Cadillac BLS Review

Jehovah Johnson
by Jehovah Johnson

When I was growing up in South Africa, Cadillacs were gaudily chromed boats adorned with absurd fins. I thought they were stupid. I simply couldn’t reconcile Caddy's grandiose luxury land yachts with the small, sensible cars of my youth. As my horizons widened, as I learned about art, décor and design; I eventually “got it." I understood why enthusiasts waxed nostalgic about the great Caddies of yore, even though we saw precious few models in my corner of The Dark Continent.

So there I was, attending a ride ’n drive event for the Hummer H3. Instead of putting us behind the wheel of GM’s gangsta’ Chevy Colorado, the company’s PR flacks pulled the sheets off a brand new car and announced it was right here, right now: Cadillac! The erstwhile luxury brand’s brand latest and greatest model was now available in RSA, and we’d get to drive this Saab-based mid-size sedan. Here are the keys. Off you go.

Now cast your minds back to great Cadillacs of our collective imagination. Skip tracer Tommy Nowak’s 1959 convertible. The pearlized pink Caddies proudly gracing the driveways of Mary Kay’s super sales force. Hunter S. Thompson’s 1971 Eldorado fearing and loathing the Nevada desert. Elvis’ 1955 Fleetwood 60 Special, or the pink Cadillac in his rockabilly classic “Baby Let’s Play House.” The Caddy ambulance in Ghostbusters. Now, behold: the BLS!

Actually, you can’t behold a car as pleb as the BLS. You can hardly look at it without turning away in schadenfreude-inspired shame. This “B-grade Luxury Sedan” (Cadillac’s designation, not mine) looks like nothing but a bunch of creased cardboard from a package designer seeking maximum rigidity. The BLS sports the high beltline that’s quickly becoming synonymous with the modern American cars. From the rear three quarter, the derivative design apes the Chrysler 300’s urban flava. ‘Art & Science’? More like ‘Compromise & Cowardice’.

Yes, modern BMW and Mercedes designers have overdone it on the concaves and convexes and swoops and fussiness. But Cadillac practically invented concaves, convexes, swoops and fussiness. The BLS has been sterilised of anything you could dislike– or like. It’s the gauda, the unwooded chardonnay, the Castle Lite, the Phil Collins of cars.

The BLS’ interior is equally anodyne. It’s better than a Ford or Chrysler’s cabin, but invites Audi and Volvo to an ergonomic pity party. The classy retro-feel dash-mounted clock’s attempt to jazz up a dour, drab space is about as convincing as double dubs on a Vee Dub. And then there’s the build quality by which a luxury marque lives, or in this case, dies. I sussed three different test cars with three different sets of dashboard rattles. One car’s wipers whistled at a workaday Karoo-eating 150kph. Another boasted a broken rear seat latch. Never mind. Only a masochistic full-sized adult would dare darken the BLS’ cramped rear compartment.

The Trollhatten-built BLS comes in four engine flavours: a 1.9-liter four-cylinder common-rail diesel, the same engine with a turbo, a 2.0-liter turbo Ecotec four and a 2.8-liter turbo V6. If you’ve driven Saabs, then you know the score. The diesel is the strong, silent type; the two-litre the sensible, boring sort; and the V6 has a bit of much needed swagger (0 – 60mph in 7.1 seconds).

The BLS sits on the same Epsilon platform underpinning the Saab 9-3 (Saabilac?), Opel Vectra (Opelac?) and Chevy Malibu (Malibac?). Saab, Opel, GM, Cadillac – someone tuned the BLS’ suspension to Euro-driver firmness. While the BLS’ initial turn-in is eager and its body control exemplary, the brakes and steering provide less feedback than the Home Affairs department to a telephone query. If you push the front wheel-drive Caddy (how great does THAT sound), you can get some dramatic tire-squealing understeer, but little in the way of agility or fun. It’s best to drive as if you’re not insured.

