Pros: Distinctive, solid performance, awesome sound system and nav system, fun to drive, a head turner
Cons: Long wait when ordering from factory; 18 inch wheels would be nice
Cadillac deserves accolades for putting so much thought into design, performance and innovation. Build quality is excellent, and the pricing is very competitive for entry level luxury. This is one hot car!
First, let me point out that fit and finish is superb. This car is all-new, so little is borrowed from the GM standard parts bin. It is designed as a CTS, with CTS parts for a CTS theme. I personally would like to congratulate the designers; I think the look of this car is well integrated and well thought out. The more I examine the car, the more I notice this. Don't dismiss it at first glance as "too radical". Take a good look and really absorb it, I found that it grows on me and I start to see what the designers were going for.
That being said, one cannot escape from the fact that this car is very distinctive, and the exterior look is definately "Love it or hate it". I have found people tend to polarize regarding the look, but most in my personal experience find it to be very cool. More than once I have seen people checking it out in the parking lot, and I get a lot of comments pulling into gas stations. I know this might seem juvenile but I love the attention that this car gets. It says something for the Caddy designers that they have been able to create a "buzz" again.
I think it looks best in darker colors, which work better with the hard lines of the exterior. Mine is sable black - I would give second place to the dark blue; Third place is a tie between the green and the red. The white and the silver just don't do it for me; and the copper color? Yuck.
As with many cars, the CTS looks much better in person than in photos. Definately get the 17 inch wheels, the 16 inch wheels look too small. Actually what this car really needs is 18 inch wheels to really finish out the aggressive look. It is a pity you have to buy the luxury sport package to get the 17 inch wheels. They should change that.
I have also read comments that the "high cowl" (smaller windows) restricts visibility in some of the professional reviews of this car. I frankly do not understand that comment, the view is fine and the high cowl contributes to the aggressive and futuristic look.
I find it interesting that consumer reports and some of the professional car review magazines downgrade the look of the CTS and say "it won't age well". It seems they want everything to look like a Toyota Celica. I for one applaud the bold statement and fresh approach that make this a distinctive American car. Hey, many critics panned the old Caddy's when they came out with the rocket ship tail fins and lights; and that was a look that spurred a whole new design direction. Sometimes bold is good and sets a new standard.
I have mixed feelings about a desire for a dual exhaust on this car; I like the look of a dual exhaust, and part of me expects to see it on a "performance" car; on the other hand, the more I look at the CTS rear view the more I appreciate what the designers went for. The exhaust is almost completely hidden, and I must admit that the more I look at it, I can begin to appreciate the clean look of having no exhaust pipes at all as a factor. It's part of the departure from the norm that is the trademark of this car, I suppose - just like the small, triangular running lights just below the vertical headlights. This car is about being distinctive and I for one like it!
I note a more solid feel to the doors when you close them, that speaks of higher quality, and is something that has seemed to be traditionally absent in GM cars in the past.
My opinion is that the interior is outstanding.
As with the exterior, the fit and finish is superb. I have read some "professional" reviews of the CTS interior that say that the materials look and feel cheap. I don't know what they are talking about. This is not an $80,000 BMW, so the expectations have to be properly set. Designing a car is a tricky balance of features versus cost. If Cadillac upgraded this to satisfy every whim of all the media critics, this car would be way too expensive and be a whole different statement. This is a good balance of looks, value, and class for a reasonable price that many more people can afford.
For the money this is a very nice interior, the quality of the leather seats is excellent, very rich feel. I would describe the interior as refined and sophisticated, a very clean and quality look and feel - and overwhelmingly passengers have commented on how much they like the interior.
Some magazines have stated that the interior needs either more wood, or some brushed aluminum to make it look "proper" for a luxury sedan. My counterpoint - Why? The look is very well coordinated and makes it's own unique statement.
I have the dark pewter interior, the solid dark seems to bring out the carefully placed wood and chrome accents nicely. The ergonomics of control placement and instrumentation is very good. Nothing seems awkward.
The center stack that houses the navigation system and HVAC controls is angled toward the driver, and the nav screen is nice and high (and again angled toward the driver) so you don't have to let your eyes wander too far to have a glance at it.
Steering wheel feels very substantial and the wood at the top portion looks great. There has been criticism here from the media in some circles, that the steering wheel is like an "axe handle", too thick and bulky, "inspired by Kenworth" etc. Personally, I don't see that this steering wheel is that significantly larger than some others on other luxury cars - and I really don't see any problem with it. It feels substantial and ergonimic; I don't feel overwhelmed with any thoughts that it is too big or thick - in fact I would never have even considered that an issue if I had not read it in one of the BMW-can-do-no-wrong industry magazines.
