The Truth About Cars » Cadillac The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 17 Apr 2014 14:00:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Cadillac Cadillac Flagship, Redesigned LaCrosse To Be Made In Detroit By 2016 Tue, 15 Apr 2014 11:30:16 +0000 2013 Cadillac Elmiraj Concept

In light of General Motors’ recent announcement of a $384 million investment in its Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant, two vehicles from Cadillac and Buick could wind up being produced alongside the next-generation Volt.

Edmunds reports IHS Automotive senior analyst Stephanie Brinley expects Cadillac’s all-new flagship to be produced in late 2015, with the Buick LaCrosse — currently assembled in Fairfax, Kan. — joining the flagship in 2016 for the latter’s next redesign.

Though GM hasn’t said much about the flagship, industry insiders claim the vehicle will be aimed at the Audi A8, BMW 7 Series, Lexus LS and Mercedes S-Class, and may be priced as much as $100,000.

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GM Seeks Aid From NASA, Issues New Ignition-Related Recall Fri, 11 Apr 2014 09:00:47 +0000 gm-headquarters-logo-opt

Autoblog reports 2.19 million of the same vehicles under the current General Motors ignition recall are under a new ignition-related recall, as well. The new recall warns of a problem where the key can be removed without the switch moved to the “off” position. According to GM, the automaker is aware of “several hundred” complaints and at least one roll-away accident resulting in injury, and is instructing affected consumers to place their vehicles in park or, in manuals, engage the emergency brake before removing the key from the ignition until repairs are made.

Regarding the original recall, The Detroit News reports has called upon NASA’s Engineering & Safety Center to review whether or not the 2.6 million affected Chevrolets, Pontiacs and Saturns are safe to drive with just the ignition key in position. The agency, which has performed similar reviews in the past, will look over the work performed by the automaker in the latter’s effort to make the affected vehicles safe to drive, as well as review its overall approach to safety concerns.

On the financial front, Automotive News says GM will take a $1.3 billion charge in Q1 2014 for the original recall, 40 percent greater than the $750 million charge originally estimated at the end of last month. The charge — which includes repair costs and loaners for affected owners — comes on the heels of a $400 million charge tied to currency challenges in Venezuela, the total sum of which threatens to knock out most if not all of the automaker’s Q1 2014 earnings set to be announced toward of end of this month.

Meanwhile, The Detroit News reports Michael Carpenter, the CEO of former GM financial arm Ally Financial, says his company will complete its exit from government ownership by Election Day of this year:

The U.S. Treasury is quite happy today. My own view is they will definitely be out before the election and we are close to having Treasury and U.S. government ownership in the rearview mirror.

By the end of trading Thursday, Ally’s IPO netted taxpayers $17.7 billion with a profit of $500 million on the $17.2 billion bailout of the consumer finance company, while the Treasury currently holds 17 percent of its remaining shares after selling 95 million for $25 per share at the opening bell; share price fell 4.4 percent to $23.50 at the closing bell.

In lawsuit news, Automotive News reports GM settled with the families of two Saturn Ion drivers who lost their lives in 2004 when their respective cars’ airbags failed to deploy. The two fatalities were identified by the publication as the earliest of 13 linked to the out-of-spec ignition switch at the root of the current recall crisis. In addition, while one case was settled out-of-court in September of 2007, the second case drew its settlement terms after the automaker filed for bankruptcy in June of 2009, placing the plaintiffs and their lawyer with other unsecured creditors.

The Detroit News reports Cadillac and Buick are at the top of their respective lists for dealer service satisfaction as determined by the J.D. Power & Associates U.S. Customer Service Index Study. Cadillac’s dominance over the luxury brand category comes as former No. 1 Lexus — who held the top spot for five consecutive years — falls to third behind Audi, while Buick leads Volkswagen, GMC, Mini and Chevrolet in the mass-market brand category.

Finally, Autoblog reports the last of eight Corvettes swallowed by the sinkhole that formed inside the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Ky. back in February has been recovered. The 2001 Corvette Mallett Hammer Z06 will need extensive work performed to bring it back to its original state, but not before it joins its brethren in a new exhibit entitled “Great 8″ beginning next week. The exhibit will last until the museum’s 20th anniversary in late August, at which point GM will begin restoration work on the eight Corvettes.

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GM Invests $449M Into Next-Gen Volt Production Wed, 09 Apr 2014 14:10:01 +0000 2013 Chevrolet Volt Exterior-001

General Motors announced Tuesday that it would invest $449 million into the two plants responsible for assembling the Chevrolet Volt in preparation for the next generation of the plug-in hybrid’s arrival in 2016.

The Detroit News reports $384 million will immediately go into the Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant for body shop tooling, equipment and other plant upgrades, while the remaining $65 million heads for the Brownstown Township battery assembly plant for expanded production of GM’s advanced lithium-ion batteries, as well as any future technologies that come down the road. The investments are expected to last for the next two years, and would add 1,400 new jobs to both facilities.

As for what fruit the investment will bear, GM vice president of North American manufacturing Gerald Johnson announced the next generation of the Volt will roll into showrooms in 2016 as a 2016 model, with production slated to begin in the autumn of 2015. Though he didn’t go further into what the new Volt would bring to the table, a number of analysts said the PHEV would likely gain an improvement in range over the 38 miles currently provided in electric-only travel.

Further, two new vehicles will accompany the new Volt within the next couple of years, including the Buick LaCrosse — expected in mid-2016 — and an all-new large Cadillac sedan set to be the brand’s flagship that would begin production around the same time as the next-gen PHEV.

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Ellinghaus: Cadillac Could “Easily Flourish” In Australian Market Fri, 14 Mar 2014 10:05:57 +0000 2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe

Sometime in the future, Cadillac global marketing boss Uwe Ellinghaus believes Cadillac could enter the Australian market, being able to “easily flourish” under the proper conditions established on top of the goodwill the brand already has in the country.

Auto Advice reports however the main goal for Cadillac is to go after what Ellinghaus calls “low-hanging fruit” markets:

We see the opportunity [in Australia] and we want to expand into as many markets as we can afford, but it’s also fair to say we have so much growth potential unexploited in China, even in the US, Canada, Russia, Dubai, Mexico… This is the lower-hanging fruit.

We have limited resources and great opportunities elsewhere that we need to make a very careful plan when to enter which market.

Regarding where Cadillac could enter the Australian market, he says the space soon to be vacated by the Holden Commodore would be the perfect point of entry. Offering the brand for Commodore prices, though, would be easier said than done as far as a business case is concerned, pointing toward both the BMW M Series and Mercedes AMG as to where pricing would occur for Cadillac’s high-performance lineup. He also had high hopes for the CTS, and the SRX and Escalade, with the latter two finding huge success in Australian burgeoning SUV marketplace.

As for when Cadillac would enter the scene, Ellinghaus says an introduction would occur near the end of the 2010s at the earliest, and would be headed by one or two models converted to right-hand drive. This follows an near-entry into the market back in 2008 before turning back at the last moment, though not before exporting a few vehicles and appointing dealers to sell them.

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Early ELR Adopters Receive Free Charging Stations Wed, 29 Jan 2014 18:00:56 +0000 2014 Cadillac ELR

If you should become one of the early adopters who purchase a Cadillac ELR soon, the brand has announced that they will throw in a free charging station as a gift for paying $75,000 over the next 36 to 72 months for the luxury plug-in hybrid.

Normally, the 240-volt charging station would be installed at an owner’s home starting at $1,000, with financing available for installations between $1,000 and $3,499 spread over 24 months at 0 percent and $0 down, and 2.99 percent over 84 months with $0 down for installations above $3,500. The price range is determined after Bosch Certified Contractors look over factors affecting installation, including age of the home, location of installation, permits et al.

On top of the incentive, ELR owners will also acquire the services of their own ELR Concierge Representative, who will help their owner with information on battery care, home charging, service scheduling and other concerns regarding their purchase.

No word on when Cadillac will cease offering free stations, though the $699/month lease incentive for well-qualified consumers currently on offer will end on January 31 of this year.

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2014 Cadillac ELR to Lease for $699 a Month Wed, 22 Jan 2014 12:00:08 +0000 2014-Cadillac-ELR. Photo courtesy

If you thought the $75,000 price of admission for ownership of the 2014 Cadillac ELR was too high, the luxury automaker may have another option for your consideration: A lease contract of $699/month with a few stipulations.

In order to lease the luxury plug-in hybrid — based upon the $34,000 Chevrolet Volt — you’ll need to either own or lease a GM product screwed together from 1999 forward. Next, you’ll need around $5,000 at signing for a lease that will last just 39 months. Then, you’ll have to deal with the usual tax-title-license-dealer fee-optional equipment gauntlet, plus whatever price the dealer sets for the whole thing.

Finally, whip out your magnifying glass and reading glasses: The fine print states that price of the ELR has an MSRP of $76,000, and that you can only drive a total of 32,500 miles before paying 25 cents per additional mile; if you were to average 13,476 miles/year — the national average, as it turns out — the additional 11,297 miles would total $2,824.25 over the limit.

If interested, you have until the end of January 2014 to sign the papers.

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Review: 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T (With Video) Fri, 27 Dec 2013 14:00:48 +0000 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-001

It’s been decades since Cadillac produced the “Cadillac” of anything. However, when car buffs dismiss the only American luxury brand left, they fail to see Cadillac’s march forward. 2002 brought the first RWD Cadillac since the Fleetwoood. A year later the XLR roadster hit, followed in 2004 by Cadillac’s first 5-Series fighter, the STS. Not everything was rosy. The original CTS drove like a BMW but lacked charm and luxury fittings. The XLR was based on a Corvette, which made for excellent road manners, but the Northstar engine didn’t have the oomph. The STS sounded like a good idea, but the half-step CTS wasn’t much smaller and ultimately shoppers weren’t interested in a bargain option. That brings us to the new ATS and CTS. Ditching the “more car for less money” mantra, the ATS has been created to fight the C/3/IS leaving the CTS free to battle the E/5/GS head-on. Can Caddy’s sensible new strategy deliver the one-two punch fans have hoped for? I snagged a CTS 2.0T for a week to find out.


Click here to view the embedded video.


I found the outgoing CTS a little discordant, but 2014 brings an elegant more aggressive refresh. GM’s Art and Science theme has matured from “cubism gone wrong” to shapes that flow and jibe with a larger grille and softer creases. The 5-Series continues to go for elegant and restrained, I find the XF and A6′s design a mixture of plain-Jane and snazzy headlamps while the Infiniti Q5o and Lexus GS are going for flowing elegance.

The demur side profile continues with a simple character line to draw your eye from front to rear. One thing you’ll notice during that eye-movement is the distinct RWD proportions that separate the CTS, E, 5, GS, XF and Q50 from the long-nosed Audi A6 and near-luxury FWD options. Out back the CTS’ rump is a bit less exciting but employs all the latest luxury cues from hidden exhaust tops to light piped tail lamps. I was hoping Caddy’s fins would be further resurrected,  but the “proto fins” on the XTS are absent. Pity. Obvious from every angle is an attention to build quality absent from earlier generations with perfect panel gaps and seams.

Structurally, the CTS has jumped ship to a stretched version of the Alpha platform the smaller ATS rides on. Thanks to the automotive taffy-pull, the CTS is now 2.3 inches longer than a BMW 5-series. However, because of the Alpha roots, the CTS has actually shrunk for 2014 by 3 inches in length while getting 2 inches wider and a 2 inch roof height reduction.

2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Interior-006


GM has proven they are able to create a car that drives competitively and looks sexy on the outside, but interiors have always been a mixed bag. The last gen CTS felt as if it was built with a mixture of custom parts and Chevy hand-me downs. No more. Like the ATS, the Caddy shares little with the rest of GM’s mass market-rabble. It is hard to find fault in the CTS’s dashboard’s combination of injection molded soft touch plastics, leather, faux suede, real wood, carbon fiber and contrasting stitching. Cadillac continues their dedication to shiny touch buttons on the dash and no luxury sedan would be complete without a little gimmicky drama. The CTS’s motorized cupholder lid ties with the XF’s automated air vents for the feature most clearly designed to brag about. I’m not sure how long that little motor will crank away, but it can’t be any less reliable than Jaguar’s theatrical air vents.

Because of the way Cadillac chose to stretch the CTS’ donor platform, cargo and interior space aren’t the primary beneficiaries. This means that rear legroom actually shrinks for 2014 to the smallest entry in this segment by a hair. Trunk volume also drops from a competitive 13.6 cubes to 10.5 which is a 20% reduction compared to the Lexus and BMW and 30% smaller than the Mercedes. The CTS makes up for some of this with comfortable thrones all the way around and when equipped with the optional 20-way front seats the CTS ranks #2 in the segment just behind BMW’s optional 24-way sport seats in comfort. Taller drivers and passengers beware, dropping the CTS’ roof height made the profile sexier but cuts headroom to the lowest in the segment.

2013 Cadillac ATS Instrument Cluster

2013 Cadillac ATS Instrument Cluster

There is one glaring flaw. The decidedly dowdy base instrument cluster is shared with the ATS (pictured above) and the XTS. Our Facebook followers were so put-off by Caddy’s base dials, the fervor spawned a Vellum Venom Vignette. While the ATS is saddled with the four-dial layout, the CTS and XTS have a savior: the most attractive LCD disco dash available. (My tester was so equipped.) Perhaps it is this dichotomy that is so vexing about the base CTS models. If you don’t fork over enough cash, you’ll constantly be reminded that you couldn’t afford the Cadillac of displays.

The 12.3-inch cluster offers the driver more customization than you fill find in any other full-LCD cluster. Unlike the Jaguar and Land Rover screens that simply replicate analogue gauges, you can select from several different views depending on whether you feel like analogue dials or digital information and the amount of information overload you prefer. (Check out the gallery.) My preferred layout contained a high res navigation map, digital speedo, fuel status, range to empty, average fuel economy, audio system information with album art and track information and the speed-limit on the road I was traveling on.

2014 Cadillac CUE - CTS 2.0T-001


I have been critical of Cadillac’s CUE system but 2014 brings some important software fixes resolving the random system crashes and demon possessed touch controls I experienced in the ATS and XTS. After driving the CTS for 852 miles, the CUE system proved rock solid in terms of reliability. Unfortunately, little has been done to address the sluggish response to inputs, unintuitive menus and old-school nav graphics. Despite the still flaws, I have to stick by my words when MyFord Touch landed: I’d rather have slow infotainment than none at all. BMW’s iDrive still ranks 1st for me because the interface is intuitive, attractive, responsive and elegant. BMW continues to add new features to their system and, unlike other systems, the new features in general operate as smoothly as the rest of the iDrive interface. You may be surprised to know that CUE ranks second for me.

CUE’s graphics are more pleasing to my eye than MMI, COMAND, Sensus, MyLincon Touch, Enform or AcuraLink. COMAND’s software should have been sent out to pasture long ago. The graphics are ancient and trying to load any of the smartphone apps is an exercise in frustration. Instead of reinventing their software, Lexus reinvented the input method taking their system from most intuitive to least in a single move. Senus isn’t half bad but Volvo’s screens are small and the software lacks the smartphone integration found in the competition. MyLincoln Touch is well featured but lacks CUE’s more modern look and the glass touchscreen.

2014 Cadillac CUE - CTS 2.0T-006

The scratch resistant glass touchscreen and proximity sensors used by Cadillac are part of what give the system a clean modern look. Most systems use resistive touchscreens which are pressure sensitive and require that the surface of the screen actually move to sense your touch. This means they need to be made of a ductile plastic which is several layers thick. The consumer comparison is to think of your iPhone or Android phone vs a color Palm Pilot from years past. Cadillac uses the screen to allow intuitive finger-sliding gestures and the proximity sensor to reduce visual clutter when your finger is away from the screen. Move you hand closet to the screen and the less critical interface buttons reappear.

Cadillac continues their relationship with Bose, giving the base model an 11-speaker sound system that brings everything but navigation to the party. Our model was equipped with the up-level 13-speaker Bose sound system, navigation software and the optional single-slot CD player hiding in the glove box. Compared with BMW’s premium audio offerings, the Bose systems sing slightly flatter and lack the volume capable in the German options. However compared to Lexus’ standard and optional systems the Cadillac holds its own.

Ecotec 2.0L I-4 VVT DI Turbo (LTG)


Thanks to the new GM Alpha platform, all three engines sit behind the front axle which is ideal for weight balance. Base shoppers get the 2.0L direct-injection turbocharged four-cylinder worth 272 ponies and 295 lb-ft of torque, besting BMW’s 2.0L by 32 HP and 35 lb-ft. On “Luxury” trim and above you can opt for GM’s ubiquitous 3.6L V6 (321HP/275 lb-ft) for $2,700, but I’d probably stick to the 2.0L turbo if I were you. Aside from being lighter, the turbo delivers more torque at lower RPMs and has a more advantageous power delivery which make it a hair faster to 60.

Shoppers looking for more shove and willing to part with $59,995 can opt for a 420 horsepower twin-turbo V6 in the CTS V-Sport that cranks out 430 lb-ft. Despite sharing thee 3.6L displacement of the middle engine, GM tells us that only 10% of the engine components are shared. Sending power to the pavement in the 2.0T and 3.6 models is essentially the same GM 6-speed automatic transmission BMW used to use in certain models of the 3-series until recently. Optional in the 3.6L and standard on the twin-turbo V6 is an Aisin 8-speed automatic that is essentially shared with the Lexus LS.

2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-014


Unfortunately, the first thing you’ll notice out on the road is the coarse sound from under the hood. GM’s 2.0L engine is no less refined than BMW or Mercedes’ four-bangers, but the difference is you can hear the engine in the CTS. In fact, based on the overall quietness of the cabin (a competitive 67 dB at 50 MPH), I can only conclude that Cadillac designed the engine to be heard. I don’t mind hearing the 3.6L V6, but most luxury shoppers would prefer not to be reminded they chose the rational engine every time they get on the freeway. On the bright side, because GM does not offer start/stop tech, shoppers are spared the inelegant starts and stops that characterize 528i city driving.

While I’m picking nits, the 6-speed found in the 2.0T and most 3.6 models lacks the ratio spread and shift smoothness of the ZF 8-speed automatic found in most of the competition. While I prefer GMs 6-speed to the somewhat lazy 7-speed automatic in the Mercedes E-Class, the rumored 8-speed can’t come soon enough. The 8-speed used in the V-Sport (optional on the 3.6L) solves the ratio and marketing issue, but the Aisin unit feels just as up-shift happy and down-shift reluctant as it does in the Lexus LS 460. As a result when you use the shift paddles, your actions feel more like suggestions than commands.

2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-013

The reason I label those flaws as mere nits is because of how the CTS accomplishes every other task on the road. Acceleration to 60 happens a 4/10ths faster than an E350, a half-second faster than the 528i,  a full second faster than a GS350, and practically years ahead of the A6 2.0T. Part of this has to do with the engine’s superior torque curve and higher horsepower numbers, but plenty has to do with curb weight. At 3,616 lbs, the CTS 2.oT is 200lbs lighter than the BMW or Lexus, 400lbs lighter than an E350. The comparable Audi A6 would be the front-wheel-drive 2.0T model with the CVT at 3,726. If you think that’s an unfair comparison, the 2.0T with Quattro is 3,900lbs and does little to correct the A6′s front-heavy weight balance.

As a result of the CTS’s near perfect 50.3/49.7 % weight balance and the light curb weight, the CTS feels more agile and responsive on winding mountain roads, especially when you compare it to the V6 competitors. The steering is as numb as anything on the market thanks to electric power steering, but you can get faint whiffs of feedback now and then and the steering weight is moderate rather than strangely firm in the 528i. Admittedly we’re splitting hairs here when it comes to steering feel, as there is precious little difference between the CTS, GS and 528i. Even the hydraulic system retained in BMW’s 550i doesn’t feel as crisp on the road. Helping out the handling is a standard moderately firm spring suspension or an optional MagneRide active suspension as our tester was equipped. The adaptive dampers feel more refined than in previous versions, despite them not changing the vehicle’s personality much from regular to sport mode. The CTS never felt out of sorts on rough or uneven terrain and despite being moderately firm, never felt punishing. This places the CTS right in line with the modern Germans. Toss in standard Brembo brakes and the CTS is far more willing to hike up its skirt and dance than the establishment competition.

2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-007

For 2014, Cadillac added $6,035 to the MSRP and put “value” on the back burner. At $45,100, the CTS starts $4,400 less than the 528i and $2,600 less than the GS350. Of course the Caddy’s base model has fewer features, so an apples-to-apples comparison brings the delta up to around $1,500 less than the BMW. That’s a much smaller window than there used to be, and it’s not surprising when you consider the CTS’ interior is finally equal to or better than the Germans. The pricing deltas get more interesting as you go up the ladder. The CTS 3.6 is a few grand less than a BMW 535i. In that mash-up, the BMW provides superior thrust but when the road gets winding the CTS is more enjoyable. Then we get to the CTS V-Sport. The V-Sport brings a twin-turbo V6 to a twin-turbo V8 fight. At 420 HP and 430 lb-ft the numbers are stout to be sure, but trail the 443 HP and 479 lb-ft from BMW’s 4.4L V8 and most importantly, the V8 delivers a far superior torque curve delivering all of its torque 1,500 RPM earlier. Still, the Cadillac is 325 lbs lighter, handles better, is $4,830 cheaper and by the numbers gives up little in terms of straight line performance.

