History records an era when a Cadillac was a no-compromise choice for well-heeled individuals seeking perfection. I remember the original import-fighting Seville’s refreshing blend of global proportions with acres of unabashed Cadillac style. What followed—neglect and shameless down market downplays– left Cadillac oblivious to its former “Standard of the World” designation. So it’s no surprise that the latest STS, nee Seville, doesn’t deserve to wear the crested wreath.
The STS’s new grill evokes images of a polyester-clad used car salesman’s teeth-laden, insincere smile. The afterthought fender venti-ports are his suit. Other than that, there’s nothing memorable about the top-drawer Caddy’s sheetmetal. Sure, the watered-down cues from the last-gen CTS make for a handsome shape. But where the old CTS was a shot of Jägermeister to Johnny Walker entry-level luxo sedans, the STS’ conservative contours are a lukewarm bottle of piss.
In fact, the STS’ down market styling influences bring to mind of another silent reminder of GM’s ham-fisted product planning: the Oldsmobile Aurora. Both top-flight sedans paved the way for a new generation of American luxury. But the uber-Olds got a po-faced Alero makeover. Which nobody bought. Ditto the STS, without the plastic surgeon’s scalpel.
For all of GM’s talk of world-class interiors, the new-for-‘08 STS still has the shittiest cabin in its class. The vent registers’ flimsy actions are worthy of Aveo real estate. The console, while positively Malibuian, fails to coddle like the padded, stitched panels on the Lexus GS. The only touch-point more pedestrian than the door panel’s northern hemisphere: the hard plastic that envelops the gauge cluster, forcing the driver to make skin contact with Lumina-grade goodness with each activation of the keyless ignition system. This is a forty-five thousand dollar luxury car?
The STS’ leather looks, feels and smells worthy of the under-20k compact crowd. Even worse, front passengers get a flashback to the compromised floor pan of yesteryear’s Camaro: the bloated transmission tunnel pinches foot space and adds claustrophobia to an otherwise inhospitable atmos. If the sensory disappointments haven’t set a nail in the STS’ coffin, the flat and flaccid BOSE audio numbs your ears with eight over-hyped, underperforming drivers. Let’s be clear: if this Caddy’s interior could talk, it’d win TTAC’s Bob Lutz award.
Thankfully the STS’ respectable underpinnings hail from the GM sigma platform, which made the CTS an American hero. Too bad the dynamic dyslexia turns this platform’s inherent “FTW” attitude into a “WTF” blend of compromises. In true Detroit fashion that means the ride isn’t half bad for a sports sedan wannabe. The cruise is plush and confident, without the mack-daddy purpose of its DTS cousin. Pavement joints, potholes and parking lot speed bumps never stand a chance.
Which leads to the inevitable trade-off. Feed the STS a corner and you’re done; inescapable understeer and prodigious body roll are your partners in stupidity. The saving grace is a fairly neutral rear wheel-drive orientation– that feels like a milquetoast E-Class Merc at anything less than 8/10ths. Our tester’s all-wheel-drive added tenacious grip; white loafer-wearing snow birds will be thrilled.
The compromised Caddy gets worse under the hood. The STS’ standard-issue 3.6-liter V6 is hot for its direct-injected torque peak (at a sky-high 5200rpm). In other words, the engine creates a brand and model-dishonest torque curve; wafters needs not apply. Thankfully, the six-pot delivers the power in a strictly linear fashion. Miserably, the six-speed autobox’s oddly spaced one-two gear interrupts the smooth and righteous application of power.
Add this bewildered forward propulsion to the mixed bag suspension and you get an anticlimactic blend of an attention-seeking engine and buzz-killing corner-scrub. Much like the CTS, the STS needs the real American spirit generated by the small-block V8s found in far cheaper GM sedans.
In fairness, the STS has an impressive options list to compensate. The model offers everything from Magnaride dampeners, to a locking rear differential, to flashy Brembo stoppers. Some require the (sorely needed) Northstar V8 and a serious chunk of change. Or perhaps the supercharged STS V-series for a cool eighty grand? Didn’t think so.
On paper, the STS matches the imports at many hotly-contested price points. There’s the GS350-alternative discussed here, and an AMG E-class fighter up top. But the cheap bones of the STS V6 prove that this Caddy is out of its league, minor or major.
Rumor has it that RenCen is resolute: Caddy’s future lies downmarket. The STS is on deathwatch– making way for a hungry rookie with a soulful V8. The Hyundai Genesis could well be the STS re-incarnate, ready to punch the luxo-sedan market in the solar plexus. In theory, the STS coulda been a contender. But reality sucks, and the Cadillac STS’s irrelevance hits home at first glance. So if it’s on the chopping block, good riddance to bad rubbish.