The Cadillac CTS is the perfect car for the entry-level luxury segment, and the almost perfect car for the midsize luxury segment. Itís stunning shape, impressive power train, and well-built interior arenít the only things that make this a great car. However, I still have reservations about this ďlittle CadillacĒ, and many of them are things I couldnít overcome had I owned this car.
My particular car is a 2008 CTS with the 1SA package. This car is absolutely stripped; no nav, no heated seats, no wood grain trim, not even leather. Instead, I get a leatherette type seating (read: vinyl) that is actually quite impressive, an elegant looking faux carbon fiber trim that surrounds the dash panel and doors, and a decently comfortable 8 way power driver seat, lacking only lumbar support. I think there is something to a base model car however; in about 5 years time, all that extra electronic crap is going to start to wear out and need replacement. So if you think about it like that, the base car might have more going for it in the end. So, letís start with the actual review of the car.
Iím a sucker for the CTS exterior. Itís absolutely stunning in the best possible way. Itís razor sharp edges and elegant sloping front grille is the 2.0 version of the í03-í07 model, which looked awkward from a few angles. This car doesnít suffer from that, as the design as a whole is more cohesive and better put together. One of my favorite touches is the side vent, which gives a more uptown feeling and helps the CTS stand out more as a Cadillac. The only negative from testing the base car is the standard wheel: a boring looking 17Ē 6 spoke design that does not look fitting for a car in this price range. The sport packages available with the CTS offer a stunning 18Ē wheel design that looks both more stunning and aggressive to match the CTS looks.
The power train options are equally as impressive. All base model CTS have the 3.6 liter DOHC V6 standard making 263 horsepower and 252 pound feet of torque. Mated to a standard 6 speed manual transmission or optional 6 speed automatic with manumatic shift control, this car has plenty of get up and go, yet is well suited to make your trip to the mall or Wal-Mart without any fuss. Power delivery is smooth, only hampered by the sometimes clunky transmission, an attribute that plagued my particular car. An available Direct Injection 3.6 makes 303 horsepower and 272 pound feet of torque. Having driven this model, I feel the added power is worth the extra $2000, though the base model provided more than enough power. My only negative on this particular engine is the lack of a sexy sounding exhaust note. It lacks the deepness and roar of Cadillacís own Northstar V8.
Handling is one of the CTSís best attributes. Miles ahead of anything Cadillac was building 10 years ago, this car doesnít need all the fancy computer controlled geometry of past Cadillacís to be a handler. This car has good ol rear wheel drive, and a poised feel that is matched by few cars in the class. While the car lacks the overall polish of say, a BMW 3-series, we have to remember this is a much larger car. The handling is on par with the 5-seires though, offering precise steering feel and an overall lack of body roll. The ride is controlled and surprisingly supple, and the steering is near perfect. It knows when youíre going along the highway, yet perfectly adjusts when you become a little sporty. All of this on the base FE1 suspension; Cadillac offers three levels of suspension. FE1 is the softest, mainly focusing on a comfortable ride instead of high-end handling; FE2 is best compromise between sport and luxury, offering a good ride and more controlled handling. FE3 is stiff. Very stiff, but offers up one of the best handling cars Iíve ever driven. Itís excellent steering and flat cornering rival the BMW 3, yet with a roomier cabin and more conclusive set of features.
Speaking of interior, this is where the car looses some of its luster for me. Itís beautifully assembled, and offers a great design that is confusing at first, but becomes extremely user friendly. However, Cadillac overlooked a few details that make it hard for me to love the interior as much as the exterior. Starting with the seats, which are uninviting and hard. They offer little in the way of support, and for long trips I would have a feeling that the squirming game would start. Maybe it has something to do with the leatherette, but Iíve been in several high end CTSís and the same problems persist: the whole seat is too small. For an average sized guy like me, who has a little bit more luggage to tow around, this something that would deter me from considering this car. The worst part is the driving position. Itís nearly impossible for me to get it ďjust rightĒ. The steering wheel either sticks out too much or is up too high, and I feel like Iím sitting in a bathtub. The center console sits down just a tad too low for resting my arm. The design of the door panel is awkward, and my legs feel like they are dangling there; I usually rest my left leg on the door panel. Iím also unimpressed with the Bose stereo. It sounds muddy, has very little bass, and the controls are confusing to adjust. If youíre reading this Cadillac: give me the 425 watt Bose stereo from the í98-í04 Seville. Please.
But getting on to the good, the car does have a beautiful center stack design that shows where Cadillac was listening. The previous car had a very cheap looking interior, filled with hard plastics and a design that didnít belong in a Toyota Camry, let alone a $30k+ luxury car. The buttons, which look confusing at first, are really simple to get a grasp on and spending 10 minutes inside the car shows an intuitive design Other pluses for the interior is the quite roomy backseat, and a decent set of cupholders. The standard features are impressive, including a neat looking set of gauges, dual zone climate control, a Bose CD stereo that offers up eight speakers, a CD player, MP3 player hookup, and XM satellite radio. But the most impressive thing about the interior is the build quality. Only one rattle hinders an otherwise perfect interior; I can count 3 on my car. The dash panel gaps are only millimeters big, and the gap between dash and doors isnít large enough to where you can stick your hand through it. Go for the wood grain trim though; it brightens up the interior and adds a touch of class to the car.
Overall, I like the CTS. The design is stunning, the power train is impressive, and the handling is match by few cars in the class. It doesnít get my full approval mainly for the uncomfortable seats and awkward seating position. As the owner of a 2000 Cadillac Seville STS, I find that the CTS has superior build quality and overall design, but lacks the refinement of the Northstar V8, interior comfort, and pampering feel the Seville gives. The CTS feels like an entry-level car. The Seville feels like a true luxury vehicle, whether you consider it one or not.