Cadillac's first-generation CTS, launched for the 2003 model year, wasn't exactly a ho-hum machine. Sportier than most other models from the Cadillac fold, the early CTS attracted an audience that might not otherwise even contemplate a vehicle from GM's long-lived luxury division. Still, buyers who long for scintillating performance with their Cadillac amenities might have been a bit dissatisfied.
Not anymore. With the debut of the second-generation CTS for 2008, Cadillac has reached aggressively into the performance-car corral. All the luxuries are there, of course - more than before. But the big news is the latest CTS's level of refined yet exuberant response when the driver's foot hits hard on the gas pedal.
Tradition-minded Cadillac buyers probably might not be impressed, though even they might welcome the immediately-available energy when the need for passing or merging occurs. Younger Cadillac fans, on the other hand, evidently have been rejoicing if not salivating over the new model - at least according to corporate public-relations comments and the car-enthusiast media.
So, does the new model warrant all the favorable publicity? Yes, is the simple answer - but careful scrutiny suggests that the 2008 CTS is not quite the epitome of motordom that some observers are making it out to be. Vastly improved, yes. Competitive with some of the hottest models from BMW and Mercedes-Benz, to name two likely rivals, also true. Nevertheless, while it measures up against those competitors in many areas, it doesn't necessarily stretch significantly past them. In a word, CTS is excellent - but still at least a tad short of automotive perfection.
Inspiration for the new CTS design comes from the acclaimed Cadillac Sixteen concept car that toured auto shows a few years back, led by a more vertically-shaped dual-textured grille. Cadillac promotes the sedan's "coupe-like" roofline, along with a new Ultra-View "double" sunroof that's borrowed from the SRX sport-utility vehicle. Front fenders have side air extractors, a feature from Cadillac's heritage that may also be seen on the current Escalade sport-utility vehicle. Track width has grown by two inches, for a wider stance.
A new 3.6-liter V-6 engine, incorporating direct-injection techology, generates 304 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque. Cadillac also offers a conventional port-injection V-6 of the same displacement, rated at 263 horsepower. A six-speed manual gearbox is standard, but six-speed Hydra-Matic may be installed.
For the first time, the CTS is available with either rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. Six airbags are standard, including a dual-depth front-passenger airbag - said to be a "segment first." Adaptive forward lighting lets the high-intensity-discharge headlamps swivel in accord with motion of the steering wheel.
Inside, a new interior blends sport and luxury, according to Cadillac, with a hand-crafted instrument panel and door trim. Heated and ventilated seats incorporate new "thin-seat" technology, intended to maximum backseat space.
An enticing luxury car it is, but the CTS is not quite the model of motoring perfection that some have been claiming. Cadillac is moving forward, to be sure, but is not yet the "standard of the world" that it became early in the 20th century - though the CTS definitely brings the company a sizable step ahead.
Muscular? Absolutely, and in a suitably refined manner, befitting a true luxury sedan. In looks, too, the CTS clearly stands above the pack. Still, though it's become a close rival to familiar sport-luxury nameplates from BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz, the CTS hasn't quite reached that rarified league. Like the old carnival taunt, it's a question of "close, but no cigar."
Getting down to specifics, there's clearly no shortage of energy, arriving in a gentlemanly and effortless manner Automatic-transmission shifts are noticeable, as in earlier models, but not troubling. A confident road car, the CTS has rather light steering (again befitting a luxury model), but no uncertainty or looseness whatsoever.
Despite a firm suspension, ride quality is on par for the CTS's category. It's quiet, too, but not exactly silent-running. Illuminated gauges are great. The ride-up video screen can be distrating at night, because it's actually too big - a complaint just the opposite of the usual commentary on navigation screens. Of course, size helps it become one of the easiest of them all to read.
Front seat bottoms are rather short for a big car, but deliver excellent thigh support. Back support also excels. Side bolstering is somewhat snug, but not intrusive for most drivers.
Summing up, the CTS is an excellent choice among large sport-luxury sedans. But Cadillac shouldn't rest on its laurels just yet. They still have a little way to go before capturing that title of "standard of the world."
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