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Motoring: Cadillac stacks up against foreign rivals

Nauman Farooq | Interrobang | Sports | April 7th, 2008

In the past, every time I got behind the wheel of a Cadillac, it left me feeling cold. However, back in 2006, when I spent a week with the Cadillac Escalade EXT, I got a warm fuzzy feeling from it. Not only did it look great, it was great to drive as well. I drove it down to Manhattan, N.Y., and it proved to be the ideal vehicle for the journey.

The build quality was a huge improvement over any other Cadillac I had ever driven. So, finally a Cadillac I could recommend.

So the biggest question on my mind even before I drove the new CTS sedan was this; will this one leave me feeling cold or hot?

From a styling point of view, this is spot on. This is the best looking car in its category. Nothing from BMW, Mercedes-Benz or Audi at this price point has this much appeal.

It looks good from every angle, but the best view is dead on front. I saw one of these new CTS sedans come behind me on the highway, and its aggressive look certainly made me take notice of it. I love the design and everyone I have asked about it says the same thing.

However, even if some past Cadillacs looked great from the outside, as soon as you opened the door you would be disappointed.

Thankfully no such worries with the new CTS. Everything about it was great. I loved the leather-covered dashboard; I loved the look of the dials and the centre console. This car also has one of the most clever navigation screens in the industry. The screen pops up electronically when needed, but when you are just using the radio features, the screen can retract while the top portion of the screen is still visible, which shows you your radio presets, very clever stuff indeed.

Equally as impressive is the stereo. First of all this stereo has more features than I can ever figure out, so I won't even attempt to tell you all of them. I will tell you that you can plug in your flash cards and iPods and control them using the buttons on the steering wheel. It is also equipped with Bluetooth connection, so your cell phone becomes hands free too.

On technology, this CTS is among the best of the best, and it's a similar story with the comfort. I loved the seats, they support you well, have all the adjustments you'll ever need and while a bit short on thigh support, still better than most American cars I have come across. Unlike most cars in this category, the CTS has room in the back for its passengers and their legs.

So far so good, but how is it to drive?

The most important ingredient for making a car good to drive is its engine. The CTS currently gives you a choice of two, both 3.6-litre V6 units. So you either have a standard fuel injected unit producing 263hp, or the one that was fitted to my test car, a new direct injected motor that produced a hefty 304hp.

This engine on normal driving is very relaxed and doesn't seem to show eagerness to headbutt the horizon. But when you dig deep into its power reserve, this car will surprise you with its speed. It is not as fast as the Hemi powered Chryslers, but it's not too far behind.

The area that surprised me most was the handling. Cadillacs of old handled like tug boats, the new CTS is a precise instrument. You point it where you want to go and even when taking off ramps at silly speeds this car just stays planted. The handling might have been helped by the optional all-wheel drive system as fitted to my test car.

Just when I thought this car had shown me all its handling talents, I found out it had more to show. So I took it to a big parking lot and found out how to turn the traction and stability control completely off. In a snow covered parking lot, I was able to drift it and see how easy it was to correct it. This really surprised me because this CTS was very easy to handle. At this point I also found its gearbox to be a delight. This cars six-speed automatic is smooth, and while it might not be the quickest shifting unit when used in its manual mode, at least it doesn't change up on its own, so you can hold it at the rev limiter as much as you'd want. I like that.

What I didn't like was its fuel economy. In my week, I averaged 15-litres/100km, which makes it thirstier than I expected it to be. I averaged better fuel economy in the Audi S6, which is a bigger all-wheel drive car that has a monsterous V10 engine.

The fuel economy is disappointing and was way off the numbers suggested by the manufacturer, and in these days of ever rising fuel prices, this does have an effect on a car buyers choice.

However, when you look at the rest of the car and see how good it really is, I am sure a lot of buyers will forgive it of its real world fuel economy and buy one of these because they enjoy looking at it, being in it and driving it.

It is priced extremely well. The base CTS starts at $38,900. My test car was quite pricey though. Due to the all-wheel drive, the direct injected engine, the panoramic sunroof (the best sunroof I have ever come across, almost the full length of the roof and has a power blind to cover it), navigation and possibly every option available on this car, listed at about $60,000.

That might be a lot of money but still cheaper than its German rivals. So Cadillac finally has a serious rival to its German and Japanese competition. If only they can make it as fuel-efficient as its rivals, then it would be the best car in its class without a doubt.
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