Mired in a past that catered to sextengenarians whose driving style could be summed up in the word “comfy”, the Cadillac brand desperately needed to rejuvenate recreate its image. The mid-sized and more “sporty” Catera emerged in 1998; it was different from past Cadillacs but was essentially a rebadged Opel Omega. It may have been the new Caddy on the block, but it was lacking in style, and its performance and build quality were about as far from the German sports sedans as Lunchables are from a satisfying meal.

The Catera’s replacement, the CTS, was an instant hit. Edgy, decently quick and distinctly American in its styling, Cadillac’s first exercise in their new design language made a real statement, and the automotive world noticed. The second-generation CTS continued this rise with less polarizing style and better performance, eventually leading to the wagon and the futuristic Coupe.

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But it was the smaller ATS, released in 2012, that chimed in a new era of design language for Cadillac. Eschewing some of its forebears’ overly done hard-edged, stealth-fighter design, the ATS looked more sophisticated and balanced. Most importantly, it was as good to drive as many German sports sedans. The ATS’s exterior and interior have now trickled up to the new CTS, lending fresh presence and sophistication that it once lacked. The CTS Vsport ($59,995) ups everything a notch. The car is more elegant than the previous model thanks to a leaner profile; the front grille is smaller but no less noticeable, but now it’s flanked a distinctly Cadillac vertical and well-tapered LED light stack in the headlight clusters. The faux vents aft of the front fenders from the previous car are thankfully gone — this is a styling element that’s been overdone everywhere. This clean-up is part in parcel of a smoother and more unified countenance that’s attractive and less busy. See, just because you’re ‘merican, doesn’t mean you have to be tacky.

American brands, Cadillac included, are finally beginning to distinguish themselves through interior alongside exterior design. It was painful and necessary — like breaking a bad cig habit — but the acres of amorphous gray plastic are nearly gone from most of our cars. Cadillac continues to improve, and the CTS is clear evidence of that with a sporty, techy, not overly luxurious theme. The supportive seats in the performance-oriented Vsport models work equally well on long hauls and more aggressive drives that require faster turns of the steering wheel. Driving position is near perfect, something the Caddy engineers took the time to study. We won’t talk about the CUE system, since we can’t especially say anything nice about it aside from the fact that it’s easy to spell.

This clean-up is part in parcel of a smoother and more unified countenance that’s attractive and less busy. See, just because you’re ‘merican, doesn’t mean you have to be tacky.

Speaking of those engineers — they really spared nothing. Weight has been an issue for Caddy in their previous two cars, and slimming down was key in the development of the CTS. Thanks to aluminum doors (a first for GM) and other weight-saving measures, the 2014 CTS is over 400 pounds lighter than a BMW 550i, its targeted competition. A 420 hp twin-turbo V6 engine paired with that decreased weight catapults the Vsport to 60 in a rapid 4.4 seconds, something you can’t miss as the impressive thrust throws you into the back of your seat. The car’s 430 lb-ft of torque is available in all its fullness at just 3,500 rpm.

But it’s not just about acceleration here. In order to be a true world competitor on the sport sedan scene, the car must handle, and the CTS delivers in abundance. The near perfect chassis is as solid as Gibraltar, and the electrically boosted steering provides an excellent driving experience with good precision and weighted effort in the turns. Enter a turn fast enough and the tires will break loose — albeit controllably, with the traction control system intervening just enough. Despite the lack of a manual gearbox, the CTS knows how to deliver driving fun.

The capable 8-speed transmission offers four different flavors for any driving druthers: Touring, for casual and comfortable driving; Sport, for an aggressive mode that’s much more pronounced than you’d expect, holding in gear ’til the tach has just about had it; Track, for those who plan to wring every last ounce of power out of the CTS on the tarmac; and Snow/Ice, for wintry folk. The two sport modes prove Cadillac’s dedication to making a true sports sedan that delivers a high thrills per minute ratio. Of course, if you want to spend less a bit less and don’t care to tear up the neighborhood, you can get the entry level CTS with a 2.0-liter turbo four cylinder or the 3.6-liter V6 without Vsport enhancements. (There are also rear-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive options). The actual CTS-V, the big boy in the lineup, hasn’t been released yet, but expect out-of-this world power and performance from a sedan that will frighten small children and most suburban adults.

As great as the ATS was, this is the first Cadillac that elicits automotive desire a la BMW, Mercedes and Audi. Though it still doesn’t carry the same brand cache as the big three German luxury carmakers, it’s fair to say that with the CTS Vsport Cadillac is making a bold statement: they’ve arrived to the party ready to dance.