The two sweet spots for the CTS are a nearly loaded 2.0T with the LCD disco dash and a moderately well equipped V-Sport. The 2.0T offers the best road manners of its direct competition at a reasonable value. The V-Sport on the other hand offers BMW shoppers an interesting alternative. At an $1,800 up-sell over a comparably equipped 535i and $4,800 less than a 550i, the V-Sport is probably the best value in the luxury segment for 2014. After a week with the middle child Cadillac, GM seems to finally be on the right path with their luxury brand. As long as the XTS is replaced with a large rear driver sedan soon I might even say that the American luxury brand is on a roll. While I can think of a few reasons to buy a BMW 5-Series over a CTS (the base CTS instrument cluster is a good reason), shoppers have no reason to dismiss the CTS as they might have done in the past. Although the CTS is still 20lbs of sound deadening and an 8-speed automatic away from being the Cadillac of mid-size sedans, it is a truly solid competitor.


 GM provides the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.3 Seconds

0-60: 5.9 Seconds

1/mile: 14.36 Seconds @ 97.5 MPH

Average observed fuel economy: 24.8 MPG over 852 Miles

Sound level at 50 MPH: 67 dB

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The Cars We’ve Lost in 2013 Tue, 10 Dec 2013 12:30:12 +0000 2012 Acura ZDX-014

Every year, new cars arrive in the showrooms. Some are brand new to the world, others go through evolutions and revolutions. Yet, every year, some cars are sent off to the showroom in the sky.

This year, we’ve lost seven vehicles. Some died due to poor sales, some to improper marketing, and others to horrible execution. 2014 will bring about the deaths of these seven vehicles.

  • Acura ZDX 
  • Cadillac Escalade EXT 
  • Nissan Altima Coupe  
  • Toyota Matrix 
  • Volkswagen Routan
  • Volvo C30
  • Volvo C70

In some cases, like the ZDX and Routan, the product was poorly conceived and faced an equally poor reception in the marketplace.  In other cases, like the Escalade EXT and Altima Coupe, they were based on previous generation cars and the business case wasn’t strong enough to justify a replacement. The Volvo twins and the Matrix weren’t necessarily bad cars, but they were long in the tooth and faced declining sales, thus leading to their euthanization.

2013 Volvo C30 Polestar. Photo courtesy Car and Driver. 2013 Toyota Matrix 2012 Acura ZDX 2013 Volvo C70 2013 Nissan Altima Coupe 2013 Cadillac Escalade EXT Volkswagen Routan. Photo courtesy ]]> 105
Chevrolet In Duel With Volkswagen For The Heart of China Mon, 28 Oct 2013 17:53:54 +0000 #8 Chevrolet Cruze. Picture courtesy

When one thinks of General Motors’ relationship with China, Buick flashes into the mind like a brake light in the Beijing smog. Sometimes, Cadillac comes up, as well. However, with Volkswagen preparing to slingshot past them in a manner akin to Danica Patrick being flung toward the front of the pack with help from Tony Stewart, CEO Dan Akerson is planning to aggressively push Chevrolet through the choking air, and into as many Chinese garages as he can find.

As Automotive News reports, the push will be directed by GM China’s chairman Tim Lee, who will also add SUV sales goals to the maturing market:

We got still a lot of mother brand-building to do for Chevrolet and we will resource that appropriately and get that job done… It’s a brand that has a total history in the country of about seven or eight years, so based on that relatively short time in the marketplace, our brand awareness is good, our product consideration is good. But can it be better? I guess.

The first volley fired in the upcoming battle for Chinese automotive supremacy will be the introduction of the second-generation Cruze to spur demand in the country’s burgeoning western sector, as well as smaller — and, one hopes, fully occupied — cities. GM aims to add 1,000 dealerships to this area by 2017, backed by an $11 billion investment through 2016 that promises to establish four new assembly plants manufacturing locally around 5 million units per year. GM also plans to bulk up Cadillac’s presence in China with a locally built version of the ATS come 2014.

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Cadillac Predicts Sales In China To Triple by 2016, Or Was That Globally? Wed, 27 Mar 2013 13:48:05 +0000

Click here to view the embedded video.

Watching the live streaming video of Cadillac’s reveal of the all-new larger and lighter 2014 CTS last night in New York City, something GM Vice President Global Cadillac Bob Ferguson said caught my ear, about Cadillac tripling its sales over the next three years. That’s quite an improvement, so after the event I watched the recorded video and now that I’ve listened to Ferguson’s remarks a few times, and even transcribed it, I’m not sure exactly what he meant. From the context, really the word “and”,  it’s hard for me to tell if he was talking about tripling Cadillac’s sales in China, currently the world’s largest market for luxury cars or if he meant overall, globally. Let me know what you think, the transcript is after the break.

Ferguson also said that so for the first two months of 2013 Cadillac sales are up 32% in North America and that 70% of ATS buyers have never bought a Cadillac before. He didn’t say whether or not they had owned or cross-shopped a BMW 3 Series, the benchmark for the ATS and other cars in its class, or what brands of cars they used as trade-ins.

We hope you like what you see and we hope you find the trajectory of Cadillac is clear, expanding, growing, elevating to another level and the new CTS will help propel us there. As you know the new ATS sports sedan is the North American Car of the Year. What you may not know is that 70% of ATS buyers are new to Cadillac and that’s helping to move us forward as well. Through the first two months of 2013, sales are up 32% here in North America. In China, the world’s largest luxury market, we’re taking big steps forward [not a great leap forward? - RJS] and we expect sales to triple over the next three years.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks – RJS

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Review: 2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD (Video) Wed, 06 Feb 2013 10:15:05 +0000

BMW’s 3-Series is always the benchmark, always the target, and always on a pedestal. So when GM announced Cadillac would once again “complete head-on” with BMW’s money-maker, the world yawned. Then an interesting thing happened, publications started fawning over the ATS, proclaiming the 3-Series has met its match. Could such a thing be true? Even our own Michael Karesh was smitten by the ATS at a launch event. To find out how the ATS matches up with its German rival, Cadillac tossed us the keys to a loaded ATS 3.6 AWD. Can Cadillac beat BMW at their own game? Let’s find out.

Click here to view the embedded video.


While the ATS fails to make a dramatic new statement of Cadillac’s “Art and Science” design, it is the most balanced rendition of the form to date. Compared to the 3-Series, the ATS strikes a more aggressive pose in the parking lot thanks to the hard lines and aggressive stance. Up front, Cadillac has kept the bold angular grille we’re used to, but ditched most of chrome bling found on other Cadillacs. Out back you’ll find a short trunk overhang with a perky tail light/spoiler and “mini-fins.” You may laugh, but I think the resurrection of Cadillac fins and funky tail lamps are some of the best touches on the ATS.

Does that make the ATS better than the 3 on the outside? Not for me, but your mileage will vary. The ATS is undeniably more expressive, flashier and aggressive compared to the plain-Jane A4, dowdy C350 or the elegant (but very reserved) 3. Oddly enough it’s BMW’s understated elegance and limo-like proportions that do it for me. What does that mean for you? If you’re a traditional BMW 3-Series shopper, then the  ATS is more likely to be your thing. If you’re after a soft entry level luxury sedan but the ES350 is “too FWD”, the 3′s long hood, soft suspension and graceful lines will seal the deal. In my mind the 3 and the ATS tie in this category.


The ATS wears, hands-down, the best production cabin GM has made. The styling may not be your cup of tea, but the interior possessed none of the strange quality concerns I noticed in the new XTS. Does that mean the Caddy has the best cabin in the segment? No, that award still ends up a tie between Audi and Volvo. However, the ATS’s cabin is nearly the equal of the 3-Series. Why nearly? It’s all about consistency.

Everything inside the BMW’s cabin is of a similar quality, from buttons on the dash to the headliner, everything is exactly what you expect from a $30,000-$55,000 car. The ATS on the other hand is full of “highs and lows.” Caddy’s highs include perfect dashboard stitching, comfortable seats and an excellent tiller. Sadly the gauge cluster didn’t get the memo. Instead of the SRX’s funky new three circle gauge cluster, buyers get the frumpy base gauges from the “this is your Grandfather’s Cadillac” XTS. Still, it would all have been OK if Caddy had offered the XTS’s  gorgeous full-LCD cluster as an option, but sadly it wasn’t to be. In our Facebook page’s weekly “hit it or quit it” contest, the ATS’s dials received a unanimous “quit it.” The fervor even spawned a Vellum Venom Vignette. What was all the drama about? Check out the day/night comparison below.

The ATS is available in an impressive array of interior colors, something lacking in many European sedans. While our tester arrived wearing a Germanic black-on-black-on-black ensemble, a quick trip to my local dealer revealed (thankfully) that the tasteful red and black interior and light grey interior with brown dashboard and door treatments were easy on the eyes and plentiful on the lots. Another rarity I noticed is a passenger seat with the same range of motion as the driver’s seat making long journeys more comfortable for your spouse.

When it comes to seating and cargo hauling, Cadillac benchmarked the last generation 3. As a result, front and rear accommodations are comfortable but snug with leg room coming in several inches behind the 3 and A4. The trunk also comes up short at 10.2 cubes vs the 12.4 cubes from the A4 and C350 or the ginormous 17 cubic foot trunk in the BMW. While the ATS represents huge strides in quality from GM, the tighter quarters and lack of consistency shown in cabin trappings gives the BMW the edge in this category.

Infotainment & Gadgets

Today’s compact luxury sedans come with more computing power than a 1990s dorm room. While the Euro players favor infotainment systems driven by a knob and button array, Cadillac has followed Lincoln’s lead with a 100% touch-screen driven interface called “Cadillac User Experience” or CUE. Caddy makes the system standard on all but the base 2.5 and 2.0 turbo models of the ATS although base shoppers can add it as a $1,350 option. The heart of the system is a gorgeous 8-inch LCD. Up till now, most touchscreen systems have used the older “resistive” touchscreen tech which uses a soft, matte plastic surface to detect digits. Displays like this (MyLincoln Touch uses this type of screen) can easily scratch and images can look “fuzzy” since you are viewing the image through the touchscreen layer. Cadillac stuck out their neck and used a more expensive “capacitive” touchscreen with a hard surface that is easy to clean, scratch-resistant, and delivers graphics that are crisper than any system I have seen to date. What was Caddy’s muse? Think iPad.

Cadillac tossed in “natural” voice commands for the entire system (including USB and iPod control), three high power USB ports (capable of charging an iPad), and smartphone app integration. If you want to know more about CUE, check out the video at the top of the review.

In comparison to BMW’s iDrive, the ATS’s touch buttons and iPadesque operation wow for a while, but proved less elegant and less reliable than iDrive after the first few hours. Keep in mind that CUE is in its first release while iDrive is the product of a decade of software development. The difference shows. While I haven’t seen iDrive crash since 2002, CUE crashed several times during the week. In addition, “multi-touch” gestures for “zooming” the map sound cool, but the response time was slow and the process proved more aggravating than useful. Cadillac’s mapping software is a notch below BMW’s in terms of visual appeal and the system just isn’t as intuitive as the latest build of iDrive.

Cadillac counters their “youthful” software with a bevy of standard and available features that you won’t find on many of the non-BMW competition including a full color heads up display, magnetic ride control, cross traffic alert, dynamic cruise control, collision prevention, and front and rear automatic braking in low-speed parking situations. When all the bells and whistles are tallied, the number comes out even, but BMW’s more elegant software gives the Bavarians the edge.


Competing with the 3 properly, means offering your wares globally and providing a range of small displacement and turbocharged engines. As a result, the drivetrain chart for the ATS starts with a brand-new high-compression 2.5L direct-injection four-cylinder engine designed to battle BMW’s budget 320i. While GM tells us the same engine will find its way under the hood of the Malibu and Impala, Cadillac’s version gets a power bump to 202HP and 192lb-ft with a high 7,000 RPM redline. While this is the engine of choice for rental cars and lease specials, it competes quite well with BMW’s discount 320i with 180HP and 200lb-ft of torque.

Competing with BMW’s 328i (and costing $1,805 more than the 2.5) is GM’s thoroughly redesigned 2.0L turbo. The direct-injection mill packs a serious punch with 272HP and 260lb-ft of twist compared to BMW’s 240HP and 255lb-ft. While Cadillac’s torque curve isn’t as low as the German’s, Cadillac has kept their curb weight low ringing in around 40lbs lighter than the 328i. The difference is small but shows Cadillac was paying attention.

If six cylinders is your thing, Cadillac will jam their 3.6L direct-injection engine under the ATS’s hood for an extra $2,200. The 321HP six-pot cranks out more HP than BMW’s 3.0L turbo I6 (300HP) but delivers less torque (274lb-ft vs 300lb-ft) and of course the lack of a turbo means the 3.6L engine has a torque peak instead of a plateau. Once again Cadillac counters by being lighter, this time by 94lbs.

Regardless of your engine choice, all engines use the same 6-speed GM automatic transmission. If you want to make your BMW owning friends scratch their heads, this is essentially the same transmission used in a variety of BMW 3-Series, X1 and X3 models before BMW started buying the ZF 8-speed. If you opt for the 2.0L or 3.6L engines, Cadillac will drop their AWD system ($2,000) or a Tremec 6-speed manual into the ATS, but sadly the options are mutually exclusive.

As much as I like BMW’s torque-happy 3.0L I6 turbo, Cadillac’s naturally aspirated V6 sounds better. The BMW is still faster to 60 (thank the torque deficit), but the ATS ties with the BMW in my book thanks to the combination of a great sound, no turbo lag and excellent power delivery characteristics. The small turbo match up is more cut and dry. GM’s turbo four cranks out more shove and matches the German mill in terms of refinement. Meanwhile at the bottom of the pile, BMW’s base 320i engine provides more useable power than Caddy’s base engine, but the 2.5L four has a better sound, no lag and is eager to rev.

Refinement and aural sensations are one thing, balanced performance is another and this is where the ATS shines (just not in a straight line). The ATS’s moves on the track are defined by several things: a suspension that is firmer than the sport line 3-Series, excellent weight balance, 225 width rubber on all four corners and “only” six forward gears. Starting with the transmission, while it has a negative impact on MPG numbers, having fewer gears translates into less “hunting” while craving your favorite mountain road. That brings us to the suspension and tires. You’ll find plenty of 335i “sport line” models on the showroom floor with staggered rubber (225 in front, 255 out back) which gives you a bit more traction in the rear for stoplight races. The unequal rubber also causes the 335 understeer a bit more when taking a corner sans-throttle, a situation most drivers find more predictable than oversteer. The ATS on the other hand is extremely neutral in almost every situation. Cadillac’s AWD system turns the moderately “tail happy” ATS into an Audi-esque corner carver sans Audi’s nose-heavy tendencies. Last, and least, the ATS’s steering feel matches or exceeds the feel in the 335i. Why least? Because anything with EPAS is going to be rubbery and numb. If you hadn’t guessed by now, the ATS is the performance winner.

According to my tally sheet, the ATS is one point behind the 3 as we enter the final stretch: pricing. The ATS starts at $33,095 and the new 320i undercuts it at $32,550. If that sounds bad for Cadillac, BMW cuts corners by making leather a $1,450 option among other “decontenting” tricks. For most shoppers the ATS 2.0 is going to be the starting point at $35,795, at which point the ATS is lower than the comparable 3-Series ($36,850) both on paper and at the check out counter. Load up your ATS to the gills with a V6 and AWD and you’re talking $54,000, about $4,000 less than a similar 335xi. Toss in inevitable GM discounts and cheaper financing, and the ATS is the value leader.

Checking back with the tally sheet reveals a dead heat. Is this where the import biased press says “being German gives the 3-Series an extra point“? Not quite. I’m going to resort to an entirely different cop-out: it depends on what you’re after. Huh? Personally, the ATS falls just sort of “beating” the 3-Series, but that’s based on my preferences. If however you’re a BMW fan boy who thinks the new (F30) 3-Series has gone soft (Trust me, it has. That’s why I like it.), the ATS is your “new” E90 BMW. Think of it as E91 by Cadillac. Seriously. The ATS drives like an E90 with a naturally aspirated engine and a slightly dulled steering response. What then is the ultimate driving machine? With BMW succeeding as the “new Mercedes” and Cadillac trying to be the new BMW, your guess is as good as mine. There is one thing I know for sure however: it’s a day to remember when we can talk about a BMW 335 and a Cadillac in the same sentence without any irony.

General Motors provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Specifications as tested

0-30: 1.92 Seconds

0-60: 5.2 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 13.66 Seconds @ 103 MPH

Average Fuel Economy: 23 MPG over 598 miles


2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD, Exterior, Side 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD, Exterior, Side 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD, Exterior, Front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD, Exterior, Wheels, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD, Exterior, Rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD, Exterior, Rear 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD, Exterior, Rear Spoiler Brake Light, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD, Exterior, Fins, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD, Exterior, Finlet, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD, Interior, Gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD, Interior, Gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD, Interior, Gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD, Interior, Gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD, Infotainment, CUE, Cadillac User Experience, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD, Interior, Trunk, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD, Cargo Area, Trunk, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD, Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD, Interior, rear seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD, Interior, rear seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD, Interior, dashboard, CUE, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD, Interior, front door, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD, Interior, dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD, Interior, Dashboard, Driver's Side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD, Interior, dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD, Interior, rear HVAC vents, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD, Engine, 3.6L V6, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD, Engine, 3.6L V6, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD, Exterior, Lights, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 68
Review: 2013 Cadillac XTS (Take Two) Tue, 29 Jan 2013 09:40:36 +0000

As car enthusiasts, we’re obligated to despise the Cadillac XTS. A decade ago the marque seemed on the path to glory with exclusive rear-wheel-drive platforms. Now we get this front-driver that shares its architecture not only with a Buick but also with a mere Chevy. Such backsliding mustn’t be condoned, much less rewarded. Unfortunately for me, a Mercedes-Benz E550 had muddied the waters.

Even after seeing the XTS all over metro Detroit (they’re thick on the ground in these parts) for months, I remain of two minds about its exterior appearance. We’ve got a tall, blunt nose; a high beltline; and a long tail topped by a short deck owing to C-pillars that just won’t quit. With such odd proportions, the XTS isn’t beautiful by any conventions I’m aware of. Yet I’m intrigued, and find the car oddly attractive despite an inescapable feeling that I should not. In comparison, the oh-so-three-box E-Class is…boring.

Inside, the XTS is more inarguably attractive, with two-tone upholstery, thick chrome trim, contrasting stitching, and vivid liquid-crystal displays providing tasteful visual interest. Anything that looks like it could be luxuriously padded is. GM’s interior designers clearly sweated every last detail. Check out the area where the instrument panel meets the door. Four different levels come together perfectly.

The manufacturing engineers must have shit a brick. (Maybe they’re still shitting it.) Though also highly detailed, the E550’s interior is less artful and more reserved. At the same time, the XTS’s cabin retains enough “art and science” flavor that it lacks the warm, cosseting atmosphere of a late-model Jaguar or current Infiniti.

The reconfigurable LCD instruments in the XTS are at once beautiful, highly informative, and functionally unnecessary. The contents at the center of each circle can be customized. Yet, when supplemented with the comprehensive head-up display (HUD), there’s little need for the instruments’ primary functions. The CUE infotainment interface is less successful. While I experienced none of the crashes reported by others, and was generally less frustrated by the system, I often wished that the home button (an actual button on the center stack) and the back button (a virtual button on some screens, but not others) were present at the top left of every screen. To my great surprise, the Chevrolet Malibu I drove the following week had the buttons I wanted, where I wanted them. For this and other reasons, the less comprehensive, less powerful system was much easier to use. The CUE folks need to talk to the MyLink folks.

I first sat in an XTS at last year’s NAIAS, and its seats were the most comfortable I’d experienced in recent memory. Because the tested car wasn’t a prototype, or because it was the next-highest trim level rather than the highest, or because I hadn’t been toting a heavy bag around Cobo for hours, its seats weren’t as comfortable. They’re still more comfortable than most, “most” including the E-Class, but less cushy and form-fitting than I recall from the show. Forward visibility is much better than in the related LaCrosse, thanks to thinner (if still far from thin) pillars and an instrument panel that seems less massive. But better than awful isn’t necessarily good. The XTS doesn’t approach the conventionally packaged Mercedes in this area.

