Showing off a real swagger

The new CTS sedan from Cadillac must be one of the most audacious cars released on the South African market in the past 18 months.

It is a vehicle General Motors South Africa (GMSA) admits it would have preferred to launch with the Cadillac brand when it made its first play for the South African market last year.

Instead we had the rather forgettable BLS sedan. This car hampered the success of the foundation Cadillac brands into the country because it was not offered for sale in the United States and was not the real piece of Americana a prospective buyer would have wanted.

“The BLS has done a job of work for us; now it’s time for CTS to continue the brand,” Malcolm Gauld of GMSA said diplomatically at the launch of the CTS.

The good news is that the CTS is as authentic as a shot of American “wild turkey”, slotting in below the STS and above the BLS sedans. Using GM’s sigma platform, it reaches South African shores straight from the Lansing plant in Michigan. It makes our batch of 50 right-hand drives the first in the world.

It is tough to read the CTS’s dimensions just from a picture but, in true Yankee tradition, it’s a substantial machine. With its 4,86m length and 1,84m width, it surpasses the 3-Series BMW and reaches almost into Audi A6 territory, affording plenty of space in the cabin and boot. Having nearly five metres of metal to work with also lends it to serious design expression and the CTS wears its lines like no other car on the road.

This is where audaciousness comes into the equation for GMSA and Cadillac. Sizing up its competition purely on the aesthetic level—Audi A6, BMW 3/5 Series, Mercedes E-Class—the CTS has rock-star appeal.

It’s normal to draw some attention at a car launch, but the whooping, hollering and waving the CTS received from passers-by was something quite unprecedented. Barrel-chested and with a deep furrow in its brow, it’s a menacing, extravagant beast that seems to elicit an instant response from people.

I will admit that for all the elements in its design I like—the hunkered down bonnet, which looks particularly intimidating when poised in your rear-view mirror—I think the rear end is particularly bland. And the interior, though alluding to luxury, is simply not finished off with the same quality as other vehicles in this class.

But the internals are another story. The CTS sports a 229kW and 374Nm, 3,6-litre, direct injection, all-aluminium V6. This is class-leading power in its segment, beating the Mercedes E350, BMW 330i and Audi 3,2 A6 by some margin. The CTS dusts a 0-to-100kph sprint in just over six seconds, with a top speed of 240kph. So it’s got the go to match the show and the six-speed “hydramatic”, automatic transmission is perfectly competent.

Power—in the old-school American way—is sent to the rear wheels, but without some antiquated rear suspension. The CTS is endowed with multilink rear suspension, a limited slip differential, an electronic stability management system and electronic brake-force distribution. As the Yanks might say: “This baby is fully loaded.”

The result was a savage disposition on the highway during the launch drive, with a towering acceleration between 80kph and 120kph. The CTS reaches down for its horses with an infectious ferocity, making it difficult not to keep yourself pinned into the seat at the behest of your right foot. The ride is supple and comfortable thanks to its long wheel base and rear suspension that keeps the chassis nicely neutral.

When the going gets twisty, however—as tested over the Outeniqua pass—the CTS does not deliver on the implicit sportiness in the spec sheet. Although it has good grip, it does not inspire confidence or handle in a razor-sharp manner. It favours wider, longer sweeps in which it can use power reserves, as opposed to the delicate switchbacks that favour more precise machines.

At R399 000 it’s more than competitively priced against its rivals and the CTS is a machine that has the audacity to take it to the establishment. And, dare I say it, if you want one you’ve probably already made up your mind.

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