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.
Savour the thought because subtlety very quickly becomes an alien concept in the cabin. No, lightness of touch is not a cornerstone of American automotive design philosophy. Batting for the Yankies are powered seats and steering wheel with more positions than a sex manual, that nevertheless refuse to entertain the idea of working together to provide a truly comfortable driving position. The seats themselves don’t help – they look shapely and supportive, but feel flat and slidey. Nor could I, without referring to the handbook, fathom how to store my preferred, nearly right position.
The intended European feel is most successfully evoked in the dash architecture (bold, very three-dimensional, driver-orientated) and instrumentation (classic, large, clearly marked dials flanked by auxiliary gauges). There’s even a BMW-esque smattering of switches on the spokes of the leather ’n’ wood-rimmed steering wheel, though labelling the quartet of buttons to the left 1, 2, 3 and 4 isn’t terribly helpful. Shiny wood is nicely underplayed as well, being confined to the top of the steering wheel, transmission selector knob and the door pulls. Not much of the expected chrome either, just on the door handles, which seem to have been dramatically up-sized to compensate.
No, the shapes and switchgear are generally fine. Where it starts to unravel, from a strictly European perspective, is with the textures. There are at least three different, fearsomely cheap-looking plastics covering the surfaces, by far the most plentiful of which is the squidgy ‘soft-touch’ variety found in any current Vauxhall Vectra or Signum. Something of a fly in the otherwise classy ambience ointment. A pity, because build quality is satisfyingly solid, space in the rear more generous than in most European rivals and all-round visibility excellent.