GM expanded its “Epsilon” midsize vehicle architecture as far as sound engineering principles would allow for the XTS. Consequently, the cabin of the XTS seems somewhat narrow for a 59.5-inch-tall, 202-inch-long sedan. Three adults can fit in back, but they’ll be rubbing shoulders. Length, on the other hand, can be extended quite easily. Perhaps to compensate for merely adequate shoulder room, GM endowed the XTS with an abundance of legroom. Unfortunately, as is too often the case in luxury cars, not enough room was left beneath the front seat for feet. I had to scooch mine back a few inches, in the process lifting my legs off an otherwise sufficiently high seat cushion. Note to seat engineers: if the second row passengers cannot fit their feet beneath the first row, you’ve essentially sacrificed at least four inches of rear leg room.

Interior storage is better than in many current luxury sedans. Not one but two “superzoom” cameras can fit inside the center console. At 18.0 cubic feet, the trunk of the XTS is among the largest in any car (though that in the Lincoln MKS holds another cube). Just be sure to use the cargo net for groceries, or you’ll have to climb halfway in to retrieve items that have slid forward.

Last week I found little point to 402-horsepower in a luxury-oriented sedan, and suggested that the E350’s 302-horsepower V6 was a better fit. So the 304-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 in the XTS should serve plenty well? Close, but not quite. Thanks to a combination of too little low-end torque and overly tall gearing, the powertrain in the 4,215-pound (with AWD) XTS cannot deliver the effortless thrust off the line American luxury sedan buyers often desire, even expect. The 3.6 does come alive at 4,500 rpm, but even if you use the paddles to hold first gear this doesn’t happen until 30 mph. The paddles also must be employed for speedy corner exits. Left to its own devices, the automatic transmission often hesitates to fill pedal-issued orders for moar rpm. (Oddly, the transmission was much more responsive in the Chevrolet Malibu 2.0T I drove the following week.) Granted, the engine and transmission in the XTS are far from awful, and many luxury sedan drivers could be completely satisfied with their performance. But anyone asking for much more than adequate will find them wanting. They are the weakest parts of the car.

Perhaps they redeem themselves with excellent fuel economy? The EPA rates the XTS with all-wheel-drive at 17 mpg city, 26 highway. The trip computer reported 17.5 in suburban driving, pretty close to the estimate, but only 22.7 on a 75 mph run to the airport. At this speed in sixth the engine is spinning only 2,000 rpm, but with an eight-speed automatic it would be spinning even more slowly. An Audi A7 on the same route managed nearly 30. Judging from its 19/29 EPA ratings, an E350 would similarly out-eco the XTS. Only compared to the 18/26 Lincoln MKS do the Cadillac’s numbers seem competitive.

Given the platform employed, it might seem silly to have dinged the XTS for powertrain responsiveness at corner exits. After all, this is the DTS successor, and anyone desirous of a largish Cadillac that handles should wait for the next CTS, right? Well, the chassis engineers didn’t get the memo. They fitted the XTS with a HiPer Strut front suspension to minimize torque steer and maximize front tire grip, Magnetic Ride Control dampers to control body motions, rear air springs to keep the car level, an active rear differential (with the Haldex AWD system) to help the rear end around, and Brembo front brakes. Not just this loaded XTS. Every XTS. Of course, applying complicated technology to a basically flawed chassis fails to hit the mark more often than not (e.g. the Lincoln MKS and more than a few previous Cadillacs). But in the XTS the technology has been tuned to work in concert and deliver. When hurried, the XTS feels more balanced and composed than the Mercedes and far less clumsy than its Taurus-based archrival. Blip the throttle while turning, and my-oh-my there’s even some oversteer. The non-defeatable stability control system will kick in before things get out of hand, but it has a reasonably high threshold. This chassis could handle far more power. Perhaps a turbocharged V6 to match that in the MKS is on the way?

You might have noticed that one key system wasn’t mentioned in the above list of chassis enhancements. The steering in the XTS is overly light and nearly as numb as the tiller in the Benz. Many luxury buyers do want light steering, but the suspension doesn’t seem to have been tuned with the silent majority in mind. Instead, this feel-free steering might, at least in part, be a by-product of the HiPer Strut front suspension. Reducing the scrub radius has definite benefits, but steering feel isn’t among them. (The much simpler, much cheaper Malibu 2.0T scores another surprising win in this area.)

The XTS rides more firmly than a traditional Cadillac, but those who prefer well-damped control to cushy float will find it comfortable. Especially at low speeds the sport-suspended E550 has a thumpier ride. Unless the somewhat unrefined V6 is being prodded towards its power peak, the optional 245/40VR20 Bridgestone Potenza RE97 all-season tires are the largest contributor to the small amount of noise that survives the trip into the cabin.

The big Cadillac starts at $44,995. The tested XTS Premium with AWD ($2,225), adaptive cruise control ($2,395), 20-inch wheels ($500), and red tintcoat paint ($995)—but notably without the sunroof($1,450) or rear sunshade ($250)—lists for $60,620. Drop the paint and add the missing options, and the sticker checks in at $61,325. Clearly, Cadillac isn’t overly focused on the crosstown competition, as a similarly loaded up Lincoln MKS lists for $8,860 less. Adjust for the Cadillac’s additional features using TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool, and the gap is still a touch over $6,000. Compared to a Lexus GS, the XTS is $2,165 less before adjusting for feature differences, and about $3,200 less afterwards. And the Mercedes-Benz E-Class? It doesn’t make sense to compare the E550, since the E350 can keep up with the Cadillac. But even the V6-powered E-Class costs $9,000 more before adjusting for feature differences, and a cool ten grand more afterwards.

In the end, we’re as confused as the car is. The Cadillac that shares a platform with lesser GM offerings handles well enough that absent steering feel is missed. With a proper rear-wheel-drive basis, the E-Class should be the better behaved, more satisfying car to drive, but it isn’t. The E550’s V8 power could be put to better use in the nose-heavy Cadillac. So we’re left wanting that as well. Similarly, GM’s designers were given some insane hard points to work with, yet managed an intriguing, up-to-date, expensive-looking car…while on the other side of the studio their colleagues modeled a C-Class with Cadillac facias. In these and a few other areas (shoulder room, CUE), the XTS team came so close to transforming a sow’s ear into a silk purse that we’re left perceiving the glass as one-tenth empty. We don’t despise it. We even admire it. But we’re not quite at peace with it.

All cars mentioned in this review were provided by their manufacturers with insurance and a tank of gas.

Michael Karesh operates, an online provider of car reliability and real-world fuel economy information.

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Review: 2013 Cadillac XTS Wed, 31 Oct 2012 13:00:01 +0000

Once upon a time, being the “Cadillac of <insert a noun here>” meant something magical. The problem is: it’s been 60 years since Cadillac was “The Cadillac of cars.” While the phrase lingers inexplicably on, GM is continues to play off-again/on-again with a flagship vehicle for the brand. The latest example is the all-new XTS. Instead of being “the Cadillac of flagships,” the XTS is a place holder until a full-lux Caddy hits. Whenever that may be. In the mean time, Detroit needed to replace the aging STS and the ancient DTS with something, and so it was that the XTS was born of the Buick LaCrosse and Chevy Malibu.

Click here to view the embedded video.


Engineers might have tried stretching the STS, or re-skinning the DTS yet again, but cash was in short supply so Caddy found their platform further down the food chain. Engineers took the Epsilon II platform (shared with everything from the Opel Insignia to the Roewe 950), stretched it to 202-inches long and hey-presto, the XTS was born. Unfortunately Cadillac wasn’t allowed to change the platform hard points, so the same 111.7-inch wheelbase and 62-inch track as the rest of the Epsilon rabble remains. With the wheelbase staying the same, the cabin had to be pushed as far to the wheels as possible to maximize interior space. For some gangsta feel, the belt-line was kept high, and for practical reasons the cabin was extended over the trunk to create a coupe-like profile and more rear headroom. Just for kicks the XTS’s narrow nose was raked to create a “cowcatcheresque” profile. The result is a sedan with awkward proportions, especially when parked next to the CTS, ATS, STS or DTS. (Wow that’s a whole bunch of TSs.)

Of course, style seems to be a problem for American luxury brands lately. Lincoln’s new nose took the recently refreshed MKS from country-farm-girl to tragic-farming-accident and while Chrysler doesn’t pretend to play in this segment, the new 300 is less attractive than its predecessor. (The 300 is unquestionably the most attractive and commanding sedan in this trio however.) What redeems the XTS? It still has plenty of bling and the fin is back. I must admit, I have the fin-love that dare not speak its name. Honestly.


The problem with an awkward exterior is that first impressions matter. Pity. The XTS has GM’s best interior ever. Aside from the bugaboo of a plastic airbag cover (an ailment many luxury brands suffer from), every  touch point is near perfection. From the tasteful two-tone stitched dash to the microfiber headliner, the XTS’s materials would pass an Audi taste test. Compared to the MKS, the Cadillac is more attractive and assembled with more precision. Compared to the Chrysler 300′s new luxury level interior, the Caddy is the place to be even though the 300′s leather dash is sublime. Unfortunately every silver lining has a cloud, and so it is with the XTS. There was a pleather dash part that was strangely crinkled and the glove box would routinely fall open beyond its stops and crash completely to the floor. (Check out the video for that.)

Thanks to the XTS’s odd profile, rear seat legroom measures out at 40-inches, 1.4 ahead of the MKS while also providing 46-inches of legroom up front (four more than MKS.) In addition, the XTS provides more head room in the rear and much nicer trappings. As proof that more traditional body shape provides more rear room, Chrysler’s 300 bests the XTS by 1/10th in rear legroom and rear headroom but in true-livery fashion leaves less space to the driver. Because the XTS is narrower than the competition, sitting three abreast in the rear is a “cozy” affair.


All XTS models get the new “Cadillac User Experience” or CUE system controlled by a gorgeous 8-inch LCD in the dash. Most navigation systems use a resistive touchscreen with a matte plastic surface that can easily scratch and causes images to look “fuzzy” at times. Cadillac stuck out their neck and used a more expensive capacitive touchscreen with a glass surface that is easy to clean and delivers graphics that are crisper than any system I have seen to date. What was Caddy’s muse? Think iPad.

Powering the LCD is software that gives MyLincoln Touch a run for its money. CUE supports “natural” voice commands to control the majority of system functions from iPod control to destination entry. Cadillac has gone USB crazy with three USB ports that all provide enough power to charge an iPad, something very few systems can do. CUE takes a novel approach to using multiple USB devices, the system indexes them together as if they were one music library so there’s no need to switch from one to the other to look for a song. CUE also sports the best iOS device integration available, for more information, check out the video at the top of the review.

Base XTS models come with an 8-speaker Bose system while upper trim levels of the XTS get a 14 speaker surround system with speakers integrated into the front seat backs. The 8 speaker system is well-balanced but seemed unable to handle moderate volume levels without some distortion. Thankfully the 14 speaker system proved an excellent companion and competes well with the up-level systems from the Germans.

As you would expect with a first generation system, I encountered a few hiccups. Despite the screen being large and high-resolution, CUS uses fairly “chunky” maps that lack detail and aren’t as attractive as iDrive. In addition, the “soft” menu buttons around the map cut the window down to a narrow slot making it difficult to use CUE as a map when navigating around downtown. The ability to “multi-touch” gesture on the screen for zooming sounds cool, but the response time is slow and the process proved more aggravating than useful. Lastly, much like Ford’s Touch system, CUE crashed frequently (four times in a week). While the crashing is a concern, my statement about Ford’s system applies equally to CUE: I can handle occasional crashing as long as the rest of the system is snazzy and does everything I want my car to do. Still, let’s hope Cadillac has a software update pronto.



The XTS is a conflicted vehicle. For every awkward exterior angle, there is a tasteful dash seam. For every complaint I have about CUE, there is a 12.3-inch LCD “disco dash” that stole my geeky heart. Sure, the cost of LCD-admission is the $54,505 XTS Premium, but this is the best LCD instrumentation ever. Yes, Jaguar/Land Rover/Mercedes have been toying with large LCDs for a while and even Dodge has a moderately configurable screen in the Dart, but the XTS makes use of the LCD. Huh? In JLR products, the LCD has one “look” (imitating traditional dials) and if you don’t like it that’s just tough. Cadillac gives you four layouts that range from traditional gauges to a modern digital theme and allows sections of the display to be further customized.

In addition to the LCD gauges, the XTS offers available pre-collision warning, lane departure warning, cross traffic detection, blind spot monitoring, heads-up display, adaptive cruise control and a system that will automatically stop you if you try to back over Jimmy on his skateboard. Most of these systems communicate with you through your backside via a seat that vibrates the cheek corresponding to the side of the vehicle that is in danger. Sound strange? It was, yet I found myself changing lanes sans signals so the “Magic Fingers” would feel me up.


Under the stubby hood you’ll find one engine: GM’s 3.6L direct-injection V6. Instead of the 321HP/275lb-ft tune the baby Caddy uses, this mill produces a more sedate 304HP at 6,800RPM and 264lb-ft at 5,200RPM (400RPM higher than the ATS’s peak). While there are rumors of a twin-turbo V6, I will believe it when I see it. Until then, all the power is sent to the front wheels via the GM/Ford 6-speed transaxle, or to all four wheels if you opt for a $2,225 Haldex AWD system.

Our AWD tester hit 60MPH in 6.1 seconds so it’s hard to call the XTS slow, but neither is it fast. The problem is the 260lb-ft versus a 4,200lb curb weight. While the base MKS (3.7L V6) is slower at 6.5 seconds, Lincoln’s twin-turbo bruiser gets the job done in 5.1. The 300 hit 60 in 6.3 thanks to its greater mass, but the 300′s 8-speed transmission allowed it to tie the XTS for a 14.9 Second 1/4 mile at 93 MPH.


My week with the XTS started with a journey to sample the 2013 Chevy Malibu turbo. The event made me wish GM’s new 2.0L turbo had been jammed into the XTS. Why? Because the Malibu hit 60 in 6.2 thanks to 260lb-ft plateau from 1,500-5,800RPM and delivered 24.7MPG in mixed driving. Our AWD XTS eeked out 18.9MPG in a highway-heavy cycle and FWD XTS shoppers should only expect one more MPG.

Acceleration quibbles aside, the XTS’s road manners are impeccable. The XTS proved a faithful companion on Northern California mountain highways thanks to the AWD system, GM’s “HiPer Strut” suspension design and Magnaride electronically controlled dampers. The oddly named suspension design moves the steering axis to a more vertical orientation closer to the center of the tire, reduces the scrub radius and helps keep the contact patch more consistent. Whatever the name, the system just works. The benefit is most obvious in the FWD XTS where it quells the torque steer demon but it also pays dividends in the AWD model by keeping the wheel more vertical thereby improving grip. While I wouldn’t call the overall dynamic “sporty,” the XTS is confident and predictable. Of course the 300′s rear-wheel setup makes it more fun and the MKS exhibited less body roll, but the XTS’s well sorted suspension and Magnaride system make it an excellent all-around performer.

I left my week with the XTS more confused than when we met and I’m no closer to understanding who the XTS is for. The Chrysler 300 makes a better performance vehicle with the 5.7L V8 and a better livery vehicle due to the rear seat dimensions. Lincoln’s twin-turbo V6 is insane and addictive in its own way, and Lincoln will (optionally) toss in quantities of real-wood that would make Jaguar blush. BMW, Audi and Mercedes have better brand names, more polished interiors and a complete line of engines that range from normal to 400+ horsepower. The XTS on the other hand is a confident-handling technological four de force dressed in a corduroy leisure suit. With leather elbow patches. And a fedora.


Cadillac provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of fuel for this review

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.48 Seconds

0-60: 6.1 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 14.9 Seconds @ 93 MPH

2013 Cadillac XTS, Exterior, Tail Fin, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Cadillac XTS-002 2013 Cadillac XTS-003 2013 Cadillac XTS-004 2013 Cadillac XTS, Exterior, Front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Cadillac XTS-006 2013 Cadillac XTS-007 2013 Cadillac XTS-008 2013 Cadillac XTS, Exterior, Rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Cadillac XTS-010 2013 Cadillac XTS-011 2013 Cadillac XTS-012 2013 Cadillac XTS, Engine, 3.6L V6, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Cadillac XTS-014 2013 Cadillac XTS-015 2013 Cadillac XTS-016 + 2013 Cadillac XTS-018 2013 Cadillac XTS-019 2013 Cadillac XTS-020 2013 Cadillac XTS, Infotainment, CUE system, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Cadillac XTS-022 2013 Cadillac XTS-023 2013 Cadillac XTS-024 2013 Cadillac XTS-025 2013 Cadillac XTS-026 2013 Cadillac XTS-027 2013 Cadillac XTS, Infotainment, CUE system, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Cadillac XTS-029 2013 Cadillac XTS-031 2013 Cadillac XTS-032 2013 Cadillac XTS-034 2013 Cadillac XTS-035 2013 Cadillac XTS-036 2013 Cadillac XTS-037 2013 Cadillac XTS-038 2013 Cadillac XTS, LCD Digital Gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Cadillac XTS, Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Cadillac XTS-041 2013 Cadillac XTS-042 2013 Cadillac XTS-043 2013 Cadillac XTS-044 2013 Cadillac XTS-045 2013 Cadillac XTS-046 2013 Cadillac XTS-048 2013 Cadillac XTS-049 2013 Cadillac XTS-050 2013 Cadillac XTS-051 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 81
Capsule Review: 2012 Cadillac CTS-V Coupe Thu, 25 Oct 2012 10:01:07 +0000
Upon graduation from Belfast Teacher’s Training College in the late ’60s, my father found himself summoned into the headmaster’s office. A heavy oaken drawer was opened and an object placed upon the green baize of the blotting pad: “Ye’ll be needin’ this.”

“This” was the strap, thick leather symbol of martial law in the classroom. Dad left it lying where it was, left behind the tobacco-scented claustrophobia of that small office, left behind the small-minded bigotry of that blood-soaked island, and built himself a new home in the wilds of British Columbia.

From my birth, this has been my template for the masculine ideal: resolve, courage, intelligence, compassion. In the latter stages of his career, my father – long an administrator – could walk in and quell any classroom by his mere physical presence. And so, I’ve endeavoured to emulate him. To refrain from roarin’ an’ shoutin’. To be calm, yet firm of purpose. To be a man.

Of course, five minutes behind the wheel of this thing and it’s, COME AT ME BRO!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m awfully fond of the CTS-V, particularly in wagon form. It’s just not particularly subtle.

While I won’t go into an involved discussion of the design (read Sajeev Mehta’s thorough critique here instead), it’s sort of a visual caps-lock. You get the sense that they’d have built the entire thing out of grille if they’d have been able to get away with it.

When I remarked that going from a black/black FR-S to the ‘V felt like Robin-to-Batman, Jack B dubbed it the “Batbro,” and I can’t do better than that. If your utility belt is filled with hair-gel capsules and cocaine, then this is the sled for you.

Moving into the interior with some difficulty, due to the fiddly ‘Vette-style door latches, one finds a surprisingly high seating arrangement and a colour-combination clearly put together by a Boston Bruins fan. The details are fairly nice though.

Not as nice as the interior of a high-trim ATS however – the upcoming CTS update should fix things up a little, but this design has been around a while. Also, and I’m kicking myself for not snapping a quick shot of it, there’s a three-inch piece of fake carbon-fibre trim to the right of the steering wheel, and it’s stuck on at about fifteen degrees off the correct angle. Shoddy.

This centre-stack will doubtless soon be supplanted by the CUE system and all its haptic-touch trickery. I sort of prefer the buttons, myself, but the retractable navigation screen wobbles quite a bit when you go over bumps.

Two really great things to note: first, the Alcantara-wrapped steering wheel is excellent, and great at wicking away moisture from sweaty palms. Second, they’ve put the traction-control toggle right on the steering wheel.

Which brings us around to the question of performance.

Yes, the CTS-V is a bit of an automotive tribal tattoo – Conan the Vulgarian. On the other hand, great googly-moogly does it back up those looks with volcanic power levels.

The supercharged 6.2L LSA is nearly imbecilic in its ferocity, howling and bellowing out those twin centre-mounted exhausts. Flick off the overworked traction control so that it can go off and have a therapy session, and the blown V8 scorches the tires and rams repeatedly into the rev-limiter with a noise like a T-Rex choking on Jeff Goldblum.

I know, I know. Mr. Hyperbole’s come to tea again.

I assure you, this car both looks like Brock Lesnar and punches things in the face like Brock Lesnar. It’s not an alternative to an M3, it’s an alternative to PCP.

While a six-speed manual is also on offer, the higher take rate will surely be this, the paddle-shifted six-speed automatic. It works quite well, although there’s so much power, you could probably hook the LSA up to a two-speed Powerglide and it’d still be fine.

Cadillac/GM’s magnetic-ride suspension is here too, and the widened track and lowered height of the coupe certainly makes this ‘V much nimbler than the last one I drove (a wagon). I don’t think you’d call it a sportscar though.

