Cadillac's CTS prettier, more powerful

Sunday, November 4, 2007
The 2008 Cadillac STS comes with more powerful V-6s and new available features. (Associated Press)

For 2008, the Cadillac CTS has had a makeover. The make's least expensive model now has softer styling, a wider stance and a more refined, attractive interior.

It also comes with more powerful V-6s and new available features, including all-wheel drive and a 40-gigabyte hard drive that can retain a live radio feed for later listening pleasure.

But prices have gone up. Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, for a base, 2008 CTS with six-speed, manual transmission is $32,990 -- a $2,320 increase over last year's model.

The lowest-priced 2008 CTS with automatic transmission is $34,290, up from $31,870.

This pricing means the mid-size CTS four door isn't necessarily a lower-priced alternative to other entry-level, luxury sedans. The 2008 Infiniti G35 sedan, for example, starts at $32,315 with an automatic transmission. And the 2008 Mercedes-Benz C-Class starts lower still -- at $31,975 with manual transmission.

Still, the visible changes on the new CTS are appreciated. I was one of the auto critics who disliked the sharp, edgy, exterior styling and cold interior of the first-generation CTS.

Now, some five years later, the styling finally has been smoothed, tucked and embellished here and there. Gaps between body panels are smaller than ever. Wheels fit snugly inside slightly flared fenders, and headlamps and taillights retain Cadillac's iconic vertical accents.

The CTS looks more planted to the pavement, too, in large part because the car and its track are widened a couple inches.

Inside, the optional leather seats on the test model feel terrific and provide long-lasting support for lengthy trips.

The optional Bose audio system with navigation screen impresses, with its 8-inch, touch-screen display in the top middle of the dashboard. This screen rises, phantomlike, from a slot in the instrument panel.

Nifty features abound in this $3,145 option, such as the play, rewind and playback feature for the radio. There's also easy iPod integration and USB connection, and the navigational system can be controlled via push button, touch screen or voice commands.

Indeed, it took me more time to learn how to use the audio system and navigation than it did to learn about the V-6 engines.

They are, by the way, built off the same engine block and 3.6 liters in displacement.

The base engine gets gasoline the usual way, has variable valve timing and develops 263 horsepower, which is slightly more than last year's CTS.

Torque peaks at 253 foot-pounds at 3,100 rpm.

But the real performer is the premium DI V-6 that's duly designated for its high-pressure, direct fuel injection system that pushes horsepower to 304 and torque to 273 foot-pounds at 5,200 rpm.

Just a slight push on the accelerator pedal, and the test CTS with DI V-6 moved forward eagerly. The car didn't run out of steam, either, as I passed others on the highway.

But the power wasn't difficult to manage in congested city traffic as the engine responded quickly to even slight modulations of the gas pedal. This is something usually found in a German car, not necessarily a Cadillac, and made driving the CTS smoothly an easy task.

The engine is ensconced in a lot of black plastic under the hood. Some of it is for sound insulation.

Yet in the idling test car, I could hear some subtle racket. But with acceleration, the V-6 took on another character and sounded confident and strong.

Both CTS engines require only regular unleaded, which is something not often seen in luxury cars.

Fuel economy isn't the best, and it's worse with the manual transmission than it is with the new, smooth-shifting, six-speed automatic.

Specifically, the federal government reports the best CTS fuel mileage is 18 miles per gallon in city driving and 26 mpg on the highway for a model with automatic and base engine.

The DI V-6 with automatic nets only a slight decline in the city mileage to 17 mpg.

With manual transmission, the CTS with either engine is rated at only 16 mpg in city driving and 25 mpg on the highway.

The test CTS had an optional sport suspension that made mountain twists a delight as the car held its line and clung tenaciously around curves. Passengers enjoyed good ride quality without constant vibrations and jostles.

I wish the same could be said for the steering wheel and transmission lever. Engine vibration, in particular, seemed to come through in the test car, making for a less than refined sense and was surprising for a luxury sedan that topped out at more than $44,000.

Note that all-wheel drive is offered only with automatic transmission.

And drivers must be careful when backing out of parking spaces, because the sizable metal area between the CTS rear door and back window obscures views.

Note that there's no new, high-performance CTS-V model -- yet. Officials hint the next CTS-V with V-8 is likely to come in 2008.

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