The CTS will be priced between BMW's 3-series and 5-series, starting in the low $30,000s. It's sized close to the 5-series, which means that there is a lot more interior room than in the 3-series, particularly out back. The interior decor doesn't look like anything else on the market, in an attempt to use modern American design instead of drawing on the past. Some of the finishes are very cool, such as the crosshatch texture on the dashboard and the modern weave on the headliner, but the effect is diminished by some low-rent interior pieces--the column stalks, for instance. Automakers such as Toyota and Audi have a much classier parts bin to raid than does General Motors (or Ford, for that matter), and it always shows at the major interfaces between you and the car. Cadillac says that a nontelescoping steering wheel saves mass, for instance, but, of course, it also saves money.
The CTS will be well equipped, however, with standard leather, an in-dash CD player, and a power driver's seat. Four steering-wheel-mounted buttons are programmable, and the optional navigation system has a huge screen. The CTS comes with sixteen-inch wheels and H-rated 225/55 tires, traction control, and conventional power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering. Options include Premium and Sport packages, the latter with seventeen-inch wheels and V-rated 225/50 tires, self-leveling rear dampers, steering with variable power assist, and StabiliTrak skid control.
Like the outgoing Catera, the rear-wheel-drive CTS uses GM's 54-degree DOHC V-6 engine (see sidebar below). The engine grows from 3.0 to 3.2 liters, with increases from 200 to 220 horsepower and from 192 to 218 pound-feet of torque. The numbers aren't startling, but they are competitive. The V-6 is mated to either a Getrag 260 five-speed manual transmission or a Hydra-matic 5L40-E five-speed automatic. Save for the hated Cimarron, this is the first time Cadillac has used a stick shift since 1953. The automatic, which is expected to account for 90 to 95 percent of U.S. sales, has a performance shift mode and adaptive shift patterns.
The main focus of excitement among the Cadillac folks is the CTS chassis, which is the first use of the Sigma architecture that will be the basis of the next-generation STS and the upcoming LAV crossover vehicle. The platform is notably stiffer than the Catera's and uses sophisticated independent front and rear suspension (see sidebar on next page). Depending on transmission choice, the car weighs 306 or 247 pounds less than the admittedly portly Catera. More important, it's within 20 pounds of the benchmark BMW 530i. The StabiliTrak system on the Sport model is tuned for fun, but, like the traction control, it can be switched off.
Cadillac is very proud to have developed the CTS on the fabled 12.9-mile Nrburgring in northern Germany, so that's where we went to drive it. The 'Ring is both the best automotive playground on the planet and also one of the better places to learn whether a car's damping is up to snuff. Plus, unlike on public roads, there isn't anything coming the other way.
Our time on the track and the twisting roads around the 'Ring confirmed that Cadillac has produced a car that is not only stylish and roomy but also darned good to drive. Unlike most American cars, except the Ford Focus and the Chevrolet Corvette, the CTS drives better the harder you push it, with body control and feedback that are closer to BMW than to Audi or Lexus. The chassis is fluent and changes direction with poise and precision, featuring very good damping control. Correcting mild initial understeer in fast sweepers or power oversteer in tighter bends is natural, because the steering has linearity and feel, if not quite the communication of a 5-series.