Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Gavin Foster’s praising a car that’s too powerful, too expensive and — most tellingly — too American for most South Africans. That’s because he thinks the Cadillac CTS really is a great car.
Despite the brand being as American as hominy grits, it initially seemed strange to me that General Motors elected to build the car intended to turn Cadillac’s fortunes around, the CTS, in the United States.
Most of the Cadillacs we’ve seen in South Africa in recent years have been Swedish built, using platforms developed largely by GM’s subsidiary, Saab, and they’re all the better for it. When I heard of the CTS’s all-American heritage I expected it to be the stereotypical American barge — a large, wallowing lump of ostentatious exhibitionism with a big, thirsty engine and an inability to deliver any sort of driving satisfaction on a winding road.
I was wrong. The CTS (Compact Touring Sedan) is so much fun to drive that in a fair world it would just about cause the Germans who’ve traditionally dominated the fast luxury saloon market to slit their wrists. The big Yank won’t threaten Mercedes, BMW and Audi in this country though. It has the wrong badge on the grill, and we South Africans, who still consider cars to be “investments”, generally like to play it safe when it comes to uncertain resale values.
While the Cadillac’s styling isn’t eveybody’s cup of tea the car sure attracts attention wherever you take it. I liked the edgy lines but would have preferred a little less flash on the outside — matte black in place of most of the chrome would work just fine for me. The interior is more subdued though decidedly upmarket, with just the right balance of leather, silver trim and classy wood, and feels very well put together. The test car came with heated electrically adjustable leather seats which I found to be a touch too hard at first, but after a day or two in the saddle I forgot about that — maybe my mood just improved with passing time. Apart from the usual half-dozen airbags and electric everything there were a few other treats worth mentioning — a pop-up television as standard, a DVD player, automatically triggered headlights, a digital tyre pressure display, an oil condition indicator, rear parking distance sensors, a Bose 10 speaker sound system with iPod and MP3 capability, an electronic parking brake, headlamps that swivel their beams into the direction of the corner you’re entering (optional, and much more effective than some similar systems) and, as a kicker, a button on the remote control that allows you to start the car from 60m away. That’s handy for getting the interior cooled down while you amble up to your car, and even better for distracting car guards who’ll bugger off as you approach because they don’t want to take the blame.
One thing about big American cars that’s always appealed to petrolheads is that their engines traditionally delivered loads of power and torque — very often more than the cars could handle on all but the straightest of roads. The CTS power plant is perfect for the job, though, being a lusty 229kW / 374Nm 3,6 litre quad-cam V6 mill that the factory claims hauls the car’s 1 756kg bulk up to 100km/h in a claimed 6,3 seconds and takes it to a top speed of 241 km/h. My impression, backed up by testers with the appropriate monitoring equipment, is that a 0-100km/h time of about seven seconds is more likely. Driven like that the big Yank’ll gulp down lots more than the 11,1 litres of petrol per 100km the factory reckons it should consume in everyday use. During the 500 or so kilometres I covered in the car I managed, by dint of some fairly flamboyant driving, to goad it into slurping slightly more than 14l/100km travelled, and around 11,5 with the cruise control set at an indicated 130km on freeways. That’s pretty good for such a lively luxury sedan weighing in at almost two tonnes laden. The car comes with a six speed auto transmission with sporty steering wheel paddles for manual control, which I found to work pretty well, so I tended to play tunes on the V6 with these rather than leave gearchanges to the electronic Gods.
The biggest surprise with the CTS, though, comes with its ride and handling. The factory went to great lengths to get everything right, capitalising on experience gained during the development of the earlier CTS-V high performance model, and then finetuning the components around the Nürburgring in Germany. The fully-independent suspension features aluminium components and a tower-to-tower front suspension brace to stiffen everything up and enhance steering, with a self-levelling multi-link setup mounted on a fully insulated sub-frame taking care of the rear end. The car also utilises electronic stability and traction control, of course, along with a limited-slip differential to maintain drive to both back wheels during spirited cornering. The factory says the suspension and damping characteristics are biased towards performance rather than delivering a plush ride, and anybody who’s driven the car in anger can vouch for that. This is very likely the best-handling sports saloon out of America to date.
The Cadillac is big, but no bigger than most of its E-Class and 5-Series opposition. It also costs substantially less than anything else in its class, and at R425 000 gives you more safety and luxury features than just about anything else remotely comparable within R200 000 of its price tag. It’s as quick as most, handles better than many of its European and Japanese peers, is reasonably frugal for the level of performance and luxury it delivers, and, best of all, when compared with most cars in this league leaves you with enough change to buy an economical family car. Resale value will probably be relatively poor, but the canny buyer can use this to his advantage by looking for a good low-mileage second hand CTS at a bargain price.
The Cadillac CTS retails at R425 000 in standard trim, with the R5 000 Luxury Pack 1 adding auto-on windscreen wipers and adaptive lighting. Luxury Pack II gives you those features plus heated and ventilated seats, EZ Key remote access, and electric adjustment for the steering column for R15 500. A double sized tilt sliding sunroof adds R18 500 to the ticket.