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2003 Cadillac CTS

     For decades, Cadillac called itself “The Standard of the World,” and it wasn’t an exaggeration. Technical innovations, elegant styling and sophisticated refinement made it the best car company on the planet — hands down — in the early part of the 20th century. Nothing else came close.
     Fast forward to 2002, and the brand was struggling to stay in the top five. Compared to luxury heavyweights like Mercedes-Benz, Acura, BMW, Lexus and Jaguar, Cadillac seemed to have lost its luster.
     Nowhere was the drop in status more evident than in Cadillac’s small cars. One awful example is the Cimarron, a gussied-up Chevy economy car with nothing good about it except the Cadillac badge on the hood. Then came the Catera, which was better, but it still was essentially a rebadged Opel — certainly not the world’s standard in luxury or quality.
     Desperately needing to revamp its image with a spicier model, Cadillac developed the CTS for 2003. And, finally, it’s a real Caddy.
     While it’s not “³The Standard of the World,” it can hold its own against some of the best sports sedans on the planet (read: BMW). That’s no coincidence. Cadillac aimed for the best throughout the design and testing phase, even developing the car¹s terrific suspension on the same Nurburgring race track used by BMW in Germany.
     That suspension is a work of art, with the brand’s trademark pillow-soft feel meshing with a spunky, precise touch required in any good sports sedan. How’d they do it? Beats me — probably Voodoo.
     Likewise, its styling has a touch of black magic — a far cry from the stagnating Cadillac designs of the 90s. While it’s not polite enough to be called “pretty,” the CTS has attitude running out the wazoo. It’s bold. It’s daring. It’s different.

     Whatever it looks like (some say the Batmobile, others the F-117 Nighthawk “stealth” fighter), the CTS is a step in the right direction for Cadillac. It has really good driving dynamics, nice amenities, and a pleasing price at $29,350. That includes leather seats, dual-zone climate control, traction control, power everything, a nice CD/cassette player, and — surprise! — a manual transmission.
     The Getrag five-speed gearbox makes the CTS Cadillac’s first shift-it-yourself car since the 1950s. It’s a perfect match for the car¹s sporty personality, but a five-speed automatic is available as a $1,200 option. Both transmissions are good choices, depending on your driving style.
     For now, the only engine available is a 3.2-liter V6 that makes 220 horsepower — more than enough, really. In Cadillac’s grand tradition of providing far more than what¹s necessary, a V8 will be added later in the model year.
     The best and worst part of the CTS is its interior.
     The best: It’s got great style, comfort and ease of use. The shapes and colors of interior panels are gorgeous, with sweeping curves and intersecting lines that add style without being distracting or tacky. Controls are laid out perfectly, and adjustments can be made easily. Seats, while they could use more lumbar support, are covered with incredibly supple leather.
     The worst: It’s all plastic, mainly the hard, clunky kind. It’s disappointing to touch and feel, especially when compared with the richness of its leather seats, but the panels fit together nicely and have a tight look.
     Overall, the CTS is a winner. It has the same fun-to-drive feeling, similar performance and more space than a BMW 5-series, but it costs thousands less
     What more could you ask for?

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