Leave the traction-control sensibly on, and the CTS-V is quite a nice street car, apart from the mail-slot visibility. The Brembos scrub speed just fine for street-applications, and the zero-delay power-delivery is endlessly entertaining. And expensive.

Here’s the thing though. This car might be perfectly capable of smacking around some of the normally-aspirated German stuff, but like Mr. Lesnar, it’s gotten a bit old for the ring. It’s not in MMA competitions any more, it’s more like a member of the WWE.

Herein lieth some redemption: even with the clock-cleaning Shelby out there and ridiculous twin-turbo Teutons on the rise, the ‘V is still a character-filled car. It’s entertaining and burly and something of a self-parody.

But look out – that guy’s got a folding metal chair!

Cadillac supplied the car and insurance. I supplied the fuel, more fool me.

Picture Courtesy Brendan McAleer Picture Courtesy Brendan McAleer Picture Courtesy Brendan McAleer Picture Courtesy Brendan McAleer Picture Courtesy Brendan McAleer Picture Courtesy Brendan McAleer Picture Courtesy Brendan McAleer Picture Courtesy Brendan McAleer Picture Courtesy Brendan McAleer Picture Courtesy Brendan McAleer Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 59
Review: 2013 Cadillac ATS Mon, 23 Jul 2012 15:13:31 +0000

Smaller grille than CTS, but clearly a Cadillac.

Size and weight are a big part of GM’s DNA. They beat Ford not with a frontal assault on the Model T but by offering a larger, heavier, flashier car. They thought they could do the same to BMW. But, even as the Bavarians packed on the inches and pounds, car buyers “in the know” saw the additional size and weight of Cadillacs as a sign that the General either lacked technical competence or just didn’t “get it.” Well, maybe the “new GM” really is different. With the 2013 Cadillac ATS, the company has pulled out all the stops to directly challenge the BMW 3-Series with a rear-wheel-drive car that is—surprise—a few tenths of an inch smaller and a few pounds lighter. Could the people who tried to sell us the Cimmaron have gotten this one right?

Standard 17-inch wheels.

From looking at the ATS, you’d never guess that GM was swinging for the fences, because the exterior designers weren’t. Instead, they were instructed to bunt. The first CTS was a brash yet largely successful attempt by Cadillac to carve out a new visual identity. The second one smoothed off the first’s edges, but its muscular fenders and enlarged grille oozed swagger. Many people loved it, but some also hated it. The ATS’s leaner, less dramatic body sides and trimmer grille are better for aero, packaging efficiency, and not scaring off buyers who want to blend in. The longer you look at it, the better it looks, but such subtly stylish sheet metal won’t sell the ATS all by itself. Instead, it might maximize the number of people willing to check out the rest of the car. This is the opposite of GM’s past practice, where often the hope was that dramatic styling would lure buyers to overlook the rest of the car.

Red interior with real carbon fiber trim.

Crack open the front door, get in, and the ATS’s second impression is a strong one. Nothing crazy here either, but the design and materials are at least as good as others in the segment. No direct competitor has fully upholstered the upper surfaces of the instrument panel and doors. This covering has a tighter, more precise fit than in the CTS. Seven different interiors are offered, and all are attractive, some strikingly so. The large screen for the touch-based “CUE” infotainment system (standard on all but the base trim) has vibrant graphics that combine the visual punch of Ford’s system with the superior usability of Chrysler’s. I noted only one part of the interior that appeared cheap, a faux chrome start button. They’re already planning to change the finish.

Black interior with real aluminum trim.

Look forward over the hood, and the driving position could hardly be better. The instrument panel seems lower and less massive than in a BMW, the A-pillars are downright dainty by current standards, and, in some refreshingly original thinking, the armrests are at different heights to support the left arm while steering and the right arm while shifting. The steering wheel has a smaller diameter than the standard GM tiller, and its rim isn’t overly padded. The front seats could be better. With headrests that adjust fore and aft and side bolsters that, on the top two of the four trim levels, adjust in and out, the right boxes were checked. But even at full-tight the bolsters provide only middling lateral support. They’re undersized and the center of the seatback feels slightly convex instead of concave. As with the exterior styling, GM has avoided driving away any potential buyers (in this case the widest ones). They could have offered more aggressively bolstered seats as a standalone option rather than making these “sport buckets” mandatory on the top two trim levels, but this would have driven up build combinations (more on this later).

Front seat set for 5’9″ driver. Can go back 2-3 more inches.

Jump from the front seat to the back, and if you’re over six feet tall (luckily, I’m not) you’ll wish you hadn’t. Second row leg room isn’t far off that in a Mercedes-Benz C-Class or Audi A4, but the latest BMW 3-Series has vaulted well ahead of the field in this area. Multiple ATS team members confided that they hadn’t foreseen the 3er getting so much bigger than their car. When I pointed out that the F30 is only three-tenths of an inch longer than the ATS, 182.5 vs. 182.2, and so still far from CTS territory (191.6), one of them noted that overall length isn’t the best indicator, as the small Cadillac has pointier ends. The BMW’s wheelbase is significantly longer, 110.6 vs. 109.3, and the additional inch-plus seems to have gone entirely into rear seat knee room.

Intrusive suspension and goose neck hinges.

But rear seat room isn’t the ATS’s largest weakness. The Cadillac’s trunk volume barely tops ten cubic feet. This is a fair distance short of the previous-generation 3’s twelve (matched by the C-Class and A4), and far less than the new one’s seventeen. What happened? Judging from the intrusiveness of the rear suspension, GM might have given ride and handling much higher priorities than cargo volume when making tradeoffs.

Note holes punched to save weight.

Actually, there’s no question that handling was the team’s top priority. They wanted to beat the 3-Series in direct competition, by being better at what it does best, and the BMW hasn’t dominated the segment for three decades by having the biggest trunk. The ATS team designed every excess gram out of its body structure and employed significant amounts of high-strength steel, aluminum, and even magnesium to get the curb weight to 3,315 pounds with the 201-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder base engine, 3,373 with the 272-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter four, and 3,461 with the 321-horsepower 3.6-liter V6. A CTS with the same V6 weighs nearly a quarter-ton more. A 240-horsepower BMW 328i automatic weighs 3,410 pounds, a 300-horsepower 335i weighs 3,555. The ATS team is rightly proud of this win. Beyond curb weight, the team fitted a BMW-like double-pivot front suspension, developed Cadillac’s first five-link rear suspension (a mere 30 years after the pioneering W201 Benz), optimized the angles of all of the beautiful alloy suspension links, and forward rack-mounted an electric power steering (EPS) unit by ZF (which also supplies Audi and BMW). They then called on the same people who made the heavyweight CTS-V dance to fine tune the half-ton-lighter new car.

Lots of aluminum.

Jump back into the front seat to evaluate their work, and you’ll find a very balanced, highly precise, fairly agile, and altogether pleasant-handling car. Damping seems much better than in the latest, looser 3-Series even without the FE3 suspension’s magnetic ride control shocks, and especially with them. With rear-wheel-drive and a limited-slip rear differential (included with the FE3 suspension or the manual transmission with either suspension), the rear end can be rotated progressively with the throttle much like in the CTS. (As in the larger car it helps to switch the stability control out of its slightly too conservative default mode.) The front brakes are strong Brembos with all but the base trim 2.5. This is an easy car to drive quickly along a curvy road.

What you won’t find, due to a combination of EPS and a desire to appeal to mainstream luxury car buyers, is steering that communicates every nuance of what is going on where the rubber meets the road. I suspect they’re withholding this for a future V. Even as it stands, the Cadillac’s moderately light steering feels at least as good as that in the Audi or BMW, much less the hopelessly numb Mercedes. It’s a precision instrument, just not an overtly engaging one.

Five links.

On the streets of north Georgia, the ATS rode well, even with the firmer FE3 suspension. Aiming for the largest road imperfections, I failed to elicit a harsh reaction. But the largest road imperfections in north Georgia aren’t very large. A more thorough ride evaluation must await a week-long test in Michigan. Noise levels aren’t the lowest, but they are fairly low, partly due to active noise reduction (via the speakers). As in many cars, rough concrete poses the toughest challenge.

It’s tempting to write off the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine (a new generation Ecotec) as suited only for people who care nothing for performance. But, facing the lowest expectations, it actually performs well enough in the ATS that in the north Georgia hills I didn’t find myself wishing for one of the others. Refinement is also very good for a four—and better than with the turbo 2.0-liter (also new, not the same engine found in the Buick Regal GS).

The boosted engine definitely feels stronger, but not to the extent suggested by the specs or the stopwatch (5.7 vs. 7.5 seconds to 60), and it sounds buzzier when revved. It’s not the sort of racket produced by earlier GM fours, just a soundtrack more suited to basic transportation. A car that performs as well and costs as much as the ATS deserves a less pedestrian-sounding engine. The V6 feels stronger still when revved (GM claims 5.4 seconds to 60, and it makes a larger difference over 60), but it lacks the midrange punch of the boosted sixes in the Audi S4 and BMW 335i. The V6 has a much throatier sound than the fours, but also could sound more like well-tuned high performance machinery (the heretofore unmentioned Lexus IS gets a win in this area). All three engines are passable, but none stands out the way the chassis does. If you want the well-executed manual transmission, then your decision among the three engines is made for you. The base four and V6 are auto-only.

Set well back, for 50-50 weight distribution with manual transmission.

EPA ratings with the three engines, automatic transmission, and rear-wheel drive are 22/33, 22/32, and 19/28, respectively. The fours are close to the admirable figures achieved by the latest BMW, the V6 not so much. GM notes that the ZF transmission in the BMW has two more ratios, for a total of eight, but there’s more to the story than this. The far heavier CTS tests nearly as well, 18/27. Reasonably precise real world figures will require more time in the car. Hustling a 2.0T ATS with all-wheel-drive through the hills, I observed low twenties on the trip computer. In straight highway in an all-wheel-drive V6, I observed 26. While the automatic transmission functions well in performance driving, it needs more ratios to deliver class-leading fuel economy.

At Atlanta Motorsports Park.

So, how much are those upholstered interior panels, fancy suspension bits, and pricey alloys going to set you back? The Cadillac ATS starts at $33,990. Add $1,805 for the turbo (available with all four trim levels), but deduct $1,180 for the manual transmission. Add $2,000 for all-wheel drive, which can’t be paired with the manual transmission or the base engine. For leather, you choice of interior trims (wood, aluminum, carbon fiber), a folding rear seat, CUE (optional on the base trim), additional amenities, and the option of adding the V6 for another $1,800 on top of the turbo four, step up to the $38,485 “Luxury” trim. For the sport buckets, xenon headlights, and shift paddles, you must opt for the $42,790 “Performance” trim. This price also includes the formerly optional turbo four, Bose surround sound, and a basic safety package. The last includes forward collision alert and a lane departure warning that vibrates the seat instead of beeping—much less annoying. But the folding rear seat is lost. To regain the folding rear seat, and add magnetic ride control shocks, quicker steering, firmer FE3 tuning, and a head-up display, you must get the $45,790 “Premium” trim (deduct $1,475 for the manual). This price also includes 18-inch wheels and navigation, both optional on the mid-level trims. Put another way, to get the best-handling ATS you must also get the most expensive ATS.

Sound like BMW territory? Close, but not quite. A 2012 328i starts nearly even with the 2.0T ATS, $35,795, but includes less standard equipment. Equip the BMW to the same level, and it lists for $2,545 more than the Cadillac. But adjust for remaining feature differences using TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool, and the Cadillac’s advantage is a mere $1,290. Load both cars up, and this advantage becomes more substantial, with a sticker of $47,440 vs. the BMW’s $52,310 (for a difference of $4,870). The adjustment for feature differences is negligible. Other competitors cost less than the BMW. The Infiniti G37 remains the segment’s bargain play.

Tan interior with real wood trim.

Overall, the Cadillac isn’t priced low enough to sell based on price alone, but isn’t priced so high that even those who prefer it will opt for the much more established BMW…unless you happen to require the most athletic suspension, and little else. In this case, the BMW lists for over $5,000 less with a manual transmission, and over $6,500 less with an automatic. Yes, the Cadillac includes about $7,000 in mandatory additional features, but some enthusiasts won’t want them.

I pressed a number of ATS team members about this inflexible packaging. Their response was that they had to keep the build combinations very low, 915 to be precise. GM feels that matching the BMW’s 1.2 million build combinations would substantially drive up costs and harm quality. I believe that they believe this, but I’m nevertheless skeptical. How does it significantly help cost or quality to always install nav when you install the FE3 suspension? I don’t doubt that reducing manufacturing complexity helps, but I don’t think all additional build combinations are equally harmful (as assumed by GM math).

Another rationale makes more sense. One team member said that they’re undercharging for the adaptive shocks and other FE3 bits. Since these are deleted when AWD is added, some easy math yields a $900 price. This is cheap. To make this low price financially viable, they must force you into a heavily optioned (and so more profitable) car to get it. Personally, I’d much rather see the FE3 suspension available on lesser trims, even if it then had to cost more. Until then, I’d advise people uninterested in all of the Premium’s features (or at least uninterested in paying $45,000+) to settle for an FE2 car. I drove the two suspensions along the same road, and while the FE3 car handles better the difference is far from night and day. The character of the car remains the same.

Aside from rear seat room, trunk capacity, and option packaging, the Cadillac ATS approaches, meets, or beats the 3-Series in every area. The car’s curb weight might be only a little lower than the BMW’s, but even this represents a seismic change for GM. A large number of details done right suggests a well-functioning team that intensively studied the market. Interior styling and handling are clear strengths. I had hoped for a more visceral driving experience, but luxury car manufacturers typically reserve such an experience for special performance variants with stratospheric price tags. If I had to choose from among the cars that are actually available in the segment, this would be the one.

Cadillac provided the tested cars, fuel, insurance, airfare to Atlanta, one night in a nice hotel , very good food, and five laps around Atlanta Motorsports Park (two of them with a driver far more skilled than I am).

Michael Karesh operates, an online source of car reliability and real-world fuel economy information.

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Review: 2012 Cadillac SRX 3.6 Sun, 11 Mar 2012 17:49:03 +0000

Large organizations are prone to overly simplistic thinking. It’s just too hard to communicate anything complicated or nuanced to all involved. One overly simple idea: reduce the size of the engine, and fuel economy will improve. Need a performance variant? Shrink the engine a little more and add a turbo. The actual result in the case of the Cadillac SRX: a base engine with too little torque and an optional engine for which GM charged $3,820—to provide performance similar to everyone else’s base engines. For 2012, the SRX receives a solution that was obvious from the start: the corporate 3.6-liter V6 replaces last year’s 3.0-liter. The turbocharged 2.8 is gone. And?

And the 3.6-liter V6, revised for 2012, performs adequately. Nothing more, nothing less. It doesn’t have an upscale or sophisticated sound, but it isn’t hard on the ears, either. It’s not quick—the SRX with all-wheel-drive weighs 4,442 pounds, about 300 more than the CTS sedan powered by a 318-horsepower longitudinal variant of this engine—but it’s not slow, either. The all-wheel-drive system includes an active rear differential, but the engine, while dramatically torquier (265 pound-feet at 2,400 rpm, up from the 3.0′s 223 at 5,100), still isn’t torquey enough to take advantage of it. Fuel economy? The trip computer reported about 17 miles-per-gallon in suburban driving, about 21 on the highway. The EPA numbers: 16 / 23, just a bit worse than the “fuel-saving” 3.0′s 17 / 23 and better than the 2.8 turbo’s 15 / 22.

With the new 308-horsepower engine (up from 265 for the 3.0 and 295 for the 2.8T), the Cadillac edges even closer to the class norm. The Lexus RX 350 has a 275–horsepower 3.5-liter V6. The Lincoln MKX a 305-horspower 3.7. The Acura MDX a 300–horsepower 3.7. The others are all within 150 pounds of Cadillac (the Lexus a little lower, the Lincoln and Acura a little higher). All have six-speed automatic transmissions and all-wheel-drive systems that engage when the front wheels slip (the Acura’s system in a more proactive manner than the others). So straight line performance is similar.

Braking, not so much. The Cadillac might stop as well as the others (I didn’t measure this) but its brakes require an unusually large amount of force. At a BMW comparison drive I attended about a year ago, the organizers felt the need to warn all participants about the SRX’s brakes. On the other hand, if you like a very firm brake pedal, the Cadillac delivers.

Dimensionally all four luxury crossovers are again similar, and so all are similarly larger and bulkier than the relatively spry Audi Q5, BMW X3, and Volvo XC60. The Cadillac feels especially solid and has the most tightly damped suspension of the bunch, but still manages to feel larger and bulkier than it actually is thanks to numb steering and a distant windshield. If it’s any more fun to drive than the others this is strictly relative. Of course, Cadillac tried catering to driving enthusiasts with the original SRX, and it sold poorly. The current one, with its much more mainstream (i.e. Lexus RX-like) configuration, is selling far better.

In terms of interior dimensions, the Cadillac doesn’t quite measure up, with a somewhat tighter rear seat and cargo area than the others. The Acura is the champ here, with a wider cabin and a third-row seat (adults only in a pinch). But the Cadillac isn’t so far behind that these deficits are deal-killers. The front seat, which is a much higher priority for many buyers, feels fairly roomy. What it doesn’t feel: notably comfortable. The cushion is flat and firm, even hard. Among this year’s Cadillacs, only the upcoming XTS has the large, cosseting seats many people expect in a Cadillac.

My favorite feature in the Cadillac: a rear seat belt reminder that shows which of the three are in use and lights up a warning if any are undone while the car is still in motion. This feature is very useful if you have kids—no need to visually check whether they’ve buckled up. I expect to find it in more and more car models going forward. Perhaps even all of them, if car safety regulators get their way.

The tested SRX, the top trim with all-wheel-drive and optional dual-screen entertainment system, lists for $51,055. Compared to the Lincoln MKX, the Cadillac is priced within $500. Adjust for feature differences using TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool bumps the Cadillac’s advantage to $2,000 at MSRP, $1,100 at invoice (Cadillac dealers must work with especially miserly margins). The Lexus is the one both Cadillac and Lincoln are gunning for. When the RX 350 and SRX are both similarly loaded up, the Lexus costs about $3,000 more—at MSRP. Compare invoices, and they’re only about $400 apart because Lexus dealers enjoy much more generous margins. Adjust for remaining feature differences and the Cadillac’s price advantage grows by about $1,200. The Acura is priced a little higher than the Lexus. So the Cadillac is actually the least expensive. With the $3,820 2.8 turbo, it lost this important advantage. So in this respect the new 3.6-liter engine is very successful.

The rear seat belt reminder doesn’t turn you on? Going over the specs and features, now that the weak base engine is history nothing else stands out, positively or negatively? Why, then, pick the Cadillac over the others? One word: styling. The Acura, Lexus, and Lincoln are nothing special to look at. The last still looks a bit much like…a Ford. The Cadillac, with its chunky styling and aggressive stance (with the must-have 20-inch wheels), looks nothing like the others and nothing like a Chevrolet, either. Instead, it appears crisp and upscale, especially in “gray flannel metallic,” vying with the second-generation CTS as the best realization of the marque’s polarizing art-and-science design language. You might not like it, but you won’t mistake it for something else. Judging from sales, plenty of people do like it.

Cadillac provided the car with insurance and a tank of gas.

Michael Karesh operates, an online provider of car reliability and real-world fuel economy information.

SRX 36 front, photo courtesy Michael Karesh SRX 36 front quarter, photo courtesy Michael Karesh SRX 36 side, photo courtesy Michael Karesh SRX 36 rear quarter, photo courtesy Michael Karesh SRX 36 interior, photo courtesy Michael Karesh SRX 36 instrument panel, photo courtesy Michael Karesh SRX 36 instruments, photo courtesy Michael Karesh SRX 36 center stack, photo courtesy Michael Karesh SRX 36 rear seat, photo courtesy Michael Karesh SRX 36 cargo, photo courtesy Michael Karesh SRX 36 engine, photo courtesy Michael Karesh SRX 36 rear seat belt reminder, photo courtesy Michael Karesh ]]> 50
2012 Cadillac CTS Premium Collection with Touring Package Fri, 20 Jan 2012 17:26:06 +0000

How time flies. Five years ago the second-generation Cadillac CTS had just debuted at NAIAS. While prettier than the original, it was also fresh, exciting, and proof that Bob Lutz’s General Motors could turn out a damn fine car when it really wanted to. People who hadn’t owned a GM product for decades bought one, my father among them. Five auto shows on and we’ve glimpsed Cadillac’s future with the 2013 ATS. Does the 2012 CTS seem well beyond its sell-by date? Or does the old car, with a new 3.6-liter V6 engine and a new Touring Package, retain some compelling advantages?

