2008 Cadillac CTS 3.6
2008 Cadillac CTS 3.6. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Chris Chase

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2008 Cadillac CTS

Ottawa, Ontario – Remember the Cadillac Catera? As GM put it, that was the Caddy that “zigged,” implying that it did things a little differently than what Cadillac followers were used to. That car’s relative lack of success suggests that it did things differently than what most buyers cross-shopping it with BMWs and Mercedes expected, too.

By contrast, this second-generation CTS is the Caddy that “zings.” At least, it “zinged” this writer, which is to say that it impressed the heck out of me.

To be quite honest, I never thought I’d say that about a Cadillac – I’ve always thought of them as cars that old men drive. Not any more, apparently – at least, not this one: how many retirees are looking for a car that can give them a five-day weather forecast courtesy of a satellite uplink, rip CDs to a hard drive, or record radio programs for you while you’re out of the car?

Not many, I’d be willing to bet. But many younger, well-to-do car buyers might, and that’s the buyer Cadillac has been going after since it launched the Catera in 1997. The first-generation CTS, introduced in 2003, filled the role better, but this new version is the car that I think finally puts Cadillac on the same sport sedan footing as the established German brands.

2008 Cadillac CTS 3.6
2008 Cadillac CTS 3.6. Click image to enlarge

While my heavily-optioned CTS tester came with all sorts of nifty tech goodies, I was more interested in the drive. The best direct comparison I can make here is with the Audi A6: the CTS has a similar feel over the road, albeit with less of the refined mechanical noise that makes the Audi so appealing. Which isn’t to say that the sounds the CTS makes are less pleasant; there’s simply less noise. This is a very quiet car. The only out-of-place sound I noticed was some wind noise from around the front passenger door at highway speeds during part of a road trip to Vermont.

There’s very little road noise, though, and the engine only makes itself heard under duress. That engine – in my tester’s case, a new, direct-injection version of GM’s 3.6-litre V6 – is a smooth one, too, as happy to rev to its 7,000 rpm redline as it was to loaf along at 2,000 revs on the highway.

The six-speed automatic transmission (a manual is available with either available engine, the other being a port-injected version of the 3.6-litre) seemed a good match. My only complaint was that it seemed reluctant to downshift at highway speeds. I noticed some surging while cruising at city speeds, too; the blame for this might lie with the electronic throttle control.

2008 Cadillac CTS 3.6
2008 Cadillac CTS 3.6
2008 Cadillac CTS 3.6. Click image to enlarge

Acceleration is terrific, especially from a stop, where the all-wheel drive system helps to launch the car with only a tiny hint of wheelspin. GM’s Stabilitrac stability and traction control system is a good fit here, its interventions smooth yet purposeful when the driver’s right foot outguns his or her abilities. Though the all-wheel drive system automatically sends power to the front wheels when needed, I couldn’t detect any torque steer while acceleration through curves, keeping steering feel as pure as it would be in a rear-drive car.

As far as being competitive with the Germans on the road, the CTS’ only fault might be a suspension that feels a touch softer than what Audi and BMW offer. My tester’s lengthy options list included the $2,690 performance package, which Cadillac says adds a “sport” suspension; while the car certainly felt sporty, the ride was a little floatier, and body roll more pronounced than I would have liked.

Though not related to the drive, check out how low the front bumper valance is. When I picked up my tester, the valance was already heavily scarred from a few close calls with parking curbs. You wouldn’t have to be going too fast to bung up the front bumper in a parking lot.

Those quibbles aside, high-speed cornering is lots of fun, with a neutral attitude and lots of grip. In relaxed highway driving, the CTS feels stable and secure, and the steering is communicative, telegraphing road surface information through the wheel rim while keeping undue vibrations at bay. Turn-in is nice and quick, without making the car twitchy on the highway. The speed-sensitive assist is nicely tuned: the wheel is light enough at low speeds to take most of the work out of parking lot manoeuvres, but gets nice and weighty on the road.

The brake pedal is firm, but initial bite isn’t as strong as that might suggest. Get used to that, and you’ll find that the brakes are more than adequate. The Performance Package brings a “performance braking system,” but GM Canada’s web site isn’t clear about what that includes.

2008 Cadillac CTS 3.6
2008 Cadillac CTS 3.6
2008 Cadillac CTS 3.6
2008 Cadillac CTS 3.6
2008 Cadillac CTS 3.6
2008 Cadillac CTS 3.6. Click image to enlarge

Inside, the CTS is much improved over its predecessor. At first glance, the centre stack looks busy, but the layout is logical, and actual buttons were a relief from the German tactic of couching every secondary control in a computerized system where even the menus have menus. The CTS’ major HVAC controls are right on the dash and simple to use. In fact, I hardly touched anything but the temperature control (whose placement was a little iffy, down by front seat occupants’ inboard knees), leaving the system in auto mode to keep me comfortable, which it did.