The steering wheel only has preset tilt settings, I found one that fit me just right but I imagine some people might not be so lucky and may have to settle for a preset that is not perfect for them. Also the steering wheel does not telescope -but I really don't find that to be a factor.
Here is something to note; if you are a smoker, this car does not come with ashtrays or a cigarette lighter unless you ask for it. I ordered mine from the factory, and no one said a word about this (nor did any of the literature). I actually was glad, since I am a non-smoker anyway. But unless you request ashtrays and a ligher you get storage areas and plugs over the power outlets (which is, luckily for me, what I would have chosen anyway).
The seats are very comfortable with firm side bolsters that hold you well on the turns. There is no adjustable lumbar support on the seats, but don't allow that to make you think that there is no support for your lower back; these seats are designed for comforatable support and to be honest, if I had an adjustable lumbar support I would not be using it. The seats feel great to me, as-is.
The one thing I don't like is the seat belts that are integrated with the front seats; They should be adjustable up and down at the shoulder point (which they are on the Cadillac DTS and Seville - here we have the cost issue again, I am sure). The way they are now, the drivers seatbelt is just slightly too tight against my left shoulder. Not enough to make it very noticably uncomfortable, but just enough to make me wish I could adjust it just a tiny bit. Try it out when you sit in this car to see if this will be an issue for you.
I have the Bose upgrade, and since I got the nav system many of the controls for the sound system are accessed via the nav screen that doubles as an information center as well.
The performance of the audio system is great. Power is good at 212 watts, 8 speakers. Two small speakers at the front show the "bose" logo and provide good high range performance. Subwoofer is in the back. The digital sound processing feature allows you to adjust the characteristics of the audio; to customize it for different parts of the car (For example you can set it to optimize the sound towards the driver, which is great when you are mostly commuting and the only one in the car).
Try the setting that increases the spatial effect too, it is very cool. The bass range and highs are very good, the system sounds good at most all volume levels. In-dash 6 cd changer is very convenient and works well. Overall this sound system is very good (and I am picky about sound systems and somewhat of a hobbyist in audio technology). Most GM sound systems don't sound that great, even the so called "premium" ones, but they did it right in the CTS, trust me you won't be disappointed. It is not going to out perform a top of the line aftermarket system, but for a factory install it is way above average and should impress 99% of your passengers. I have a long commute each day and really appreciate the good sound of this system that allows me to enjoy my favorite CD's in style.
XM radio should at least be an option, but it was not when I bought my 2003 model. I hear however that starting in October 2003 there will indeed be an XM radio option for $3-400 extra.
NAV SYSTEM: It is CD based (Would have preferred DVD based -and again I hear that starting with October 2003 production the nav will indeed be DVD based) The screen is bright and clear and the voice features (female) work very well. The system's screen doubles as an info center where sound system and car info, and other settings are controled. This has gotten a bum rap in some circles as being "too complicated" or "too much learning curve". I suppose for people who have trouble setting up a VCR or setting their alarm clock, they will likely struggle here. But for most intelligent adults who participate in our electronic age, the system is not hard to learn; in fact I found it pretty easy to learn and I am no Albert Einstein.
Once you get the basics I found it intuitive and actually enjoy fiddling with it. For those who are computer literate, you will quickly see the paradigm with the menus and buttons and will be a pro with the system in no time. There is a very cool "3D view" option you can set that gives you a ground level, horizon view that I really like.
HVAC: In a nutshell, works great. Quick to heat and cool, vents are very functional, auto climate control is smooth and accurate. This is not new technology for GM and it shows that they have this one designed well from past experience.
DASHBOARD: Instruments are easy to read and all is well illuminated at night. The guages light up in a pale yellow color, and the other dash controls light up as white. All in all it looks good at night, with no real distractions in the lighting. On first impression, I said I would prefer a temp guage to a clock in the instrument panel. A digital clock somewhere else would be better fit. My initial reaction was: "what was GM thinking on this one?" There has been a lot of complaint about this, I would suspect that in 2004 models this will be be changed.
However you can set the Nav display to show a digital clock in the lower left corner (if you have the Nav option), so others in the car can see the time as well. Will also tell you this; after having the car for a while, I am kind of liking the analog clock. I am getting used to it (here I go again bucking the popular complaints again) but now that I am accustomed to glancing at it I kind of like it.
To be honest I have never had a car where the temp guage mattered or ever displayed anything other than optimal readings (and besides, the CTS's driver information center will alert you if there is an issue with engine temperature - and even automatically shut things down such as the air conditioner if it notices engine temp is too high). Call me less of a purist but at the end of the day I don't mind the clock.
The dash does a good job of preventing sun reflections on the instruments, and the general look is sporty and upscale.
WINDOWS: all controls are at your fingertips on the driver side door. Express down on all four windows is a nice touch. You can open it all up to take in the fresh air in just a few seconds.
