Just a few impressions of cars in my family that compare quite similarly to my CTS...

2004 Cadillac CTS vs. 2003 Infiniti G35
It's been told that when Cadillac first released the CTS, they set their sights directly at BMW. To be honest, Infiniti hit closer to that same target. But I don't mean this as a put-down; the Caddy has a personality all its own compared to the G35 and the Bavarian machines it aspires to be. Whereas the Infiniti is a textbook Bimmer-fighter, the Caddy is decidedly more Benz-like in feel; with its rock-solid body structure, firm but smooth suspension damping, and most especially it superb highway manners. This car would know where straight is if it didn't have a driver to guide it. It goes around corners in a very competent manner as well, with little body roll and a good amount of grip, without too much protest from the tires, and no protest at all from the chassis. The only thing is that the car doesn't feel like it's quite inclined to do so. It'll hustle when you tell it to, but isn't very eager to do it.

The G, on the other hand, is a much more willing road partner. The steering is weighted similarly to the Caddy, and also provides excellent on-center feel, but has a much quicker ratio which helps the car feel more alive. Stiffer springs than on the CTS keep body motions more controlled and make the car feel more nimble, and softer shocks help smoothen out the highway ride. It's an interesting combination compared to the CTS, and on this car, it works. The VQ engine for 2003 was rated at 260 hp, right in the ballpark of the Caddy's 255. The VQ does like to rev, though, making it feel considerably more peppy than the Caddy's decidedly torquier-feeling 3.6.

The interior is a mixed bag for both cars. Neither were class-leading in their day, and at the turn of the decade, the Caddy's monolithic center stack looks especially kitschy, and the Infiniti's array of non-intuitive buttonry looks more dated than it actually is. Considering the age of these particular cars, and adding to that the odometer reading on the G is more than double that of the Caddy, I'll leave out comparisons of interior quality, but I hope my CTS holds up better when it hits 100k. The G does have considerably more rear seat room, and its reclining back seat is a blessing. It is, however, a trade-off for not having a split-folding back seat as found in my CTS. Either car will make an excellent companion for a spirited road trip.

2004 Cadillac CTS vs. 2004 Acura TL
While the Caddy assumes the identity of a wannabe Mercedes and the Infiniti masquerades as a BMW imposter, the Acura TL doesn't even bother to aspire to anything. This lack of aspiration doesn't leave it with much personality, and whatever little it has, it seems to be confused about. Is it a FWD BMW? That sounds about right, but that's like saying that the new girl you met is like an unattractive Megan Fox. The assessment does not compute.

What we have here is a premium FWD sedan, in the same vein as the Nissan Maxima, Volvo S60, and VW Passat. It does have the objectives to play in the same league as the Caddy and Infiniti: a smooth V6 with a 258-hp power rating that squeezs right in between the two, a roomy, attractive and accommodating interior with seats that feel tailor-made to your body, and the feel of top-notch build quality and craftsmanship.

But where the Acura falls short is the all-important driving experience. Whereas the Infiniti utilizes a chassis derived from the reborn legendary Z-car and the CTS gets one designed exclusively for GM's flagship division, the Acura makes do with one pulled from the less glamorous Honda Accord. It does make the best of what its given, with sharp, weighty steering, firm handling, and flat cornering. However, you just can't drown out the "backgound noise" in the TL's steering caused by the engine's power going through the front wheels, obviously nonexistent in the Caddy and Infiniti. Stab the throttle making a right hand turn pulling onto a busy road, and the car will give you a slight but awkward tug through the steering wheel as it tries to comprehend the notion of turning and accelerating at the same time. When not forced to multi-task such activities, the Acura does every bit of a BMW impression the Infiniti does: smooth transitions between turns, superbly controlled body motions, and great steering feedback. However, the Acura is plagued with a less-than-ideal weight distribution that not only tends to overwhelm its front tire grip, it also forces stiffer suspension settings to support the weight of the transmission as well as the V6 hanging fore of the front axle. This caused a ride that is, although not harsh by any means, not nearly as smooth as the Cadillac and Infiniti.

