Review and road test of the Cadillac CTS (2005 - 2008)
BY ANDY ENRIGHT
The Cadillac CTS might look exotic and otherworldly but it's actually a very savvy used buy, sharing common parts with other General Motors products. As such, you get tried and tested mechanicals with a welcome dose of exclusivity. Go for the 2.8-litre car and you'll even have affordable running costs.
On the face of it, recommending a used Cadillac to a British buyer who would normally look at an Audi A6 or a BMW 5 Series would appear to be an act of the grossest folly. Like baseball, rootbeer and Adam Sandler, Cadillacs have never translated comfortably to a British sensibility but the CTS is different, sharing many underbody parts with more common General Motors tackle. Here's how to snag a used one.
(4 dr saloon 2.8, 3.6 petrol [Elegance, Sport Luxury])
Just as we inflicted our ideas on the Americans, now it's their turn. The Vauxhall Omega will be remembered as a decent police car and a very good motorway hack for sales reps but as a private buy it never really cut the mustard, arriving at a time when everybody was after a premium badge. It was exported to the US and badged the Cadillac Catera. It bombed. On sale from 1997-2001, it never caught the imagination of the American public. It's successor, the CTS (Catera Touring Sedan) was a very different proposition, with bold, angular styling and a whole lot more attitude. Introduced in the US in 2003, it didn't arrive in the UK until late 2005, by which time initial teething troubles had been firmly ironed out.
Sales were slow in the UK, primarily due to the fact that the Cadillac dealer network was minuscule rather than any fundamental shortcoming of the car. A revised model was shown at the 2007 North American Auto Show which included a diesel-engined model.
What You Get
The CTS has a lot of convincing to do to win over sceptical used buyers. The styling is a good first step and the Americans have managed to work in a trick or two. With its short overhangs, stubby bonnet and wedge profile, the CTS looks about the same size as something like a BMW 3 Series or a Mercedes C Class. Break out the tape measure and a different story becomes apparent. The tale of the tape shows that it is in fact larger than a BMW 5 Series in most significant proportions. This had us scratching our heads for a while but goes to explain why Cadillac was so confident that this car could make inroads into the executive car market, offering, as it does, a little extra.
While the styling isn't what you might call pretty, it's definitely distinctive. Those front wings look as if they could pare steak, so definite are the crease lines, and the bluff front grille and smeared back headlamps are about as far from Boss Hogg's chosen form of transport as it's possible to get. When this car arrived, the sort of buyer who avoided the usual BMW/Audi/Mercedes triumvirate in favour of something different like a Saab, a Lexus or a Jaguar suddenly had something else to consider.
The interior is where many sales are often won and lost and it's a case of 'good for a Cadillac'. The gimmicky features and chintzy trim of the old Seville STS model were consigned to history, the CTS featuring neater lines, higher quality materials and a more logical layout. All things are relative, however, and by the standards of the class best, it still left a bit to be desired. The excellent thumb wheel control on one side of the steering wheel for example, is countered by four buttons marked 1,2,3 and 4 on the other. I still have no idea what they do. The cabin quality feels - at best - what you'd expect from a well-built mainstream saloon like a Peugeot 407 or a Ford Mondeo. Still, the same could be said for some Saabs and Jaguars, so perhaps the Caddy isn't too far off the mark there.
What to Look For
The CTS has proven a very reliable car. When checking one over, look for damage to trim or minor body imperfections. In this sector of the market, such damage knocks used values hard. Your best bet will be to bag a low mileage used car from one of the approved dealers.
(approx based on a 2005 CTS 2.8) Whilst it would be easy to assume that for such a low volume model spares prices would be punitively expensive, that's not really the case. If you were figuring that the General Motors parts would be Vauxhall-cheap, then you'd be labouring under a similar misapprehension. Prices are on a par with class rivals.
On the Road
Power comes courtesy of either a 2.8 V6 or a 3.5-litre V6 good for 255bhp. With the 2.8, there's the choice of Elegance or Sport Luxury trim. The 3.6 V6 comes in Sport Luxury or Sport guise. Those looking for a BMW M3 alternative, will appreciate the smoking CTS-V. With a 400bhp 5.7-litre V8 up front, the CTS-V's Corvette motor will push it through 4.6 seconds and on to a top speed of 165mph although these are very rare cars, never officially imported.
The 3.6-litre CTS is no slouch, notching off the sprint in 6.7 seconds. It was available with the option of a Getrag manual or a five-speed automatic gearbox that benefits from electronic management and offers three different programs selectable by the driver: Sport, Winter and Economy. Apart from engine brake facilities, the new automatic transmission offers an intelligent shift control that avoids downshifting during cornering.
An all-new rear-wheel drive chassis was developed for the CTS, using independent suspension, and the ride is a good deal firmer than you might expect. Admittedly this isn't saying a great deal, for the typical expectation of a US car is that it will corner with all the elegance of a frog in a sock, but the CTS feels pleasantly together. It's still no BMW 330i but it at least offers the keen driver some jollies. The steering is precise with a meaty on-centre feel and the variable power assistance never feels intrusive.
There are two ways to look at a Cadillac CTS. One is that it offers an exclusive and cut-price alternative to the usual tackle without the sort of flaky mechanicals that usually come with buying a left-field choice. A slightly more cynical view is that many of the CTS's parts are offered more cheaply and easily in something like a Vauxhall Signum. With the steepest part of the depreciation curve out of the way, maverick buyers may well be tempted by the handsome Caddy. On almost any objective basis, a BMW 5 Series is a better car. Is it more likeable though? After a spell behind the wheel of the big-hearted CTS, I'd say no.
Cadillac CTS (2005 - 2008) review by ANDY ENRIGHT