SUNROOF: control is a rotating knob that I have not seen in other GM cars; I think it is fantastic and should be a new standard for GM sunroofs. You twist the knob to predefined settings to open/vent/ etc positions.
MISCELLANEOUS: There is a compass integrated into the rearview mirror, as well as OnStar controls. You get one year of the basic safety and security package for the OnStar free, but after that you must pay to renew.
Talknote recorder is mounted above your head, very handy for making notes while you drive. I like to use it to record a phone number when someone gives me one on the cell phone, or to record quick reminders. This memo featuer is also integrated into the Nav system if you selected that option.
Homelink allows you to program multiple garage door openers into the built in CTS device, setting this was easy to do and it works very well.
Auxiliary controls on the steering wheel are a great feature; you can customize the programming to control the HVAC, traction control, sound system features. There is also a voice command/recognition feature that actually works, where you can hit a button on the steering wheel and tell the system to switch to CD, switch to Radio, select station presets, move to the next CD in the changer, zoom in and out of the GPS map view, etc, etc. There is a lot you can do with this (again you need to have selected the Nav option - by now you should be appreciating why the Nav option is $2700; there is quite a bit of functionality you are getting besides just the GPS).
I have a complaint here; with the low beams on there is a crescent shaped "shadow" on the far horizon of the area in front of the car. This is due to the triangular shaped headlight washers intergrated into the headlight unit. 90% of the time it is okay, but going down a steep hill you will note a reduced field of vision. This is the only real place where the Cadillac engineers have disappointed me.
This car is bigger than it looks. Most people want to compare it to a BMW 3 series, but it is bigger and roomier and is more of a shot at a 5 series if you ask me.
However the car does not feel "big" on the road; the handling is crisp, no floating around or tilting wildly on the sharp turns. I have the sport tuned package with stability control, etc. This car is very stable at all speeds. I did not find the ride harsh under normal conditions, again I have seen blurbs in the media that the ride is "harsh" in the CTS sport model. Again, I do not know what they are talking about. This is a very comfortable sedan. You can feel the road and the steering is precise, but I would not use "harsh" in the description.
Braking is excellent. You really feel safe and in control in this car; I find myself tempted to push it, it is fun, almost exhilirating, to drive. Especially at higher speed maneuvers/twists/turns, it really hugs the road and does not toss you around.
The cabin is quiet; again, not high-end Mercedes quiet, but very quiet. Lest I neglect referring to the professional critics, here I have seen comments of excessive wind noise at "highway" speeds. They must have very sensitive ears. If anything the effect at higher speeds is barely noticable.
TRANSMISSION: I have the 5 speed auto transmission, it is about time GM put this tranny in one of its cars. It is the same one they licensed to BMW for the 5 series. It gives you the feel of downshifting as it uses engine braking, and also will hold gears when you take your foot off the gas. I love it.
ENGINE: Critics say the engine is not up to V8 power, and I have also seen comments that say the engine sounds rough when you step on the pedal. Hey, this is an entry level luxury car, not a Ferarri. I find it quick, and the V6 sounds that spring forth when you step on it are a fun part of the experience. There is a sort of european "growl" to the engine that makes it sound high performance when you stomp on the gas. I personally really like it.
The engine is smooth, no vibration, and sounds substantial. Plenty of power. If you want to be drag racing champ you should not buy this car - but that is not the idea for the CTS, is it? For a luxury sedan it is plenty quick out of the blocks and responsive at passing speeds. You will be in the upper class in quickness in the CTS, compared to the general population on the road - and the handling is way, way above average.
EXPERIENCE BUYING THE CAR: I have mixed reviews here. You will not be able to negotiate the price. Cadillac knows it has a hot car on it's hands. Also factory incentives have been almost non-existant for the CTS, as compared to almost every other GM model that has cash back, etc.
There was a slight window for 0% financing on all GM cars at one point (and that included the CTS) but that was all I have seen. Inventory on the lot is limited, and if you are ordering from the factory be prepare to wait as long as 4 months from date of order to date of delivery. The dealer said that the luxury sport package is the hardest to get; other versions can be had a bit quicker, at least for now.
FUTURE CTS's: I hear a "V-series" CTS is coming out in '94 with a slightly different look, a 400hp engine and bigger wheels. Check out the Cadillac website for info.
I love this car. It is distictive, good value for the money, and a good mix of performance and handling while still being practical for daily driving. I am also proud to be an American, and I like to see an American car like this come out and make a statement and gain some respect. Lets hope the trend continues. There is life beyond BMW.
UPDATE JANUARY, 2006:
55,000 miles and still running great. Not a single problem, regular maintenance only. This has turned out to be a great investment. Still fun to drive and I still get comments on this car from people who see it. The computer shows I am averaging 22 miles per gallon (mix of highway and around town driving)