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Cadillac Catera Sport (2001) Review

SEE ALSO: Cadillac Buyer's Guide

by John Heilig


MODEL:  Cadillac Catera Sport 
ENGINE:  3.0-liter V6 
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 200 hp @ 6000 rpm/192 lb-ft @ 3400  rpm 
TRANSMISSION:  Four-speed automatic 
WHEELBASE: 107.5 in. 
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 192.2 x 70.3 x 56.4 in. 
STICKER PRICE:  $36,423 

Cadillac introduced the Catera, based on the Opel Omega, in 1996 to appeal to the sport-oriented customer who was interested in good handling and performance. The strategy appears to have worked, since Catera has achieved conquest rates of approximately 40 percent since its introduction. It is the top conquest car for the Cadillac division, meaning that 40 percent of its buyers are not coming from the ranks of Cadillac owners.

In 2000, Cadillac introduced the Sport version of the Catera, with larger tires, a sport-tuned suspension and other specific options. The package adds $2,510 over the base price of $31,405 for the Catera, but in this price range that's not a lot of money.

Among the enhancements in 2001 to the Catera Sport package are eight-way power adjustable driver and passenger seats replacing the ten-way manually adjustable seats. With three memory positions, these seats were comfortable and easy to fit to a range that made them seem right for the driver and passenger.

The total package includes 17-inch aluminum wheels, high-intensity discharge headlights, matte-silver chrome grille and brushed-silver interior trim, ZJ1 suspension, heated seats, rear deck spoiler, theft deterrent system and universal garage door opener. Those heated seats were worth the price of admission alone during some bitter cold winter mornings in our area. Another enhancement that makes sense for a performance-oriented vehicle is the addition of vented rear disc brakes, which will contribute to better braking performance. They will last longer and hold up better under stressful braking conditions.

Catera is a four-door sedan with a decent back seat. We often used the Catera for people moving and had no serious complaints from the rear-seat passengers. Well, they did complain that they didn't have heated seats. I had an opportunity to drive the Catera at its introduction several years ago and was impressed with the quality of the vehicle. I was also impressed with how GM was able to convert the Opel Omega (which I also had a chance to drive) into a truly American car with just a few changes. The new Catera remains true to its heritage. It is still a good sport sedan. It is an American car, but you can sense the European heritage in it. For example, the seats are American (eight-way power and heated), but they're also European in their ability to deliver comfort.

The Catera's suspension is fairly straightforward. Even still, it offers a compliant ride with enough stiffness to give excellent handling. Up front, MacPherson struts and coil springs combine with hydraulic control arm bushings. In the rear, the independent unit is a multi-link trailing arm design with automatic load leveling.

When Cadillac provided other entry-level luxury cars for comparison with the Catera, the Catera held up well in the comparison.

My only complaint with the Catera this time was with the traction control system. We had some snow on the roads, and while the Catera handled the slippery stuff as well as possible, the traction control, to my mind, didn't. I have one spot on my daily commute where I make a left turn at a stop sign to go up a slight hill. This hill was snow-covered, and when the traction control system kicked in it reduced power to the drive wheels until the wheels had enough traction. Well, we just stood there, moving at about 1 mph until everything got sorted.

My Cadillac contact noted that I could have turned the traction control off and skidded my way uphill, which might have been better. He also noted that I didn't have it on the "snow" setting, but I was too busy wondering if the car would ever go again.

Granted, this was a unique situation that most drivers probably wouldn't encounter that often. And most owners would probably figure out the nuances of the traction control system because they'd have more time to familiarize themselves with their car. I had one day.

Through the years I have liked the Catera. I have heard some people call it "ugly," but I'm afraid I have to disagree. I like the Euro styling of the car and think it makes a nice addition to the Cadillac line. The Sport package's rear spoiler, though, seems like it's stretching the "sport" point a bit.