Review: 2006 Cadillac CTS

For 2005, Cadillac made all previous safety options standard equipment. These include six airbags (front, side, and head curtain), OnStar, ABS, traction control, and StabiliTrak electronic stability control. Well equipped, the CTS is at the top of its class for bundled safety gear. The brakes are excellent, with large 11.9-inch rotors in front and 11.7 inchers in the rear. The brakes resist fade, even after a number of laps on a test track. For even more impressive stopping performance, the CTS-V features four-piston Brembo calipers that bite down on giant 14-inch rotors.

As part of a corporation employing an abundance of long-lived pushrod engines, the Cadillac division is a diamond in the rough. New last year was a sophisticated 2.8-liter DOHC V-6, which replaced an inferior 3.2-liter engine. Both this small-displacement 210-horse V-6 and the optional 3.6-liter/255-horse V-6 feature all-aluminum construction; have variable valve timing, with four valves per cylinder; and consume regular unleaded fuel. Although the larger engine lives up the CTS' performance potential, the new entry-level choice is merely adequate for average drivers.

On the enthusiast scale, however, even the larger 3.6L can't keep up with the muscular Infiniti G35, but it will stay with the rest of the sport-sedan pack in its price category, despite being louder at high revs. Both engines come standard with a six-speed manual gearbox, but the shifter throws are too lengthy, and the gears don't click home with the ease of the manuals in the BMW 3 Series or Infiniti G35. For those who prefer an automatic transmission, the CTS is offered with the well-crafted five-speed 5L40-E, which is also licensed by BMW for use in the 5 Series.

Where BMW has "M," Cadillac has "V"--the performance pinnacle for the product range, with a comprehensive powertrain, chassis, and cosmetic upgrade. For 2006, the CTS-V moves from using the 5.7-liter/400-horse LS6 engine borrowed from the previous-generation Corvette Z06 to a 6.0-liter/400-horse V-8 transplanted from the new, sixth-generation Corvette. Rowed through six-gears with a manual Tremec transmission, the CTS-V can race from 0 to 60 mph in 4.6 seconds, leaving many fancy German competitors in its Motown dust. The fact that the CTS-V is cheaper than its Audi, BMW, and Mercedes competitors furthers its appeal.

Being a Cadillac, the CTS leans more toward comfort than sport. Body roll is far more noticeable here than in some other more-athletic sedans, as this car is better suited to highway driving than curve carving. The brakes are excellent, and Cadillac's five-speed automatic transmission is buttery smooth, unlike the standard manual. The steering wheel is too large and thin for a modern sport sedan. And the navigation system is complicated to use, with vertical rows of buttons along each side. The same dashboard layout can be found in the SRX crossover, but that vehicle uses a much nicer touch-screen unit. Why have these two different systems, especially when one is clearly superior?

The CTS has a classic leather smell and plush seats, even if they aren't quite as supportive as they could be. If you're lucky enough to sit in the throne of the V-Series, the experience will be marked by one massive grin, from the moment you turn the key to point where you walk away and take one last look over your shoulder at the edgy sheetmetal and mean 18-inch wheels.

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