First Drive: 2011 Cadillac CTS Coupe

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.

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don't think its gonna age well

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