The CTS casts a considerably larger shadow than the ATS: nine inches longer (on a four-inch-longer wheelbase), an inch wider and two inches taller. The additional inches enable sheet metal that is both more dramatic and more graceful than the new car’s, with more athletically flared fenders and a less severely truncated tail. The leaner ATS isn’t an unattractive car, but it won’t induce double-takes the way the CTS did five years ago. It doesn’t make a strong enough statement to establish an instantly recognizable design language for the brand. But since two generations of the CTS have already accomplished this difficult task, the ATS will get by with toned down Cadillac cues attached to a body that could otherwise be mistaken for a Mercedes-Benz C-Class.

Aside from its headlights, nothing marks the ATS as the (much) newer design. Then again, if we had first seen the CTS this year, it would have still looked fresh. But of course we’ve seen it plenty. The “new” ain’t coming back without much more significant exterior changes than GM has made over the past half-decade. Even the Y-spoked chrome-plated wheels included in the new Touring Package have been available on the car since the 2010. The Touring Package’s spoiler-shaped CHMSL? Borrowed from the V.

Inside, the CTS’s age is much more evident. The silver-painted plastic flowing down the center stack appeared downscale and dated even in the car’s first year. The cleaner center stack in the ATS doesn’t make the same mistakes, with piano black trim and touch-sensitive controls (much like those first seen in the 2011 Lincoln MKX) instead of mechanical buttons.

And the retractable display used in the CTS? It’s from a bygone era where nearly every interaction with the car didn’t involve a screen. (Some new Audis still employ this gimmick, but what’s the point when the thing will have to almost always be deployed?) Bluetooth is now standard in the CTS, but perhaps because the controls were designed when GM was still putting all of its eggs in the OnStar basket, I never figured out how to access it. (Yes, I know, RTFM, but this hasn’t been necessary with other cars.) The Touring Package mildly dresses up the cabin with metal pedals and black-stained wood trim. Want an interior that’s not gray, black, or tan (the latter not available with the Touring Package)? Then wait for the ATS.

Like the ATS, the CTS was designed to compete with the BMW 3-Series. So while the older car is roomier than the new one inside, it’s not a full size class roomier. The largest difference: an additional two inches of rear seat legroom. But these additional inches aren’t enough to make the CTS’s rear seat suitable for long-distance adult occupancy, as the seat is small and mounted low.

Trunk space? The CTS’s 13.6 cubic feet only seem commodious compared to the ATS “is that a typo?” and its 10.2 cubic feet. Opponents of conventional hinges have a new poster child:

The official specs don’t tell you everything. From the driver’s seat the two sedans seem quite different. You sit about an inch lower in the ATS behind a more compact instrument panel and a smaller-diameter steering wheel. An inch difference in the “H-point” has a much larger impact than you might think. Partly because of this, the new car seems much smaller and more agile even when not in motion. (How it feels in motion will have to await some on-road seat time.) On the other hand, the CTS’s higher driving position and larger interior components fit the car’s brash, muscular personality.

The CTS’s standard front bucket seats, apparently patterned after those in the Corvette, have never seemed substantial enough for the car. The Touring Package replaces these with the allegedly optional Recaros you’ll find in just about every V. The power-adjustable thigh and seatback bolsters of these “high performance seats” provide as much lateral support as you can stand. Despite four-way power lumbar adjustments, they’re not comfortable. Even towards the end of my week with the car I kept tweaking the lumbar adjustment in search of a setting where I didn’t feel a rod pressing uncomfortably into my lower back. My brief time with the seats in the ATS suggests that they’ll provide decent lateral support and more comfort than either of the CTS’s seats.

In the past, if you’ve wanted both the sueded steering wheel and the Recaros in the non-V CTS you were, to employ another acronym, SOL. Unlike in the V, where the suede requires the Recaros, you had to choose between one or the other. This year both are only available together, as parts of the Touring Package. The clear lens taillights that previously acoompanied the sueded tiller did not survive the rehash.

For 2012, the CTS’s 3.6-liter V6 has been thoroughly revised,  gaining 14 horsepower (for a total of 318) in the process. The new V6 sounds a little pedestrian at part throttle in the midrange, but transitions to a tone worthy of a premium sport sedan if you open up the throttle and wind it out. Acceleration is strong enough that few people will feel the need for the 556-horsepower V. (Just don’t sample the V, or you’ll become addicted to its excess. That car made me do bad things.) But the ATS should feel considerably more energetic. Cadillac acquired some serious weight-saving religion during the more compact sedan’s gestation, and packed it full of aluminum and magnesium. Consequently the same 3.6-liter V6 will have over a quarter-ton less to motivate. Unimproved with the new V6 are the  EPA fuel economy ratings, which remain at 18/27 mpg city/ highway.

Unfortunately, a six-speed manual won’t be available with the new V6 in either car. In the ATS devotees of the third pedal will have one choice, a 270-horsepower turbocharged four. In the CTS the manual is now available only with the underwhelming 3.0-liter V6. The CTS’s six-speed automatic is slow to react to manual shifting. Smallish buttons hidden on the backside of the steering wheel spokes require hands at nine and three. Prefer ten and two? Well, it might be best to let the transmission call the shifts anyway. In the ATS, large magnesium paddles will be available—much better.

Since its launch, the regular CTS has been available with three different suspensions, FE1, FE2, and FE3. With the FE1 suspension the car feels vague and even sloppy. Discouraged by reviews of the FE3, and without the ability to sample it in advance, my father ordered his car with the FE2, billed as offering the best ride-handling balance. That was a mistake. He ended up getting rid of the car because the FE2 suspension doesn’t sufficiently control body motions. On the wavy highway that leads to his house, the car provoked severe “head toss” over every undulation. On such roads, the firmer FE3 suspension actually rides much steadier, while remaining well short of harsh over patchy pavement. The FE3 car also feels tighter and more precise. If only we’d known back in the fall of 2007 that this was the suspension to get. One downside: The FE3 is only available with the 19-inch high-performance summer tires (specifically 245/45ZR19 ContiSportContacts). If you live where it snows, you’ll be investing in winter treads.

Even with the FE3 suspension and a limited-slip differential (bundled with the summer tires), the CTS lacks the character of a precision instrument. Instead, even in non-V form, it’s a two-ton linebacker of a sport sedan with a more overt character than you’ll find in competitors: big, bold, and ballsy. Vigorous control inputs aren’t the smartest, fastest way to drive, but the CTS invites them. While I’ve yet to drive the new ATS, my discussions with the engineering team (plus the much lower curb weight and lower seating position) suggest that it will feel tighter, lighter, and more precise – especially with its FE3 sport suspension, which will include magnetic ride control shocks like those standard in the CTS-V but not available in the regular CTS. You’ll also find a more refined chassis (perhaps to a fault) in the front-wheel-drive Buick Regal GS.

The hydraulic-assist system in the CTS feels much like that in the V, providing a level of tactility rarely found in today’s cars. At first touch, the system has the same insulated, numb feel found in the typical luxury sedan, but layered below is a more direct connection and even nuanced feedback. I cannot recall another car (aside from the V) with similarly multi-layered steering. Unlike in the CTS-V, engaging “Competitive Mode” does not reduce the level of steering assist. Assist will vary by mode in the ATS, but the system will be electric rather than hydraulic.

Not that you have to use the steering wheel to rotate the CTS. The rear end’s lateral slip can be progressively modulated with the throttle. At a steady speed through turns the CTS’s nose feels a little reluctant to hold a tight line. A little throttle balances the chassis nicely. Overcook it, and the stability control system cuts in almost seamlessly. Don’t need the nanny? It can be completely turned off, but even “Competitive Mode” bumps the threshhold enough that the car can get seriously sideways. Use with care. The stability control might have led you to think you’re a better driver than you actually are.

At first glance, the $2,810 Touring Package is a bargain. The seats and suede alone list for $3,700 in the V. The package deletes a heated steering wheel and folding rear seat that aren’t available in the supercharged sedan. GM may have feared a sale-proof window sticker, but then perhaps they shouldn’t have restricted the package to the top spec CTS. Add $995 “black diamond tricoat” and the bottom line nudges over $55,000.

Seem steep? A similarly-equipped BMW 335i will set you back about the same. But then BMW isn’t known for reasonable pricing, especially not on heavily equipped cars. The Infiniti G37 has long been the value play in this segment, with a sticker price over $10,000 below the others. Even after a $2,200 adjustment for the Cadillac’s additional features (as calculated by TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool) the CTS checks in nearly $8,000 higher. If you can do without the Touring Package’s sueded steering wheel and Recaro seats, then the pricing shifts about $2,500 in the Cadillac’s favor (the tool accounts for power adjustments, but not the Recaro label).

The advent of the ATS highlights the CTS’s shortcomings, most notably dated controls, passé silver plastic trim, and an extra quarter-ton of curb weight. If you want the latest tech or the most agile handling, wait for the truly compact Cadillac. And yet, even in its fifth model year the CTS retains a striking exterior and engaging personality. The ATS doesn’t have the same visual impact, and might lack the same driving dynamics as well, in a bid to beat the polished Europeans at their own game. To this the Touring Package brings all of the CTS’s sportiest available features together for the first time in the same non-V car. If you no taste for the latest tech, and prefer the character of a linebacker to that of a point guard, then no need to wait for the ATS.

Disclaimer: Cadillac provided the car for a week with insurance and a tank of gas.

Michael Karesh operates, an online provider of car reliability and real-world fuel economy information.

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Review: 1976 Cadillac Fleetwood Sixty Special Talisman Thu, 14 Jul 2011 23:01:42 +0000

Okay… you read about the Sturm und Drang involved in getting this 48,000-mile, two-owner Cadillac from Columbus, Ohio to Houston, Texas. Now it’s time to talk about the car itself a bit, and review it just the way we would review any other car here at TTAC.

Problem is… how do you review a car like this? It was the last, and largest, of the full-sized Cadillacs. It represents many of the best, and even more of the worst, qualities associated with American auto manufacturing in the dismal Seventies. Socially, it has significance well beyond what we have room to discuss, or understand, in a short blog post. It’s too important, too relevant, too resonant, too repugnant, too. This feels like too big a task for little old me, even if I have the help of another very interesting Cadillac that you will meet in just a moment.

Let’s start with this: thirteen thousand dollars. That’s what this particular car cost. About five times the price of a basic compact car. Cadillac in 1976 was a microcosm, a synecdoche, of the Sloan Plan. At the bottom was Calais. At the top was Seville (if you were talking marketing), Fleetwood Sixty Special (if you were talking sheer size), or Eldorado (if you still believed in personal luxury). Cadillac sold over 309,000 cars in 1976. It was their best year ever, but the chickens were winging their way home to Michigan for some long-overdue roosting.

You’re looking at a Medici velour interior. That’s the stuff Cadillac put in their factory-built Fleetwood limousines, and that’s what makes a Fleetwood Sixty Special a “Talisman”. Dissect the model name. “Fleetwood” means it’s above the common-and-garden Calais and deVille. It looks similar, but it’s a few inches longer. Why? Just because. Today, we’d carp that the two different wheelbases for production Cadillac RWD sedans represented a production inefficiency. Back then, it was important to distinguish vehicles which otherwise weren’t all that different. And since Cadillac was still doing the seven-seat limos in-house, it seemed reasonable to offer multiple wheelbases.

“Sixty Special” meant that it was a town car. Not a Town Car, mind you, a “town car” as opposed to the Fleetwood Seventy-Five limo. This was an era where “limo” didn’t mean “tacky prom night special”. It meant a car for a man with a driver. There were plenty such men, mostly commuting from places like Rowayton or Sausalito, and plenty such drivers. But this Sixty Special was meant to be owner-driven.

Think of a Talisman as a Sixty Special with Seventy-Five interior appointments. The option list was still long, and it was possible to spend seventeen thousand dollars — more than half again the ten thousand-dollar base of the Fleetwood Brougham — on a completely-equipped Talisman. A new Seville, basically a Chevy Nova with leather, was thirteen grand. (A new Nova without the Seville logo? $3300. Thanks to gslippy and CJinSD for the price note – JB) The pricing had nothing to do with the product, the content, or the value. The pricing was social. It was there to signify Your Place In The World. Vice-presidents stepped into a Calais and joined the world of gentlemen. Respectable country-club fathers drove the Sedan de Ville. Board members were driven in a Seventy-Five, or they drove themselves in a Talisman. Sevilles were for West Coast get-rich-quick types. Eldorados were for women, movie stars, and “bounders”.

Now you understand what the car meant, a little bit anyway. I don’t think you can understand it fully unless you were alive back then and understood how quickly doormen, bank tellers, and other service personnel could tell the difference between this year’s Talisman and last year’s DeVille. It used to mean something. No longer. All we can do is drive the car.

Open the massive door. The handles, and the mirrors, are heavy, chromed, exclusive to Cadillac. The doorsill is stainless-steel and carries the Fisher logo. There are no window frames. Sit down — down — into the Medici velour. The trim, sadly, is mostly junk. It was junk when it was new. The wood is obviously fake. There’s no excuse for that, nor is there any excuse for the flimsy feel of the controls. It was Seventies profiteering at its worst, aimed at owners who bought a new Cadillac every year, or every two years, irrespective of the merits of said Cadillacs. Too much of this car was destined to fall apart from the moment it was built.

And yet the mechanical bones of the beast are solid beyond understanding. The starter sounds like an engine of its own, and it spins the five-hundred-cubic-inch V-8 into life easily. There is no vibration through the wheel, none of the sympathetic communication provided by a BMW 535i. This is a luxury car, in case you’ve forgotten what that means because you never knew in the God-damned first place. Visibility is absurdly good. The windshield is upright, the pillars are narrow. Only the privacy-enhancing sail panels in back keep it from being a perfect vista. No backup camera necessary, and this is a vehicle which stretches to nineteen and a half feet.

I drove this car thirteen hundred miles and never used full throttle. It wasn’t required. Isn’t required. In 1976, Cadillac offered fuel-injection on the 500. We don’t have it here, but we still have 380 lb/ft of torque to go with our lazy 190 horsepower. The mighty Talisman weighs slightly less than a modern Escalade and, truth be told, is somewhat more pleasant to guide down a freeway lane. I saw an average of fourteen miles per gallon in my driving, about what one might expect from a ‘Slade. Where’s the progress?

I wish I could put every TTAC reader behind the wheel of this Fleetwood. In a flash, in a single kinesthetic moment, you would understand what you don’t now. You think a Town Car is a “boat”. Hello no. A modern Town Car has the reflexes of a Lotus Elise in comparison to a ’76 Cadillac. You think a Camry has a “floaty ride”. You’re wrong. The imports, the “compacts”, the Car and Driver editors, they were all fighting to bury THIS CAR. This is a car which can barely match posted cornering limits around offramps. There isn’t the slightest bit of enthusiast appeal to the Fleetwood. It loafs, it sags, it leans, it doesn’t want to turn. When the 1977 Cadillac Fleetwood appeared on its downsized chassis, it was an utter revolution compared to this car. Every “full-sized” car most of you have ever driven is, instead, a full-on reaction to the massive GM and Ford boats. Put this and a 2009 Grand Marquis on a racetrack, and the Marquis would lap it in under ten minutes. The difference between this Fleetwood and a 1977 Fleetwood is greater than the difference between a 1977 Fleetwood and a BMW M5. That’s not hyperbole. It’s fact.

Now let me show you the revolution which followed the 1977 revolution. Dr. Sanjay Mehta, the Talisman’s owner, also has a Cadillac limo… from 1984. (Edit: Mad Hungarian and Austin Greene pointed out that it is probably a 1985 or 1986 model. Mea culpa – JB) It’s far more spacious inside, both front and back. Carries seven people better than the Talisman carries five. Let’s take a look.

Only eight years separate these two cars. In eight years, Cadillac changed its world. The Fleetwood dropped from 5400 pounds to 3400. An aluminum V-8 half as large as the ’76 engine provided virtually identical motivation, in numbers if not feel. Amazingly, the cars became larger inside, more spacious, easier to operate, easier to park, just plain better in most respects. Like an Apatosaurus poked in the hindquarters, GM was slow to react to the legitimate criticism of its big car but powerful in the magnitude of its response. Seventy-six to eighty-four. From dinosaur to mammal in the same time it takes Honda to build two different kinds of substantially similar Civics. And the mammal is just so much better at nearly everything.

Everything, that is, that has nothing to do with the core values of Cadillac. The smaller car, even when it isn’t a “limo”, has odd, dwarfish proportions. The vastly more efficient passenger compartment looks like the proverbial ten pounds in the five-pound bag. The public had barely accepted the 1977 de Ville as a necessary reaction to desperate times. but the FWD ‘Lac was comical, not dignified. It looked like a joke, like a child’s drawing of a car. Cadillacs didn’t need to be excellent, but they needed to be prestigious, and this was anything but prestigious. Sales fell dramatically as GM scrambled behind the scenes to “upsize” the car again, to put a little hood and trunk on it, to stop it from looking like a clown car that still, by the way, cost much more than twice what a normal family sedan did. They never returned to the massive, impressive look of 1976. They couldn’t even make it back to 1977. The current DTS looks like what it is: a sad attempt to expand the “Antares” not-quite-Aurora-but-had-to-be-second-generation-Aurora-due-to-budget-cuts G-body into something vaguely Cadillac-esque. Next to a ’76, it looks like a sick joke at its own expense. The wood inside may have become real, but the car itself has become false, forgettable.

So. The Fleetwood goes, but it barely stops, it doesn’t turn. It rides well enough, but the Grand Caravan I drove last week is better-isolated from impacts, even if a modern CTS isn’t quite as good as either. It isn’t a “good car” in any sense of the word, and in the years after its introduction, these old mid-Seventies Caddies slumped, rusted, and disintegrated their way from the suburbs to the ghettos to the roadsides and junkyards, delivering perhaps the final coffin nails to the brand’s embalming.

Why, then, do I love it so much? Why do I love its styling, its sheer sweep of sheetmetal, its unapologetic stretch past the borders of parking spots, common decency, and personal accountability? Why would I buy one myself, in a heartbeat, if I had a place to put it? Think of the men who played music on the deck of the Titanic as it sank. They knew their world was ending, they knew they would not live through the night, but while one was alive, one would conduct one’s self with decorum and a touch of style. It’s too much to ask of this Talisman that it be a talisman. There’s nothing magical about it. Rather, there’s something majestic. A sad majesty, the band on the Titanic, the lion in winter, the great general in defeat, holding on to his sword for one last moment. Once upon a time, Americans built these cars. Not good cars. Not great cars. Only sad, and majestic, and, in the final analysis, wonderful.

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Review: 2011 Cadillac Escalade Platinum Hybrid Thu, 14 Jul 2011 16:00:19 +0000
A couple months back, Cadillac gave me a bright red, three-ton, rollin’-on-22s, chrome-drenched, hybrid-electric, $88,140 luxury truck to drive while in Michigan for the Campaign To Prevent Gingervitis 24 Hours of LeMons. Since that time, the effort of attempting to write a meaningful review for this ridiculous-yet-amazing machine has caused my brain to develop a severe rod knock. Who is supposed to buy this thing? I asked myself. What can you do with it?

My problem with SUVs, particularly super-luxurious SUVs, is that I believe trucks are supposed to be trucks, that is, you should be able to load a truck up with 900 pounds of swamp-water-soaked particle board and a burlap sack of hog innards and not cringe in the slightest at the thought of that nasty stuff contaminating your interior. A truck should have a bench seat in front, covered with cheap cloth or vinyl, and even air conditioning smacks of excess gingerbread. If you want luxury— and, of course, I do— then you should be driving a vast, strip-club-owner-grade sedan with its soft springs groaning under the weight of luxury options so arcane that you’ll be years figuring them all out.

Right. So, this is what we in the hack-writer business call a dilemma. Personally, I couldn’t think of any way that this beast would improve my life in any meaningful way, were I to decide to drop 90 grand on one. The only place I enjoyed driving it was around the paddock during the LeMons race, for reasons that will be made clear soon enough. Still, it’s extreme enough that it must be absolutely perfect for the correct users, but who are they? Rappers and the gangster elite would never in hell buy anything with big HYBRID badges all over the place, edge-city suburbanites will shy away in horror from the twice-as-much-as-the-Yukon price tag, and urban high-tech hipsters wouldn’t be caught dead in an SUV.

I finally figured out the perfect Escalade Platinum Hybrid buyers, but we’ll get my much-less-relevant driving impressions out of the way first. The Escalade Platinum Hybrid rides like a lumber truck, no doubt thanks to the blinged-out 22″ wheels and low-profile tires exacerbating the already bumpy ride of a big body-on-frame truck chassis.

Man, but those wheels do look beautiful. It goes without saying that you’re not going to be doing anything approaching serious off-roading in your Escalade Platinum Hybrid, and these wheels ensure that you’ll want to keep pavement beneath you at all times. I took the big Cad for a brief jaunt in the muddy grass of the Gingerman Raceway paddock and the slippy-slidy experience did not inspire confidence. You want to go off-road, get an FJ40 Land Cruiser or IHC Scout, right?

