Seeing the import brands gaining ground in the near-luxury category, Cadillac made a countering move in 1997 with a repackaged rear-drive Opel known as the Catera. In making the transition to Cadillac, engineers added weight to the European-built sedan in the form of features and sound deadening, damping the performance of the modest V-6. Wrapped in dull sheetmetal, the Catera struggled along, never quite fulfilling the brand's hope to stake an American flag in the growing segment. A new strategy was used for the Catera's replacement model. The CTS was built Stateside off an all-new rear-drive platform named Sigma, which would underpin other Cadillac models to follow.
The car also introduced the razor-edged "Art & Design" styling that would be spread across the Cadillac portfolio in the ensuing years. The CTS' explosive launch party was conducted on the big screen in the 2003 film "The Matrix Reloaded," illustrating that things were changing at GM's premium domestic brand. With the 2004 addition of the high-performance 400-hp CTS-V, Cadillac has grounded itself as a major player in this red-hot segment.
The stealth-aircraft-inspired styling of the CTS is a blend of both forward-thinking design and traditional Cadillac style. The vertical lights, fore and aft, harken back to mid-Sixties models, yet the headlamps are truly modern, with a projector-beam type construction. The large, louvered egg-crate grille draws inspiration from 1930s Cadillacs, while the geometric sheetmetal is pure 21st century. The overall design effect was initially polarizing, but as this crisp-edged approach is applied on other models, the look is becoming more comfortably familiar and succeeds in being instantly recognizable as a Cadillac. The base CTS wears 16-inch aluminum wheels, with 17-inch wheels and even more dramatic 18-inch polished wheels available. The CTS-V model sports an aggressive front fascia, stainless-steel mesh grilles, lower bodywork extensions, and 18-inch wheels.
The first impression of the interior--especially in all black--is of a stark European office, with monochromatic surfaces and a center stack that protrudes from the dashboard like a rack of electronic gear. It's an interior that demands a leather jacket and driving gloves from its owner, in all but the tan "Light Neutral" palette. While the extension of the audio and climate-control systems toward the driver lends a claustrophobic feeling, the CTS actually has more legroom than competing Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz models.
The available moonroof brightens up the cavernous cabin a bit, but it also sheds light on design and trim details that aren't up to the standards set by German and Japanese competitors. The sharp-edged plastic covering the doors and dash isn't executed to near-lux levels, there are too many harsh surface textures, and the switchgear feels delicate. In a nod to German manufacturers, there's an overabundance of buttons labeled only with inscrutable pictograms. Most everything is standard, save for a split-folding rear seat, heated front seats, more-powerful stereos, and a navigation system.