Is there any car, journalist, lousy review of Matrix Reloaded, or act of God that can stand in the way of the new 2004 Cadillac CTS? I wouldn’t bet on it. Cadillac contends the CTS is good enough to deliver what has become something of a Holy Grail in the US: top-drawer European performance and dynamics wrapped in an American luxury package.
Truth is, if Cadillac is to reinvent its brand image, the CTS needs to start something. It needs to erase memories of underdeveloped lash-ups like the Cavalier-based Cimmaron of the early ’80s, and the ’97 European-built 200bhp V6 Catera, which may have been miles better, but was still a long way from good.
So, armed with GM’s all-new Sigma rear-wheel-drive platform, a new body, an edgy new styling concept, a unique new 54-degree V6 engine, two new transmissions, a new factory in Lansing, Michigan, a new workforce, and the previous BMW 528i as a performance benchmark, Cadillac’s engineers went to work. Several thousand development laps of the Nürburgring, 15 minutes of fame in Matrix Reloaded later, the CTS is poised for world domination, ready to slug it out with all comers in the world’s most discriminating markets.
Kroymans, the Dutch-based importer with the contract to bring Cadillacs to Europe, sees the UK as potentially its second-largest market after Germany. It envisages selling 6500 Cadillac and Chevrolet cars in Europe in 2004, but with the addition of the SRX SUV and XLR convertible, the numbers are expected to increase. The CTS can be built in right-hand drive but GM hasn’t confirmed that it will be. Kroymans will still consider bringing it here if it stays left-hook only.
Apart from the fact that this is the first Cadillac ever to be offered with manual transmission, there’s nothing remarkable about the layout or specification. The CTS is a four-door, five-seat, rear-drive saloon of roughly 5-series dimensions that will cost nearer 3-series money should rhd versions head Blighty’s way.
Equipped with the standard 3.2 motor, our test car’s 220bhp is delivered at 6000rpm and supported by 218lb ft of torque at 3400rpm. No, not nearly enough to put the frighteners on a BMW 330, but Cadillac’s performance claims look respectable enough, quoting 0-62mph in 7.4sec.
Discounting the M5-baiting 400bhp V8 ‘V’ model that makes its European debut at the Geneva Motor Show this month, the CTS currently comes with three trim/equipment levels and our test car has the full Luxury Sport Pack. This means sport-tuned suspension with four-channel ‘StabiliTrak’ stability enhancement, high-performance brake linings, speed-sensitive steering, automatic rear suspension levelling and 17-inch polished aluminum wheels with P225/50R-17 V-rated tyres. Extra kit over lesser versions includes split folding rear seats, xenon headlights, a rapid-action sunroof and a 212-watt six-CD in-dash Bose audio system.
The CTS isn’t an instant head-turner. But any view that includes the front or back – especially the front with those huge, chiselled, vertically configured headlamps – is likely to be an instant opinion-former. Of the opinions formed and passed on to us, there were more ‘ughs’ than ‘aahs’. But the fact that there were aahs at all suggests Cadillac’s decision to go with the so-called ‘art and science’ origami school of design first showcased on the Evoq Paris show car resonates with the daring aspect of BMW’s adventures in Bangle-ism. Perhaps the subtlest flattery of all.