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Cadillac CTS tested

2009-03-12 07:34
Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Cadillac
Model CTS
Engine 3.6-litre quad-cam V6
Power 229 kW @ 6 400 r/min
Torque 374 Nm @ 5 200 r/min
Transmission six-speed automatic
Zero To Hundred 6.3 seconds
Top Speed 241 km/h
Fuel Tank 68 l
Fuel Consumption 11.1 l/100 km
Weight 1 756 kg
Boot Size 385 l
ABS with brake assist, EBD, ESP and StabiliTrak electronic chassis control system
Airbags dual stage front, side and head curtain airbags
Tyres 18-inch aluminium
Front Suspension tower-to-tower front suspension brace
Rear Suspension multi-link arrangement
Service Intervals 20 000
Warranty three years or 100 000 km
Price R425 000

Hailey Philander

That American cars have traditionally struggled to crack it in the European market (and subsequently the Euro-centric South African market) is no secret.

Big bodies and even bigger petrol engines are not quite the ticket for those who prefer smaller, more nimble, constructions powered by smaller capacity engines and perhaps even a diesel or two.

And let's be honest, sterling build quality has seemingly never been a priority for American cars designed for the world's biggest market either.

Recognising this, the Americans (or Cadillac, at least) set about creating a car that would be as widely received across the pond as it would be in the States.

Cadillac also had the idea that this car would be able to corner and handle, again in a bid to appeal to fussy European drivers.

A few years later, the CTS sedan was rolled out. The all-new sedan is positioned between the brand’s entry-level BLS and range-topper STS sedans.

Now South Africa may not be Europe, but local drivers are similarly fussy about their motoring requirements, especially when we have some of the world's best driving roads right on our driveways.

Eye of the beholder

And this car will certainly not disappoint. Of course, before you appreciate its dynamic abilities, you'd need to admire its physical beauty since CTS manages to engage one on so many levels.

Look at it, sure it's square, but CTS is good looking in a way you'd never imagine a Caddie could be. The sharp corners to the oversized egg-crate grille and angular front and rear clusters have something endearing about them.

All this harshness fades once you step into the interior and settle into the plush driver's seat.

CTS's cabin is a master class in fluidity, with the liquid lines extending from the outer confines all the way across the facia and down the central hangdown.

And if you're the type of person who lights up at the sight of buttons, knobs and things that pop up, this is your kind of car so prepare for a feast. If you'd prefer the large multi-colour screen controlling the radio, CD changer, in-dash DVD player, MP3 player and 40Gb hard drive functions not pop up, it does retract into the dash at the push of a button. 

Those who just want a car with a "decent interior" would probably not be too hard done by all the leather, wood and aluminium trim present.

If that doesn't do it for you either, the exhaustive standard equipment list probably will. CTS in South Africa is offered with one trim level only which includes virtually everything apart from little curtains on the rear windows. Manually adjustable steering column, cruise control, power front bucket seats with eight-way control, dual-zone climate control allowing individual setting for the front occupants, auto-dimming rear view mirror, the works.

Of course, with all this stuff on board, there are a million things that could potentially cause a rattle, but the build quality of the test unit was commendable.

Designers have also employed the very prominent use of "V"-symbols in both the interior and exterior styling. It's visible in the grille and as bonnet creases, but also in things as innocuous as the headrests and the central hangdown.

Unfortunately, it has been revealed that those looking to see the CTS-V in South Africa may have to find another overpowered sedan to covet since the V will not be making its way to our shores.

Quick sticks

For now, you'll have to make do with a 3.6-litre petrol V6, even though CTS is offered elsewhere with a 2.7-litre V6 turbodiesel.

Not that there's an issue with the 3.6-litre. The quad-cam unit uses variable valve timing and direct fuel injection to produce 229 kW at 6 400 r/min and a peak torque figure of 374 Nm at 5 200 r/min.

This is channeled to the rear wheels via a six-speed manual gearbox, which is an absolute marvel despite it not being as modern as some of its counterparts in similar models.

Seven-speed automatic gearboxes are becoming increasingly popular (and could eventually cede this honour to eight-speed shifters as seen in Lexus's LS460) but this seemingly basic box is a treat.

Smooth-shifting, it lends a suppleness to the CTS driving experience whether you leave it in fully automatic mode or shift using the gearstick or paddles placed on the steering wheel. 

Fuel consumption is quoted as being 11.1 l/100 km, but CTS does come with a sizeable fuel tank (68l) which means visits to the forecourt do not necessarily need to be too frequent. 

Those who typically dismiss American cars' handling as akin to that of a "brick on wheels" are in for a surprise, though.

Since this car was designed from the outset to appeal to more demanding European drivers, most of its chassis and suspension development was fine-tuned at the Nordschliefe circuit at the Nurburgring.

Handling is acute, feedback on-point, and body control for such a big-boned specimen is nothing short of breathtaking. Of course, CTS's hunkered down stance and wide track are extremely useful and these attributes are most clear on faster sweeps where CTS just begs to be driven flat out. A big, rear-wheel drive sedan (with a limited slip diff, just in case) can do that to one… Reassuringly though, grip levels are high.

Stopping this 1.8 tonne machine is the unenviable task of a performance brake system with ABS and brake assist, EBD and ESP.

But CTS is not just about the fun stuff. This is a serious motor car and comes with a list of serious safety kit. Look out for six airbags, including side and head curtain bags and a LATCH child restraint system (identical to Isofix).

So the CTS is safe enough for the family, but also entertaining for the individual who on occasion likes to give it horns on deserted country roads. We feel it’s a worthy addition to the executive sedan heap, even if we still can't believe the Americans have finally managed to produce a decent vehicle.

Mixing old-worlde charm with new school cool. CTS's cabin has enough buttons and dials to keep one entertained for hours, but note the many wood inserts and the analogue clock.


It may be a big car, but look at it from any angle to appreciate its beauty. It still captures several Cadillac hallmarks, such as its upright grille (that has been softened somewhat for CTS) and the very box-like curves, but there's something extremely sexy about this car. And we absolutely drool over that signature Crystal Red paintwork.

Finishes are an elegant mix of stitched leather, wood veneers, chrome detailing and plastics soft to the touch, and accommodation is spacious and comfortable.

What more needs to be said, other than that it can handle and the engine is an absolute stonker. The fact that this car's chassis and suspension were fine-tuned on the forbidding Nurburgring shines through in its road manners.

Believe it or not, but this is an American car you'd actually want to drive and is undoubtedly the best American sedan we've yet experienced.

Its design may be typically Cadillac with its imposing grille and squared off rear and the abundance of chrome may not be to everyone's tastes, but there is a softness that has been absent until now.
Unfortunately, the legacy of its American badge and the malaise facing GM in general may be too much for prospective buyers to overlook.

Very comprehensively equipped
Great engine
Extremely competitive pricing

Its nameplate
Not as sophisticated as some of its rivals

Styling, even at the rear, is very in-your-face. May not be suited to everyone, but makes a definite statement.


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