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Overall rating:  Product Rating: 4.0

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2003 CTS-- I'll trade my heated mirrors for your temp gauge.

by shoplmart:      Dec 15, 2002 - Updated Jun 8, 2003

Product Rating: 4.0 Recommended: Yes 

Pros: Base price, Tons of available options, Overall performance.
Cons: A few quality control issues, Engine could do with some more power.
The Bottom Line: The CTS is an impressive automobile, and a dramatic improvement over the Catera.

Cadillac launched its assault against European sports sedans long before the CTS (Cadillac Touring Sedan), first with a car named Cimarron that didn't make it through the 1980s, then came the infamous Catera which made its debut in the mid 1990s and lasted until 2001. Both these entry level luxury sedans were considered flops by the automotive industry and most consumers, is the all new 2003 Cadillac CTS any different? Can the Cadillac CTS really compete against exclusive cars like the BMW 5 series, or cars like the Audi A6? First impressions with the CTS seem favorable, however first impressions can sometimes be very deceiving.

For the 2003 model year, the CTS comes available in 1 trim line and 3 available packages; the base package, the luxury package (equipped in tester) and the luxury sport package. 1 engine is available; a 3.2 liter DOHC V6 power plant that pumps out an healthy 220 horsepower, and 220 lb-ft of torque. Transmissions include a standard 5-speed manual, and an optional (equipped in tester) 5-speed automatic transmission with sport and winter modes ($1,200).

Driving Impressions:

The CTS's 3.2 liter engine has no problem moving this relatively heavy vehicle from a stop, although more power would be welcomed. I understand I may sound a tad power hungry here, but 220 horsepower is 20 less than the 2003 Accord V6, one would think an up-scale luxury sports sedan with performance as one of its claims to fame would boast a more impressive horsepower rating. The CTS is not a slow poke by any means, it just doesn't give you the 'push you back in your seat' feeling under full throttle like some of the competition. It would be a nice addition if GM would increase power from the 3.2 unit by at least 20-30% for some added excitement. Despite some dramatic engine noise on take-off, acceleration comes very smooth and refined. Unlike many front wheel drive cars, the rear wheel drive CTS (with traction control) enables this car to move under full throttle without the skittish feeling so often found in high powered FWD automobiles. The 5-speed automatic transmission compliments acceleration, always staying composed, never clunking into gear, and up-shifting/down-shifting exactly when it should. One should note that it is rumored that a much more powerful engine will be available next year which will compete with the BMW M5.

Slight Gripe: There is no sport-shift feature.

I can safely say that the CTS, even without the luxury sport package, and equipped with the standard P225/55-R16 tires, is the best handling Cadillac I have driven to date, and is definitely the star attribute offered from this car. Unlike the CTS's predecessor, the Catera, which used to hold the solgan "the Caddy that zigs," the CTS is a truly fun car to drive on twisty roads. The CTS offers quick steering, prodigious grip, and extremely crisp handling, especially compared to the late Catera. The CTS is very easy to drive fast on the twistys, it's somewhat of a shame that there is not more power on par to 'up' the fun factor of this vehicle. One should note that you must order the luxury sport package ($4,500) to receive the sport tuned suspension and the Stabilitrak 2.0 stability enhancement system.

The Cadillac CTS does extremely well at high speeds, and equals the smooth cruising nature of more expensive cars like the Jaguar X-Type 3.0. The engine plays a huge role here, though not the most powerful unit in its class, the 3.2 DOHC V6 has a wide spread of torque that enables hassle free and relaxing driving in town or on the freeway.

Even though the suspension is relatively stiff, it's not so stiff that the ride is jarring. With a car in this segment you can usually count on a rattle free ride, and the CTS offers just that. Even on harsh back roads the CTS showed an amazing ability to keep the cabin devoid of rattles and annoying jolts once so commonly found is sport natured cars.

The CTS also remains compliant in mountainous terrain. Despite the 5-speed automatic transmission being relatively tall geared, the transmission usually never has to down-shift on steep inclines; I really like this asset! I live in an area where mountain climbing is a daily event, it was pleasing not having to deal with the hub jub of constant down-shifting to maintain decent freeway speeds on steep mountain roads.

Braking is fantastic; sharp and full of feel. The standard 4-wheel disc brakes coupled with 4-wheel ABS assured extremely quick panic stops, with no fade or vibration in the steering wheel, even under excessive use.

Fuel economy is a bit below average. With an EPA rating of 18/25 this puts the CTS in the same fuel economy range as many larger luxury cruisers. Real world driving will probably pump out a few more MPG, however Cadillac should really consider making a more fuel efficient engine for the CTS while at the same time increasing horsepower and torque. We'll just have to wait and see what happens for the 2004 model year..

