October 29, 2007
North Vancouver, British Columbia – Like Kid Rock, Fatburger and trucker ball caps, there’s some classic redneck appeal to the all-new Cadillac CTS.
Totally redesigned for 2008, the CTS has all the muscular bravado of a high-performance car (read: 304 hp), but also a level of luxury and refinement reminiscent of Cadillac’s glory days. Back then, roughly from the 1950s to the late 1970s, Cadillac was an iconic U.S. brand that conveyed a sense of not only wealth and success, but also of the luxurious lifestyle that epitomized the American Dream.
But with the rising dominance of German and Japanese luxury brands on its home turf beginning, ironically, during the Reagan years and continuing right up to present day, Cadillac and its Big Three compatriot Lincoln, fell on hard times. To say BMW, Mercedes and Lexus got in the grille of the U.S. luxury carmakers is an understatement of Eldorado proportions, though in many ways decisions made in Detroit boardrooms proved to make them the architects of their own demise.
Lincoln has yet to really recover though but GM’s luxury brand has shown real signs of life of late, revived, fittingly, by the hulking Escalade, a 21st Century land yacht that has to some extent resuscitated Cadillac.
If the Escalade did indeed get the company’s pulse going and stabilized, the CTS has quickened that heart rate since its debut in 2003. That mid-size entry-level luxury sedan car finally achieved the Holy Grail for Cadillac designers: that was to produce a sedan that would capture the hearts and minds of younger buyers. The Catera and the Allante failed miserably to dissuade 30- and 40-somethings from hopping into 3 Series or S-Class vehicles in record-breaking numbers – and for good reason. They were unattractive, the fit and finish was nowhere near Cadillac standards, and the handling was, unfortunately, right up to Cadillac standards.
In the original CTS, they got it right, and some younger buyers took notice. With the release of the all-new 2008 CTS, Cadillac is back in fighting form and ready to go 12 rounds with the Teutonic and Pacific Rim heavyweights.
Borrowing exterior and interior styling cues from the Cadillac Sixteen concept car, the 2008 CTS could very well be the Beemer killer GM has been looking for all these years. It’s revealing to note that Cadillac press notes boast, “the new model’s ride and handling was proven at Germany’s famed Nürburgring.” Clearly such a reference is aimed at customers who harbour German-centric preferences in automobiles – otherwise the CTS’s proving ground would be Talladega or Watkins Glen.
With a base price of just $38,900, the 2008 CTS features many improvements on what was already a very competent entry-level rear-wheel drive sedan. For the first time, all-wheel drive is an option on the CTS ($4,325), immediately putting it in company with the AWD offerings from European and Japanese luxury carmakers. The gearbox on the AWD model is from the same as in the STS-V, XLR-V and Escalade, and features driver shift control, enabling on-demand clutchless manual shifts.
And that’s far from all that’s new. A new optional 3.6-litre direct-injection V6 engine provides more power but also maintains fuel mileage and lowers emissions thanks to that gasoline direct-injection technology. Similar to systems in the latest diesel engines, direct-injection technology delivers fuel more precisely to increase the efficiency of combustion, meaning less fuel is consumed and lower emissions created than from a conventional combustion engine. This translates to more power (304 hp), no loss of fuel efficiency and a 25 percent drop in cold-start hydrocarbon emissions. The base engine is a 3.6-litre V6 with port fuel injection producing 263 hp.
The new CTS also features low-energy LEDs and high-intensity discharge xenon lamps that swivel with vehicle steering. Inside, a handcrafted instrument panel and door trim are clear indications that Cadillac has returned to its roots. To that end, the new CTS features hand-cut, French-stitched and wrapped surfaces throughout the comfortable and surprisingly, for a mid-size car, spacious cabin. In particular, the front seats are extremely roomy, and the sweeping integration of the dashboard with the insides of the doors and centre console stack give the CTS the classic and sought after cockpit-like space.
Metallic trim, chrome and wood accents and available Sapele Pommele wood envelop the interior. Instruments and controls are compact and by no means overwhelming, and are easily visible to the driver.
My test unit was loaded with most if not all of the available bells and whistles, including a user-friendly NAV system with one of the best interfaces I’ve come across, a massive “double” sunroof borrowed from Cadillac’s SRX crossover, a comfort and convenience package with such tasty goodies as heated/ventilated front seats, ultrasonic rear parking assist and passive entry system with remote start, and a performance package featuring a limited slip differential, sport suspension and a performance braking system.
All this makes for a very enticing package, though does add somewhat substantially to the sticker price. My loaded, AWD tester came in at $61,155, a big ticket but right in line with equally equipped competitors.
What really sets the 2008 CTS apart though is the dramatic exterior lines. The Cadillac Sixteen’s influence can clearly be seen in the CTS’s grille. Likewise, the sculpted fenders and side air extractors give the new look CTS a more athletic form, and one that emphasizes the car’s wider track and enhanced chassis dynamics. The new CTS is wider and longer than its predecessor, though the wheelbase remains unchanged.
With a wider track, new geometry and ideas and components inspired by Cadillac’s V-Series of performance vehicles, the new CTS chassis is all business. Featuring four-channel ABS and StabiliTrak, structural enhancements via a tower-to-tower brace, larger brakes and premium steering, the CTS is built to be driven, and when driven hard, like all good performance vehicles, it shows its true colours. It’s not often I’ve wanted to take a Cadillac on a closed-track run, but with 305 horsepower and all-wheel drive, the 2008 CTS is just begging to be pushed to the limit.
This is most certainly a car enthusiast’s car, and its mid-size length gives it a nimble sport sedan feel.
The ride is unquestionably one of the firmest for a Cadillac, though there is still a little bit of softness when really thrown into a corner. On this count, GM engineers have a bit of a way to go before they can equal the stiffness of the top dog luxury sport sedans. But just a bit.
I also found the front seats lacking in providing the kind of support a driver of this kind of car expects and often requires. Rather than install a racing inspired sport seat, CTS designers went for a comfort seat, which is all fine and very good for a tranquil ride through the country, but put the CTS through a tight mountain switchback at speed and you’ll find yourself slipping in your seat from side to side.
Other problems are some pretty nasty blindspots created by the wide A-pillar and large side mirrors out the front, and some rather brutish C-pillars, that while succeeding in giving the sedan a meaty aesthetic also give the driver fits when backing up. Even still, I give the new CTS high marks for its handling and performance attributes.
Now about that redneck reference that started things off: there’s something definitely bad-ass looking about the CTS, the same kind of visual vibe the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Magnum emit, and something German and Japanese luxury sedans certainly do not.
Cadillac made a name for itself by producing luxury cars that stood out from the crowd, and in the 2008 CTS, Cadillac has created a entry level mid-size sedan that, both visually and technically, stands out from the well-appointed crowd.
Pricing: 2008 Cadillac CTS
Base price: $41,400
(6-speed auto transmission with AWD: $4,325; Extra cost paint: $1,295; Stereo/DVD/NAV system: $3,900; 18-inch aluminum wheels: $695; Sight & Sound package: $1,735; Comfort & Convenience package: $2,735; Performance package: $1,890; Doubled sized ultraview power sunroof: $1,660)
Destination charge: $ 1,420
A/C tax $ 100
Price as tested: $61,155
Manufacturer’s web site