadillac CTS carries forth with a design that’s all its own and uniquely Cadillac; compared to the Genesis, it’s absolutely stunning, with its signature LED vertical headlamps and a combination of blunt corners, sharp edges, and organic, somewhat curvaceous sheet metal in between. The cabin is just as beautiful as the interior hints, with cut-and-sew upholstery, beautiful soft-touch materials all around, and some warm, exciting color palette. It’s strikingly futuristic, a universe away from the Germans, and far more enticing than Japanese luxury sedans, or the Genesis. Advantage, Cadillac.
Cadillac has also already managed to give BMW nervous sweats with the last-generation CTS-V—a BMW M5-beater in some respects. There’s an even more insane 640-horsepower CTS-V on the way for 2016 capable of sub-four-second 0-60 mph acceleration and a top speed around 200 mph. But for now, the CTS performs well with the base 272-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine. That’s a bit coarse at times, so the smooth 321-hp, 3.6-liter V-6 is an upgrade some will appreciate; there’s also the Vsport model’s 420-hp twin-turbo V-6. Meanwhile, the Genesis has more of a traditional luxury-sedan engine lineup; there’s either a 3.8-liter V-6, making 311 hp, or a 420-hp, 5.0-liter V-8. Transmissions are automatic in both cases, with smooth shifts, responsive downshifts, and gears selectable via steering-wheel paddles.
Most of the CTS lineup is offered with a choice between rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, while the higher-performance Vsport is only rear-drive. For the Hyundai Genesis, the top V-8 model is also rear-wheel-drive only, though AWD is available with the V-6.
In ride and handling, that’s where the Genesis really shines in a way you might not have at all expected. The previous Genesis could have used a little more attention in that department, and it seems that Hyundai has very much compensated, even employing Lotus for some help with tuning. Provided you don’t expect a full-fledged sport sedan, the Genesis is delightful, especially in its V-6, rear-wheel-drive form, offering far better steering than what we’ve experienced in other Hyundai models. Beware, though, that V-8 models, with the available Continuous Damping Control (CDC) don’t handle any better and there’s no big payoff in ride. As for the CTS, it’s closer to a true sport sedan, but it simply doesn’t play that role in its less-expensive forms, with the four-cylinder or V-6. We’d go for the available Magnetic Ride Control (MRC) suspension, though, as it does exactly what it claims, providing sharper response when you need it and a supple ride the rest of the time. The CTS Vsport riffs off this model’s sportier side, bringing upgraded Pirelli rubber, quicker steering, Brembo brakes, and a track mode for the suspension, steering, and powertrain. As such, it’s a luxurious sport sedan in a way the Genesis can’t manage—at least not yet.
While the Genesis is a step behind the CTS for those with performance tastes, it has one major advantage for anyone who plans to bring along passengers: a back seat that’s entirely usable by adults. Rear-wheel-drive sedans aren’t often great for interior space, yet Hyundai has done well with the Genesis, which offers good ease of entry and exit to those back seats, as well as good legroom. While we prefer the more adjustable, well-bolstered seats in the CTS, the Genesis’ better use of interior space—especially for those in back—with essentially the same vehicle length is an undeniable advantage. And at just 13.7 cubic feet, the CTS’s trunk capacity is also on the slim side. Of course, if you’re not as particular about your interior space, the Cadillac has the edge in ambiance and opulence, with more glamorous woods and metals than you’d find even in an E-Class or 5-Series.
In safety, these are both very strong picks; but based on crash-test ratings as well as features, the Genesis has a safety advantage. It got an all-new structure last year, and with nine standard airbags and a long list of active-safety items it’s earned the IIHS Top Safety Pick+ nod. As for the CTS, its results have also been great, although they’re not all complete from the IIHS, and we’d also venture to say that rearward visibility can be difficult in the Cadillac.
Features? If you’re talking the sheer number of them for the dollar, it’s definitely the Genesis that’s the winner. Even in its $38,950 base form, the 2015 Genesis includes navigation, rain-sensing wipers, and power everything, and you can opt for things like ventilated front seats, a power rear sunshde, surround-sound audio, active cruise control, and all the active-safety kit without blowing past your budget (a top-trim 5.0 Ultimate costs $55,700). The CTS outdoes some German sedans for features, but it’s relative here, and it simply doesn’t offer as much for the money as the Genesis. Its CUE interface can be a little off-putting, yet it offers a great head-up display, as well as a parking assist system that can steer the CTS into parallel spots.
We think the CTS has some strong advantages in terms of styling and performance. Its opulent cabin appointments and superb ride and handling also help it feel a class above. When you look at everything else pragmatic, like safety, back-seat and trunk space, and the absolute feature set, the Genesis ends up on top. A little bit of passion can sway this one in favor of the CTS, but smart money says the Genesis is a lot of real luxury sedan for the buck.