2003 Cadillac CTS
Click image to enlarge

by Harry Pegg

Charlottesville, Virginia – When you plan the opening shot of a new century, you want to get things right – and Cadillac is pretty much on the mark with the 2003 CTS.

The company brought a few North American auto writers to this area to show off what GM Canada’s Cadillac brand manager, Norm Sawula, called “the navigational star for Cadillac in the future.”

It’s a rear-wheel-drive four-door sedan that’s all edges and creases and angles…a pleasant enough shape that looks much better in the flesh than it does in pictures. It brings to mind the Evoq luxury roadster concept unveiled in 1999 although not quite as edgy. I’m not 100% sure I like the look, but it does grow on you.

Chief engineer Jack Horvath said the car is a foot shorter than Seville over-all, but its wheelbase, at 113.4 inches, is two inches longer. He said building a new car from the ground up gave designers the opportunity to use the best suppliers in the world. “We built more than 200 pre-production vehicles with 51 different bodies,” he said.

2003 Cadillac CTS
Click image to enlarge

CTS doesn’t look like your traditional Cadillac and it doesn’t drive like one, either. It’s new non-isolated front suspension cradle and isolated steering box eliminate compliance between steering wheel and tire, giving the driver a true feel for what’s happening under the tires without transmitting any harsh vibration.

Under the hood is a new longitudinally-mounted 3.2 litre V6 with four-valves-per cylinder that pumps out 220 horsepower. The only thing in common with the previous 3.0 litre V6 engine is the 54-degree angle between cylinder banks.

The engine is smooth and quiet except for a satisfying exhaust note. Throttle response is impressive – this V6 is capable of winning stoplight races if you’ve a mind to.

However, the best performance story, for me, is the shifting. For the first time in more than 50 years, you can buy a Cadillac with a manual transmission. And it’s a beaut! The Getrag five-speed manual works through the gears smoothly; clutch take-up has a nice progressive feel and, best of all, the pedals are set up for heel-and-toe shifting. Terrific.

Of course, there are more people who prefer the machine to do the shifting and for those there’s a five-speed automatic with sport shift algorithms. It can provide aggressive, sporty, shifting or more sedate, nearly seamless, driving if that’s your choice.

Whichever shift system you choose it was a blast to take a Cadillac over the narrow, twisty Virginia roads and do it with an enthusiastic smile on my face. CTS feels like a European sedan and it likes to play in the corners, handling them with little body lean and minimal dive on braking or squat on acceleration.

The result is a front suspension setup featuring independent, double short/long arms with coil-over shocks with anti-roll bar and monotube dampers and a multi-link rear suspension with coil springs with anti-roll bar and monotube dampers.

The luxury sport model adds automatic load levelling to the rear suspension along with StabiliTrak stability enhancement.

2003 Cadillac CTS
2003 Cadillac CTS
Click image to enlarge

Driver and passenger are cradled in front sports seats with articulating headrests and side bolsters that provide plenty of support when the manoeuvring gets enthusiastic.

The driver side gets 8-way power adjustments (also available for the passenger in the Luxury and Luxury sport packages). A large-diameter three-spoke steering wheel includes four programmable buttons to allow selection of a variety of functions such as traction control, phone, fan.

Instrumentation includes an integrated driver information screen which displays vehicle status and entertainment displays. The Bose entertainment system has two large knobs for tuning and volume along with six station presets and seek and scan. The system has 8 speakers with 212 watts of power and an in-dash six-CD changer.

Safety gear includes dual-stage front air bags, seat-mounted side bags and head-curtain side bags.

Cadillac performance manager Ken Morris had more fun with this car than anybody, I’ll wager. He got to test the car, in all 40 of its rear suspension variations on the famous 12.8-mile, 117-corner track at Nurbrergring.

It’s no wonder he smiles a lot. I did, too.

This is a Cadillac that really does zig (remember Catera?) It zags, too. And it’s fun to drive.

At a glance

Body 4-door sedan
Layout Front engine, rear drive
Engine 3.2-L 24-valve V6
Horsepower 220 @ 6000 rpm
Torque 218 @ 3400 rpm
Transmission 5-speed Getrag manual/5-speed automatic
Curb weight 1591.6-1618.4 kg (3509-3568 lbs.)
Wheelbase 2,880 mm (113.4 in.)
Track (front/rear) 1524/1524 mm (60 in./60 in.)
Length 4,828 mm (190.1 in.)
Width 1,793 mm (70.6 in.)
Height 1,440 mm (56.7 in.)
Brakes 4-wheel ventilated disc with ABS and full range traction control
Fuel consumption N/A

2003 Cadillac CTS
2003 Cadillac CTS
2003 Cadillac CTS
Click image to enlarge

Standard equipment (CTS): 3.2L V6 engine, rear wheel drive, Getrag 5-speed manual transmission, full range traction control, four-wheel ventilated disc brakes with ABS, power-assisted rack and pinion steering, dual front airbags, front seatback mounted side airbags, front-to-rear head-curtain side airbags, automatic dual zone climate control, programmable automatic power locks with central locking, rear-door child safety locks, driver information centre, electrochromic automatic day/night inside rearview mirror, OnStar communication system (with safety and security service such as air bag deployment notification, remote door unlock, stolen vehicle tracking and remote diagnostics), front bucket seats with Nuance leather surfaces, 8-way power driver seat, fixed-back rear seats with armrest pass-through, leather-trimmed tilt steering wheel with fingertip controls (audio, cruise control, HVAC and programmable functions: fan, traction control, phone-end and available navigation repeat), power outside mirrors, PASS-Key II theft deterrent system, block heater, power trunk lid release, power windows with driver and passenger one-touch up and down, projector beam tungsten halogen headlamps, illuminated entry system, 16-inch cast aluminum painted wheels, 8-speaker Bose audio system with cassette and in-dash 6-CD changer. Available options include: five-speed automatic transmission, Personal Calling wireless phone service with hands-free calling,

Luxury Package adds 3-channel garage door opener with electronic voice recorder, Memory package with with key fob activation, compass, 8-way power adjustment for front passenger seat, audible theft-deterrent system, wood trim on steering wheel, door pull handles and shift knob. Available options on the Luxury Package include five-speed automatic transmission, Personal Calling wireless phone service with hands-free calling, split/folding rear seat with trunk pass through, heated front seats, Xenon high-intensity discharge headlights, power tilt/slide sunroof with express open, 16-inch bright finish cast aluminum wheels.

Luxury Sport Package adds: V-rated Goodyear Eagle all-season mud-and-snow radial tires on 17-inch mirror polished cast aluminum wheels, sport tuned suspension, high-performance brake lining, load-leveling rear suspension, StabiliTrak 2.0 stability enhancement system, speed sensitive power assisted rack and pinion steering. Options include split/folding rear seat with trunk pass through, heated front seats, Xenon high-intensity discharge headlights, power tilt/slide sunroof with express open.

Connect with Autos.ca