Interior Accommodation:

A huge surprise came with the CTS's interior. I'm generally not fond of GM's interiors, although the Cadillac CTS is set-up unlike any GM product I have experienced. A huge complaint I usually have with the interior's of many cars is the quality of the plastics used throughout the cabin. While the map pockets in the CTS are a tad flimsy, the rest of the CTS's interior plastics seem sturdy and the materials seem rich. I especially like the material used on the doors, instead of a hard plastic, the CTS uses a soft material that feels great. Another gripe I usually have with cars is the wood trim. In the CTS's case I have no complaints, the wood trim is very subtle and only found on the steering wheel, shifter, and door handles. The CTS's cabin maintains the feel of a drivers car, yet also gives the slight sense of luxury. With a wide array of easy to read gauges (numbers could bit a bit larger on the odometer and speedometer), buttons and switches, the CTS's interior takes a bit of time to get used to, however once they are learned the gadgetry becomes very user friendly. Ergonomics are excellent as well, all the switchgear on the dash is in easy reach of the driver, and audio/HVAC controls can be found on the steering wheel.

Major Gripe: There is no engine temp gauge! Instead you get an analog clock in its place. I don't really know what GM was thinking here. I don't mind the analog clock, although like a speedometer, an engine temp gauge should be on every vehicle, especially a vehicle in this class. I would gladly trade the analog clock for a temp gauge.

My particular tester was guised up with the luxury package ($2,500) which ensured that embellishments were not sacrificed. Some noteworthy standard amenities with the luxury package include 1 year of free Onstar service, rear, side, and curtain air bags, power everything, memory package for the mirrors and seats for 2 drivers, cruise control, a garage door opener, a driver info center, and so much more. A power sunroof ($1,200) and an excellent sounding Bose 8 speaker, AM/FM cassette, 6-disc in-dash CD audio system with noise compensation technology came optional ($1,300). Cadillac.com has a complete list of equipment that comes standard and optional with the CTS.

Seating is excellent. I was betting the farm that the leather would feel cheap, on the contrary the leather is quite rich feeling. Standard with the luxury package came 8-way power driver and front passenger seats. These front bucket seats could benefit from a bit more bolstering, but are still adequately supportive for aggressive driving. Being 5'6" I personally thought that head and leg room in both the front and rear was plentiful, however my passenger who is well over 6' thought the rear was too small and felt cramped. We both agreed that the front offered more than enough room for 2 adults. Storage space throughout the cabin is also adequate, the glove box is large, and the center console offers enough room for just about anything loose in the cabin such as CDs, etc.

Exterior Innovation:

Love it or hate it you have to give Cadillac some credit for making yet another attempt at creating an entry level luxury sports sedan, only this time going a step further with styling cues like no other car on the market. I do like the styling of the CTS, but have a feeling this design will fade very fast. When the CTS first hit the market I was in awe over the razor sharp edges, and the overall originality of this car, however like a good song overplayed on the radio I have grown somewhat tired of this design which seems more plain now than dramatic as it did back in the early part of 2002. My biggest gripe with the exterior would be the plastic grille. While many cars have plastic grilles, the CTS's plastic grille seems overly flimsy, reminding me of the front grille of my 1991 Chevy Lumina. It would be welcomed if GM would go with chrome, or something more sturdy, ditto that for the rest of the Cadillac line-up.


Base price starts at just under $30,000, however I could not find one CTS at 3 dealerships that had one with a MSRP under $35,000. With all the options on my tester the price rose to almost $37,000 before taxes. Cadillac offers an average 3 year 36,000 mile bumper-bumper warranty, and a 4 year 50,000 mile powertrain warranty.

Final Thoughts:

I really enjoyed driving the Cadillac CTS. The CTS is full of surprises, offering much more car than I had expected. For once I really think GM has what it takes to compete in this particular market. I'm not so sure the CTS can compete well against cars like the BMW 5 series, but definitely competes very well against cars like the Lincoln LS, BMW 3 Series, and many other entry level luxury cars. The CTS shows many favorable assets with very few complaints, all at a decent price. If you are in the market for a new entry level luxury sports sedan the Cadillac CTS is most definitely worth a test drive. If the engine seems too weak, don't dismiss the Cadillac CTS for good, next year a more powerful unit should be transplanted.

If you enjoyed reading this review, you may want to check out my review on the 2003 Nissan Maxima

-Happy Car Shopping

Amount Paid (US$): 37,000
Condition: New
Model and Options: 2003 CTS, 5-speed automatic
Product Rating: 4.0
Recommended: Yes 
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