Compared to the comfort, ride, handling, performance and cachet of Europe’s midrange luxury offerings, the BLS is a joke. It isn’t on the same planet as a rear wheel-drive BMW, Mercedes or the well-poised (if somewhat crashy) Audi. No wonder the BLS hasn’t lived up to GM’s initial [and modest] sales expectations.

In fact, the BLS is another in a long line of badly judged badge-engineering bodge jobs that’ve been ruining The General's brands for decades. GM’s decision to export the BLS to South Africa and, gulp, Mexico, is a cynical attempt to see if car buyers in smaller markets are more amendable to mediocrity than the Euro Zone. If I can speak for the Mexicans, we aren’t. In fact, GM should kill this model before it pisses away any remaining respect for the once great Cadillac name, or teaches new drivers that Cadillac is the sub-standard of the world.

Jehovah Johnson
Jehovah Johnson

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  • Oengus Oengus on Mar 30, 2009

    The price of the BLS is about the same as the BMW 3-series, that is one reason why they are not selling. They start at about $30,000.00 US, now correct me if I am wrong but if you are looking to gain market share you have to offer some advantage, like price? GM is going to make a second effort at the BLS, if they ever get that far? They will switch platforms and the BLS will get a new platform. That platform is rumored to be a universal platform, it can be configured with both front and rear drives. The next BLS will be rear-drive and priced to start at $34K, to high if you ask me. But that is in American, and what the base BMW starts for in the US. GM cannot compete head to head, they need to be comparable in quality and lower in price. The Saab 9-3 starts at 31K in the states, and that is reflected in the BLS asking price of 21,000 pounds in the UK. If you are looking for an entry level luxury car, that being a fuel efficient good performing car like a BMW 3 then why would you even consider the Cadillac? GM can say that their cars are just as good, heck they can say anything they want they are car salesmen. But they really need to say is, it cost less, drive them both and you decide. I do not think the writer ever drove the BLS or the a 9-3 turbo because if he did, then he may have written a different article…the BLS was priced to high to gain market share so is the Saab. Selling the 9-3 and the combi 9-3 as entry level Cadillac’s is one of those things that seems to make sense and it does actually. The pricing does not, the prices cannot be the same as the BMW they have to be less. People that want the BMW will get it, they will not pay the same price and get a Cadillac or a Saab. But if the cars are a couple of thousand less they might take a look, if they drive them then they would buy one, the 9-3 2.0 liter turbo with 210hp they sell in the US is a very good car. The 19/28 MPG is also good, not great but good.

  • H1pudo H1pudo on Jan 09, 2010

    Der Spiegel recently posted the flop-ten cars in 2009 in Germany. No. 2 was the BLS with 28 (twentyeight) sold in one year (all versions) to be topped only by the KIA Opirus with 12 pieces sold. And guess what: I am going to get me one. The distinguishing factor I was looking for is its uglyness, even more ugly than the KIA. As the V6 in its luxury version (almost all-in) sells new for below 18,000 EURO (less than a Corsa, 60% off the list price!) I might get it a nice paint job. As SAAB seems to be dead now the dealers will try to sell off their 28 demonstration cars but will not manage to do so. That's going to be a collectors item.

  • ChristianWimmer The interior might be well-made, but the design is just hideous in my opinion. It’s to busy and there’s no simplistic harmony visible in it. In fact I feel that the nicest Lexus interior ever could be found in the original LS400 - because it was rather minimalistic, had pleasing lines and didn’t try to hard. It looked just right. All Lexus interiors which came after it just had bizarre styling cues and “tried to hard” if you know what I mean.
  • THX1136 As a couple of folks have mentioned wasn't this an issue with the DeLorean? I seem to recall that it was claimed you could do a 'minor' buff of the surface and it would be good as new. Guess I don't see why it's a big deal if it can be so easily rectified. Won't be any different than getting out and waxing the car every so often - part of ownership, eh.
  • ToolGuy This kind of thing might be interesting in a racing simulator.
  • FreedMike Hmmm, electric powered vibrations. Is this the long rumored move into products market?
  • MrIcky /Checks date on his calendar- nope, not April 1st.I have a transducer in my home theater seat for sub-bass. Not sure if this is patent worthy.