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Cadillac goes European with CTS saloon
Think Cadillac and what likely comes to mind are the befinned Eldorados of the ‘60s with acres of chrome, interiors the size of small swimming pools and a serious amount of road presence. Back then, if you owned a Cadillac in America, you really were the king of the road. Think Cadillac today, however, and the situation has changed somewhat. The latest CTS saloon, which has been available in the US since 2003 and the UK from 2005, has shrunk to European proportions – about the same size as a BMW 5-series – and although it no longer has that commanding road presence, thankfully, it’s retained some of that Cadillac individuality, plus it’s a surprising car in more ways than one.
UK buyers get four CTS options – the 2.8 V6 Elegance, 2.8 V6 Sport Luxury, 3.6 V6 Sport Luxury and 3.6 V6 Sport, with prices starting at £24,895 and topping out at £29,895. When you compare those costs to the equivalent Mercedes BMW and Audi models, the Cadillac appears to stack up well, but does it really match their prestige value?
Cadillac styling has always been a little different, and the CTS is no exception
What you get in the top specification 3.6 litre CTS version we sampled is a sophisticated and powerful V6 engine with enough grunt to propel it from 0-62mph in 7.0 seconds and a top speed of 145mph. It doesn’t sound like Cadillacs of old either. At modest revs it’s a well refined engine but get it above 5000 rpm and there’s a very un-Cadillac-like engine yowl which seems out of character with such an otherwise refined car.
There’s a silky smooth five-speed automatic gearbox which masks the usual surge between changes so that when you drive with the throttle flat, there’s no real drama, just a smooth wave of power and a slowly increasing background blurr. The gearbox can be switched to Sport mode, which raises the revs so when you do want to accelerate, the engine is already in its optimum part of its power band. Predictably, though, it also means you use more fuel.
Vast plastic engine cover dominates under-bonnet
Having said that though, as far as fuel economy is concerned, the 3.6 litre V6 is relatively frugal considering it pumps out 257 bhp coupled to 340 Nm torque. We managed 25.80 mpg from a 55 litre refill, having covered a distance of 312 miles. A subsequent refill resulted in a not unreasonable 23 mpg considering the car was driven much more briskly.
The CTS is rear-wheel drive, although in normal driving you’d never know it. It’s nigh impossible to unstick the rear tyres on tarmac and even when hustling the car through bends, you’re never really conscious of where the drive is coming from. It’s not a problem however, because unlike any number of American cars from the past, the CTS really handles like a European, imparting a feeling of stability and predictability, whatever the speed. Impressively, it contrives to combine this excellent handling with a super-smooth Cadillac ride, so in effect, you are getting the best of both worlds.
Delve a little deeper, and you find the CTS boasts self-levelling suspension and a StabiliTrak stability control system developed at the Nürburgring, plus powerful fade-free disc brakes. These features combine to make the CTS a fine handling car and one which can be driven surprisingly quickly on A and B roads.
Huge rear light clusters and chunky rear end styling evident above.
Not the most flattering of photos (below) but it highlights the bluff frontal aspect of the CTS
Putting vehicle dynamics to one side, it’s probably safe to say that the chunky looks of the CTS are an acquired taste. They don’t exactly set the pulse racing, but nor are they offensive or ostentatious, and some observers have even felt they have a prestigious air about them. The design incorporates razor-edge lines and a bluff front end matched to perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the car - the rear, which, in our opinion, is decidedly ordinary apart from those huge rear light clusters. Sometimes, its easy to imagine how the appearance of a car could be improved with the addition of larger diameter wheels and tyres, plus a lower side profile, but with the CTS, you get the impression that such changes wouldn’t make it look any more dramatic. By comparison, if you go that route with a new Mustang, the result is totally different.
That said, it’s probably important to remember where Cadillac is aiming the CTS – fairly and squarely at the very sensibly-styled executive market. In such company, it makes more sense.
Door switches control window movement, window locks, mirror movement, mirror folding, seat position and door locks
The inside of the CTS isn’t quite so rewarding. Open the driver’s door and you’re confronted by a daunting array of switches built into the arm rest and the driver’s seat whirring away as it resets to position one. I never did figure out how to reset it, but fortunately, did discover that the optional position two was right for a six-footer. Once inside you are confronted by a mass of switch gear, a rather optimistic 260 mph speedometer, and a large full colour navigation system which infuriatingly has to be reset every time you switch on the ignition. This isn’t the easiest or clearest of systems to use either – unlike that found in US Ford’s, which is far simpler to understand and operate.