The 3.2L V6 is a solid contender in the entry-lux class. It's a smooth piece, but unlike the Caddy's torquey 3.6 that makes its power in the useful lower rev range, or the Infiniti's VQ that makes its power, well, everywhere, this "J-series" motor, in typical Honda fashion, makes its power in the higher rev range. And although it likes to rev like the VQ, its lack of torque down low makes the motor feel sluggish compared to the others. It's not nearly as peaky as an S2000 or Civic Si, but in this class of midsize premium sedans, it is wanting for a little more low-end grunt.

Where the TL shines is inside. Where GM and Nissan invested their resources in developing (somewhat) dedicated platforms for their entry-lux sedans, Honda made up for it in giving its TL a class-leading interior and feature equipment. Everything from the overall design of the dash and center stack to the avant-garde instrument panel display conveys a special sense of occasion to the car. It's a lovely place to spend any amount of time on the road. For me, the piece de resistance is the car's built-in bluetooth system. Nowadays, all cars have it, but in 2004, Acura was a pioneer in equipping their products such. And unlike many early attempts by others at new technology, this one is nicely executed. Press a button on the steering wheel, talk to the computer, and it understands you without having to talk too much like Stephen Hawking's computer. The car also comes equipped with a Dolby DVD-Audio 5.1 surround sound system, which would be cool if you could find a place that sold a meaningful collection of DVD-Audio discs. Acura did make the effort to include a sampler disc with each TL they sold to give you a taste of the goodness. It makes satellite radio sound like John Cusack holding a boombox outside your window, but unfortunately, mp3 downloads don't come in 5.1 DVD-Audio format.

In spite of the flawed driving dynamics, I'd have to give the TL the nod for best build quality. Drive this thing down a crappy road, and aside from the firm suspension tuning, you'll wonder why all cars aren't screwed together as well as this one is. The Caddy may be well-built for an American car, but the TL is a well-built car that just so happens to be built in America. It's a small difference, but enough for Ohio to gloat to Michigan about it

2004 Cadillac CTS vs. 2006 Hyundai Azera
The Hyundai Azera is the kind of car Cadillac would be building if they didn't think they had to make the CTS. Where the CTS and G35 feign their best respective Mercedes and BMW impressions, Hyundai aims right at Lexus for this one. It's a big, soft pillowy sedan, and is so unapologetic about it to the point that it becomes an endearing quality. Sure, the Camry is also a big softie, but the lack of luxury surroundings make it like eating bacon fat without the flavor. Pillowy luxury cars like the Azera give you every bit of the unadulterated bacon experience. The seat cushions even feel like pillows inside of leather pillowcases compared to the other three cars. The interior is a handsome design made with high-quality materials that lends itself to allow very generous space in the front passenger compartment. The first thing you feel when you take a place in the driver's seat is relaxed. This feeling goes a long way in enhancing the cloud-like experience the car has to offer.

If you haven't noticed already, let's get one thing straight: this car is not made to be a canyon carver. This car is designed to float though whatever path you guide it through with as little drama as possible. Yes, the 263-hp 3.8L motor will spin the front wheels for a good second if you turn off the traction control and stand on the throttle from a dead stop. But that's just a side effect of a torquey engine that was designed to provide effortless passing power on the highway. You can barely even hear the engine as it pulls its way up the rev range. It runs smooth at all rpm's, but is at home cruising below 3,000. Try to throw it into a winding road, and the car will go where you point it, but only because it feels like it has its own sense of preservation. Like the fat lady who has to jump out of a burning high-rise apartment. Body motions are obviously not as controlled as in the other three cars, but it's surprisingly manageable. The car will let you know what it's doing, but only enough to keep you from plowing off the road. Nope, this car wasn't built to challenge any Nurburgring-Nordschleife lap times. This car, like the Lexus ES and Toyota Avalon its aimed against, and like the Cadillac Devilles and Lincoln Continentals those cars have largely displaced, are built in the grand tradition of covering large distances at a swift pace in superb comfort. Kind of like a poor man's G5 jet.