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1998 Cadillac Catera

by Carey Russ

The Catera is different from the other cars in the Cadillac line. It's smaller, it looks little like the other current Cadillacs, and it's the only rear-wheel drive, non-Northstar System car in the current lineup. For further distinction, it's made in Germany, not Michigan. Welcome to the "Caddy That Zigs."

Cadillac's naturalized citizen was designed to give the company something it has previously lacked: a serious presence in the entry- luxury market segment that is dominated by European and Japanese imports. The Catera has a very international heritage. It is built in Russelsheim, Germany, using German, British, French, and North American components. Based on the same platform as the Opel Omega MV6, the Catera has modifications to its chassis and drivetrain to make it more suitable for American drivers and driving. Germans drive at high speeds on the Autobahn. Americans don't. Europeans predominantly buy cars with manual transmissions. Americans like automatics. Features like automatic dual-zone climate control, premium audio systems, power seats, remote keyless entry, and cupholders are little known in Europe but necessary for sales success in the U. S.

The result of this international cooperation is a car that has a very interesting, distinctive character. I have spent time in Cateras at the 1997 Cadillac press introduction in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains west of Washington D.C., and at the 1998 introduction near Atlanta, Georgia, which included an afternoon at the Road Atlanta racetrack. A recent week at home with a new Catera provided time in a more familiar setting. The Catera emphasizes comfort and luxury over raw performance, but handles well in any situation and is a very enjoyable car to drive. It feels European, and has the best of both worlds in many ways, with all of the luxury features that appeal to both Americans and Europeans.

APPEARANCE: At first glance, the Catera is discernably a General Motors product. It has the arched roofline and rounded form found on many of the corporation's cars worldwide. It is very different in shape from any other Cadillac, but the massive chromed egg-crate grille gives it a definite Cadillac identity. Subtlety is the key concept in the Catera's styling. It is not an ostentatious car, but has the look of understated elegance. The full-width taillight panel and wide stop light let it stand out at night.

COMFORT: The Catera is at its best viewed from the inside out. It was meant to be the best-equipped car in its fiercely-competitive class, and Cadillac has succeeded. The interior combines the best European and American comfort features. In design, it is similar to the larger Cadillacs, with the same two-tone dark-over-light motif and tasteful use of wood trim. The power-adjustable, 3-position memory front seats are very comfortable and provide good lateral support. The rear seat is spacious for the size of the car, and has a ski-type passthrough behind its folding center armrest. It also folds down in three pieces. Optional seat heating includes heating for all seats, unusual at any level and unheard of in the Catera's class. All power windows, not just the driver's, operate one-touch down and up, a feature more common on German sedans in a substantially higher price range. American-style amenities include high-grade standard and optional sound systems, dual-zone climate control, and cupholders cleverly hidden in the center console.

SAFETY: The 1998 Cadillac Catera has strong safety-cage construction, dual front air bags, adjustable-height shoulder straps for all outboard passengers, a theft-deterrent system, and more. New features for 1998 include a shoulder strap for the center rear position, an improved antilock braking and traction control system, doors that unlock automatically after an airbag deployment, and the availablilty of the OnStar communications system.

ROADABILITY: The Catera is more of a luxury sedan than a sports sedan, with a suspension is calibrated for comfort over than absolute handling. It is comfortable around town and on the highway, with a good feel to the controls. Still, the ride is very European, somewhat firmer than that of the traditional American luxury car but not too firm. A chance to spend time at Road Atlanta during the 1998 press introduction was very worthwhile in revealing the Catera's behavior at speed and near its limits. Considering that it wasn't exactly in its element, it worked well on the track. Stable at speed and predictable in the corners, the Catera is an enjoyable car to drive.

PERFORMANCE: The solid construction and multitude of luxury features in the Catera add up to a curb weight of nearly 3800 lbs., so its 3.0-liter twincam multivalve V6 has plenty of work to do. Fortunately, it is one of the more powerful engines in its class, producing 200 horsepower. Acceleration is brisk, and well within luxury sedan parameters. The four-wheel antilock brakes stop the car quickly.

CONCLUSIONS: The Cadillac Catera is an interesting blend of American and European luxury.

SPECIFICATIONS

Base Price                                                $ 32,995
Price As Tested                                           $ 36,215
Engine Type                         dual overhead cam, 24-valve V6
Engine Size                                3.0 liters, 180 cu. in.
Horsepower                                              200 @ 6000
Torque (lb-ft)                                          192 @ 3600
Transmission           4-speed electronically-controlled automatic
Wheelbase / Length                           107.4 in. / 194.0 in.
Curb Weight                                              3770 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower                                        18.9
Fuel Capacity                                              18 gal.
Fuel Requirement                                  unleaded premium
Tires                             P225/55 HR16 Goodyear Eagle RS-A
Brakes, front/rear                       vented disc / solid disc,
                                      Bosch ABS5 antilock standard
Suspension, front/rear             independent MacPherson strut /
                                             independent multilink
Drivetrain                          front engine, rear-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed                         18 / 25 / 21
0 to 60 mph                                                8.5 sec
1/4 mile (E.T.)                                           16.5 sec
Coefficient of Drag (cd)                                     0.327

OPTIONS AND CHARGES

Leather Appointed Model                                $ no charge
  includes as standard: leather seating areas,
  8-way front passenger seat adjuster,
  memory function for driver's seat and
  rear-view mirrors, theft-deterrent system
Sunroof                                                     $ 995
Bose stereo upgrade                                         $ 723
Heated front and rear seats                                 $ 400
16-inch cast aluminum wheels                                $ 355
Garage door opener                                          $ 107
Destination charge                                          $ 640

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