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2008 Cadillac CTS Review

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A Real Contender in the Sport Sedan Class
By Steve Purdy
Detroit Bureau

Cadillac has not really been “The Standard of the World” for a few generations. Some dismal efforts in the 80s to downsize cheapened and made tawdry this formerly honored luxury marque threatening to weaken that image forever. But now Cadillac is back - maybe not to a level of dominance in the luxury market, but certainly back to respectability. Each new model has been a significant improvement over the last.

GM imported the Catera from ’97 to ’01 (a rebadged Opel Omega) to be the entry-level Caddy. They found it not only unpopular with Cadillac buyers but rather troublesome as well. Then came the bold and chunky, mostly appreciated CTS in ‘03, built in Lansing, MI by some of GM’s best workers, reflecting the fresh, new, bold styling language we see today characterizing the Cadillac brand. This original CTS was criticized for less-than-stellar interior materials but not much else.

Now comes this second generation of the Lansing - built CTS - a universally acclaimed winner. While evolutionary stylistically from generation one, the new CTS offers substantially improved design and execution. Much better looking inside and out, CTS has added horsepower, increased quality of materials, and enhanced style and sophistication. This new CTS was named Motor Trend’s Car of the Year and was runner-up for the prestigious North American Car of the Year, losing out the more mainstream GM stable mate Chevy Malibu. Two V6 engines are available for the ’08 CTS. Standard power comes from a 3.6-liter generating 258 horsepower with a six-speed manual transmission. A six-speed automatic is available. Our 3,474-pound test car comes with the new 3.6-liter direct-injection (DI) V6 that puts out 304 hp and comes with the six-speed automatic. The CTS is offered in both rear-wheel and all-wheel-drive (AWD) configurations, though AWD models are limited to the base engine and automatic transmission. I found the acceleration impressive and the sound satisfying. The automatic transmission did its job quickly and with aplomb. Gas mileage is rated at 17/26, city/highway, and we achieved 18.1 in mixed driving this week. With a 17-gallon gas tank we have about a 340 mile range. Track has been widened two inches for a more aggressive stance and improved handling. Suspension is independent all around, of course - short and long arms up front with coil-over strut and anti sway bar. In the rear is a modified multi-link affair with anti sway bar. All-speed traction control with brake and engine intervention is standard. Premium ZF Servtronic II power rack and pinion steering plus V-rated P235/50R18 Michilin Pilots grace out test car. Handling, as you may guess, is tight, crisp and firm. The ride may be a bit too firm for some Cadillac customers who may prefer the more compliant dynamics of the larger models. Any fan of European performance sedan handling will like this one.

While the cabin is vastly superior to the tepid previous model there are a couple of niggles I must report. First, the driver information center (‘i’) panel is obscured by the steering wheel and the turn signal stalk. I had to lower the steering wheel to an uncomfortable angle or awkwardly lean forward to see the controls. Second, the navigation screen rises out of the dash nicely but seats itself just crooked enough to be annoying to look at. Now, I’ve never been accused of being a perfectionist but I sure noticed this one. It is a touch-screen with audio and other controls and the lower row of touch buttons is so low that the dash encroaches requiring an uncomfortable twist of the hand to get my fat fingers to trigger the right one. The light indicating which position the power mirror control is in is too bright producing an annoying glare during night driving.

Otherwise the inside is beautifully appointed, luxurious and boldly designed – nearly as bold and distinctive as the exterior. The leathers glow with class and the contrasting stitching adds a nice touch of luxury. Seats are comfortable and supportive without being overly hard. A premium Bose sound system with 8 speakers and XM Satellite radio with 3 months of service are standard. An ambient lighting package is available. The swooping dual cockpit is distinctly outlined with symmetrical wood trim with gauges and controls mostly well placed and tactilly smooth.

Utility is not what this car is about but in addition to being roomier inside than many in its class it also has a good sized trunk – 13.6 cubic-feet. You could even tow up to 1,000 pounds if you wanted to. I can’t remember the last time I saw a CTS, or any Cadillac for that matter, towing anything.

Our test car – the direct injection, 304-horsepower version – shows a base price of $34,545. That price includes more stuff than I can easily list here. We have the $8,165 Premium Luxury ‘Collection’ (must be a euphemism for ‘Package’) which includes even more stuff. Then, for $1,740, we have what’s called the 18” All Season Tire Performance Package including HID headlamps with washers, the 18” painted aluminum wheels, limited slip differential, sport suspension, fog lamps and performance cooling system. All-wheel drive costs an extra $1,900. The optional Thunder Gray premium paint is worth $995. Upgraded brakes add another $395 and a compact spare tire (replacing a tire inflator kit) costs $250. With the $745 destination charge we’re looking at $48,735. Considering the quality and content of this CTS I’d say that’s just about where it ought to be.

We’ll soon be drooling over the new CTS-V: 550-horsepower, 6.1-liter, supercharged V8 generating 550 pound-feet of torque. GM announced at the Detroit Auto show last week that we’ll have it later this year. Think of all that horsepower in a cool, competent sport sedan ought to be able to compete with the best in the high-performance class.

Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved