Handsome U.S. Newcomer Dripping With Kit
Hard To Believe, But An Understated Cadillac?
Youll Sit Up And Take Notice When You See The Price
*** out of 5
The last time I drove a Cadillac I was wearing a chauffeurs uniform for the Bermuda Limousine Company in New York City.
The massive limo, a V8 powered, stretched black beast, oozed over the highways and byways around New York, at least when it was new. The driving experience wasnt up to much, and the woolly and imprecise steering made the race up the twists and turns of the East Side Highway to the Triboro Bridge on the way to JFK a bit nerve wracking. The cars were badly screwed together. After about 30,000 miles of being pounded by New Yorks rutted and potholed roads, the Cadillac Limo became a juddering, squeaking, rattling apology for a luxury car. Although in the back, the fare paying passengers were cosseted and comfy. I know, because one of my chauffeur colleagues once drove me home for a birthday treat.
Two things stick in the mind. Once when the car stalled and failed to restart, the dashboard flashed probably the most fatuous and useless command Ive ever seen in a car - Check Engine. Marilyn Chambers, the star of porn film Behind The Green Door, was a client of the Bermuda Limousine Company but never showed on my watch.
Despite its reputation for producing flatulent, gas guzzling, pink, tail-finned, behemoths, Cadillac has been gradually raising its game, and trying to redesign its cars in the U.S. to be able to compete with the likes of BMW, Mercedes, Audi, Lexus, Infiniti and Jaguar.
By all accounts it has done a good job there, zooming up the J.D. Power quality rankings, although the latest data shows Cadillac slipping back to 5th place after racing to number two in 2004. But Cadillacs current ranking still put it ahead of Mercedes and Audi to name but two.
Now for Europe.
Cadillac has been gradually trying to raise its profile here, but now it is getting serious. But how serious?
The latest offering, the CTS, is a BMW 5-Series sized car and it sells for BMW 3-Series prices. Strike one for the Americans. The styling is restrained and elegant; no sign of tail-fins or flamboyance, and it does turn heads. It stands out in the crowd, for positive reasons. It is handsome.
Cadillacs public relations people put it this way.
The boldly chiselled CTS, with its sheer forms, sharp edges and crisp intersecting lines, at once honours Cadillacs history and points towards its bright future, says the blurb.
And there are the prices.
£24,850 (36,100 euros) buys you a Cadillac CTS 2.8 litre V6 Elegance, which includes a five speed automatic gear box, dual-zone climate control, power seats, and 6-disc CD changer. Pony up just under £30,000 (43,600 euros) and you get the 3.6 litre V6 Sports Luxury version, adding leather seats, xenon headlights, 17 inch wheels, and satellite navigation. Theres the usual plethora of air-bags and computerised traction control. The options list is short only metallic paint and a sunroof.
The interior was a bit disappointing, a little too understated. I was expecting a bit of American pizzazz, a little bad taste, but the dashboard was really quite sombre. For a big car, it didnt seem that roomy either. There wasnt enough head room in the rear.
On the road, the car performed well up to European standards with fine handling and ride. Cadillac said it had invested much time and money trying to make the car feel European, and theyve done just that. When the rear-drive car was launched in the U.S., Cadillac made a big deal about how it had been tested on the Nurburgring, and even boasted about it having a manual gear box. Ironically, the manual box seems to have been dumped for Europe. Quite right too.
But no quibbles. The engine in the 3.6 version was terrific and sounded beautiful under hard acceleration. The ride was on the harsh side of firm. The automatic box has only five speeds, when now every self-respecting luxury model sports six. There was no easy manual override either. Cadillac said the gearbox sported a first for the company engine braking in all five gears, which gives the automatic the same sporty feel as down-shifting a manual. This didnt happen when I was driving it.
And there is no diesel, and not much chance of one in the near future. That is almost a death move for a manufacturer trying to steal sales away from the establishment which sells probably 50 per cent diesels.
On the face of it, a Cadillac assault on European markets would seem to be wishful thinking on a grand scale. After all, Cadillacs image is less than positive. Gas guzzling is almost a crime against humanity in some eyes; Greenpeace wont like it thats for sure. Caddy says this all part of its grand scheme to develop into a world class, global prestige brand. About 3,000 CTSs will be sold in Europe next year; thats a pinprick compared with BMW and Mercedes. But next year also sees the launch of the smaller Cadillac VLS model, which will be based on the Saab 9-3. (General Motors owns Cadillac and Saab, not to mention Opel and Vauxhall, to name but a few). This will have a diesel accounting for about 50% of sales, and will lead the drive for 20,000 Cadillac sales in Europe by 2010.
So why bother to come to Europe with the big CTS and no diesel? A quick look at its price in the U.S. shows why. The top of the line model sells for $32,945 before taxes in the U.S., or £17,900. Thats a massive potential profit margin, thanks to the fact that the dollar has plunged severely in value over the last couple of years. Suddenly you see the method in the madness.
Neil Winton May 20, 2005
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