Goodbye, XLR & STS
Cadillac’s big product push a decade ago cost GM a pretty penny and earned lots of press, but in many respects, it failed to stick. The 5-series-fighting STS and the XLR hardtop convertible never really hit their stride and are going away without redesigns. Ambitious halo models like the Sixteen and Cien never got beyond concept-car stage. With that in mind -- along with the limited nature of GM’s resources – it’s easy to understand why this time around, Cadillac is looking to work smarter, not harder.
Hello, CTS coupe
Meet the CTS coupe. Sure, it looks like a concept car that took a wrong turn leaving the convention center, but in fact, it’s an entirely logical and even conservative progression based on Cadillac’s most successful vehicle, the CTS. Starting at about $40,000, it will cost less than half as much as an XLR and offer two more seats, though there’s no way to open the roof (and never will be, as the platform was never designed for a drop top). It’s also much cheaper for GM, as it shares its sheet metal from the cowl forward and almost all its mechanical components with the CTS sedan and wagon, and it will be built at the same plant in Lansing, Mich. What’s most important to us though, is that unlike some of the brand’s promising, but ultimately unpolished earlier efforts, the CTS coupe feels and drives like a car that’s been to finishing school.
The best-looking member of the family
Cadillac says that although it always planned a CTS sedan and wagon, it only decided to do a coupe when designers mocked up a concept. Regardless of how true this is – it’s hard to imagine no one outside the design studio thought of doing a mid-size two-door when so many premium competitors have one -- it’s safe to say the coupe is positively gorgeous. Pictures simply don’t do it justice, which is saying quite a bit. The rakish roofline and slab-sided doors are the natural extension of the CTS’s aggressive styling. Out back, high-flow mufflers vent through squareish tips integrated into the rear fascia. (The CTS-V coupe, which will come out a few months after the V-6 model hits dealerships in June 2010, gets non-integrated round outlets, that are better suited to handle the V-8’s extra heat. A few cues from the XLR, namely the shaved door handles and the central mounting of the exhaust, are reprised here. In terms of pure looks, the CTS coupe should rocket to the head of the luxury pack, especially since competitors like the Infiniti G37 and the Audi A5 have already been out for a while. Potential buyers, at least the ones we encountered as we drove around upscale Scottsdale, Arizona, seem to agree. It’s pretty common to catch lots of stares when testing a dynamic looking new car, less so to have those bystanders come up and try to find out exactly where and when they can purchase one.
Carryover interior is a letdown
Considering the excitement generated by the car’s exterior, it’s a bit of a letdown to find the cabin pretty much carries over unchanged from the sedan and wagon. Though the CTS interior was a breakthrough for General Motors when it debuted nearly three years ago and still has very few overt faults, the addition of a significant new body style halfway through a model cycle would seemingly have been the perfect time to introduce some updates. Instead, the only real change of note is the availability of Recaro seats from the CTS-V in any coupe or sedan. We’d personally stick with the standard seats, which are firm and very comfortable, with excellent lumbar support. At least the lack of changes should ensure top-quality fit and finish. Even our non-salable development mule was free of the issues one usually finds on early-build models.
Bigger rear tires & anti-roll bar; higher final-drive
The coupe also largely carries over the sedan’s mechanicals, although there are a few key tuning changes. “The coupe turns it up one notch from where we are with the sedan,” said vehicle performance manager Richard Kewley. The coupe’s body is two inches wider in the back, which allowed engineers to go with wider rear tires. They offset that change with a thicker rear anti-roll bar to provide more overall grip without hurting the car’s balance. The direct-injected 3.6-liter V-6 is unchanged from the sedan but is paired with a numerically higher, 3.73:1 final-drive ratio (the base 3.0-liter engine will not be offered) and a standard limited-slip differential. According to Kewley, when the CTS coupe is equipped with a manual transmission, it should be able to accomplish the 0-to-60-mph sprint in about six seconds. That’s slightly faster than the sedan but still at least a half second slower than the likes of the Infiniti G37 and BMW 335i coupes, which are both a half size smaller and significantly lighter than the CTS. Again, this might have seemed a good time and place to introduce a slightly more potent model, as Infiniti did when it introduced the G37 coupe and as BMW is now doing with the 335is, but Cadillac doesn’t see a need for a model between the regular car and the V.
Leaving the Camaro V-6 in the dust
We know what you’re thinking at this point: the coupe is just another half-baked, pretty face from General Motors. Not true. Look closely, and you’ll see a whole lot of engineering going on here. For instance, the well-integrated CHMSL doubles as a rear spoiler, contributing to the coupe’s higher downforce. The deck lid under it opens wide and reveals a surprisingly deep trunk. From the driver’s seat, there’s the expected C-pillar blind spot, but otherwise the cabin feels far brighter and airier than both the G37 and 3-series coupes.
Most important, the coupe is every bit as sporty as the fighter-jet looks promise when it hits some curves. The FE3 suspension on our tester manages the car’s considerable weight with supreme competence, keeping body motions in check through quick switchbacks. The extra time spent on tuning pays off with exceptional balance, as the rear end slides around hairpins smartly and predictably despite its staggered tires. This, just in case you were wondering, is where the CTS coupe would leave a V-6 Camaro choking in its dust, despite the fact that it uses an identical powertrain and weighs about the same. The ZF steering rack, unchanged from the sedan, is extremely precise and is as communicative as that in any German car, though there’s still a bit too much power assist for our taste.
A brilliant six-speed automatic
The biggest surprise though, would have to be the transmission. We were disappointed at first to find our test car equipped with a six-speed automatic, but by the time we reached the end of the paved mountain road and turned around for another pass, we were glad to have it. In sport mode, the transmission’s programming adjusts the shift pattern according to acceleration, braking, and lateral g-forces. Lots of autos do this, but few we’ve experienced do it so well. Indeed, the way it slammed down a gear the moment before a hard right-hander and avoided an upshift through a long banked turn was enough to make us wonder why other sporty cars bother with the complexity of a dual-clutch unit. Strong, perfectly progressive brakes round out the package. Keep in mind, very little of this capability is unique to the coupe. The sedan and even the 200-pound-heavier wagon will acquit themselves nearly as well if given a chance. In that sense, our spirited drive was less a revelation than it was a reminder that the CTS, regardless of body style, means business.
The weight of a division on its shoulders
That’s pretty much the effect Cadillac wants. Though decision makers are still not sure how much volume the coupe will add, there’s hope that the addition of a flashy new variant will encourage more people to walk into the showroom and discover the car’s virtues. With CTS sales slumping as of late and the wagon only adding a couple hundred units a month despite critical acclaim, this is no small gamble. We just saw a preview of the replacement for the DTS and STS, and Kewley and his team are hard at work on a smaller rear-wheel-drive vehicle to compete more directly with the 3-series, but for now and looking into the near future, the brand’s prestige and much of its volume rests on the CTS’s chiseled shoulders. The money spent on this coupe could very well have gone toward a thorough freshening, but Cadillac clearly thinks this injection of style is a better investment. We think so, too. The stunning coupe finally gives the CTS the halo it needs to draw attention to what has long been a very worthwhile car and is now a very competitive lineup.