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2008 Cadillac CTS

So Good It Nearly Makes Us Forget The Cimarron

     After scooping up rave reviews, comparison test victories, and Car of the Year honors for the latest CTS you’d think Cadillac has been in the business of building superb sport sedans for decades, like BMW. Then, of course, you’d recall some previous efforts by the Wreath and Crest division. There was the Opel-based Catera in 1997, which looked and drove more like a Buick than a BMW. Back up even more to the ‘82 Cimarron, Cadillac’s rookie effort at building a small sporty sedan that was so disastrous it almost single-handedly sent the “Standard of the World” brand on a steep decline until the first-generation CTS bowed in 2002. That car was a solid attempt at buttoning down a chassis and livening up the steering like the German competition, but its uninspired styling and muddled, plasticy interior kept it from being a true competitor.
      Maybe that is why everyone in this business is swooning over the second generation CTS. If you don’t count their early false starts, Cadillac has managed to gain class credibility in a relatively short time. After all, the BMW 3-Series has evolved for more than 30 years.
     Compared with the first CTS the ’08 wears swanky sheetmetal highlighted by plenty of detailing that was lacking before. The highly stylized head and tail lights, flared fenders and the chrome vent at the base of the A-pillar go miles beyond the hard surfaces of the last car. In fact, our only real complaint with the car is the stubby look of the back doors. Look at the car in profile and it’s impossible to miss how close the door handles are. Somehow the CTS’s main competition doesn’t suffer the same awkward proportion, even on physically smaller cars. But that’s nitpicking an overall design that we predict will look fresh and upscale far longer than the standard industry shelf life.
     Cadillac has built on the dynamic strengths of the first generation CTS and offers up a rock-solid chassis that practically begs for the V performance treatment. Our test car was optioned toward the luxury side of the equation and thus lacked the performance brakes, tires, wheels and suspension that can make this car one of the best sport sedans in the game. But even with 17” wheels and all season tires our CTS held its own on Interstate ramps and backroads, thanks in part to a 2” wider track.
     We praised the direct steering for it’s crisp, natural turn-in and knew that the optional tires would only improve feedback. GM quickens the steering ratio even more if you order the sportier FE2 or FE3 suspension. Brakes also get significantly upsized with the FE3 suspension, but the standard discs feature dual-piston aluminum calipers up front and the pedal feel was spot on for this car.
     Direct Injection is all the rage these days and GM has wasted no time giving Cadillac the goods to compete with the best. The 3.6-liter V6 is a strong engine we liked before, but the new DI system makes it even better with a linear surge in power that doesn’t let up until redline. All 304 horsepower show up at 6,300 rpm and 273 lb-ft of torque register at 5,200 rpm. The cherry on the top is the fact that GM’s engineers got those numbers on regular fuel, unlike other direct injection engines. Factor in the superb 6-speed automatic and that leaves very little to complain about when it comes to the mechanicals
     Come to think of it, there isn’t much to complain about inside either. Cadillac has gone from the laughing stock of the segment to class leader in one giant leap. The Cashmere interior, real Sapele wood trim and metal bits create an upscale interior ambience that we like very much. We’d pass on the Ultraview sunroof since it doesn’t open particularly wide and costs $1,450. Our tester had the pricey but potent Premium Luxury Collection package that bundles all the fun stuff (Bose surround sound, 40gb hard drive, Nav system, heated and cooled seats and more) for $8,165. The nav/audio system is among the very best offered today. Trust us, between the hard drive, XM radio and various inputs for MP3 players you’re covered on the audio front. We wished for a bit more bolstering on the seat bottom but for the luxury minded buyer they were just about perfect. Everyone who saw the car praised the interior design and materials. For years we have thrown our fair share of criticism at Cadillac for substandard interiors. We’re very glad to admit this interior exceeded our expectations.
     Cadillac is on a roll. Our tester offered up a great ride, sporty moves, all the luxury you could want and an overdose of technology for $45,200. This car proves that Cadillac can compete on every level when given the chance. It certainly deserves your consideration, unless you’re a crazed, power-hungry gearhead like us holding out for the fire breathing CTS-V. Now that car will make us forget the Cimarron.

The Good:
Style to spare, ritzy details like interior accent lighting, Direct Injection power and 26 mpg on the highway, cutting edge in-car technology, big trunk.
The Bad:
Noticeable clicking noise at idle thanks to Direct Injection, tight back seat, Ultraview sunroof cuts into headroom, all that technology and no Bluetooth?!
The Verdict:
Way better than the first CTS and worth serious consideration.
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