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By Bob McHugh
Don’t let the badge fool you, the Cadillac Catera is not your typical Cadillac. “The Caddy that zigs” is a German sports sedan, made by GM’s European affiliate Adam Opel AG. Catera is a trim combination of Cadillac luxury in a fun to drive, nicely balanced, rear-wheel-drive performance sedan with excellent highway high-speed stability, an elegant interior and a sporty cockpit style driving position.
Built in Ruesselsheim, Germany, Catera was voted Best New Luxury Car in Canada by the automotive critics, when it entered our market as a 1997 model year car. It was designed to appeal specifically to buyers who normally shop for cars in those other “luxo” brand name stores such as Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Lexus and Infiniti.
There’s ample space for five in Catera, although the central driveshaft hump makes the middle rear seat less appealing. This position also hides a trunk expanding pass-through bag feature behind the centre armrest. It can provide storage for skis, fishing rods or other long objects.
The 200-horsepower, 3.0-liter V6 engine is a smooth and willing worker in a body that’s a bit on the heavy side. Look for oil leaks at the timing cover area on early Catera’s and the timing belt should be replaced before the odometer reaches 100,000 km, as this is an interference engine. A defective crankshaft pulley that can lose its harmonic balance is an another potential engine problem.
When Cadillac stiffened and added sound isolation to the Opel rear-drive chassis the changes also made the Catera heavier and consequently a little slower than much of its competition. However, fuel consumption is still reasonable at 13.1 L/100 km. in the city and 8.8 L/100 km. on the highway.
A new traction control system, a 3-point seatbelt in the centre rear and optional electric rear sunshade were added in ’98. An improved keyless entry system, drive-by-wire throttle and “fuel cap loose” light on the instrument panel followed in ’99 and a new sport package was also added. The model year 2000 brought a revised interior and changes to the front and rear of the car. The OnStar communications system and side air bags were made standard and a better transmission oil cooler was added.
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The Sport version of Catera comes with a package that includes a stiffer suspension and a spoiler on the trunk lid. In 2000, Sport also gained high-intensity discharge (HID) Xenon headlights and 17-inch aluminum wheels with H-rated Goodyear tires.
Standard safety features on Catera include anti-lock brakes and dual front airbags. Side airbags were also added to the option list during its first year. Anti-lock brakes and traction control are standard and useful features on a rear-wheel-drive car during a Canadian winter.
Catera also has a good reputation for protecting it’s occupants and did very well in offset crash testing done by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. A small campaign on improperly installed child seat tether anchors, by Cadillac dealers, has been the only official safety recall on Catera.
Compared to other Euro luxury sedans in this class a used Cadillac Catera is definitely a bargain buy. On the other hand, North American carmakers do not have a good record at successfully transplanting cars from Europe. Although Catera appears to be a fine car, sales have not been up to expectations, so its continued survival as a Cadillac is questionable.
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.
A senior member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC), Bob McHugh is a regular contributor to numerous automotive publications as well as Senior Technical Advisor at the British Columbia Automobile Association (BCAA).