Interior fit and finish in my tester was practically perfect, save for a couple of uneven gaps between the wood trim and faux aluminum on the console around the shifter. Even that aluminum-look plastic is convincing, and the other materials and surfaces are terrific. I was particularly impressed by the stitched leather on the dash top, which was soft to the touch and felt very expensive. Were it not for the keyless access system (there’s that Comfort and Convenience package again), I’d gripe about the ignition switch being on the steering column; but as the system eliminates the need to insert a key or fob, it wasn’t a big deal.

I was a big fan of the navigation screen, which slides down into the dash, leaving just a two-inch slice to display radio or CD information, with touch-screen controls for radio presets. A manual brightness control for the screen, located on the dash, is welcome too, eliminating the need to go spelunking through six layers of menus. Check out the accent lighting in the dash: ice-blue LEDs illuminate the inside door handles and the groove between the upper and lower dash panels: very classy, but a bit frivolous too.

The gauges are legible, but the speedometer, marked in 30 km/h increments, drove me nuts. Having no 100 km/h marking made it difficult to judge highway speeds at a glance. That problem, however, can be solved by using the digital speed readout that can be toggled into view below the analog gauge.

2008 Cadillac CTS 3.6
2008 Cadillac CTS 3.6
2008 Cadillac CTS 3.6
2008 Cadillac CTS 3.6 (top photo by James Bergeron). Click image to enlarge

My tester’s seats (heated leather is standard; my car had ventilated fronts too, as part of the Comfort and Convenience package) were very comfortable and supportive. Headroom is tight, though I think the optional double-size sunroof (Cadillac calls it Ultraview) is to blame for this; while it lets lots of light into the cabin (when the power sunshade is retracted) the sunroof is a pricey $1,660 option. Taller drivers might want to opt out.

Taller drivers might also like the position of the left-foot dead pedal better than I did; it was too far away to be useful to me in spirited driving. The tilt and telescoping steering column (power operated with the Comfort and Convenience package) made it easy to get comfortable otherwise.

In back, legroom is generous, but headroom is also tight, and the bottom cushion is a bit short. The CTS is essentially a four-seater, thanks to the pronounced hump of a centre rear seat, but the two outboard positions are pretty comfortable.

Trunk space is generous; I used the CTS to move three or four boxes’ worth of thrift-store donations and a couple cases of beer store returns, and it all fit easily. Basic CTS’ have a fixed rear seatback with a centre armrest pass-through, but the Comfort and Convenience group adds a 60/40 folding rear seat.

2008 Cadillac CTS 3.6
2008 Cadillac CTS 3.6
2008 Cadillac CTS 3.6. Click image to enlarge

Considering that my tester’s options added a whopping $17,400 to the car’s price (extras certainly do cost more in this segment than in lower-priced cars, and going for all-wheel drive alone adds $4,325), the $58,805 as-tested price (before freight) seems pretty reasonable when you consider that an Audi A6 starts at $63,600 including all-wheel drive, a rear-drive BMW 5 Series opens at $59,900 and a Mercedes E-Class starts at $65,800 with standard all-wheel drive. With the direct-injection engine, the CTS offers more power than any of those base-model cars.

That the CTS gives up so little in performance to its German competitors, while coming in so much cheaper, proves that GM has been paying attention to what it needs to do to be successful in this segment. While the Cadillac crest might lack some of the cachet of the German brands, savvy buyers willing to look past the badge should like what they see.

Hear that zing? That’s the sound of Cadillac invading Audi, BMW and Mercedes territory – something definitely worth paying attention to.


Pricing: 2008 Cadillac CTS (w/ 3.6-litre direct-injection V6)

  • Base price: $41,400 ($38,900 with port-injection V6)
  • Options: $17,400 (all-wheel drive, $4,325; Performance Package (18-inch V-Rated tires; limited-slip differential; sport suspension; performance braking and cooling systems; fog lamps; adaptive (steerable) Xenon headlights; headlamp washers), $1,890; DVD-based navigation system with sound system upgrade, $3,900; Comfort and Convenience package (heated and ventilated front seats; split folding rear seat; power-adjustable steering column; universal home remote; ultrasonic rear parking assist; EZ-Key passive entry; remote start), $2,735; Sight and Sound package (anti-theft system; Rainsense wipers; Interior accent lighting; XM satellite radio), $1,735; Ultraview sunroof, $1,660; 18-inch polished wheels, $695; wood trim, $465)
  • Freight: $1,420
  • A/C tax: $100
  • Price as tested: $60,325 Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives


Specifications

  • Click here for complete specifications


Competitors

  • Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Acura TL
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Audi A6 3.2
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2008 BMW 535xi
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Infiniti M35 AWD
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Mercedes-Benz E350 4Matic


Related articles on Autos

  • Day-by-Day Review: 2008 Cadillac CTS
  • Test Drive: 2008 Cadillac CTS


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