Cadillac, the quintessential American icon of luxury motoring, has expanded its range locally with the addition of the range topping STS V8.
A bold design, blending traditional Cadillac styling overtures with Eurocentric dynamics, the STS is aimed squarely at the Chrysler 300C, Audi A6, BMW 5-Series and Mercedes E-Class entry-level offerings.
Featuring an oversized, signature Cadillac grille, vertically stacked headlamps, smoothed-off flanks and wheel arches the STS has an enviable amount of presence.
The 18-inch, nine-spoke alloy wheels show off large brake callipers, whilst the rear end treatment - quite reminiscent of the smaller BLS - features thin, LED embedded, light clusters which accentuate the abrupt surfacing and strong, vertically slanted rear styling.
The interior has strong Eurocentric styling cues, almost at odds with the brusque exterior styling.
From the soft textures and stylishly contrasted materials (real wood and aluminium) to the considered ergonomic nature of the layout and dearth of cheap, black, plastic so favoured by American manufacturers, the STS interior is almost eerily un-American.
Where the interior is essentially American thought, is the copious amount of standard equipment present. Keyless entry, push-button start, cruise control for the driver; heated, eight-way adjustable power seats for the front occupants, as well as dual-zone automatic climate control and 8-speaker Bose sound for everyone.
The only foibles were legroom being a bit on the tight side for rear passengers, and the cheap door trim inserts.
Cabin safety is keenly catered for too, with driver and passenger front and side airbags supplemented by curtain airbags for all passengers.
A glow-in-the-dark visible child-entrapment release lever is fitted to the boot to allow it to be opened from inside in the event that someone is trapped in the boot by mistake - or hijacked in the South African context.
With distinctive styling and uncannily tasteful interior appointments for an American brand, the key question is whether the STS can ride and handle like a European executive saloon, or whether it's still a boulevard cruiser at heart.
Featuring all-round independent suspension and utilising GM's Sigma rear-wheel drive platform - its predecessor the Seville was criminally front-wheel drive - the engineering fundamentals seems promising enough.
STS features magnetic ride control as a standard feature. Comprising magneto-rheological fluid-based actuators at each corner, four wheel-to-body displacement sensors, and an on-board computer to provide real-time and continuous control of the vehicle's suspension damping.
The damping fluid contains randomly dispersed metal particles which react with a magnetic field, aligning them into a structure resembling a near-plastic state which regulates damping properties of the monotube struts, fine tuning damping characteristics up to 1 000 times per second. You can select damping firmness from behind the wheel too.
Aiding dynamics are a full suite of electronic driver aids including ABS with brake and panic brake assist (which can boost brake pressure parameters in an emergency). Dynamic rear brake proportioning, which counterweights unbalancing forces a fully loaded vehicles might experience by shifting brake force to the rear wheels, is also standard.
On the road
Can the STS match the Europeans in real world driving though? A challenging launch test route set out across the Hartebeesfontein dam area blended variable road conditions into the equation, and proved quite revealing.
Powered by a multi-valve, double-overhead cam (indeed, no pushrod V8 this one), Northstar V8, displacing 4.6-litres the STS can call up 239kW at 6 400r/min and 425Nm of torque at 4 400r/min to power past slower traffic.
Driving through a 6-speed automatic transmission - featuring obligatory tip-shift capability - Cadillac claims the STS should dispatch a 0-100km/h sprint in 6.2 seconds. At altitude it never felt keen enough to be able to dip into the low six-second bracket, and the long-travel accelerator pedal needs a very firm stomp to coax the 6-speed 'box into kick-down mode.
Standing start acceleration runs are hardly what Cadillac was conceived for, and once above the 100km/h mark the STS does have very long legs and effortlessly capable 18-wheeler overtaking capability.
The V8 is well muted too, but unfortunately the elements and tyres less so. There is too much tyre and wind noise for luxury saloon, some of which is probably to blame on the overly keen 18-inch tyre diameter choice.
The magnetic ride damping system renders a ride which borders on harsh most of the time, and although STS tracks very true at speed and exhibits a keenness for cornering, with scant body roll, the STS lack tactile steering feel.
The large multi-function steering might be reassuring to hold, but does not convey what the front wheel are doing clearly enough, especially when powering on atop broken back-road surfaces.
You get the feeling STS engineers were too keen to make it a dynamic drive, and sacrificed some of the much vaunted Cadillac ride quality without trading it off with sharper steering. Despite this it's still a revelation dynamically for an American large saloon.
The STS is quite an oddity. With audacious, stylishly proportioned exterior styling and an uncannily comfortable and ergonomic interior - there is even a decent footrest - STS is a compelling alternative for buyers shopping for a saloon around the R500 000.
Very comprehensively equipped, at ease as a high-speed cruiser and pleasingly different from the German alternatives the STS is very good Cadillac.
If might lack the ultimate blend of dynamic refinement and quality of the Germans - there was a creaking noise in the rear seats of our test car and the drivers seatbelt had to dexterously be coaxed from its sling time-and-again - but STS is a lot of car for the money.