Review and photos by Laurance Yap

Photo Gallery:
2008 Cadillac STS

Toronto, Ontario – I didn’t even have my driver’s license when the first Cadillac STS hit the market, but even then, I can still recall the impact it had on the company’s image. The STS – which at the time was still a trim level of the Seville line-up – represented a real change for Cadillac, a move towards edgy, modern styling and European driving dynamics and away from super-soft dynamics and plush interiors with tufted leather and lots of fake wood. Even now, the original STS looks good on the road, with its sharp edges, subtle detailing and aggressive stance. In it you can see some of the seeds of Cadillac’s later designs, which combined the same styling themes with rear-drive proportions and improved quality.

2008 Cadillac STS V8
2008 Cadillac STS V8
2008 Cadillac STS V8. Click image to enlarge

The latest STS, which was introduced a couple of years ago and has recently been face-lifted for the 2008 model year, didn’t quite have the same styling impact as the original, or indeed the smaller and less-expensive CTS sedan, which remains the most extreme expression of Cadillac’s high-tech look. It’s bigger and softer-looking than the CTS, with more refined curves to suit its richer, probably older demographic target. But the styling flourishes are still there: xenon headlights stacked up either side of a wide egg-crate grille, large swaths of unadorned metal on the sides, a compact glasshouse, wheels that have almost a jewelled look to them and LED rear lamps that light up in a literal thousand points of light.

Small changes to the exterior styling, such as new chrome side vents, will be notable only to determined car-spotters. What’s new and important with the 2008 STS is what’s under the hood. While the uplevel $70,000 V8 model retains its 320-hp Northstar V8, the more-popular $60,000 V6 model receives a major upgrade. It now comes with the 302-hp direct-injected 3.6-litre V6 from the most expensive CTS, an engine whose power and torque figures make you wonder why anyone would spend the extra money for the V8 model. Smoothness is the reason: the V8 is like butter under most driving situations and even under hard acceleration is nearly silent. The V6, on the other hand, can sound a bit harsh and metallic under duress and isn’t likely to be much more efficient than the V8; my STS V8 test car averaged 12.9 L/100 km in mostly urban driving. A six-speed automatic transmission, optional on the V8, proved to be an excellent companion with manual shift capability and a sport mode, which lights up a floating tachometer on the heads-up display.

While the new powertrain – particularly the strong new V6 – is a welcome upgrade to the STS, it was always a pretty strong performer to begin with. For drivers who spend a lot of time in their cars, particularly during the morning commute, the car’s revised entertainment and navigation system will be the biggest news. Once one of the slowest and least-responsive touch-screen systems in the industry, the new STS’ infotainment set-up is much faster and easier to use. Too bad then, that it retains the fussy graphics and tiny type from the old STS, rather than the clear design and easy-to-read text used in the new Escalade. At least the control logic is easy to figure out: unlike other touch-screen systems on the market, the virtual button arrangement doesn’t shift from screen to screen, whether you’re typing in a navigation destination, selecting a radio channel or browsing tracks on a CD or DVD. As before, sound quality from the Bose premium system is excellent, with thumping bass and clear, clean highs.

Small detail enhancements have been made to the interior, but there wasn’t really much to improve in terms of quality. Cadillac’s interiors are right up there with the Germans and Japanese these days in terms of the materials used and the overall level of finishing and the STS’ rich leather, real wood trim and polished chrome are no exception. The leather dash’s French seams and the heated and cooled power seats are real standouts. As you would expect, the standard equipment list is extensive, but there’s still an extensive options list; my V8 STS with all-wheel-drive and the Platinum package had almost $30,000 worth of additions, making for a breathtaking as-tested price of almost $100,000; a lot, given that you can buy more space and pace in a 7-series BMW or Audi A8 for not much more money.

2008 Cadillac STS V8
2008 Cadillac STS V8
2008 Cadillac STS V8. Click image to enlarge

Then again, while the STS may have a familiar shell, it does pack all sorts of new and leading-edge technology under its sculptured shell. In addition to the usual array of Cadillac safety features – Stabilitrak stability control, ABS brakes, airbags in the wheel, dash and door pillars – you also get a lane-departure warning system, little orange lights in the side-view mirrors that light up if there’s a car in your blind spot and adaptive cruise control that can lock on to the car in front of you and maintain a set distance. Also new for 2008 is active steering that, along with the stability control and shift patterns, can be set to touring or performance modes; bring up the setting on the touch screen and the STS goes from mild to wild. The ride firms up, the steering gets heavier and you can play around a bit more in corners before the stability system steps in to brake spinning tires.

When you’re in the mood, it’s all quite a lot of fun. Especially with the optional all-wheel-drive system, the big Cadillac grips and grips through corners, with a confident, flat attitude. The steering has plenty of road feel, the brakes are powerful and fade-free and the transmission snaps off shifts (particularly in sport mode) with authority. It is, however, more confident than it is sporty, imparting that same sense of weightiness and supreme high-speed stability as a Mercedes S-class at high speeds.

This is a great road trip car, fast and comfortable. Long freeway jaunts just melt underneath the STS’ chrome wheels and you emerge from its leather-lined cabin refreshed and relaxed. More than a little bit early, too.

Pricing: 2008 Cadillac STS V8 AWD
Base price: $68,880
Base price(AWD V8): $81,275
Options: $16,345 (Platinum Package ($8,425) 18-inch chromed alloy wheels, chrome door handles, platinum upper and lower grille, leather interior, premium floor mats, Olive Ash burl real wood trim on the driver and passenger doors, centre console, instrument panel, heated steering wheel and shifter knob; Driver Awareness Package: ($4,860) adaptive cruise control, head-up display with digital display readout for vehicle speed, selected gear, adaptive cruise indicator, audio system information, high beam indicator, fuel level and five-language capacity, lane departure warning with side blind zone alert; Stabilitrak 3.0 with active steering ($1,400); power sunroof ($1,660).
Freight: $1,420
A/C tax: 100
Price as tested: $99,140

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