2001 Cadillac Catera. Click image to enlarge
Manufacturer’s web site
Cadillac Catera, 1997-2001
The Cadillac Catera had a promising enough start in Canada: shortly after its introduction as the brand’s newest entry-level model in 1997, the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada voted it Best New Luxury Car in its annual Canadian Car of the Year awards.
The Catera was a rebadged version of the Opel Omega in Europe and the Chevrolet Omega in South America. As luxury cars go, it was a far better attempt than Cadillac’s first entry-level exercise, a Chevy Cavalier-based sedan called the Cimarron.
While the Cimarron barely concealed its economy car roots, the Catera looked the part of a luxury car, and drove like one too.
1999 Cadillac Catera. Click image to enlarge
But it was all downhill from there.
The first Cateras were almost unbelievably unreliable. Consumer Reports only has data for 1998 models, but the car scored “much worse than average” in almost every category.
According to this thread at CadillacForums.com, 1997 through 1999 models are the ones to avoid. The post lists numerous trouble spots, and actually suggests walking away from any 1997 or 1998 model, and being very wary about 1999 models. The list of potential problems is long, and includes: leaky valve cover gaskets; alignment issues; oil cooler leaks (this allows oil into the engine coolant); electrical troubles; problems with the transmission’s electronic controls; bad water pumps and A/C compressors; trouble-prone ABS control modules and emissions control system issues.
This informative post goes on to suggest that a model year 2000 refresh coincided with a marked improvement in reliability. Sadly, it was probably too late to salvage the Catera’s name at that point.
2000 Cadillac Catera (top); 2001 Cadillac Catera. Click image to enlarge
If you are thinking of buying a used Catera (or even if you already own one), I strongly suggest joining the Catera group at Yahoo Groups. You have to join to access the information, but doing so is free, and well worth it. Upon joining, you’ll receive two files by e-mail: one is an FAQ, and the other a very detailed rundown of the top 10 problems with these cars.
The Catera used a 3.0-litre V6 rated at 200 horsepower and 192 lb-ft of torque; at the time, it was the only Caddy not powered by a V8. As an aside, the Catera’s motor was also used in a couple of Saturn and Saab models. The only transmission was a four-speed automatic. Those specs would remain the same through the end of the Catera’s run in 2001.
With EnerGuide ratings of 13.8/9.2 L/100 km (city/highway) in 2001, fuel consumption was on the high side: the big Deville sedan was rated at 14/7.9 (city/highway), and a BMW 530i – with a 225-horsepower six-cylinder engine – earned ratings of 11.3/7.3 (city/highway).
Only the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) crash tested a Catera, and gave the car a “good” rating in the organization’s frontal offset crash test. The IIHS didn’t test for side impact safety. However, the Opel/Vauxhall Omega on which the Catera was based earned three of five possible stars in EuroNCAP crash testing. Side impact testing done by that organization found that side airbags (these were standard in 2000 and 2001 Cateras, but unavailable before that) improved driver protection in side impacts.
1998 Cadillac Catera. Click image to enlarge
Used Catera values range from $3,275 for a 1997 model, to $6,475 for a 2001, according to Canadian Red Book. Of the 19 cars I found for sale on AutoTrader.ca, many were being advertised for more than that (like a low-kilometre 2001 for 12 grand!), so shop wisely. The key to buying any Catera – particular if you’re brave enough to spend money on an early example – is to find one with detailed service records. This is one of those cars where one of those sketchy third-party warranties might actually be worth the extra cost.
Truthfully, though, this is one car I’d probably avoid, despite its relative rarity and European roots. I’d seriously consider spending more money for a 2003 or 2004 CTS (where used values are in the $10,000 to $15,000 range) or a BMW 3 Series or Audi A4. None are stellar, reliability-wise, but all three will be easier to fix, both in terms of finding parts and a mechanic who knows the cars well.
Red Book Pricing (avg. retail) October 2008:
There are a few Cadillac-centric websites out there, but only a couple seem to offer any real meat as far as Catera knowledge is concerned. First is CadillacForums.com, which has a comprehensive Catera/Cimarron section where most of the information is dedicated to the Catera. Next up is the Catera group at Yahoo Groups. You have to join to gain access to the information offered, but doing so is easy, free and well worth it even if you’re only considering buying one of these cars.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 1997; Units affected: 18
Crash test results
Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.
For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.
For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.
To read more Used Vehicle Reviews by Chris Chase,.