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2008 Cadillac CTS – So Who Shot the ‘Bean Counter’?

We often get asked, “So why don’t the domestic brands build better vehicles?” and the answer usually comes down to simple economics. It’s not that the domestics don’t know how to engineer and produce amazing, well-built vehicles. It is a matter of fixed costs, variable expenditures, unions, dealers and what we like to call ‘bean counters’. Bean counters are those guy’s who help cost reduce a vehicle within an inch of its life in an effort to compete in the automotive marketplace. The imports typically have a leg up on the domestics due to their younger work force (read: health care costs and retirement costs), their efficiency and the American publics perceptions about their quality.

Well, either someone gave the bean counter working on the all-new 2008 Cadillac CTS an extended vacation or he was taken out back and shot. The ’08 CTS is a nice car and it’s produced by a domestic auto manufacturer. I know… at first I didn’t believe it either. Most of us had to keep looking down at the Cadillac badge on the steering wheel every few minutes just to confirm the fact that we really were driving a Cadillac. For a minute it didn’t compute. It was a surreal experience.


Can Art and Science Mix?
I’m not into golf (unless it’s miniature) and I don’t like ‘exit level vehicles’ so I don’t typically like Cadillacs but the new CTS was different; more youthful, a little edgy, and dare I say it… appealing. When walking up to one you are instantly struck by the aggressive, bold styling Cadillac likes to call “art-and-science”. If you remember the last generation CTS it may have looked a little skinny. Well, the all-new CTS sticks with the Art-and-Science theme but it just came back from working out at the Nürburgring, so it’s grown some muscles and added some length. It is about 2 inches wider (thanks to a wider track and fender flares) and it’s also 1.5 inches longer, but retains the same wheel base of 113.4”.

A Luxury Car Deserving of the Cadillac Name
Opening up the door and slipping in behind the wheel confirms the fact that the CTS is a luxury car deserving of the Cadillac name. The seats are comfy, build materials are on par, the IP has classy real stitching with a handcrafted feel, and the pop-up NAV/stereo system was a technical masterpiece. The only caveat to the NAV/Stereo system comment is the lack of Bluetooth connectivity; they expect you to use OnStar or your ‘stylish’ Bluetooth earpiece. That was kind of a let down…though next year Cadillac will respond to market demand and offer a proper Bluetooth system.

Did you say 304?
Just after turning over the 3.6L Direct Injection V6 engine and looking down at the backlit instrumentation I kept wondering, “What’s this thing going to drive like?” After pulling out into traffic and getting use to the ‘take-up’ in the clutch (yep, our Caddy was a manual – No, it didn’t seem to fit the car… but I liked it and I hear you future Camaro owners are going to like it too) the 3.6 really came alive. The engine felt really potent for a V6 and sounded great. I think the rest of our staff would agree that this was one of the best V6 engines we’ve had in an evaluation vehicle (Nissan/Infiniti’s VQ 3.5 V6 is also very good).
The CTS has definitely made me a big believer in direct injection, which does exactly what you’d expect: sprays fuel directly into the combustion chamber. The benefits range from gains in horsepower and torque to better fuel economy (better fuel metering) and lower emissions. Which sounds to me like a win/win! If you give me a V6 with 304HP I’m not sure I really need a V8 with 320HP… okay, a V8 with 550HP might sell me (Just wait a few more months you CTS-V fanatics).

The brakes are more than adequate, we love the fact that it’s rear-wheel-drive (although All-wheel-drive is available) and the NVH (especially with Z rated summer tires) is surprisingly good – pretty quiet. Maybe too quiet… that is until you put your foot into it. That’s when the fuel economy numbers fly right out the window (bubye 19MPG average) and the 3.6 shines, drumming up the symphony around 4200 rpm where the band begins to play out the twin exhaust pipes. It was amazing to feel a V6 pull this 4K lb. vehicle off the line.

I have to mention the NAV/Stereo system again; it was really impressive; maybe the best yet. The screen was clear and intuitive (read: touch screen), it has ‘text-to-speech’ voice command capability, a comprehensive POI database, a 40G internal hard drive and very little lag time. The hard drive is able to let you record a song or the end of a program if you need to shut the vehicle off for some reason. With the XM radio you can pause what you are listening to, and store up to 60 minutes of the audio onto the hard drive. When you get back from your meeting or errand you can continue from where you left off. Now that’s neat!

At a cost of $3,145 I think this NAV/Stereo upgrade package is worth it… especially if you appreciate technical stuff or gadgetry. The traffic updates/info warns you about traffic obstructions ahead (“attention – traffic jam in 1.9 miles) and gives you options to divert using the NAV screen menu under route guidance. iPod connectivity was seamless and brilliant and they must have beefed up the XM antennas because you can get reception even in parking structures!

Right Size, Location, Angle, and Info
Since I’m not nearly as smart or ‘techy’ as many of you, my favorite feature of the Infotainment screen had to be the up/down button, which tucks most of the screen down into the center stack leaving a sliver of the screen visible with pertinent information available (radio stations/artist/song title/etc.). It is the best executed system we’ve seen. It’s the right size, in the right location, at a proper angle, with the right info. A neighbor of ours has a brand new Mercedes Benz C-Class and their NAV system is fun to watch as it does acrobatics before disappearing into the center stack but to be honest (although we like acrobatics) we don’t want our system to shut down and hide. This Caddy’s NAV/Stereo system is very slick… it will probably help seal the deal with a few prospective buyers.

In Summation
Maybe the least expensive Cadillac is really the best Cadillac… at least at the moment. Thanks in part to the Direct Injection V6, luxurious interior, unbelievable NAV/Stereo system, and a little STS DNA. That’s right, the all-new CTS received a little help from its bigger brother. By using the larger STS floor plan, rear chassis rails, and lower A-pillar the new CTS has better proportions and driving dynamics than the last generation. Although, I may not recommend taking the CTS to the track this weekend the driving dynamics are great for around town. Steering may be a little soggy (electric power assist?), it was not crisp and I didn’t feel connected to the road as one would in say a BMW. But the throttle response was good, there is very little body roll, and the car feels planted – stable, balanced, and pretty predictable. Cadillac has made a concerted effort to get back in the game and build some vehicles with not just flair but some real vigor. The CTS is a vehicle they can be proud of and a real testament to their determination.
Room for improvement:
Braided wiring loom making it’s way from the main body to the trunk lid noticeable when trunk is open (looks tacky)
Shallow center console (not much room for storage)
A sense of real luxury but maybe not quality/longevity (What happens in five years?)
Some hard plastic interior pieces w/unfinished edges
Conventional Mechanical key with separate (rather large) electronic key fob (for lock/unlock/trunk release) – at least give us an integrated keyfob (a smart key system is available at extra cost)!

Turn signal actuation feels ‘cheap’ (plasticy/hallow/1989 Buick like)
Manual adjustable steering column in a 44K vehicle?!?! Again, it’s optional, but we’d expect it to be included at this price.
Steering Column adjustment-etc350.jpg

Manual: Clutch take up, manual out of character for vehicle (at least in the U.S.), long throws..
No bluetooth (so Hands free calling will be done using GMs OnStar or your ear piece)
Electric assist steering (Did not feel crisp)
Electric power release door handles (split second awkwardness/delay)
No exterior trunk release handle for opening the trunk (trunk release on key fob or interior driver door)

1 Comment

  • Bob| April 23, 2008 at 2:13 pm

    One of the few cars that enhances my pride in being American.

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