2008 Cadillac CTS Review and Road Impressions
By Andrew Frankl
European Bureau Chief
The Auto Channel
I don’t think they’ve seen a Cadillac in years. And there lies Susan’s problem. Or as GM would have it -her challenge. How do you get the message across in import mad California that the latest CTS is every bit as good as their beloved Mercs and BMWs, not forgetting Lexus? One heck of a job and Susan knows it.
I am here to report and not to give advice but maybe GM could find a niche, just like they did with the Escalade, every rappers’ second home. The CTS is certainly good enough. I’ve spent an afternoon in the company of Allyson from Motor Trend, a magazine where they do know their automobiles. We both agreed that the 304 horsepower 3.6 liter direct injection Caddy was just the ticket.
It’s hard to explain the difference between driving and having fun. Between plodding along in a Toyota Corolla and shifting along in the new CTS. 90% of the cars I drive tend to fall into the category of domestic appliances on wheels.
Well, this Caddy is certainly different. The engineers took years at the Nurburgring in Germany getting the suspension sorted. I didn’t go on this particular trip but I‘ve been to the Ring, been driven round it by that great Belgian driver Jacky Ickx so I know that it took a great deal of courage by the General Motors engineers to ship the cream of American auto writers across to Germany and let them loose in their latest creations.
I was told by people who wish to remain nameless that several panels were bent in the process. Understandably, because as three times World Champion Jackie Stewart said ” If you are not spinning, you are not trying”.
This car speaks for itself. It really is well-sorted. According to Motor Trend Editor in Chief Angus McKenzie it is probably the best handling Cadillac he has ever driven.
Well, California is not the Nurburgring and while over there you can go as fast as you like, or more probably dare, in the San Gabriel mountains there were some biggish drops where you would have gown a beard before hitting the bottom and to make matters worse the CHP were also much in evidence.
In spite of all this we did have a pretty good go and came away with the following impressions.
The 304-hp, 3.6 liter direct injection DOHC V-6 is excellent. It is also quiet thanks to various acoustical treatments and details such as such as triple door seals. It comes on song at around 4000rpm thanks to those amazing Corvette exhaust pipes and does not run out of steam until reaching 7000.
0-60 came up in 5.7seconds and a quarter mile in 14.7. Top speed in well in excess of 120 miles per hour which is obligatory in a car hoping to take on Mercedes and BMW.
You can always tell how serious a manufacturer is by looking at the tires on the car. If these are Bridgestone Potenza, Pirelli P Zero or Michelin Pilot Sport you are in good company, the guys mean business. The CTS we tried had the Michelin PS2s fitted, the nearest thing to glue. Carefully tuned to the control-arm-front and multi-link rear suspension we were suddenly in BMW country!
The 113.4 wheelbase stays the same for ’08, but the car is 1.5 inches longer and almost 2 inches wider and helps with handling and looks at the same time.
The large, 13.6-in front brake rotors are up to the job and felt very reassuring. The car we drove was a 6 speed automatic which was a big improvement on the previous one.
Having said that a car wishing to take top end imports head on should have pedal shifts on the steering wheel. Not essential but sexy and very 2008. Especially in the yet to be released V version which will be a car and a half! For the uninitiated the “V” department at Caddy is a bit like AMG at Mercedes or the “M” department at BMW, strictly for serious drivers.
The bit I enjoyed most of all during the test day was talking to Chief Engineer Liz Pilibosian.. She looks, dresses and sounds like a quintessential librarian which just shows how deceptive looks can be! Razor sharp and charming, she was a delightful dinner companion.
Does she know her subject or what! Without wishing to sound like a male chauvinist pig I was astonished by the number of very senior lady engineers in the room, somehow I’ve always associated automotive engineering with men. I certainly got that bit wrong.
Mind you, there was one adorable girlie thing about Liz. Asked about obligatory crash-testing of her beloved CTS she was a no-show. “I couldn’t watch it she said, it would have been too painful.”
Quite understandable if you think about it.
On the other hand she does know how to fight for her beliefs. The bean counters were going to let this Caddy to go on sale with predictable, boring exhaust pipes. No Sir! Liz fought and won the battle, consequently the 3.6 liter version ended up with the above mentioned exhausts straight from the Corvette!
All they’ve got to do is change people’s perceptions and convince them that it really is a good car.
I know that on Rodeo Drive price is not a major consideration but there must be some potential Merc and BMW buyers who must be scratching their heads courtesy of the 1.40 dollar to the Euro exchange rate. The worse the rate, the better bargain the CTS becomes.
He explained how things are changing at GM. “We used to be a holding company” he said, “there was very little interaction between the parts, especially between Europe, Australia and America”.
Readily admitting that some GM cars looked and were boring, he confirmed that design is taking precedent, admitting that without looks as well as honest engineering you cannot succeed in 2008 and beyond. He sees the new Caddy as a poster child for the “new” GM taking the company back to greatness.
While we had no chance to drive the new Malibu it is clear that an awful lot hinges on it. Either it can take on Camry and grab a big chunk of that key market segment, or the company will be in big poo. It is as simple as that.
As one would expect at a function such as this the company put its best face forward and while I positively dislike some of their small cars such as the Aveo there is no doubt that there is a new confidence-as opposed to arrogance- permeating General Motors. It remains to be seen but I think they have too many brands and too many dealers..
All in all good luck to Susan and her team, the product, given a chance, will speak for itself. Speaking of which I was watching the first episode of a new TV series “Cane”. GM were obviously heavily involved in the planning of the show which, at times, looks like an advertorial . “Corn is the new gold” says the hero and moments later we are into a GM commercial plugging ethanol.
Love it or hate it, the cast are very much the sort of people Cadillac would love to see driving their cars: young, attractive, successful. Who knows-with the strike mercifully over the company might just be on a roll.