Pros: Good value for the bucks, runs on regular gas
Cons: Poor engine, too-flashy styling, poor ride, cheap-looking interior
Cadillac is attempting to re-invent itself. And with most of your customer base preparing to set up an appointment with the Grim Reaper soon, this is important. The first step in this reinvention is the CTS, a new entry-level sports sedan intended to replace the lackluster Catera. Cadillac has made no secret in its intentions for the CTS: A car equivalent to a 5-series BMW for the price of a 3-series.
That's quite a boast. But does the new Caddy live up to it?
First is the powertrain, possibly the most important part of a sports sedan. The only engine available is a 3.2L DOHC V6 making 220 horsepower and about 220 pound-feet of torque. You can have this mated to either a five-speed automatic or a five-speed manual transmission. I sampled the auto. Engine response is good overall. It's snappy at low revs and has enough midrange power to make passing easy. However, when pushed the engine gets noisy (and not the good kind of noisy either), and the automatic hunts for gears like a beagle after prize game. With the tendency for nearly all GM automatics to be gear-indecisive, a manu-matic option on this auto would've been a great idea, however it's not included at any price. What I really want to know is why did GM decide to stick with this engine when it has that almost-as-powerful, but much smoother 3.5L "Shortstar" V6? Now that the Olds Intrigue is a lame duck, I can't think of a better application for this little gem than the CTS. Even GM's tried-and-true 3800 OHV six would be a better powerplant, delivering less peak horsepower but more torque and smoother power delivery.
On to the interior of the CTS. The car's insides are roomy, to say the least. You could throw a party in this car and invite all your friends. For what's technically a midsize vehicle, there's a lot of room just about everywhere, and for once I wouldn't be ashamed to stick someone in the back seat for a long trip. The seats are supportive and very comfortable, though it took me a minute or two to figure out how to work the controls. Most people won't be fiddling with these while driving, so it's a minor quibble. What's not the minor quibble is the way the interior looks. The wood trim is nice, but the plastic all over the place looks cheap in a $30,000+ car. The guages, at least, were easy to read, though God help the guy who tries to futz with the radio while he's driving. Good thing there's satellite controls on the wheel.
One thing most people expect from Cadillac is a smooth, supple ride. Since Caddy's trying to take on BMW, it needed a sportier suspension. Uh, guys? You know it IS possible to do sporty without being this harsh. I was not impressed with the ride in this car. It was closer to something I'd expect in a much cheaper car than a Cadillac. I pity the poor soul who opts for the sport suspension package; it's likely to be even more punishing than this. Pray for smooth roads.
The steering and brakes weren't exactly confidence-inspiring either. The power assist on the steering was well weighted, but turn-in was slow, and there was still a good amount of body roll; more than I had expected with the stiffer ride. The brake pedal's feel did not exactly impress me either. It felt soft, though the brakes themselves performed respectably, if not stunningly.
Last on the list is styling. The car I drove was silver, and as far as the way it looks, it's...well...I don't want to say ugly, because it's not really ugly. From a front 3/4 view it actually looks pretty good, as well as from the direct side. However, looking straight on, the grille and headlights look mis-proportioned. I would've preferred the headlamps be longer than they are tall, and I would've made the grille a little shorter, with a less pointed bottom. I don't think the styling will wear well. It looks good now, but will it still look good in 3 or 4 years?
Overall, Cadillac has built a good entry-level luxury/sport sedan, and if they weren't so busy comparing it to BMW, it would be a very good car indeed. However, they've set their benchmarks far too high, in my opinion. Cadillac needs to go back to the drawing board and try again if they want to really compete with the boys from Bavaria.
As I said, if there were no competition, the CTS would be a fine auto. However, there's plenty of competition. If you're interested in cars like the CTS, you'd do well to look at the Mercedes-Benz C-class, the Infiniti G35 and the BMW 3-series. All of them are entry-level, rear-wheel-drive sports sedans with standard six-cylinder engines. The Toyota Avalon is also a great choice in this market, and is basically a de-contented Lexus LS. There's plenty of choices in this market, so pick the vehicle that suits your style and taste accordingly, just as long as it's not this one.