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New Car/Review

1997 Cadillac Catera

by John Heilig


SEE ALSO: Cadillac Buyer's Guide


ENGINE:  3.0-liter DOHC V-6
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE:  200 hp @ 6,000 rpm/192 lb-ft @ 3,600 rpm
TRANSMISSION:  Four-speed automatic
FUEL ECONOMY:  18 mpg city,  25 mpg highway,  19.6 mpg test
WHEELBASE:  107.4 in.
OVERALL LENGTH:  194.0 in.
OVERALL WIDTH:  70.3 in.
CURB WEIGHT:  3770 lbs 
FUEL CAPACITY:  18.0 gal.
LUGGAGE CAPACITY:  16.6 cu. ft.
TIRES:   P225/55R16
INSTRUMENTS: Speedometer, tachometer, fuel level, water temperature,
             oil pressure, battery voltage, digital clock.
EQUIPMENT: Power windows, power door locks, power mirrors,
           cruise control, air conditioner, AM-FM stereo radio
           with cassette and CD, anti-lock braking, four air bags.

By now everyone knows that the Catera is the new Cadillac and it's built in Germany. It shares a platform with the Opel Omega and is a much refined version of that car. To make the Opel a Cadillac they added the requisite cupholders, side air bags, changed the bodywork somewhat and modified the instrument panel.

We drove both the Catera and Omega more than a year ago at the car's introduction and were impressed with both vehicles.

Catera is powered by a 3.0-liter double overhead cam V-6 engine that delivers 200 horsepower. It isn't the 300-plus horsepower of the Northstar system, but 200 is more than enough for this car. The engine is connected to a four-speed automatic transmission that drives the rear wheels. With the demise of the Fleetwood, then, this is Cadillac's only rear-wheel-drive car.

I liked the Catera. It is a solid, well-built sedan with room enough for five passengers and a huge trunk for its size. If offers luxury, comfort, performance and style. There's enough leather and wood trim to make it fit into any luxury car classification.

But is it a Cadillac?

Cadillacs have earned a strong reputation for being big comfortable vehicles, generally with seating for six and with a comfortable ride. By this definition, Catera isn't a Cadillac.

Catera's ride is firm, more in the European tradition than in the American tradition. Comparing this car to a Fleetwood, for example, is a lot like comparing an S-Class Mercedes to a C-Class. The C- Class is smaller and sportier than its bigger brother.

And here's where the Catera offers something that Cadillac hasn't offered in a long time. Sure, the Eldorado and Seville are sporty cars, but they're not as compact as the Catera. There's also not the firmness in the suspension that you get in Catera. This firmness results in a sportier ride than even the Eldorado can offer. You want to throw the Catera through turns and know it will respond in kind.

The steering is quick and tight. With speed-sensitive recirculating ball power steering, you get a good feeling that the car is going to go where you point it.

The problem most people we spoke with had with the Catera was in the styling. From the front, it's a Cadillac, with the classic egg-crate grille finished in a new process called "black chrome." There's a wide stance to the car that suggest solidity.

But from the rear, the Catera looks like any other car. It resembles an Infiniti Q45, which isn't bad company but which isn't Cadillac. What Catera needs is a few Cadillac styling touches in the rear. Dare I suggest fins? Well, not like the `59 Eldorado certainly, but a vertical element like the present Eldorado with its vertical taillights would define this car as more of a Cadillac from the rear.

Catera is a bold effort by Cadillac to attract a younger audience. As such, it's competing with the smaller Lexus and Infiniti models and the Mitsubishi Diamante and that ilk. In that competition, it fares well. We had an opportunity to compare it side-by-side with the Infiniti and the Cadillac blew the Infiniti's doors off on a tough winding road. It should do as well against the others, but I'd like it to look a bit more like a Caddy from the rear.