2004 Cadillac CTS
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Story and photos by Greg Wilson

New 3.6 litre V6 adds more vroom


Only a year after introducing the new CTS performance sedan with a standard 220 horsepower 3.2 litre V6 engine, Cadillac is offering a new, optional 255 horsepower 3.6 litre V6 engine with variable valve timing – and will soon introduce a 400 horsepower CTS-V performance version of the CTS. It’s an aggressive move by Cadillac to penetrate the highly competitive entry luxury sedan market, now dominated by European and Japanese entry-level models like the BMW 3-Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Audi A4, Lexus IS300 and Infiniti G35.

Even with the new improvements, the CTS faces some major hurdles on the road to commercial success. As Cadillac discovered with the Allante and Catera, Canadians and Americans have difficulty “crossing over” to a domestic import alternative – even it’s based on a European platform as the Catera was. BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, and Jaguar – and now Lexus and Infiniti – have built up strong reputations in the luxury performance sedan field, and both Cadillac and Lincoln have had difficulty making a lasting impression in this market.

Secondly, Cadillac’s controversial “chiselled” styling theme is turning off some buyers before they even get behind the wheel. Europeans intenders tend to prefer a more streamlined, aerodynamic look (the new BMW’s notwithstanding), which makes the CTS a bit schizophrenic: it has a European-like chassis and powertrain, but an American-style design.

2004 Cadillac CTS
Click image to enlarge

For those who do like the CTS’ edgy body panels, the 2004 CTS with the new 3.6 litre V6 engine has a lot to recommend it. The base 220 horsepower 3.2 litre V6 (revised for 2004) is still available, but the new 255 horsepower 3.6 litre V6 with variable valve timing mated to a five-speed automatic transmission puts the CTS near the top of its class in straight line performance and engine flexibility – only the upstart Infiniti G35 has more horsepower in the entry-level, rear-wheel-drive luxury class.

Curiously – but perhaps not so curiously – a manual transmission is not offered with the 3.6 engine. Only the 3.2 litre engine comes with the standard Getrag five-speed manual transmission. The 3.6 gets the 5 speed automatic with Winter, Sport and Economy modes, but no manual shift capability.

Other new features on the 2004 CTS are revised shocks and shock mounts, some minor interior changes, and optional power adjustable lumbar support. The 2003 base price of $39,900 has actually dropped to $39,200 for 2004.

My test car was equipped with most of the options available: the “Power Team Package” which includes the 3.6 litre V6 engine, 5 speed automatic transmission, 3:42 axle ratio, engine block heater and dual exhausts; the “Sport Package” with a stiffer suspension and rear load leveling, speed-sensitive steering, performance brake pads, StabiliTrack anti-skid system, 225/50R-17 inch V-rated performance tires and alloy wheels;

2004 Cadillac CTS

2004 Cadillac CTS

2004 Cadillac CTS

2004 Cadillac CTS

2004 Cadillac CTS
Click image to enlarge

and the optional 60/40 split folding rear seats, power front passenger seat, power lumbar for both front seats, and a moonroof. With Freight and Federal A/C tax added, my test car came to $48,460 – still a competitive price when you compare it to loaded BMW’s and Lexuses.


Interior

Some changes have been made to improve the CTS’ interior, such as a colour-coordinated console and armrest, but the CTS interior remains less attractive than most European and Japanese competitors – in part because of the dash design and in part because of the materials used. This is really a personal opinion, but as evidence I point to the less-than-distinctive numerals of the speedometer, the glaring orange visual display, the too-smooth black plastic surface of the instrument panel, the wasted space above the CD player, and the lack of chrome and wood trim. Oh, and those creme-coloured floor mats have got to go.

I liked the well-padded side bolsters on the front seats, and the thick-rimmed steering wheel which includes four pre-select buttons for radio stations, and an unusual rotary dial for radio volume. The most useful new feature is probably the optional power adjustable lumbar support for both driver and passenger seats.

Ahead of the driver, two round gauges with illuminated orange numerals stand out, but I found the numbers a bit small. The centre dash display also has orange numerals for the radio, time, outside temperature, station select, and trip computer functions which are easy to read.

My test car had the standard AM/FM stereo with CD player and seven speakers, but you can get an optional 6-disc in-dash CD changer, eight Bose speakers, and automatic volume control in the Luxury Package. A DVD-based Navigation system is also available.

The standard dual zone automatic climate control is at the bottom of the dash, and it’s easy to reach and simple to operate. Behind the floor shift lever are two open cupholders, and a fold-up armrest/with storage.

The CTS’ interior volume of 98 cubic feet is roomy for its class (although not as roomy as the larger Lincoln LS). I found front and rear headroom and legroom to be sufficient for four, maybe five adults.

The trunk is average in size, and is available with optional folding rear seatbacks. Many luxury cars don’t offer folding seatbacks, so this is a plus. One complaint: I noticed a few exposed screws protruding through the upper trunk wall which could potentially puncture luggage in a sudden stop.

Standard safety equipment includes six air bags: dual-stage front air bags, front side airbags, and head-curtain side air bags to help protect front and rear passengers.


Driving impressions

With its longitudinally-mounted engine, rear-wheel-drive platform and fully independent suspension, the CTS offers a layout preferred by traditional driving enthusiasts – similar to that of the popular BMW 3-Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Infiniti G35. I found the CTS’ handling balanced and easily controllable through twisty sections, and the ride surprisingly supple even though my test car had the stiffer ‘Sport’ suspension and low profile 50-series tires. The optional Goodyear Eagle RS-A P225/50R-17 all-season performance tires do provide more grip than the standard 225/55HR-16 inch tires, and the car’s tight turning circle of 10.8 metres (35.5 ft.) makes maneouvering in and out of tight spaces a breeze. Still, the CTS’ overall vehicle dynamics are not class-leading.

My test car had the optional TRW “Speedpro” variable assist steering which required very little effort at slow speeds and manageable effort at highway speeds, and was quick to respond at any speed.

2004 Cadillac CTS

2004 Cadillac CTS

2004 Cadillac CTS
Click image to enlarge

 

The CTS’ new 3.6 litre V6, with twin overhead cams, four valves per cylinder and variable valve timing on both intake and exhaust valves, provides increased torque over a broader range and improved fuel consumption. The new engine offers 255 horsepower at 6200 rpm and 252 lb-ft of torque at 3200 rpm – that compares to the 3.2 litre V6 with 220 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 220 lb.-ft. of torque at 3400 rpm. Though bigger and more powerful, the 3.6 offers the same fuel consumption as the 3.2: 12.9 l/100 km (22 mpg) in the city and 8.4 l/100 km (34 mpg) on the highway. Interestingly, the 3.6 litre engine uses 87 octane unleaded regular gas while the 3.2 litre V6 uses 91 octane unleaded premium.

Acceleration from a standing start is abrupt, and it’s possible to squeal the rear tires on dry pavement even with the traction control on. Low speed throttle responsiveness is immediate, and passing performance is also impressive. On the freeway, the engine hums along at just 2,100 rpm at a steady 100 km/h, and 2,500 at 120 km/h. I found freeway cruising comfortable and quiet. The powertrain is notably free of noise and vibration with the exception of a slight humming sound from the drivetrain at highway speeds.

I didn’t test the standard 3.2 litre V6 engine, but it’s worth noting that it has been upgraded for 2004 with a stronger block, aluminum head, and electronic throttle to improve fuel economy, emissions, and driveability.

The GM Hydra-Matic 5-speed automatic transmission was smooth and responsive, and allows the driver to manually choose a Winter mode to start off in a higher gear on slippery surfaces; and a Sport mode to alter shift timing for more performance. It also features a first for GM: engine braking in all five gears when descending a hill or braking into a corner. The 5-speed automatic doesn’t offer a manual mode, which is odd because the CTS 3.6 is not available with the manual 5-speed transmission. It would be nice if Cadillac offered the manual tranny as an option, but with few luxury buyers opting for manuals, it’s likely there wouldn’t be many takers anyway.

The CTS has standard four wheel disc brakes with ABS and “Panic Brake Assist” – and with the Sport Package you get “high performance” brake linings which offer improved fade resistance.


Competitors

Competitors for the 2004 Cadillac CTS 3.6 ($45,425) include the Lincoln LS V6 ($43,750), BMW 330i ($46,900), Mercedes-Benz C320 ($49,750), Lexus IS300 ($39,395), Infiniti G35 ($39,400), the all-wheel-drive Audi A4 3.0 ($45,490) and Jaguar X-Type ($48,195), and the front-drive Acura TL Type S ($41,800), Saab 9-3 Vector ($43,500), Volvo S60 T5 ($46,495).

Except for the Infiniti G35 and Acura TL Type S, the CTS has the edge in horsepower and is roomier than most of its competitors. It’s not as much fun to drive as cars like the 3-Series and IS300, but its handling is competent and ride very comfortable. The CTS’ interior appearance and finish is not top-class, but fully loaded with options, the CTS is a better value than many of its German and British competitors.

The Cadillac CTS is built in Lansing, Michigan.


Verdict

Improved low and mid-range throttle response from a new, optional 3.6 litre V6 engine adds to the CTS’ generally balanced handling characteristics, but interior quality is still not up to the standards of its leading competitors.


Technical Data: 2004 Cadillac CTS 3.6

Base price $39,200
Freight $1,050
A/C tax $100
Options $8,110 (Sport Package, Power Team package, power front passenger seat, driver and passenger lumbar adjustment, split folding rear seatbacks, premium sunroof)
Price as tested $48,460
Type 4-door, 5 passenger, mid-size luxury sedan
Layout longitudinal front engine/rear-wheel-drive
Engine 3.6 litre V6, variable valve timing, DOHC, 24 valves
Horsepower 255 @ 6200 rpm
Torque 252 lb-ft @ 3200 rpm
Transmission 5-speed automatic
Fuel type 87 octane unleaded regular
Tires Goodyear Eagle RS-A P225/50VR-17 all season
Curb weight 1676 kg (3694 lb.)
Wheelbase 2880 mm (113.4 in.)
Length 4829 mm (190.1 in.)
Width 1793 mm (70.6 in.)
Height 1440 mm (56.7 in.)
Cargo area 362 litres (12.8 cu. ft.)
Passenger Volume 2775 litres (98 cu. ft.)
Fuel consumption City: 13.4 l/100 km (21 mpg)
  Hwy: 7.8 l/100 km (36 mpg)
Warranty 4 yrs/80,000 km

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