Cadillac CTS 2008 Review
The expression “Yank tank” could have been coined for Cadillac, the American luxury brand whose history is filled with hulking motoring palaces that are ideal for cruising on US freeways but have foundered everywhere else.
Not the Cadillac CTS.
The car that will bring the American brand to Australia is taut, youthful and surprisingly good to drive.
For something built in America, the quality is surprisingly good.
And just like the gangster Chrysler 300C, the CTS will stand out in any crowd. In a good way.
The CTS will go on sale here in the final quarter of the year with a starting price in the $75,000 range, which will put it up against a range of rivals, including BMW's 5 Series and the Lexus GS.
Its arrival is part of a strategy for GM Premium Brands that began with Saab, grew with Hummer and will reach its full potential with Cadillac.
The plan is to eventually have a broad spread of luxury cars and four-wheel drives from throughout the General Motors world, all banded together in Australia in a network of premium dealerships.
The Cadillac plan was revealed more than two years ago and, at the time, looked wildly ambitious. There was nothing international about the Cadillac family — despite promises of a new generation of global cars — that would work in Australia.
The first of the global Cadillacs is the second-generation CTS — for compact touring sedan — and it was previewed to the Australian press last week during a drive from San Diego to Palm Springs in California.
It made a strong impression, from the bold styling to the roomy cabin and enjoyable driving, and proved the global approach to Cadillac development.
To the best of anyone's knowledge, Cadillac cars have not been sold in Australia by an official importer for more than 70 years. There have been Caddys on the road, mostly the ghastly '70s limousines, but they were granddad cars that were ugly in every way.
The chief engineer on the CTS program, Liz Pilibosian, knows all about the challenges in creating something special and says Cadillac has made a fundamental change.
“We're in the game now. This was a global car from the beginning,” she says.
“It is much easier to start from the beginning. There is less need to rework things.
“You have to make sure you are satisfying your global customer. And you need to understand them.”
So who will be buying a CTS sedan, or the CTS wagon and coupe that will eventually follow?
“It's an affluent buyer in a country like Japan or China, but in America it is a middle-class person, and that's probably the same in Australia,” Pilibosian says. “It's for the entrepreneur, for the up-and-coming person. They are looking for more than just transport.”
She says the CTS was always intended to be a European-style drive, despite its aggressively American design. That meant a total commitment from the 500-plus people who worked on the program.
“The biggest challenge was engineering the car while keeping the styling,” she says. “We had to make sure we emulated the design we were given, and that doesn't always happen.
“We basically worked with two cars, the previous-generation BMW 5 series for steering, handling and ride. And we looked at Audi for fit and finish.”
So the shape is the same as the CTS concept car revealed at last year's Detroit Motor Show and the mechanical package is built around a 3.6-litre V6 engine, a six-speed automatic gearbox, rear-wheel drive and a roomy four-seat cabin.
The engine is basically the same as the one used in the VE Commodore, but picks up high-pressure direct fuel injection and other tweaks to lift output to 227kW and 370Nm.
The chassis is a wide-track layout with independent control at all corners — with two suspension settings — and there is switchable electronic stability control and anti-skid brakes.
The safety package runs to six airbags, though a costly pedestrian-friendly bonnet will not make it to Australia. The car is also available with a keyless entry system, Bose sound system with 40GB hard drive, LED interior lighting and a lot more.
Satnav is fitted for the US, but will not be coming here because of a conflict in mapping. The 2009 model cars will land here with a a paddle gearshift change and some other tweaking.
Parveen Batish, GM Premium Brands boss in Australia, says: “We have not finalised the specification or the pricing. That will happen closer to the on-sale date.”
Work on the CTS is continuing, with new features and a tough emphasis on safety.
Pilibosian says she is committed to making the '09 model even better.
But she is happy with what the Cadillac team has produced and is looking forward to the next full model change on the CTS.
“There is always room for improvement. The current car is really close to a 10, for what we wanted. But I know what I'm going to do in the next program,” she says.
ON THE ROAD
The CTS is a very, very good car. There, we said it. We landed in the US with a low expectation and some baggage from earlier Cadillac cars, but the CTS turned us around. Fast.
It took only 5km and a couple of tight corners to realise the chassis is taut and responsive, the steering is most un-American and the final finishing is tight. It looks good and has zero squeaks or rattles.
The upgraded V6 rattles like a diesel at idle — which means an impressive noise-suppression package — but really gets along. It pulls more like a V8 from a standing start and the six-speed auto is smooth and has well-spaced ratios.
Just as good, considering the likely price, the cabin is roomy, with good space for tall people in the back, and there is plenty of equipment, including a punchy sound system and even a built-in garage door opener.
The ride is compliant and smooth, but still has good control, though opinion is split on the FE2 and FE3 suspension choices.
The CTS is smooth and refined on freeways when running the slightly softer FE2 suspension settings, but the sports-tuned FE3 pack meant some thumping over potholes and broken surfaces. Both are good on twisty roads, with a bit more grip and response from the FE3 set-up.
The CTS is not perfect. Fit and finish is not up to Lexus or Audi levels, but Pilibosian is quickly on to the flaws and promises an investigation and improvements. She cannot do anything about the restricted rear vision, but the car does have parking radar.
So there is a lot to like and little to criticise, at least until we know the final prices and specifications for Australia.
And one thing is certain — this is not your granddad's Caddy.
ON SALE: estimated October
PRICE: estimated $75,000
ENGINE: 3.6-litre direct-injection V6
POWER: 227kW at 6300 revs
TORQUE: 370Nm at 5200 revs
TRANSMISSION: six-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
ECONOMY: not available
SAFETY: front, side and curtain airbags, electronic stability control, anti-skid brakes
CTS-V NOT RIGHT FOR AUSTRALIA
The king of the hill Cadillac — a super-hot CTS-V (right) claimed to be the world's fastest four-door sedan — will not be coming to Australia.
Like so many US cars, the steering wheel is on the wrong side, and there's no chance of a change.
But, unlike heavyweights such as the Ford F150 and Dodge Ram, the CTS problem comes down to engineering and not just neglect during planning.
“When we put the 6.2-litre V8 engine in and the supercharger plumbing on it, we ran out of real estate,” General Motors product boss Bob Lutz says.
Its mechanical package includes magnetic ride control for the suspension, Brembo six-piston disc brakes and Michelin Pilot Sport 2 tyres.
Still, the key is the engine: a supercharged V8 with either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic directing power to the rear wheels. The bottom line is 410kW and 745Nm.
But Lutz, always the optimist, believes there is potential for Holden Special Vehicles to tweak a go-faster CTS for Australia.
“Talk to HSV. I'm sure they will whomp up something,” he says.
Two bold new concept cars point the road to the future at Cadillac. They couldn't be more different — a four-wheel-drive family wagon and a two-door coupe — but they share the same design direction and youthful approach to the world of cars.
And both are going on the road and could easily join the Cadillac product offensive in Australia.
The CTS Coupe concept is as good as anything at Detroit '08 and points to a new style of two-door headliner, with as many angles and edges as the curves on most coupes.
It was previewed with a turbodiesel engine, but will take the V6 petrol motor used in the CTS sedan, and the rest of its running gear.
The Provoq was billed as a fuel-cell electric car at the show, but its real purpose is to win younger families to a Cadillac family wagon.
It is fitted with GM's E-Flex drive system, which uses electric power with a petrol engine as a “range extender”.
But the body and cabin have a much bigger job to do.
And it is definitely coming to Australia as an under-the-skin twin to the Saab 9-4X prestige wagon.