The Cadillac STS is almost a poster child for what's right with General Motors at the moment-and for what's wrong. On the positive side, there has been a revolution among some of the divisions when it comes to getting the basic hardware right. Cadillac has done the best job, because the CTS, the STS, the XLR, and even the SRX all handle, go, and stop with true authority. A real effort was made to improve the quality of the vehicles, particularly inside. And whatever one thinks of their looks (the SRX, STS, and XLR are more palatable than the CTS), they do have a distinctive stance and presence on the road.
But-and this is a big but-the Caddys aren't quite there yet. This particularly applies to the interiors, whose high-quality materials somehow look cheap. And the detailing that is so well executed on an Audi or a Lexus just isn't seen in the STS. The column stalks seem to have come out of a lower-class car, and the switchgear just doesn't feel the way it should in a $50,000 automobile. The Chrysler 300C has its faults, too, but the column stalks have a precision that the Caddy doesn't come close to matching. And it's a cheaper car.
Having said that, there's a lot to like about the STS. The 4.6-liter DOHC 32-valve V-8 engine is a nice piece and makes a solid 320 hp, but a fully laden STS V-8 rolls out on the wrong side of $60,000, which is BMW 545i or stripper Lexus LS430 money. We can make a better case for the V-6, actually, because a really well-equipped one will cost less than $50,000, which puts it up against a less well-equipped BMW 530i or a fully loaded 525i powered by a meager 184-hp in-line six, hardly a match for the Caddy's 3.6-liter, 225-hp V-6.
This is a fine powertrain, too. The new 60-degree V-6-which replaces the bizarre 54-degree V-6 that was originally fitted to the CTS-is smooth and torquey and well teamed with an adaptive five-speed automatic transmission. Because the V-6 engine weighs less than the V-8, it imbues the STS with better-balanced weight distribution: 52 percent front/48 percent rear. As you turn into corners, the V-6 STS simply feels lighter on its feet than the V-8. It is a fine chassis, especially when equipped with the optional Magnetic Ride Control damping. The 5-series is still the most athletic car in its class, but if you live in the Snow Belt, you will appreciate the STS's more supple ride and be less likely to worry about the BMW's superior body control.
The STS does have the advantage of being bigger inside than the 5, offering more of everything except rear-seat headroom. It has a full array of available goodies, including adaptive cruise control and automatic high-beam switching, while leather seating is standard (BMW buyers have to order a premium package for the more upscale interiors).
If you view the STS as a rival to the likes of the Audi A6, the Mercedes E-class, and the BMW 5-series, it makes some sense. It is bigger and cheaper. It has a distinctive style, it goes well, and it has a fine trade-off between ride and handling. The folks at Cadillac like to think that the STS compares with the likes of the Mercedes S-class, the Audi A8L, and the BMW 7-series, but we believe they are deluding themselves, because while it is close in physical size, it doesn't have the presence or the interior quality of these three luxury-car standouts.
The STS is a nice car rather than a great one. All GM needs to do to elevate it to stardom is produce an interior that is world-class rather than keep talking about it.