Between the Lines: Car and Driver on the New Cadillac CTS

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago

Aside from ad revenue, why would a car magazine want to position itself as a cheering section for General Motors? Well exactly. Car and Driver’s September review of the “new” Cadillac CTS is such a blatant example of boosterism it puts the "sub" in "subsidy." This will come as no surprise to regular readers who’ve watched the buff book slowly sink into a glossy ghetto of pistonhead prostitution. Even so, I feel compelled to use C&D’s CTS review as a re-launching pad for Between the Lines, so that TTAC readers understand what this website stands for. Or, more precisely, against.

By its very title, “Second Wind” pronounces the CTS refreshed, re-energized and ready to take on the transplants (which have been slaughtering it in the sales charts). According to the all-caps strapline, the model also represents a new dawn for General Motors.

“CADILLAC IMPROVES ITS ENTRY-LEVEL CAR AND PROVES IN THE PROCESS THAT THE FRONT OFFICE HAS UNDERGONE A REDESIGN, TOO.”

“Amazingly, each new product coming down the GM pipeline these days seems to signal that the once-defining beancounter bureaucracy has finally been replaced by a genuine desire to create top-notch products. And this latest CTS is the most comprehensively integrated vehicle we’ve seen yet.”

Not so amazingly, Dave Vanderwerp’s opening salvo fails to consider the “new” Chevrolet Aveo, a car so afflicted with beancounteritis it began life as a budgeting exercise. Anyway, one can immediately sense the author’s discomfort with the task ahead. The appearance of the word “seems” before an otherwise bold declaration of a product-led GM renaissance indicates a tension between editorial integrity and complete horseshit.

To wit: what the Hell is a “comprehensively integrated vehicle?” Do the newish CTS’ parts– suspension, engine, brakes, etc.– form a coherent whole, in a BMW 3-Series sort of way? Or does it mean all the parts fit?

Vanderwerp spends the next three ‘graphs contradicting the "new GM" thesis. He reveals that GM insurance regulations prohibited CTS lead development engineer Rob Kotrak from driving the car during its Nürburgring workouts. “What was that about a bureaucracy?” Vanderwerp demands of himself. Good question.

Literary self-flagellation aside, we get our first critical assessment. Blasting around the Green Hell, the CTS was "planted and predictable and never did anything unexpected.” Like what? Ascend above the asphalt like the cars in the TV ad? NOT overheat? The mind boggles.

Vanderwerp then lauds the CTS’ aesthetic perfection: “There’s no bad view of the new car…” Fair enough, but the author quickly hints that the CTS’ looks “might” have to be enough for buyers contemplating C&D’s favorite ‘Ringmeister.

“The redesigned CTS still might not stand a chance to be as responsive as the smaller and much lighter– by about 400 pounds– BMW 335i, but our favorite sports sedan has nothing on the Caddy’s aggressive looks.”

Apparently, there’s trouble down at the mill. After praising the CTS’ new 304hp V6 for its smoothness, “enthusiasm” between 4000 and 7000rpm, and ability to “run” with a Mercedes C350 and BMW 328i, Vanderwerp points out the new, portlier CTS is only a tenth of a second quicker through the quarter mile than the full-size Cadillac STS.

Hang on; why are we talking about tenths of seconds anyway? I mean, it’s a small Caddy, not a BMW. Who gives a damn?

Cadillac, as evidenced by the fact that GM’s PR flacks gave Vanderwerp a CTS equipped with the FE3 sports package; including super-sticky summer tires and revised dampers. Surely anyone looking for performance from the CTS would opt for the V-Series derivative. And every other CTS rides on more compliant all-season rubber. So… what are we talking about here?

From this point on, we’re talking about excuses and weasel words. Every criticism of the CTS arrives via a pulled punch or an ameliorative aside.

“The upgraded rack-and-pinion steering is linear and now offers more feedback, although its weighting is on the light side of perfection.” The manual “isn’t nearly as fluid as those from BMW” but the new “well-behaved six-speed automatic… will likely be the more popular choice anyway.” “Comfortable seats with surprising thigh and upper back support… will likely please the masses, but during exuberant driving, we wished for more lateral support.”

The CTS’ cabin earns Vanderwerp’s full, unadulterated admiration. THIS is where the aforementioned coherence resides: “Possibly the most dramatic improvement to the CTS is the upscale and coherently flowing interior, complete with classy materials and top-notch fit and finish.” Maybe so, but the author’s conclusion is a lot less credible.

“But with more style, power and features, we think the new CTS– and the new GM, for that matter– is destined to be even more of a winner.”

Yes, well, neither car nor company could be any LESS of a winner, could they? Or could they? One thing's for sure: the answer to that question will not be found in Car and Driver.

[Full C&D CTS review here .]

Robert Farago
Robert Farago

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  • ChristianWimmer Yes, but with a carbureted 500cid V8. None of that fuel-injection silliness. 😇
  • VoGhost Fantastic work by Honda design. When I first saw the pictures, I thought "Is that a second gen Acura NSX?"
  • V16 2025 VW GLI...or 2025 Honda Civic SI? Same target audience, similar price points. Both are rays of sun in the gray world of SUV'S.
  • FreedMike Said this before and I'll say it again: I'm not that exercised about this whole "pay for a subscription" thing, as long as the deal's reasonable. And here's how you make it reasonable: offer it a monthly charge. Let's say that adaptive headlights are a $500 option on this vehicle, and the subscription is $15 a month, or $540 over a three year lease. So you try the feature for a month, and if you like it, you keep it; if you don't, then you discontinue it, like a Netflix subscription. In any case, you didn't get charged $500 up front the feature. That's not a bad deal.In my case, let's say VW offers an over the air chip reflash that gives me another 25 hp. The total price of the upgrade is $1,000 (which is what a reflash would cost you in the aftermarket). If they offered me a one time monthly subscription for $50 to try it out, I'd take it. In other words, maybe the news isn't all bad.
  • 2ACL A good car, but - at least in this configuration -not one that should command a premium. Its qualities just aren't as enduring as those of Honda's contemporary sports cars. For better or worse, this is a formula they remain able to replicate.
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