New Car/Review

1997 CADILLAC CATERA

By Matt/Bob Hagin

Cadillac

SEE ALSO: Cadillac Buyer's Guide

SPECIFICATIONS

     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 29,995
     Price As Tested                                    $ 30,635
     Engine Type                            3.0 Liter V6 w/SPFI*
     Engine Size                                 181 cid/2962 cc
     Horsepower                                   200 @ 6000 RPM
     Torque (lb-ft)                               192 @ 3600 RPM
     Wheelbase/Width/Length                    107.4"/70.3"/194"
     Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
     Curb Weight                                     3785 Pounds
     Fuel Capacity                                    18 gallons
     Tires  (F/R)                                    P225/55HR16
     Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/disc (ABS)
     Drive Train                   Front-engine/rear-wheel-drive
     Vehicle Type                       Five-passenger/four-door
     Domestic Content                                        N/A
     Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.33

PERFORMANCE

     EPA Economy, miles per gallon
        city/highway/average                            18/25/21          
     0-60 MPH                                        8.5 seconds
     1/4 Mile (E.T.)                       16.5 seconds @ 84 mph
     Top-speed                                           125 mph
     * Sequential port fuel injection

(In order to counter the "graying" of its customer base, Cadillac has developed the Catera sports sedan to attract upscale 40-ish Americans. Bob Hagin is in that graying age group,and he agrees with his son Matt that this German-built mini-luxo is a good move for Cadillac.)

MATT - Now that the Fleetwood is gone from the company's lineup, this new Catera is the only rear-drive car carrying the Cadillac wreath. It's definitely the antithesis of that '96 Fleetwood in that it's a couple of feet shorter, utilizes independent suspension in the rear and has a six cylinder engine under the hood. It also handles lots differently from those traditional rear-drive Caddys. The suspension at both ends is taut and the handling is flat. It's no lightweight at 3800 pounds and with only 3.0 liters, the engine is a bit on the small size - but it launches itself pretty well once it hits the 2500 RPM mark.

BOB - The Catera is un-Cadillac-like for several other reasons, Matt. First of all its the most "international" Cadillac ever made. The twin-cam V6 engine is produced by Vauxhall, the General Motors division in England, and the car itself is assembled in Germany by Opel, which is the German GM branch. The design started life as the Opel Omega in '94 but it's been stretched, widened and, in general, "Americanized" for domestic consumption. Americans like lots of low-end torque, so the Vauxhall engineers redesigned it to suit our needs. Being in our entry- level luxury car niche, it needs all the advantages it can muster.

MATT - It's going to take a lot to lure baby-boomers away from European sports sedans, but being a "naturalized" German is a good start. The Catera is very European in the way it drives and handles, although the suspension has been re-engineered to give it more understeer than the original Omega. It has traction control to make ice-driving less stressful, as well as the usual anti-skid brakes and a "W" setting for the transmission that forces the car start off in third gear, which prevents wheelspin in the snow. The Omega has a top speed of 140 mph, but Cadillac has restricted the Catera to top out at 125.

BOB - I don't think that will be much of a sales deterrent over here, but I would like to see Cadillac offer the Omega's five-speed transmission as an option on the Catera. That seems to be a pretty good drawing card for European and Japanese compact luxury cars here and it would be interesting to see if Caddy buyers would feel the same. I can't remember a stick-shift being offered in a Cadillac since the mid-'50s.

MATT - Dad, I'm assuming that you're intentionally ignoring the fact that the ill-fated Cadillac Cimmaron of the mid-'80s was offered with a stick-shift. That little machine was, in fact, a rebadged Chevy Cavalier and that didn't enhance the Cadillac reputation. This Catera is a rebadge-job too, but I doubt that Catera will suffer the same fate. Whereas the Cimarron was cramped and geared to be a fancy econobox, the Catera has lots of interior space and a cavernous trunk. The optional leather upholstery of our test car covers firm but comfortable seats and the interior is very plush. I would have preferred less wood trim, but I guess that's a matter of personal taste.

BOB - There's a lot of small things that I like about the Catera, Matt. I really like the classy touch of having the glove box air conditioned as well as the rest of the interior. There's few things worse on long drives than to reach for a chocolate bar and find that it has melted on top of your road maps. Those heated outside mirrors are nice, and I guess that in more severe climates, the heated front and rear seats would be very welcome. If I was a stereophile like you and your brothers, I'd be better able to appreciate the fancy Bose sound systems. Since I'm not, I don't have to be bothered rooting around in the trunk putting different CDs in the 12-disc changer. When I heard that a new small Cad was on the horizon, I hoped it would be called La Salle. That was the name of the entry-level Cadillac in the 1930s. It would have been a nice piece of history.

MATT - Dad, I don't think very many baby-boomers would be impressed with a car name that was dropped a dozen years before they were born.

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