The six-liter Vortec V8 was very quiet; in fact, the noise level inside the cab was library-hushed just about all the time, including when parked next to the front straight at Gingerman with Cherry Bomb-equipped RX-7s blaring past. However, the electric motor made weird, distant whining and howling noises, both under acceleration and under regenerative braking. Several times, I found myself looking around for the emergency vehicles running their sirens.

The computer that runs the control center suffers from a slow CPU, kludgy code, or both. The response time for user input could be as much as several seconds. Using the navigation system made me feel like ramming a cinderblock through the screen. Come on, GM, the future moves fast!

The interior was pretty comfy, but some sort of strange bending of space-time was taking place that made several feet in each dimension disappear when you made the transition from massive exterior to not-so-massive interior. The inside of this truck feels cramped, giving the sense that it has about the same interior space as an early Camry. I suspect that this truck is so quiet inside because the side and roof panels are about a foot thick and filled with spray-in insulation.

But what about the fuel economy, you ask. Is it really possible to get decent mileage out of a 6,120-pound, 332-horsepower vehicle with the aerodynamics of a convenience store?

I drove 301.8 miles, mostly highway but also a fair amount of cruising around the Gingerman facilities as well as jaunts to the night life in bustling South Haven. I made no attempt to keep speeds down to gas-sipping levels, and I did a fair amount of pedal-to-floor acceleration. GM claims 20 city/23 highway mileage.

16.711 gallons, meaning I got just a hair over 18 miles per gallon. Considering that the much more slippery, lighter, and less powerful Mercury Grand Marquis doesn’t do a whole lot better in mixed city/highway driving, that’s very impressive.

So, in summary: If I had 90 grand to spend on a vehicle, this thing would be at or near the bottom of my shopping list (a much more sensible Lamborghini Espada would be at or near the top). I didn’t like much of anything about the Escalade Platinum Hybrid… but then who cares what an SUV-hating curmudgeon like me thinks? Let’s take a look at this truck from the point of view of its optimal purchaser, shall we?

Yes, now I’m working for Popular Warlord Magazine! From the point of view of your suitcases-of-Benjamins-brandishing Third World and/or Former Soviet Republic warlord, the 2011 Escalade Platinum Hybrid is the greatest motor vehicle in history!
Background image source for magazine cover: English Russia

Whether you’re a militia leader in the Horn of Africa, a pharmaceutical entrepreneur in the Bolivian rainforest, or a deal-maker in the Caspian oil fields, you know that the days when a self-respecting warlord could climb behind the wheel of a grimy Toyota Hilux are long past. Today’s more urbane warlord needs presence; yes, your Kalashnikov-brandishing entourage can still follow behind you in their Toyotas, but you need to roll into town in a vehicle that shows you’ve arrived.

We’ll start with the interior, since that’s where you’ll be spending most of your time as your driver takes you to meetings, nightclubs, and so on. Some have said that the Escalade Platinum is a bit cramped inside, but we at Popular Warlord Magazine disagree; once you come to terms with the fact that today’s warlord needs only two or three personal bodyguards traveling with him in the vehicle— yes, the wild days when the warlord himself had to carry an assault rifle on his person are behind us— and that those bodyguards will be armed with pistols instead of RPGs and tripod-mounted machine guns, you can see that this truck has room for you, your muscle, and your 19-year-old Ukrainian-supermodel mistress.

It really won’t do your sophisticated image any good if you have to haul a load of jerry-cans in your travels— your Armani suits shouldn’t be exposed to gasoline— and so the hybrid powertrain of this truck will give you the extended range you need to go from say, Addis Ababa to your secret landing strip in the desert without refueling.

You’ll want the little people to know the caliber of warlord they’re dealing with from the very first glance at your vehicle, and the massive Cadillac emblems will let them know that you’re not to be trifled with.

The four-wheel-drive system and vast torque reserves mean that the Escalade Platinum Hybrid should do just fine on the rough dirt roads in your area of influence; you’ll need to get in the Land Rover or the Hilux in order to leave the road, but for everyday post-Soviet potholes the Escalade performs admirably.

In summary, the staff of Popular Warlord gives the 2011 Cadillac Escalade Platinum Hybrid our highest Warlord Rides rating. For the cost of a couple of fat envelopes of cash, you can equip your compound with several of these fine luxury trucks.

OK, so the warlord (or strongman, if you prefer that term) is the Escalade Platinum Hybrid’s ideal buyer, but there’s another person who can get some good value from this truck: the 24 Hours of LeMons Supreme Court Justice! Yes, in addition to writing for Popular Warlord, I’m also moonlighting at…

LeMons Judge Magazine! Yes, the publication for the discerning corrupt race official. Let’s see how this big red truck fares at LJM, shall we?

Judge Sam and myself rolled into the Campaign To Prevent Gingervitis determined to make a proper judgely impression on the rabble, and the Escalade certainly accomplished that. Why, three different racers told us words to the effect of “I could have bought one of these— I have enough cash in hand, you betcha— but I decided that the Tahoe/Yukon was just a better truck.” Yes, they’re a bunch of pathetic slobs, just trying to impress the LeMons Supreme Court with their alleged fat bankrolls… but still, their naked envy at the sight of this $90K machine was gratifying.

Judge Sam, as my cousin (yes, the LeMons Supreme Court firmly supports nepotism in all its forms) and the son of the legendary Dirty Duck, had an instant appreciation for the inherent pimp-grade superiority of this machine, and I had to agree with him.

We think this truck looks much better with the proper emblem on the grille.

So, this truck scores huge in the “impress the worm-like racers” category, but we ran into a serious flaw right away: the Bose 5.1 surround-sound audio system lacks sufficient boom. Rich Boy’s “Throw Some D’s On It” hardly rattled windows a mere 50 feet away, and Dorrough’s “Ice Cream Paint Job?” Forget it. Even the Fiat 500′s stereo cranked out more decibels. Come on, Cadillac, the LeMons Supreme Court needs bass!

You see, a true Judgemobile does more than just cruise around the paddock cranking inspirational tunes. A proper Judgemobile must project its music at sufficient volume for such audio-centric penalties as the Macho Man and the Joe Arpaio Chain Gang. The Escalade Platinum Hybrid’s sound system was just adequate for the Macho Man, as seen here.

However, one aspect of Judgemobile duty at which this truck excelled was the level of comfort provided by the climate-control system. We expect any GM vehicle to produce frigid and/or scalding air on command, and the Escalade Platinum Hybrid delivered and then some, even when temperatures dropped into the 20s and stinging snow howled through the paddock, borne on 60 MPH winds. Those poor freezing miscreants doing the Macho Man made the LeMons Supreme Court feel that much more comfortable inside the truck.

I would have preferred a slightly more La-Z-Boy-ish driver’s seat, but the comfort level was very good for two judges bloated from free bribe booze and Midwestern meat products.

For the West Virginia Homestead penalty, in which miscreants must put their car up on jackstands, remove the wheels, and eat salty snacks while sitting on lawn furniture, the Escalade provided both a pleasant contrast to the racers’ hoopty-ass wheels and a comfortable place for the LeMons Supreme Court to get out of the cold.

Can you see the envy in this Tahoe driver’s eyes?

Speaking of envy, check out this haul of bribes for the LeMons Supreme Court! We’re forced to admit that the storage capacity in the cargo area was somewhat limited, given the size of the truck. This was due to the not-very-useful folding third-row seats. We recommend that the LeMons Judge Edition™ of the Escalade go with a third-row-delete feature, to make more room for cases of beer.

Of course, the second row of seats serve as bribe-booze storage when you’ve got only two judges in the Judgemobile, so this truck should be able to fit the gifts of even the most generous racers.

The automatic fold-out running boards were handy for climbing up into the truck, but judge robes had a tendency to get caught on them.

What’s the verdict on this Judgemobile from the reviewers here at LeMons Judge Magazine? We’re going to give the Escalade Platinum Hybrid a respectable three-gavel rating; not quite up there with the five-gavel Doorless Wheel-Shedding Amazon and Monster Smokescreen Caprice Wagon, but definitely a proper Judgemobile all the same.

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Review: Cadillac CTS-V Coupe, Take Two Mon, 09 May 2011 21:18:29 +0000

If Lord Acton were alive today, I’m sure he’d say: “Power tends to corrupt, absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great cars are almost always bad cars.” I believe it this philosophy that Cadillac hopes will rejuvenate Cadillac, a brand that only recently started taking performance seriously but is already achieving some surprising results. Already our own Michael Karesh has got his kicks with the CTS-V wagon, Niedermeyer has drooled over the sedan and Jack Baruth has killed the track at Monticello in both this coupe and the sedan… it might be safe to say Caddy has a winner on their hands. Still, why not snag the 556 HP V Coupe for a week to see how it handles some California road testing? What’s the worst that could happen?

In 1999 General Motors set the tone for Cadillac’s renaissance with the Evoq show car. Somehow finally realizing that there was frankly no way a Catera, Seville or Deville could ever compete with BMW or Mercedes on any level what-so-ever, the CTS-V, STS-V and XLR-V erupted out of some hitherto unknown Detroit volcano. The first trio of unique Cadillac products were angular and brash at a time where oval was the shape du jour. Sadly the STS-V never achieved the sales success Cadillac dreamt and while I loved the Corvette-based XLR, it had a tiny flaw: a six-figure price tag and the heart of an anemic squirrel (compared to its C6 Corvette cousin). Consequently, the XLR sold like ice to an Eskimo. Packing a (comparatively) demure 443HP Cadillac Northstar V8 into the Corvette chassis, the XLR-V started in the nosebleed section at $101,300 (2008 model year.) For the CTS-V, Cadillac perhaps rightly corrected the performance formula by jamming a thoroughly corrupt 556hp Corvette-derived engine into bespoke Cadillac coupé chassis starting at a lowly $63,465. This is not your father’s Cadillac nor is it available in Mary Kay pink.

Some observers may find Cadillac’s all-angular look distasteful, but I rather love it, especially in this, the ultimate expression of the edgy “Art & Science” ethos, with its ginormous triangular rump finished off with coffee-can sized twin center pipes. Bling-baby-bling. I think a Cadillac should be bold, and since this is the re-invention of the brand (and frankly Cadillac is unlikely to ever again play in the ultra-luxury playground with Rolls and Bentley) styling should set the American wares apart from the masses. Cadillac’s designers are apparently of my same mindset and styled the CTS coupe into something beyond bold: brash. And guess what? It works. I wouldn’t even mind if the CTS got even crazier in the next refresh. Whatever you think of the CTS-V coupe, it doesn’t look like anything else, and that’s a good thing. In every cloud there’s some moisture waiting to rain on your parade however: while the design is avant-garde, the fit and finish is merely pedestrian. Can’t have everything I’m told.

As Michael pointed out in his review of the CTS wagon, the interior of the V is nice, but it’s not as upscale as some of the competition, and since our Coupé tester rang in at over 70-large (twice the price of the base CTS sedan) it’s a bit of a stretch. This is not a problem unique to Caddy however. Any manufacturer that pimps out a base model to this extent suffers from main-stream interiors tied to a premium price tag. For V-duty, Cadillac kept the base CTS’ stitched dash and doors, but continued to eschew the cowhide in favor of pleather on the aforementioned panels which is a shame when most brands dish-up more moo in their performance models.

The slightly more comfortable $3,400 Recaro seats with Alcantara inserts, $300 Alcantara wrapped steering wheel and shifter and $600 dark stained wood accents our tester came with are all optional on the V, so base buyers will find an interior largely the same as the base CTS coupe except for the shiny black center console unique to all V models. Sadly the glossy trim scratches easily and doesn’t, in my opinion, really look quite as good as the silver in the plebian model. Speaking of Alcantara, use of the faux-suede on the wheel looks and feels fantastic but in terms of durability I have my doubts. Alcantara pills as it wears on some surfaces which is a shame because the fuzzy steering wheel almost took my mind off the fact that the Nissan Quest minivan I had the week before had better sport grips. All Vs come standard with the $1,300 gas guzzler tax, a dubious piece of standard equipment to be sure.


As Michael pointed out in his CTS-V wagon review, other flavors of CTS suffer from slightly cheap door handles, but fortunately the V coupe like all other coupe models receive some dainty round door “buttons”  instead. The electrically operated door latches are an interesting touch despite not being really any more convenient than traditional releases. On the downside since the mechanism is operated by electricity a manual bypass must still be installed and GM located this emergency handle in a fairly visible spot in the footwell. Taken as a whole it’s more of a novelty than a true feature as the exterior handles aren’t executed nearly as well as the interior.

As often happens during the “coupification” of a sedan, the CTS loses some space vs its sedan counterpart. In the CTS, however, since the wheelbase is unchanged from the sedan and the dash doesn’t move rearward, rear legroom is still quite good for even a six-foot rear passenger with a six-foot driver. Headroom is a different matter. While six-foot-five front occupants will find [barely] enough room, rear headroom is extremely limited making the rear seats suitable for a humpty-dumpty with really long legs. Still, rear seat accommodations are rarely a huge selling feature of performance coupes (I’m looking at you Jaguar XK) so this is honestly going to be more of a deal breaker for base CTS coupe buyers than CTS-V shoppers. I would be remiss in noting that while the M3 loses a bit of headroom in coupe form, it’s a far more livable backseat, if you’re into that sort of thing. The other practicality toll suffered by the CTS-V’s acute angular lines is rearward visibility. It’s a good thing a backup camera is standard since the rear window is absolutely no help when backing up.

Readers know that I’m a gadget guy at heart. This is the one area where the CTS in all forms continue to disappoint. The problem is not with audio performance which is excellent on the standard Bose 5.1 surround system with navigation, XM radio and iPod integration, it’s the interface that’s behind the times. The Cadillac infotainment system combines a pop-up touch screen, a myriad of fairly small and nearly identically shaped buttons and aging software to make a system that is illogical at best. I have driven over 50 different cars of all descriptions in the last year and only two have required me to pull out the user’s guide to divine the operation of the Bluetooth speakerphone, the CTS is one and the GMC Sierra is the other. The odd way the system’s menus function requiring the use of both on-screen touch commands and physical buttons to navigate boggled my techy mind. This system is a testament to the fact that Cadillac doesn’t build cars for my grandmother anymore, she’d never figure out how to use it. If you’re six-feet tall or have long legs, you’ll find the system even more vexing as the all-important “back” button is located a long reach away. This cloud does however have one silver lining: the iPod integration. GM’s system downloads playlist and track info from your device rather than streaming it on-the-fly making scrolling playlists, songs and artists a snappy and enjoyable process. If GM could borrow the software from the new Regal ASAP they might be onto something.

556HP. That’s probably all that needs to be said about the GM LSA engine Cadillac shoehorned under the hood of the angular coupe. The 6.2L supercharged behemoth has the unusual distinction of being the only pushrod engine in the performance luxury play-space. Based on the 6.2L Corvette LS9 engine, the LSA (shared with the recently announced Camaro ZL1) uses a slightly smaller supercharger, slightly lower compression ratio (9:1), cast pistons and a single-unit heat exchanger. These changes cause the output to drop from the 638HP and 604lb-ft of the LS9 to 556HP and 551lb-ft. This engine isn’t as refined as the BMW M3’s 4.0L V8. It’s not as pleasing to the ear as Jaguar’s 5.0L supercharged V8. Instead it has a flavor all of its own; it’s a push-rod all-American ball of whoop-ass fitted to a car that without it couldn’t dance with the competition. It makes the CTS-V the Tanya Harding of the luxury performance coupe dance team: not afraid to smack an M3 in the knees when they least expect it.

It’s therefore easy to see why the XLR-V died, 110K for admittedly smooth VVT DOHC power just doesn’t make sense when you can get 556HP from the CTS-V coupe. (Why Cadillac didn’t drop an unadulterated LS9 into the XLR-V is a question that may never get answered.) The immediacy of the LSA is quite simply breathtaking and the power; nothing short of savage. While the M3 screams its way to its stratospheric 8400RPM redline, the CTS-V lets loose only a subtle bellow from 4,000 to its 6200RPM rev-limiter. I had almost hoped the CTS-V would sound as big and bad as it looks but perhaps this is a case of “speak softly and carry a big engine?”  The only downside we noted over 845 miles was an average fuel economy of 14.3MPG proving once again that fun isn’t free.

Michael’s CTS-V Wagon was saddled with winter tires which limited grip, our coupe tester in sunny California however came equipped with wide, grippy Michelin 285-width summer tires out back. Of course with this much power (at essentially any engine speed) grip is still an issue but the rubber put up a valiant fight against wheel spin as we recorded a 4.2 second 0-60 run (no rollout) time after time (while giggling like a schoolboy.) I am certain that with the right rubber and most importantly the right driver, the CTS-V would be capable of a 0-60 run in the mid 3s. The character of the CTS-V is surprising for anyone who has driven a tuned high-power rear-wheel-drive American vehicle: this one is easy to drive.

It’s not just easy to drive in a performance setting; it’s a car you can actually drive daily on imperfect roads without needing an osteopath on retainer. The innovative Brembo two-piece hybrid rotors (combining an aluminum hub pressed onto a steel friction surface rather than bolted) ensure neck-breakingly quick stops time after time with minimal fade, zero drama and supposedly a lower replacement cost when they finally wear. The electronic nanny reigns in the fun at more-or-less the right moments allowing just a touch of tail happy before it spanks the rear brakes to get you back in line. I never thought I would have seen the day there would be a Cadillac you could “easily” steer with your right foot alone.

As our Facebook crowd pointed out during our week testing the CTS-V: by the numbers, this is one heavy porker tipping the scales at 4,209lbs. In reality however the CTS-V only feels heavy under normal driving conditions, which is a good thing in my book. The Cadillac magnetic ride control does an admirable job of soaking up road imperfections while still allowing corner carving that is almost up to M3 standards. One way auto journalists can tell about a newly arrived car’s road abilities is to look at the tires. Bald fronts: crazy torque steer. Bald rears: Chrysler SRT. The CTS-V arrived with fairly worn tires all the way around. Yes the CTS-V burns out with the best of ‘em, but the fun is really to be had throwing the V into corners. Yes, a Cadillac being thrown into a corner.

In my book, the CTS-V competes most directly with the BMW M3 and the Mercedes C63 AMG until the M6 comes back next year. Of course the CTS-V Coupe is a different matter, the C63 has two problems: rear doors. This lack of direct competition (save that M3) means a shopper with an open mind may cross shop the V coupe with a base 911, or the V’s engine donor; the Corvette. How does it stack up? Glad you asked. The CTS-V lacks the M3’s fantastic dual clutch transmission, racing pedigree and let’s face it; snob value. The CTS-V’s GM automatic transmission is a wearisome companion but the 6-speed manual is easy to live with even in heavy traffic. Is the CTS-V better than an M3? That depends on how you define “better.” The V is certainly more distinctive in many ways more fun.

Also from Germany is the Porsche 911. As Jeremy Clarkson always reminds us, the 911’s heart is in the right place but the engine is located at the wrong end. With a starting price of $77,800 it’s also decently more expensive, a fair amount slower (4.7 seconds to 60) but does enjoy significant bragging rights at the country club. Oddly enough the best matchup comes in the form of the Corvette Z06. Sure the Vette has a universally recognizable shape which counts for something, but for $77-grand the interior is dreadful, the handling is not nearly as refined, there are no back seats and higher insurance premiums come standard with the bow-tie.

At the end of the day the Cadillac CTS-V Coupe is exactly what I expected of it: It’s a deeply conflicted car with one hell of an engine. What I had not expected however, is how truly corrupting it is. Perhaps it’s true that a great car is almost always a bad car. While not what we expect from Cadillac, not quite luxury, far from fuel efficient, far from refined, far from universally gorgeous, possessing a brand name that hasn’t been lusted after in decades, it has never the less found a strangely angular place in my heart. If you are looking for the go with some style under 70K, it’s a great buy. And that’s the thing that’s surprising: Cadillac didn’t manage to build a world class luxury car again, what they did build is one hell of a performance buy. Cadillac? Go figure.

Cadillac provided the test vehicle, insurance and a tank of gas.

Not a fan of our Facebook page? Too bad about that. For our Facebook peeps, here are your answers: Daanesh C: I think I’d rather have the wagon, but I’m a sucker for man-wagons. Kevin M: No, the seats are not more comfortable than the base CTS coupe, but the Recaro optional thrones are marginally better. Yes, it is actually fairly easy to put the power down as long as the road is dry and smooth. Compared to the XK-R? Just as much fun but far less comfortable and the crowd that gives the car a once-over is totally different. Make of that what you will. Darren W: I did feel fairly cool when smoking a Camaro SS. Richard L: Worst MPG: 9.2 for the first 120 miles. Patrick C: smokier than a 60 year old hooker. Eric R: spotter, curb feelers, a flag team and a jelly doughnut. Stephen S: I almost can’t believe I am saying this, but yes, it is completely possible to have this 556HP beast as a daily driver. Greg O: No question, CTS-V > Corvette.

