Review and road test of the Cadillac BLS (2006-2010)
THANKS BUT NO YANKS?
BY Jonathan Crouch
Perhaps it seemed a good idea at the time. Clothe a Saab 9-3 in angular Cadillac styling and you have a car that has cost very little to develop but which offers the Cadillac brand a toehold in the European market appealing to a different buyer profile than its Saab sibling. What could go wrong? Quite a lot as it happened. A patchy dealer network and little in the way of marketing support meant that the BLS, an otherwise decent car, withered on the vine. In March 2009, shortly before the BLS was discontinued, Cadillac managed 11 UK sales. Bentley managed 125 and Porsche moved 930 vehicles. Exclusivity is certainly on your side if you can find a used example.
(BLS saloon and estate: 2.0 and 2.8 petrol, 1.9 turbodiesel)
Built at Saab's factory in Trollhattan, Sweden, the Cadillac BLS was actually about as American as Gravadlax and Surstr?emming. Due to this artful deception, Cadillac was confident at launch that it would allow them a meaningful sales presence in Europe and appeal to a younger, more extrovert client base than the Saab 9-3 upon which it was based.
Contrary to widespread belief, the BLS wasn't actually the first Cadillac to be offered with a diesel engine. That honour falls to a car launched in the dog days of the oil crisis back in 1979. The Seville with a 5.7-litre LF9 diesel engine, itself a rather clumsy conversion of the petrol Oldsmobile V8, might well be remembered as possessing by far one of the worst engines ever installed in a vehicle.
Both saloon and estate models were offered, but due to piecemeal dealer backup and a lack of concerted promotion, the BLS never got out of the blocks. Just three years later, Cadillac decided to call it quits.
What You Get
Despite its catastrophic marketing, the Cadillac BLS wasn't a duffer. Granted, it was some way off the pace of the leading Audi, Mercedes and BMW models but then it was priced accordingly. Think of it as a Saab 9-3 in a zoot suit and you're not far off the mark and the Saab has always been a solid performer. If you just want to enjoy the distinctive styling and the fact that it's doubtful anyone else in your area will have one, the BLS has something to commend it.
There's a choice of saloon or 'Wagon' estate body styles. Go for the estate and you'll find that unlike many vehicles that campaign in this class, the Caddy offers some serious carrying capacity. There's 419-litres available with the rear seats in place and a respectable 1,273-litres with the seats folded down. Rear seat space is not a Caddy strength though. Still, there's plenty of kit to compensate. The 'Elegance' trim level is supplied with premium equipment such as leather trim, powered and heated front seats, a BOSE Surround Sound 11-speaker audio system, DVD sat-nav, hands-free Bluetooth phone system, dual zone climate control, cruise control, park distance sensors and StabiliTrak electronic dynamic stability control.
The exterior styling is distinctive with a wedge-shaped profile and a look that isn't going to be confused with any other marque on the road. The huge vertically-stacked headlights and tail lights are interesting design touches and there are V-shaped motifs within the grille and the number plate surrounds. The crease along the car's hipline looks sharp enough to slice prime rib and the interior is certainly a cut above the usual American fare. There's often a disappointing sensation of getting into a cheap hire car at LAX whenever we sit in an American import but the BLS offers a clean if not adventurously styled fascia.
What to Look For
The General Motors parts beneath the Cadillac are tried and tested fare that are more than capable of big mileages. One area that is worth checking, especially on the more pokey models, is front tyre wear. As with any powerful front wheel drive car, expecting the front tyres to cope with the demands of steering such a weighty beast and transmitting all that horsepower to the ground is a serious task. A heavy right foot can see front tyres waving the white flag within 5,000 miles, dependent upon make. Some of the interior trims are also easily scratched by drivers with Liberace-like jewellery and the leather upholstery isn't the most durable. Timing belts should be replaced at 40,000 miles.
(based on a 2007 Cadillac BLS 2.8T Elegance- ex Vat) As you'd expect from a vehicle that shares its mechanical platform with mass-market cars, mechanical parts are gratifyingly cheap. A clutch assembly is in the region of £275, and brake pads are £50 a set for the fronts and £35 a pair at the back. A radiator is a fairly reasonable £220, and a headlamp unit is comparable to most major rivals at £170. A starter motor won't see change from £180, whilst an alternator will only see small change from £260. An exhaust system is around £310, again, not unreasonable for a classy executive car. Body panels are a different matter, so make sure your insurance cover is up to scratch.
On the Road
The General Motors 'Epsilon' platform underneath the Cadillac BLS is a front-wheel-drive chassis with a choice of either 175bhp or 210bhp 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo models or a 2.8-litre V6 turbo that punches out a hefty 255bhp. There was even a 2.0-litre petrol 200bhp Flexpower version that could run on bioethanol E85. The diesel range is served by a 1.9-litre direct injection turbodiesel engine that's good for either 150 or 180bhp. Even the 150bhp version will notch off the sprint to 60mph in just 9.3 seconds, but the in-gear acceleration times that really indicate a diesel engine's torque response have been slashed dramatically.
Handling is safe and secure without anything to excite the keener driver. The steering, brakes and gearchange are again perfectly acceptable but nothing from the top drawer. The diesel engine isn't particularly refined and the petrol engines are thirsty. On a dynamic basis, the Cadillac BLS is an unexceptional performer but it's fine as long as you don't ask too much of it
The Cadillac BLS was an utter flop when judged against its initial remit and was some way off the pace of the very best vehicles in its class. Is that enough to condemn it as a used car choice? Far from it. Prices have collapsed to distinctly tempting levels and the BLS is a solid and reliable vehicle that's not going to cost a fortune to run. With distinctive styling that has aged well and a badge that still carries some clout, the Cadillac BLS makes a lot more sense as a used purchase than first time round.
Cadillac BLS (2006-2010) review by Jonathan Crouch