2008 Cadillac STS

Cadillac's current-generation STS was the first to use a rear-wheel-drive chassis, which at last put it on equal footing with big-name players such as the Mercedes-Benz E-class, the Lexus GS, and the BMW 5-series. That's very tough competition and, at the midpoint in its season, the STS is getting some fortification.

For 2008, the STS attempts to dazzle its opponents with the chrome wattage of its bigger, fancier grille, chrome door handles, and--today's must-have style accessory--chrome front fender vents. Inside, there's revised wood trim and a new steering wheel. But the real substance comes in the form of mechanical upgrades, starting with a new engine that produces 302 hp.

That figure, by the way, is for the V-6, which Cadillac has switched to direct injection, adding 47 hp and 20 lb-ft of torque in the process. That makes the 3.6-liter GM's most powerful production V-6 ever. Now paired with a six-speed transmission, it provides the STS with brisk acceleration--lively enough to catch the Mercedes-Benz E350 sedan, which also claims a 6.5-second 0-to-60-mph time.

To quicken the STS's reflexes, Cadillac offers a performance handling package, which firms up the suspension and swaps in the larger Brembo brakes from the STS-V. With it, the ride is a bit more tied down but large body motions aren't controlled as well as they are with the V-8 model's Magnetic Ride Control in performance mode. Taking a page from BMW, the STS now offers active steering, although that's reserved for V-8-powered, all-wheel-drive models. Besides varying the steering ratio, this system also works in conjunction with Stabilitrak to steer the front wheels (by up to 3 degrees) into a skid, which is not as creepy as it sounds. Also new on the safety front is a lane-departure warning system (useful, particularly for cell-phone yakkers) and a blind-spot warning system (less useful, due to the subtlety of its warning light on the sideview mirrors).None of these changes will have the STS running away from the field, but the more potent V-6 makes the base car (which accounts for four out of five sales) a much more solid player. In this league, that's doing pretty well for a rookie.

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