Performance statistics as tested:

0-30: 2.0 seconds

0-60: 4.2 seconds

Average economy: 14.3MPG (observed:18.5MPG Highway)

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Review: 2011 Cadillac CTS-V Sportwagon Black Diamond Edition Wed, 13 Apr 2011 19:31:12 +0000

I firmly believe that it’s more fun to drive a (relatively) slow compact hatch fast than to drive a big, fast car well below its potential. I remain hopeful that someone will offer a car with five doors and rear-wheel-drive that weighs under 3,000 pounds. (I’d say under 2,700 pounds, but that’s clearly a pipe dream.) Then Cadillac put a CTS-V in my driveway for a week. A wagon with a manual transmission, no less. That Cadillac even offers such a combination warrants respect. The lure of the dark side has never been stronger.

The stealth fighter-inspired design of the second-generation CTS remains polarizing, if less so than the original. Love it or hate it, the car looks appropriate for its role. This particular CTS-V wagon makes no attempt to conceal its evil intent. A “Black Diamond Edition,” it is covered in sparkly black paint and shod with “satin graphite” wheels. The all-black appearance (save the huge yellow brake calipers) makes the car look like a development mule, but I don’t doubt its appeal for some people. Given the intended look, though, why not go all the way with a matte black finish for the body as well as the wheels? Some people (certainly not including myself) don’t care for the wagon’s lines, but no one will deny that they’re distinctive and clearly communicate a sporting intent.

When the 2008 CTS was introduced, its interior was the best GM had yet offered. The “cut and sewn” upholstered leatherette on the instrument panel and upper door panels seemed especially upscale. But GM and the rest of the industry have continued to advance, and given the V’s $60,000+ price tag the cabin isn’t quite up to snuff. In the V the satin-finished trim of the regular CTS has been replaced by piano black, and the latter doesn’t work as well with the other pieces. Having shiny black plastic, black-stained wood, and matte black plastic run side-by-side the full height of the center stack is simply too much. One of the two trim elements needs to be either toned down or eliminated. I didn’t care for the flimsy, overly plasticky feel of the door pulls even back in 2007 (and pointed this out to the designer at NAIAS). Notably, the more recently designed coupe has better door pulls. Finally, the dash-to-door fits are uneven and, as in the sedan, the sections of the rear seat fit together poorly.

Under Harley Earl and then Bill Mitchell, GM continually strove to make its sedans lower and lower. They would not approve of the CTS. To provide good sight lines over the high cowl, the seating position is a few inches higher than the traditional norm. While I had the V I drove a couple of Panameras, and the contrast with the much lower, much wider Porsches is striking. In its defense, Cadillac is under no mandate to make a sedan or (in this case) a wagon feel as much like a sports car as possible. Instead, from its relatively high perch the CTS feels commanding and powerful.

The Recaro seats optional in other Vs are standard in the Black Edition. (A salesman informed me that he’s rarely seen a V without them anyway.) Unlike those in most other GM cars, these seats retain four-way lumbar adjustments. Unfortunately, these adjustments are of little value as the lumbar bulge is overly narrow and sticks into the lower back rather than supporting it. To avoid this unpleasant sensation I adjusted the lumbar to do as little as possible. Despite this shortcoming, I’d advise the Recaros for the lateral support they provide. Both the thigh and side bolsters can be adjusted to provide a tight fit. A “sueded” covering on the steering wheel and shifter is a $300 option. I enjoyed the feel of the shifter, but never quite got used to the fuzzy steering wheel.

Oddly, the high seating position up front doesn’t translate to a comfortably positioned rear seat. The cushion feels small and, like most, it’s too low. Though the BMW 3-Series, Audi A4, and so forth do no better, the CTS is nearly as large as a 5-Series. The wagon’s cargo area similarly isn’t expansive, but a power tailgate provides easy access. A floor that can be employed as a cargo organizer effectively restrains groceries during aggressive maneuvers. Interior storage is grossly inadequate. My superzoom camera (styled like a dSLR, but not as large) fit in neither the glove compartment nor the center console, both of which are overly compartmentalized. Consequently it spent much of the week sliding about the passenger footwell.

Any shortcomings fall from mind once the supercharged 6.2-liter V8 is awakened with a pushbutton. With 556 horsepower at 6,100 RPM and 551 foot-pounds of torque at 3,800 RPM, it’s more than a match for the CTS-V wagon’s considerable 4,398 pounds. Acceleration is traction limited at low speeds, especially when the car is fitted with winter tires (as this one was). Luckily, it’s not hard to modulate the throttle and achieve reasonably drama-free launches. The first-generation CTS-V suffered from severe wheel hop. To solve that problem GM fitted half-shafts of differing mass to the new car. These oscillate at different frequencies when subjected to the full wrath of the V8.

At any speed the V8 responds strongly and immediately in a way that only a large engine can. And yet it doesn’t feel as astoundingly quick as the power figures suggest it should. As one passenger remarked, “it feels like only about 450 horsepower.” The car’s curb weight is one reason. Declining returns are another. The engine produces more power than the tires can transfer at lower speeds. To fully exploit the V’s extra power you’d have to drive well beyond the legal limit.

But the unexpected refinement of the engine is the primary culprit. The supercharger provides boost so smoothly that the engine doesn’t even feel boosted. In naturally-aspirated form in the Camaro GM’s 6.2-liter V8 can sound like it’s on the verge of self-destruction. These raw tones have been successfully suppressed in the CTS-V, leaving only a mild burble at low RPM, some pleasant mechanical noises in the mid-range, and a restrained roar at the high end. Cruising down the highway the exhaust is barely audible; what you do hear fits the character of the car and doesn’t begin to irritate. Some people will wish for a more expressive engine, but I fear that the result would be something like that in the Camaro. If the engine can’t scream sweetly, better that it cannot scream at all.

Under full throttle there’s a strong rush to the redline, but no surge or sense of a peak. Instead, if you’re not paying close attention it’s very easy to bang the limiter—which intervenes just 100 RPM past the horsepower peak. It’s not easy to pay attention, as it’s not possible to simultaneously watch both the modestly-sized tach and the road. The CTS-V badly needs a head-up display (HUD) like that offered in the Corvette and even some pedestrian GM vehicles like the GMC Acadia and Buick LaCrosse. Barring that, a RX-8-like beep when 500 RPM short of the redline would also work. As is, the LEDs that trace the tach needle’s movement start flashing at 5,200 RPM, but if you’re not already watching the tach you won’t notice this.

That the power peaks so close to the redline suggests that the engine could be much more powerful if only it could rev higher. In the Corvette ZR1, titanium intake valves and connecting rods do permit a 400 RPM bump. Add another pound-and-a-half of boost to the V’s nine, and the result is 638 horsepower. And even then the power peak remains 100 RPM short of the redline. Putting out under 100 horsepower per liter, the V’s engine simply isn’t working hard. Unlike more high-strung engines, it should last forever with proper care.

The shifter is not an issue. A vast improvement over that in the first-generation CTS-V, it has a satisfying level of notchiness and snicks with a moderate amount of effort and good precision from gear to gear. Given the limited traction at low speeds and low redline, it’s no surprise that the Tremec’s six gears are tall. First runs to 48, second to 72, third to 99. They’re also tightly spaced, with a ratio spread of only 4.2 between first and sixth (vs. 5.3 for the Aisin in the regular CTS and 8.0 for the seven-speed S-Tronic in the Audi S4). The big V8 is spinning a bit over 2,000 RPM at 70. At this speed, downshifting is rarely necessary.

The clutch doesn’t feel heavy unless you’re sitting at a light, where you can select neutral and relax. This said, after spending a few days in the V I nearly put my left foot through the floorboard in my Mazda Protege5. My heel-and-toeing skills aren’t what they should be. No matter-with the accelerator positioned much lower than the brake pedal it’s not a possibility in the V anyway. Those huge yellow calipers aren’t just for show—the CTS-V stops as well as it goes, and with a satisfyingly firm pedal feel.

Fuel economy? Well, even more than in other cars this depends on how you drive. During an especially hard stretch of driving the trip computer reported just a bit over seven miles-per-gallon, and quite often under ten. On the other hand, when hypermiling the V over a few suburban miles where my red light karma was good, I observed 22 (vs. 26 in a Lexus IS-F). I noted the same 22 during steady highway driving. When driving the V like a normal car around town I observed between 12 and 16 depending on the frequency of complete stops, supporting the EPA city rating of 14.

My observations on ride and handling must be qualified, for the tested car was wearing Pirelli winter tires that are likely squishier than the stock Michelin PS2s. This said, the steering, while still numb compared to that in a Panamera, has a more direct feel than that in the regular CTS. Feedback from the contact patches tickles attentive fingertips. Hit the stability control button on the steering wheel to active “Stabilitrak Competition Mode,” and the steering firms up while the electronic nannies are relaxed. But the resulting wooden feel makes the car feel heavier and less agile without doing much to enhance feedback.

It’s not necessary to rely on your fingertips for much anyway. The V prefers to be driven like a blunt instrument, but paradoxically a blunt instrument that can be driven with precision. You can throw it hard into a curve with total confidence of where it’s going to go. Guide it precisely through a curve with your fingertips? Save that for a different sort of car. As in other rear-wheel-drive GM cars, the seat of your pants will tell you pretty much all you need to know. The chassis feels so natural, and power oversteer builds so progressively, that the V can be driven from your gut. The center of rotation feels like its right under the driver’s seat.

Dive into a turn entirely off the gas, and the V understeers (though quite possibly less on its stock tires). A little gas easily evens out the chassis, and the desired degree of oversteer can be summoned up at will. The stability control seamlessly manages oversteer if you go too far. (Engage the “Competition Mode” or entirely turn the nannies off and it becomes clear how well the system works.) It manages understeer more obtrusively.

The magnetic ride control shocks, a GM innovation now also employed by Audi and Ferrari, very quickly adapt to road conditions. Since the shocks quickly move through their full range in either “Tour” or “Sport,” the difference between these two modes isn’t night and day. In “Sport” body motions and roll are a little more restrained, and the ride is a little more abrupt. In either mode the V doesn’t feel nearly as hardcore as its appearance and power figures suggest. Even in “Sport” mode there’s a modest amount of roll in turns. On the other hand, the car’s ride quality is actually better than my father’s regular CTS with the mid-level suspension, and much better than that in some other cars in the class (the Infiniti G37 especially comes to mind). The car is shockingly livable even on the awful roads around Detroit.

Can a $69,490 car be a bargain? A similarly-equipped BMW M3 lists for about $2,500 less. Adjusting for feature differences with TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool narrows the gap to under $1,000. This decision isn’t going to come down to price. Rather, power vs. precision. Around town the Cadillac has stronger, more immediate responses and so is generally more fun to drive, but the BMW has a more precise feel. To get similar power in a BMW, you must step up to the even heavier upcoming M5, which will likely cost about $100,000. If you’re looking for a wagon—well, no one else currently offers an ultra-high-performance wagon in the U.S. unless you count the Panamera. And if you have to ask the price of the Porsche…

All of these details don’t fully capture the essense of driving the V. It’s quite simply intoxicating, the immediacy and strength with which the engine reacts, the predictable competence and willingness of the chassis, all without any significant downsides save a thirst for premium unleaded and the endangerment of one’s license. On top of this, the entire experience has a seamless cohesiveness that’s rarely found in non-European cars. It’s certainly possible to drive the V casually. When not pushed the V drives just like a normal car, with no untoward noises, jitters, or heat. It’s almost too easy. Your grandmother could drive one and never have a clue about the machine’s potential. But once you’ve sampled this potential, the V’s allure can be hard to resist. All those extra pounds? Forgotten. The only thing that saved me: they insisted on having the car back at the end of the week.

Cadillac provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data.

CTS-V engine CTS left IP fit CTS-V center console storage CTS-V rear quarter low CTS-V rear CTS-V w Taurus X CTS-V front CTS-V rear quarter dirty CTS-V instruments CTS-V glove compartment Front seats CTS-V engine wo cover How much more black could this be? CTS-V loaded CTS right IP fit CTS-V fueling CTS-V rear quarter shiny CTS-V side shiny CTS-V brakes Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail CTSV rear quarter ]]> 127
Review: 2011 Cadillac Escalade Fri, 04 Mar 2011 07:19:35 +0000

A large luxury SUV can’t be expected to make rational sense. As readers pointed out when commenting on Wednesday’s Lincoln Navigator review, anyone who needs the combination of interior space and towing capability the Navigator  and its arch-rival, the Cadillac Escalade, have on offer, could obtain the same functionality in a Ford Expedition or Chevrolet Tahoe / Suburban for a lot less money. For the Lincoln and Cadillac to be worth their loftier prices, they’d better deliver something above and beyond mere functionality. The Lincoln fell short in this regard, coming across as little more than a bechromed Ford. Might the Cadillac Escalade fare better?

Like the Navigator, the current Escalade is now in its fifth model year. So it’s not fresh. But the Cadillac’s more chiseled lines have aged better and it gets by with a more restrained application of chrome trim.

The grille is huge, but artfully shaped. It is not out of proportion given the size of the vehicle and faithfully advertises the power lurking within. The 22-inch-alloys (with center caps awaiting PDI) are out of proportion to the size of the vehicle, at least the regular wheelbase variant I tested. The double dubs better suit the extended wheelbase Escalade ESV. From the rear there’s little to distinguish the Escalade from the closely related Chevrolet and GMC SUVs. It could be worse: Cadillac’s designers could have drawn inspiration from the Family Truckster the way the designers of the first-generation Navigator did.

This generation of Escalade received a bespoke instrument panel. The styling is sufficiently premium and the switchgear, if not quite up to the $75,000 MSRP, comes closer than that in the Navigator. The Cadillac isn’t embarrassingly pedestrian inside.

The front seats could be better. Though blessed with power four-way lumbar adjustments, their convex contour provides no lateral support. They also feel a little undersized and unworthy of the vehicle they occupy. The Lincoln’s thrones are much larger and cushier. Visibility also isn’t quite as good in the Cadillac, as the base of the windshield is higher. But we are talking about the difference between very good and outstanding. As in the Lincoln there’s nowhere for the driver to properly rest a left foot. The only solution: rest it flat on the floor. While this might seem natural at the dinner table, it takes some getting used when driving a vehicle. The shifter is on the column rather than on the console, which makes operating the “tap up, tap down” rocker somewhat awkward. Since the rocker will be of most use in mountain driving, and even there only occasionally, this isn’t a deal breaker.

The second row is, like the first, undersized compared to that in the Lincoln. The third row, well, it’s simply ridiculous. The Escalade continues to employ a live rear axle, and this forces a high rear floor. So the third-row seat cushion is pretty much right on the floor. Adults sitting back might have enough headroom (if they’re under six feet), but they’ll find their knees above their elbows. The Navigator has a huge advantage here. Stepping up to the ESV only partially addresses the shortfall.

Cargo room is similarly impacted. There’s little of it behind the third-row seat. Adding injury to insult, the third row doesn’t fold to form a flat floor and must be removed to provide a competitive amount of cargo room. The Navigator is a much more functional vehicle. So are GM’s large “Lambda” crossovers, for that matter. (Rumor has it that the next Escalade will be Lambda-based.)

But, remember, this class of vehicle isn’t about functionality. Dip into the throttle, and the Escalade starts to make sense. The 6.2-liter V8 kicks out 403 horsepower at 5,700 rpm and 417 pound-feet of torque at 4,300 rpm. And these numbers aren’t the half of it. Even with so much power the Escalade isn’t a rocket ship—there’s too much mass for that. Where it really redeems itself is in how it sounds and feels. Even if acceleration isn’t shockingly quick, it is effortless. Unlike the Lincoln’s V8 this one never seems like its straining. It never had to jump down two or three ratios and then issue forth an unseemly roar. Not that the Escalade’s V8 is quiet; far from it. The big small block roars at full throttle, and audibly burbles much of the rest of the time. Some people might find this noise tiresome, but they won’t be interested in an Escalade anyway. The V8’s burble recalls fine watercraft more than anything on wheels, and in the process makes driving the Escalade a distinctive, and distinctively American, experience. For something to be a guilty pleasure it must be pleasurable, and prodding this powerplant is pleasurable.

On center the Escalade’s steering feels far too light and a touch loose. But helm the ute into a curve and effort builds naturally. Feedback through the seat of the pants is reassuring; the big SUV willingly goes where it’s pointed. Though certainly not predisposed to hoonery, give the Escalade your spurs and it responds “sure, why not?” In this mode a more conveniently located transmission control would be welcome. Compared to the Lincoln, the Cadillac flows with the road rather than fighting it. Even with its lower profile 285/45R22 tires the Escalade rides much more smoothly than its closest competitor. There’s no sense of the body shimmying atop its mounts. The standard “magnetic ride control” shocks that alter their firmness up to 1,000 times a second no doubt deserve some of the credit. But trick shocks can only do so much. GM seems to have put far more effort than Ford into suspension and body tuning. Despite its live rear axle and overboosted steering, the Escalade both rides and handles much better than the Navigator.

Cadillac, apparently aware of its vehicle’s more premium feel, charges heftily for it. Though the two vehicles I drove were comparably equipped, with an MSRP of $75,000 the Escalade listed for $12,000 more than the Navigator. Add another $3,200 for the extended wheelbase ESV (recommended). Running the pair through TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool finds that features account for only a few hundred dollars of this price difference. After this adjustment the Lincoln’s price advantage remains over $11,000. Oddly enough, the Chevrolet Tahoe LTZ (with a 5.3-liter V8 and 20s) also checks in about $11,000 below the Cadillac.

I’m not about to attempt a rational defense of the Cadillac Escalade. Cadillac has never marketed itself as a sensible purchase. Instead, it has always been an aspirational purchase, and an experience. With its size, its brash yet tastefully handsome styling, and its stonkin V8, the Escalade delivers what buyers in this segment are looking for. Driving it is a much different experience than driving a sports car or a high-end sedan, but it’s a rewarding experience nonetheless. Though not a place I’d care to live, I thoroughly enjoyed the visit.

Eric Breda at Cadillac of Novi provided the test vehicle. Eric can be reached at 248-476-4466.

Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta, an online source of car pricing and reliability data.

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Review: 2011 Cadillac CTS-V Coupe (Video, More Photos To Come) Wed, 11 Aug 2010 00:50:17 +0000

As I crest Monticello Motor Club’s Turn 17, I am speaking directly to you, the TTAC reader, through the magic of a complete video, data, and audio recording system installed in my six-speed manual CTS-V Coupe.

“I have an idea,” I say, as I hold the throttle pinned to the stop way past the braking markers, over the hill, down the back of the left-hander, the speedometer swinging well into the triple digits, tach reaching to redline. “I think… this section can be taken flat.”

Flat, as in flat-out, as in without the mild braking before Turn 17 recommended by the instructors at Monticello and practiced by all reasonable individuals. And, indeed, I make it over the crest pointed in nearly the right direction… but any experienced racer knows that traction on the back of a hill is never as good as traction on the front of the hill. In under a second I’ve reached the absolute maximum slip angle of the tires. I haven’t done it. I’ve overstepped my limits, and the limits of the car. To turn more is futile and perhaps deadly, since I am pointed at the grass and traveling at over one hundred miles per hour. If I have any steering dialed-in to the car when I touch that rough surface, I can cartwheel end over end in the fashion of Antonio Pizzonia in a Jag S-Type. Have to exit the track straight. What happens now?

If I hadn’t been a fan of the CTS-V Coupe before I exited the track at double Jimmy Carter’s favorite highway speed limit — and I wasn’t quite convinced at that point, honestly — I became one the moment I hit the rough ground. With three solid “THUMPS” I bounced along the grass. A 911 would have fought me; a lesser sedan might have whipped the steering wheel to and fro, tearing my hands away and with it my only control of the situation. The CTS-V, by contrast, was rock-solid and provided honest feedback, allowing me to guide the car in just the right direction as gently as possible.

In under sixty feet I was back on the track, still using “maintenance throttle”, and snagging a heel-and-toe double-downshift into the second-gear Turn 18. It maybe cost me a second and a half, and as the big supercharged mill catapulted me down the next straight, I heard the voice of a sweet female angel, asking me if I was okay. Oops. That’s no angel. That’s OnStar. The violence of my unplanned departure had triggered the V’s inertia sensors; it had also scrambled the video recorder, much to my dismay since I had remained rather McQueenishly mellow throughout the entire incident.