Wood effect/leather steering wheel and matching central dash console look a little dated. Here you can see the close proximity of the parking brake and hood releases (at lower right) and the choice of interior colours which are all quite subtle but don't exactly match
Instrumentation is all there, but lacks the cohesive design you might find in a Mercedes, for instance. The dashboard on the passenger side is huge, and yet when you open the glovebox there’s barely room inside for the owner’s manual, let alone any odds and ends. In addition, the door pockets are very shallow, so there’s no obvious place for map books and the like. There’s a hand operated parking brake lever positioned under the dash just above the bonnet release and on more than one occasion we inadvertently released the bonnet instead of the brake.
There’s no arguing with the fact, though, that you get a lot of equipment for your money with the CTS, including full leather seats and a powerful Bose sound system. The latter provides plenty of bass for rear seat passengers (the subwoofer is built in behind the rear seat) but not quite enough for those in the front.
Vast dashboard on the passenger's side hides a pathetically small glovebox
Interior plastics have been a contentious issue in American cars for as long as I can remember with tacky finishes generally the order of the day, often spoiling cars with stunning exterior styling. The CTS goes someway to addressing this issue. There’s an old-fashioned half leather/wood steering wheel and the odd smattering of fake wood on the dash, but the overall effect is light years ahead of what we’ve become accustomed to from US manufacturers.
AS mentioned previously, the driver’s seat is electrically operated and has ample movement in all directions. Set the seat for a six-footer, however, and legroom in the rear is inadequate for an occupant of similar size – not what you might expect of a large family saloon. By comparison, the boot is truly cavernous, easily swallowing a family complement of suitcases with room to spare.
With the front seat set for a six-footer, this is the amount of legroom in the rear for an occupant of similar size - a bit tight! Mind you, there are not that many knobbly knees like these!
People may consider purchasing a CTS in deference to the usual run of the mill Audi, BMW and Mercedes models and dynamically the CTS is approaching all three. There’s no diesel version though, so the Cadillac can’t match the exceptional economy the German oil burners boast, but it wins hands down on price and a general specification which wants for nothing. If you can live with a less classy interior, then the CTS makes a lot of sense if you are in the market for an executive saloon.
Finally, anyone interested in purchasing a CTS might be interested to know that a new CTS model will be launched this summer, which is not dissimilar to the one shown here (see photo below). This could mean Cadillac dealers might be offering incentives to sell old stock and maybe prices could be even more appealing right now?
The existing Cadillac CTS above and the just-announced 2008 version below, with revised front end styling and a more open grille design - a big improvement in our eyes
Specification 2007 Cadillac CTS
Standard on Elegance:
Stabilitrak with Brake Assist and limited slip differential; ABS; traction control; electric folding and heated door mirrors; integral radio aerial; 225/55SR16 W rated all season tyres; 16” aluminium wheels; heated front seats; dual zone climate control; cruise control; driver and front passenger airbags, side bags and head curtain; memories for electric driver seat and mirrors; electro chromatic auto dimming light sensitive interior mirror; 8 way electric drivers seat with power lumbar support; 8 way electric passenger seat with 2 way power lumbar support; centre armrest with cubby; front cup holders; rear folding armrest with cup holders; boot luggage net; split folding rear seatbacks; AM/FM RDS stereo radio with in-dash 6 CD changer and Bose premium speaker system; steering wheel controls for sound system and climate control; leather wrapped steering wheel with wood top section; alarm system; driver’s door power boot release; illuminated vanity mirrors in visors; electric windows with express up and down at front, wooden gearshift knob and door pulls.
Extra on Sport Luxury:
225/50SR17 W rated all season tyres; 17” mirror polish finish alloy wheels; Xenon headlamps; headlamp washer system; leather seats; satnav (on 3.6).
Pan-European 3 year / 60,000 mile manufacturer warranty. 12 year anti corrosion warranty.
Story: Andy kirk & Graham Jones
Photos: Andy Kirk