Almost a century ago, the Royal Automobile Club of Great Britain first dismantled, then reassembled, three new Cadillacs. An amazing feat for the times, the trio of Caddys started up and trundled off at the very first go.
This achievement in precision manufacturing, in 1908, inspired Cadillac's long-standing slogan, The Standard of the World. But it's been a while since General Motors's top brand could be a synonym for high quality.
When was the last time you bragged to your friends you just bought "the Cadillac" of watches, flat screen TVs, or golf clubs?
Nonetheless, if not yet ready for The Standard of the World in its ad copy just yet, Cadillac's been clawing back. On that century-long return to the realm of world-class cars, its 2003 Cadillac CTS mid-size sport luxury sedan was a giant step.
The original CTS's driver-oriented, rear-wheel-drive chassis was developed on the Nordschleife ("Northern Loop") of Germany's infamous NÃ¼rburgring race track. The CTS even had a manual transmission — the first stick in a Cadillac since the mournful '88 Cimarron.
Pardons were granted for interior materials akin to worn Tupperware, and the sometimes awkward proportions gained from Cadillac's angular exterior design language. But the '03 CTS's main success was its ability to reel in customers who weren't cashing Canada Pension Plan cheques on a regular basis — a first for a Cadillac car in decades.
For the 2008 CTS, it's no surprise Cadillacs attacked some of its noted weaknesses, both inside the car and out, and kept on keeping on with the good bits.
One can buy a base, rear-drive '08 CTS for $38,900 (or under $32,000 in the U.S.). My test CTS4 pretty much had every option box filled in: optional all-wheel-drive system (which mandates that you get the six-speed manu-matic transmission over the six-speed manual standard on the rear-drive models); upgraded 3.6 V6 engine; enhanced audio; navigation; performance package; a full-length glass roof; plus sundry trim and convenience features that bumped the final sticker to $58,805.
The new model is longer with wider wheel tracks and its exterior styling has been refined with a focus on tighter panel gaps. Ironically, the aggressive front-end styling makes the new CTS look like a front-drive car.
Roomier inside than a similarly priced BMW 3 Series or Lexus IS, the former CTS pig's-ear interior has been transformed into silk purse accommodations.
Okay, there's no silk. But there are hand-stitched leather details, subtle lighting at night, and well-thought controls with buttons segregated by colour, texture and size. This means that no matter which side of the sports luxury equation you fall under, the new CTS is simply a nice place to sit in.
My only complaints were the plasti-chrome rings on the three driver's instrumentation pods that distract the driver's eyes, and the lack of a sports seat upgrade.
The CTS's base 3.6-litre V6 is technically contemporary with variable-valve-timing. The optional upgraded engine found under the long hood of my CTS4 test car adds direct-injection technology, bumping horsepower up by 41 to 304 and pound-feet of torque by 20 lb.-ft. to 273.
With about 1,800 kg to haul around, the CTS4's under-seven-second 0-to-100 km/h is quicker than an Audi A6 3.2. If that's not enough oomph, there's a higher-performing, rear-drive V8 CTS-V coming next year.
It's rare to recommend an automatic over a stick. However, the CTS's six-speed manual is rather loose and imprecise in its actions. One can drop a few gears before bending the CTS4 into a corner and the manu-matic matches revs accurately, ready for action.
Equipped with the $2,610 Performance Package, my AWD CTS4 replaced summer performance rubber found on the sportier rear-drive models with P235 50/18 all-season Michelin Pilot HX MXM4 rubber.
I didn't experience anything worse than rain during my time with the car, but even with AWD, proper snow tires are still one's smart choice for winter driving.
For such a large, comfy sedan, the CTS can be turned into corners aggressively without upsetting its balanced chassis, too much. The only wish is for more feedback in the steering feel. The Michelins were chosen more to reduce noise and improve ride comfort, and it's here that the CTS excels; but at the expense of out-and-out grip on dry roads and feel at the helm.
Nits being picked, surely.
Because with the full support of General Motors's massive resources, Cadillac has made its first "no excuses" car in decades.
To put it more directly: If one defines "best" as "most competitive in class," then is the Cadillac CTS the best American car ever?
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