Okay. You guys all expected me to stir up some trouble at this event, right? Done. Let’s talk about the car, starting with the important stuff. Not everyone with whom I spoke was in complete agreement with me, but I believe the V Coupe is far easier to push on-track than its sedan counterpart. Here’s why. Although the Coupe shares a wheelbase with the sedan, it has a wider rear track and wider rear wheels. The net effect is more traction at the rear. This reduces wheelspin on exits, which in turn prevents overheating of the rather delicate street Michelins. Before you know it, you have a car that slides at the front during one’s third lap on-track, instead of one that slides at the rear. This, ironically, was my undoing; a little bit of hot-tire oversteer would have permitted me to nip through the right-hand sweep between 17 and 18, but the more stable Coupe simply gave up steering. That’s the safer way, and it’s why I feel many drivers will be quicker in the Coupe than in the sedan.

While the CTS Coupe’s appearance is tailor-made to generate controversy, it’s also a very “honest” coupe. Nearly every panel is different. The doors open electrically, as with a Corvette. I disagree with this; I think a solid handle would impart a quality feel, which is just as important as aesthetics. The roof is lower and the windshield is “faster”. The net effect for me is negative; I can’t get comfortable in the car with a helmet on. Give me the sedan, or better yet, the wagon. Those of you who are neither 6’2″ nor in the habit of wearing a top-vent Impact! helmet won’t mind.

This automobile is available with a six-speed manual transmission. Please, do us all a favor and purchase it with that transmission. While the automatic may be faster around the ‘Ring, in the real world it’s easily confused and on a track of less epic proportions it requires constant attention from the steering-wheel-mounted control buttons. You want the stick-shift, unless you live in Los Angeles or absolutely demand the ability to left-foot-brake at all times. In a rather bold and enthusiast-oriented move, Cadillac offers a black-wheel package that comes with yellow brake calipers. The wheels won’t show the brake dust, but the calipers sure as hell will. I’d go ahead and get the option anyway. Kudos to Cadillac, by the way, for doing what BMW won’t in the M3, namely, fit a decent set of brakes to the car.

The rest of the car is standard CTS-V: controversial interior made more so by the addition of the (recommended) Recaro buckets, center stack that has been replicated everywhere from LaCross to la Cruze, not-quite-convincing stitched-leather dash. I drove a 3.6 direct-injection V6 automatic on the way home from Monticello and in many ways preferred it to the V. If you want an automatic, the six is a much better dance partner and it’s far cheaper.

Which brings us to price. The Coupe is priced heads-up with the sedan at $62,990 plus a mandatory gas-guzzler charge. It really has no competition in the marketplace, so if you want one, feel free to take the plunge. I’d buy the wagon and pay the 200-pound weight penalty, since the Coupe is tight for me.

After the nice people at Cadillac pulled the grass out of my Coupe’s lower intake, they sucked up their courage and sent me back out. Naturally, I hauled ass straight to Turn 17… but a tiny lift of the throttle put weight on the tires and let me slide down the hill just the way Bob Lutz intended. If this were a print rag, I’d finish up by saying, “Time to fly the Coupe.”


I have video and photos coming, so check back tomorrow!

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Review: 2011 Cadillac CTS Coupe Mon, 21 Jun 2010 18:11:17 +0000

What is luxury? In the American car market, that question doesn’t have an easy answer. Driver-focused performers like BMW’s 3-series sell well here, but so do feature-loaded versions of mass market sedans, like the Lexus ES. Blinged-out baroque still has its adherents, but as the Napa Valley hotel where the Cadillac CTS Coupe was launched proves, a more subtle, sophisticated version of luxury is gaining popularity as well, differentiated by the use of recycled materials and environmentally-friendly technologies. So where in this fragmented and changing category does the CTS Coupe belong?

The last time Cadillac sold a traditional coupe, it bore the heritage-laden Eldorado nameplate which, by its last year of sales in 2002, was grasping at the tatters of a long, once-proud legacy. The Eldorado name may not have launched the “Personal Luxury Coupe” segment (this honor goes to the Ford Thunderbird), but by the dawn of the new millenium, it was keeping the old-school, front-drive, waft-all-day luxury coupe flame alive. Barely.

In the eight years since the Eldorado got lost in the shuffle, the CTS nameplate has ushered in a new era at Cadillac. With the return of rear-wheel-drive and concessions to performance and dynamics, the brand seemed desperate to leave its legacy of large, squishy touring coupes behind. Unfortunately, this meant abandoning the coupe segment altogether, leaving a fundamental element of the brand unrealized for nearly a decade.

Until now. After a few bankruptcy-related false starts, the CTS Coupe that debuted at the 2008 Detroit Auto Show is now sitting in the forecourt of a $450/night hotel, looking nearly unchanged from concept form, and entirely at home. Which is to say, it looks good. In dark colors, it’s Darth Vader meets Don Draper: a symmetrically-creased exercise in sleek, bunker-windowed coupe-dom. From the shortened overhangs, to the faster windshield, to the langheck echoes of the gracefully curving C-pillars, Cadillac has taken the CTS design to what feels like its logical conclusion.

And though Cadillac aptly calls its Coupe the “ultimate expression” of its Art-and-Science styling, there are some pleasing echoes of Cadillac’s past baked into the design. The proportions are classic “Personal Luxury” coupe: kicked-back cabin, long doors, bold face, clean rear-quarter. Viewed side-on, there’s even a hint of Mitchell-era Eldorado about the angular C-pillar, and the rear-deck’s three peaked taillights (the middle of which apparently generates downforce) are as close as a Cadillac’s come to having tailfins since Mitchell took over. Only the shortness of the front and rear overhangs, and the almost cartoonish ratio of steel to glass give the proportions a more purposeful, modern feel.

The promise of this neo-classical look is, of course, that this Cadillac Coupe will do things that no two-door Caddy has done before. Though the two-inch lower roof and sharply-raked windshield are purely aesthetic changes, the shortened overhangs and one-inch wider rear track are meant to do more than introduce a pugnacious profile and gentle, organically-swelling rear fender bulges. Along with a revised axle ratio (3.73:1 replacing the sedan’s 3.42:1) and thicker rear stabilizer bar, these changes were made in hopes that the odd auto journalists might rehabilitate the old “Caddy that Zigs” tagline.

But before getting the chance to test the Coupe’s zigging ability, you have to get into the thing. Touch-button locks keep the exterior looking clean, and work well once you’re used to them. Inside, the interior is unchanged from the CTS sedan, meaning there’s a lot of design, a lot of materials, and a very adequate sensation of luxury. Here, more than anywhere else, Cadillac has a few things to learn from its choice of launch hotel, which managed to make reclaimed wood and rusting steel seem luxurious, and the Caddy’s interior seem downright garish.

Interior dimensions are predictably hampered by the Coupe’s crisply-tailored suit. At about six foot one, my head resolutely grazed the headliner until the driver’s seat was at its lowest setting. Even then, spirited driving over bumpy roads caused the occasional annoying head-tap. The rear bucket seats are surprisingly spacious… below shoulder-height. Hip and leg room are more than adequate, but head and shoulder room are non-existent for the post-pubescent. But then I don’t seem to remember Don Draper or Darth Vader ever volunteering their personal luxury coupes for carpooling duty.

Fire up the standard 3.6 liter V6, pop the shifter into drive, and the Coupe pulls into traffic with ease. The lower axle ratio is immediately noticeable when pulling away from stops, but probably only if you just got out of a CTS Sedan or Sportwagon. Don’t expect noisy burnouts though: the difference is manifested more as a slight annoyance with the sedan than a sense that the Coupe is a drooling, snarling beast. In fact, cruising through the small towns and curving roads of California’s wine country at the speed limit is a quiet, refined experience. The only thing missing from the smooth, revvy V6 is some soft V8 burble. Otherwise, this coupe has more horsepower (304) and only 27 lb-ft less torque than the old Eldo’s Northstar, and makes a great wafting companion. Things have changed in eight years, but Cadillac Coupes are still best when cruised graciously from luxurious destination to luxurious destination.

And what if a few curves appear? Slide the shifter towards the passenger to activate sport mode, and “turn off” the traction control, and the CTS loses its bourgeois decorum faster than a sorority girl at Señor Frogs. Though Cadillac does not re-map engines for sport-mode, the transmission changes alone are downright surprising. Not only will it hold a gear until you’ve wrung every last raspy gasp from the V6, but it’s far more aggressive in its downshifts than you’d expect. In fact, once in this so-called “competition mode” the drivetrain absolutely insists that you abuse the right pedal, punishing half-hearted pokes at the throttle and brakes with deep downshifts and soaring revs. Nail it hard, and it will stay right with you, keeping a low gear gear coming out of a corner, when other “sport modes” would have short-shifted mid-corner. Technically there are paddle shifters located behind the steering wheel, but most owners will either never know, or quickly forget that they’re there at all.

Unfortunately, the drivetrain’s playfulness is never quite matched by the steering and handing. In fairness, the steering is better weighted than other GM products, and the chassis (tested with FE3 sport suspension) is generally competent at both cruising and cornering. But with the engine and transmission begging for a spanking, it’s all too easy to find the CTS getting flummoxed. There’s grip aplenty from the optional summer tires and uprated suspension, but there’s no respite from the physics of nearly 4,000 pounds trying to hold onto the road. Thanks to the wider rear track, there’s little scope for tail-wagging, and you’ll probably find the Coupe pushing on its front tires as often as it slips its rears. Grab a line and power through a sweeper, and you’ll want for nothing from this loaded example. Try to string several smooth corners together, however, and unless you’re a truly seasoned driver, you’ll end up with more tossing and thrashing than you’ll get out of certain competitors. Weight, visibility and damping deficits keep this Cadillac firmly in the “competent” category of cornering coupes.

And somehow that’s quite alright. Sure, Cadillac wants to be perceived as the equal to a BMW or Mercedes, and clearly this Coupe could do more to flatter the driver around tight roads. But the CTS-V Coupe is being launched later this summer, and its extra 250-odd horsepower and adaptive suspension should fulfill the performance promise of a range-topping luxury coupe. Meanwhile, the standard CTS Coupe is available at a base $38,990, with prices ranging to our loaded tester’s $51,825. Like the Buick Regal we tested recently, the CTS Coupe shows GM’s new approach to luxury: Ride and handling that are refined for commuting duty yet up for some occasional fun, wrapped in a distinctively-styled, modern body.

Unlike the Regal, however, the CTS Coupe hits its styling cues to perfection, and manages to fuse the brand’s future to its past in terms of both style and abilities. It’s a car that makes a distinctive and undeniable fashion statement that you either love or hate. This is the kind of Cadillac that you’d buy after landing a big client, or crushing a nascent rebellion… and if it had been launched in the midst of a go-go economy, it would doubtless sell like hotcakes. In today’s brutally-competitive luxury market, however, it’s neither extra-refined and luxurious nor a therapeutic joy to fling around a windy road. As such it has the same work cut out for it that the CTS sedan still does, some 8 years after it was first launched.

Cadillac paid for our airfare and accommodation for this new product launch, including several delicious meals and an open bar. Since it took place in California’s tony Napa Valley, none of it was cheap.

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Review: 2010 Cadillac SRX Fri, 04 Jun 2010 18:27:15 +0000

Figuratively as well as literally, Bob Lutz’s work at GM is now done. Shortly before the towers fell (it seems so long ago) Rick Wagoner answered many an auto journalist’s prayers by recruiting the living legend to dramatically improve the company’s product development process and the cars it yields. In retiring (not for the first time, but probably for the last time), Lutz has declared this mission accomplished, with GM’s latest cars as proof. The Cadillac SRX 2.8 turbo is the most expensive—and so least cost-constrained—of these new cars. What does it tell us about what Lutz was able to accomplish, and about what work remains?

Historically, the “car guys” within the auto makers have been engineers. And yet Lutz, often proclaimed the ultimate “car guy,” started out in sales and marketing. No matter. Upon arriving at GM, he reduced the power of both marketing and engineering in favor of design. Marketers with questionable taste would no longer interfere. Engineers would no longer decide what could and could not be done. Designers would once again be free to execute their visions. So, if nothing else, the new SRX should look a lot better than the old one.

Not that this was a high bar to clear. Constraints imposed by borrowing heavily from the CTS sedan weren’t the only challenges faces by the designers of the original SRX. It was conceived in cluelessness, with even the vehicle’s basic proportions subject to much doubt. Lexus with its pioneering RX had opted for the chunkiness of an SUV. Should Cadillac do the same, or make the most of a rear-wheel-drive chassis with a longer, lower, more wagon-like shape? Ultimately they opted for the road less traveled—a route even the purveyor of ultimate driving machines dared not take—and paid the price. The original Cadillac SRX won buff book comparison tests. But it did not win the comparison tests that really mattered, and was greatly outsold by the Lexus.

Cadillac didn’t repeat this mistake (yet). For the second-generation SRX it has essentially taken the Lexus RX—chunky proportions, front-wheel-drive platform—and styled it like a Cadillac. Copy cat, cop out, or simply the right way to go? Perhaps all three—they’re not mutually exclusive.

With the new SRX, Cadillac has successfully transferred its Stealth fighter-influenced “art and science” aesthetic to the proportions people clearly prefer in a crossover. This is post-Lutz art and science, so the original’s severe forms have been softened to add some conventional beauty to the mix, but it’s still bolder than the competition and distinctively Cadillac. Look closely at the tail lights for a tasteful homage to the tasteless fins of Cadillac’s glory days. A caveat: wheels make a huge difference. Eighteens, the standard size, never looked so small. This exterior demands the optional 20s. Because of its proportions and those large wheels, the SRX looks like a compact crossover. But don’t let your eyes fool you—with an overall length of 190.3 inches, it’s even a few inches longer than the clearly midsize Lexus RX and Lincoln MKX, and about eight inches longer than the Audi Q5 and Volvo XC60.

You can save a bundle by opting for the roomier Chevrolet Equinox or GMC Terrain. But the extra cash for the Cadillac doesn’t only buy a more prestigious badge. The SRX is a half-sib to the mainstream crossovers, sharing some platform bits but not others. It does share a premium platform with the upcoming Saab 9-4X, and even the sound when closing the doors suggests that the Cadillac is a different class of vehicle.

Lutz wasn’t always a champion of interior quality. Under his watch Chrysler cranked out some of the industry’s chintziest cabins. But he saw the light between gigs, and Cadillac benefited most of all. With an upholstered IP, real wood trim, aromatic leather, and snazzy red, white, and blue instrument cluster, the new SRX is far nicer inside than the Equinox and Terrain. As it ought to be. This said, some of the knobs would benefit from a more premium surface and feel. Beyond materials, this is an attractively styled interior, with numerous artfully interesting details.

If only as much thought had gone into the driving position and seats as appears to have gone into the instrument cluster. As in other recent GM designs, the pillars are massive, the base of the windshield is in another timezone, and the beltline is relatively high. Consequences of giving the designers free rein? The beltline and raked windshield, most likely. But surely the A-pillars aren’t monstrous for aesthetic reasons. Or simply for safety reasons—those in the Volvo XC60 are much thinner. So why are they so thick? Bean counters deny requests for the highest strength steel? The engineers would have preferred thinner pillars, so something got in their way and was allowed to stay in their way. Thin pillars must not be a Lutz priority.

Positioning the IP and windshield so far away does enhance perceived roominess. But it also makes the SRX feel larger and less agile, an attribute which, Lutz or no Lutz, continues to typify GM vehicles. Add in the high rising beltline and thick pillars, and visibility from the driver’s seat—a key reason people buy this class of vehicle—isn’t up to the class norm. For backing up you’ll want the optional rearview monitor. An around-view monitor like that offered in Infiniti’s crossovers would provide a more complete picture of what’s going on outside the bunker.

Like those in the CTS, the SRX’s front seats don’t quite feel like luxury car seats. They’re too small and too firm for a luxury vehicle role, yet the bolsters are too widely spaced for a more sporting role. A deal killer for some physiques: the rock hard headrests jut far forward in the interest of whiplash protection. Competitors somehow avoid taking such extreme measures.

Rear seat passengers can get more amenities here than in an Equinox or Terrain, including climate controlled rear air vents and seat heaters. What they don’t get: as much rear legroom as in the Theta twins. And yet there’s still considerably more than most direct competitors offer. Unfortunately, the spec sheet isn’t everything. Many competitors have more comfortably positioned and shaped rear seats. Children also have an easier time seeing out of other crossovers; younger ones will find their view limited to treetops in the SRX. Then again, in an SRX with the optional dual screen video system they won’t be looking out the windows anyway. Cargo volume is competitive. A U-shaped rail for securing cargo looks nifty, but what’s the functional benefit?

The SRX’s standard 3.0-liter V6 kicks out 265 horsepower—at 6,950 RPM. The torque peak, where a much less impressive 223 foot-pounds reside, is a similarly lofty 5,100 RPM. Similar figures amazed the world two decades ago in the Acura NSX. And GM’s new 3.0 might have dazzled in a reworked Kappa sports car. But in a 4,200-pound SUV (4,400 with AWD) it’s out of its element. One gets the impression that GM had a much lower curb weight target for the new SRX (and a number of other recent vehicles), and then missed it by a few hundred pounds—not the sign of a well-functioning product development system. For the 2011 model year, GM has seen the light and yanked this engine from the similarly hefty Buick LaCrosse AWD in favor of the much stronger yet equally efficient 3.6. But the 3.0 soldiers on in the SRX, perhaps because a 3.6 would step on the toes of the optional 2.8-liter turbo.

The 295-horsepower 2.8-liter turbocharged V6 accords itself fairly well in the SRX. Because of the mass it must propel this engine never feels especially strong, but unlike the 3.0 it never feels sluggish or strained, either. Only those paying very close attention will be aware that the engine is boosted. Throttle response isn’t as sharp as it is in the best naturally aspirated engines, and there’s some surging and lulling under light throttle, but boost lag isn’t readily evident. Neither is torque steer—the boosted engine is only available with all-wheel-drive. Fuel economy ranged from 16 MPG in moderately aggressive driving to nearly 20 in casual mixed driving.

The biggest problem with the turbocharged engine: it adds $3,820 to the SRX’s price yet provides only marginally competitive performance and fuel economy in return. For this kind of cash GM should be offering a turbocharged 3.6 with specs like those of Lincoln’s EcoBoost 3.5. In which case a naturally aspirated 3.6 would make a fine base engine. The closest competitors are all fitted with 3.5s for a reason. Where was Lutz’s “car guy” influence when GM was specifying the SRX’s engines? Did he save his love for the Vs?

With the move from the old rear-drive platform to the new front-driver, handling clearly wasn’t going to be a top priority. After all, class-leading handling didn’t do much to make the original SRX a success. And so the SRX meets low expectations here. Steering effort isn’t too light, but nevertheless the overly large, overly thick steering wheel (Lutz’s personal preference?) communicates zero road feel. Need feedback? Turn the wheel and see how much the world beyond the distant windshield rotates. Between the “wide open spaces” driving position and this steering you can forget about forming an intimate connection with this machine. Whether he intended to or not, Lutz doesn’t appear to have done much to make GM’s cars more involving.

A shame, because in other ways GM’s suspension engineers have done surprisingly well with the hand they were dealt. The new SRX’s chassis feels more poised and tightly controlled than that of a Lexus RX, and leans less in turns. An active rear differential helps compensate for the SRX turbo’s 57/43 weight distribution by shunting torque to the outside wheel in turns, but just enough to keep understeer at bay. As in other GM applications of the trick diff you’ll need a loose road surface to induce oversteer via the throttle. This system is not nearly as entertaining as Acura’s SH-AWD system.

Even with the 20-inch wheels the SRX’s ride is absorbent, yet without the bobbling or floatiness that often afflicts softly-suspended SUVs. This outstanding ride-handling compromise might be partly due to the adaptive shocks included with all-wheel-drive on the top two trim levels (also the only trim levels where the turbo engine is offered). Noise levels are very low, but the quality of sound within a Lexus seems just beyond the grasp of GM’s engineers. It’s not just a matter of the sounds you keep out. You also need to let just enough of the right sounds in.

The first SRX proved that driving enthusiasts weren’t a profitable target. So as much as such enthusiasts would like a turbo 3.6 with more communicative steering and more supportive seats, these didn’t happen even with a “car guy” running the show, and aren’t likely to appear in the future. Instead, the new SRX logically pursues the non-enthusiasts who have been buying the Lexus RX, Acura MDX, and Lincoln MKX (yes, lots of X at this party). With product development funds running short, Cadillac wasn’t swinging for the fences this time around; in most respects they aimed for, and achieved, “good enough.”

What, then, will lead buyers to overlook the subpar visibility and opt for Cadillac’s brand of X? In the end, where is Lutz’s influence most evident? Not in anything that requires especially close cross-functional collaboration. Instead, the strengths of the new SRX are in styling and in interior ambiance, signs of a new GM where the designers lead and everyone else “makes it work.” Cadillac’s past successes often followed from prioritizing styling over practical considerations. Does the world now demand more thoroughly integrated and optimized vehicles, or will this work in their favor once again?

Cadillac provided the press-fleet vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review

Michael Karesh owns and operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data.

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