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2005 Cadillac CTS

Regular Strength CTS Still Cures The Enthusiast Itch

    If you’re a regular reader of these pages then you should recall our review of the wickedly powerful CTS-V. Last fall we burned the rubber off the V’s rear tires and came away thoroughly impressed of America’s M5-fighter. Of course, 400hp, Brembo brakes and a suspension tuned at the Nurburgring tends to impress anybody. Consequently, you’ll understand our initial doubts as to the regular strength CTS’s ability to peak our jaded journalist interests. After all, it’s sans the rumbling V8 and other performance goodies that make the V so special. What could be left to impress us? Turns out, quite a lot.
     The CTS still sports Cadillac’s first true application of Art & Science and for the most part it’s holding up well. We’d suggest some updates to certain details like the grille and headlights to freshen things up a bit, but the car still looks clean and muscular, especially in silver. Xenon HID headlamps are standard on all models along with foglamps—although we wish they’d lose the orange lenses. We’re happy to report that the license plate surround is now body colored after previous model years sported gray plastic—to our great disdain. Our car rolled on 17” painted aluminum wheels though they weren’t a particularly exciting design. Overall, we expect the next CTS to sport a softer image, more inline with the latest STS than today’s knife-edge design. Styling is certainly subjective, but we’re not ruffling any feathers when we sum it up by saying the CTS looks better from certain angles than from others.
     Mechanically, the CTS has become better over time, with a 3.6-liter all-aluminum V6 providing strong output—even in this fiercely competitive class. The 3.6 was the first in GM’s high-feature engine family to make it to market as an option on last year’s CTS. Now it’s available in the SRX and the STS and we like it just as much in the smaller CTS. The DOHC 24-valve mill is rated for 255hp at 6,200rpm and 252lb-ft of torque at a useable 3,200rpm. Among the engine’s high-tech features are engineer’s terms like variable valve timing and dual-stage variable intake manifold. In everyday terms, it means the engine can achieve optimal breathing at all rpms and deliver smooth, progressive power to the rear wheels. And to the surprise of all of us, this Caddy came with a 6-speed Aisin manual transmission. We salute Cadillac for finally pairing the powerful V6 to a manual tranny in the CTS. Previously, only drivers of the old 3.2-liter V6 were allowed to shift for themselves. A Cadillac that involves the driver in the actual driving is a very rare thing indeed, and it’s just another sign of how serious they are about competing with the sporty Germans. The tranny itself is a fine unit with fairly light throws, although it isn’t as precise and willing as the excellent 6-speed manual in the Audi A4.
     A great engine and transmission can be wasted unless the chassis has the moves to complete the dynamic package, and here, even the non-V CTS, impresses. You’ve heard praises sung to the Sigma architecture before, and you’ll hear more from us. The combination of ultra high-strength steel and cutting-edge design form a solid, dynamically-friendly chassis. Our car was outfitted with the $1,875 sport package that includes a tuned suspension, Stabilitrak 2.0 system, 225/50R17 tires and 17-inch painted aluminum wheels. It adds up to a car with sharp turn-in, controlled motions and a firm, but not harsh, ride. The advanced Stabilitrak system is also there to step in when bad road conditions or lack of skills get the best of the driver. The 4-wheel discs always feel strong and the pedal modulates naturally.
     We’re less enthusiastic about the interior, which, despite expensive materials, still looks over-done and cheap. The center stack earns most of our scorn thanks to its black plastic and cluttered design. A touch-screen Navigation system would eliminate a healthy chunk of the buttons, not to mention, make operating the many features less of a headache. As it is, the DVD Navigation system is a pricey $3,125 option that bundles a 6-disc BOSE XM stereo with the ability to display XM’s latest traffic monitoring technology. Simply press the Traffic button and you’ll be alerted of any nearby slowdowns caused by construction, accidents, etc. The system can also navigate you around the mess so you can get to where you’re going without delay. It’s a handy feature, especially for city dwellers, but $3,125 seems a bit too high. The rear seats are comfortable and occupants will find decent room as long as front seat passengers don’t resemble Yao Ming. The leather seats are well contoured and power adjustable 10 ways. Our tester had a pricey $2,615 luxury package that includes some nice, but easy to do without equipment, like memory seats, extra wood trim and a universal garage door opener. Again, it seems a bit overpriced.
     At 40,750 as-tested, you could probably say the same thing about our CTS. But we have a solution. Lose the overpriced luxury package and navigation system and you’ve cut the price to $35k. At that price, the CTS impresses. It offers performance to compete with the best of the class, feels well built, looks distinct and, with the six-speed and the sport package, makes a fine driver’s car. Turns out, even the regular strength CTS is good medicine.

The Good:
255hp, 6-speed manual, good ride/handling.
The Bad:
Overpriced options, busy interior, no hand brake.
The Verdict:
Everyday enthusiasts will find a lot to like in the CTS.


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