Cadillac's efforts to reposition its brand extend to the cabin electronics in the update to the Cadillac CTS, with a new infotainment system that outstrips the competition. We've seen live traffic integration and a music server on the Lexus LS 460, but Cadillac introduces both features on its lowest-end model, the 2008 Cadillac CTS. This second burst from Cadillac's next-generation salvo takes the bold "Art and Science" design and makes it fit better with the sport-luxury segment on which the company has set its sights.
The bold edges of the original CTS remain, making the car distinctly Cadillac, but it adds raked back glass and an extra-wide C-pillar to make the car look more like a coupe, further emphasizing its sports element. Similarly, the heavily raked front grille and the dual-purpose, center brake light/spoiler speak the performance language. The lighting on the car, both inside and out, make a high-tech luxury statement. At night, the cabin gets ambient illumination from hidden light sources. On the outside, both the headlights and taillights sport unique, vertical light pipes that will easily identify the car at night. Front-side marker lights have been brought into the headlight casings.
Cadillac let us take the car for both a long cruise on winding mountain roads and hot laps around the Laguna Seca race track. The CTS has three suspension options--FE1, FE2, and FE3--with the last being the most performance-oriented. There are also two engine options, both 3.6-liter, V-6es, with one offering direct injection and 304 horsepower, a 41-horsepower gain over the base V-6. Likewise, the car can be had with a six-speed manual or automatic transmission. On the track, we drove cars with the FE3 suspension, direct injection, and both manual and automatic transmissions.
We were very confident with the CTS' performance on the track. The car held traction and didn't complain as we pushed it hard around corners. We were able to easily maintain a proper line as we put the power on during our attacks, holding the car around the turns to the track-out position. With the FE3 suspension, we didn't feel much body roll. And for the ultimate test of Laguna Seca, the corkscrew, we had no difficulty guiding the CTS over the hill and down through the turn.
The automatic did a particularly good job of maintaining a low gear that let us keep power as we slung the car around. This transmission impressed us over our entire drive. One of GM's engineers explained that the transmission is programmed to downshift based on how hard you hit the brakes, such as before entering a turn. The car won't upshift when it's in the turn, and will maintain the lower gear outside of the corner if you keep your foot on the gas. We quickly learned how to make the transmission give us the gear we wanted based on our gas and brake input.
The manual took a little getting used to, and we initially had difficulty finding second for the downshift. But we also realized we could keep it in third and maintain power and control through the turns. Although we liked the engine during our street driving, as it hits a sweet spot for fuel economy and power, it was a little lacking on the track, keeping us from hitting 100mph on the straightaway.
Cadillac left no stone unturned with the 2008 CTS. Along with the body, engine, and transmission updates, the cabin also gets the latest in infotainment systems. In the past, we've really liked GM's on-screen interface for music and navigation, which we most recently saw in the Buick Enclave. Cadillac updates the look of this interface for the CTS, maintaining its very usable tabbed structure, but refining the lines and color scheme. The company also updated the screen resolution substantially, giving the maps a look that rivals what we saw on the Mercedes-Benz CL550. The screen on which all of this is displayed is an 8-inch LCD, that pops up from the dash if you want to see navigation, or, in its lowered position, still shows a little bit of screen for music information.
Beauty is far more than skin deep with the CTS. For audio, the car comes with an eight-speaker Bose system, including centerfill and subwoofer. Or you can upgrade to a 10-speaker Bose system with 5.1 surround sound. With the navigation option, you get a 40GB hard drive built into the car, that reserves some of its space for a music server. This is the biggest hard drive we've seen in a car to date. You can rip commercial CDs directly to it, or transfer MP3 tracks from a disc or through the car's USB port. We ripped a CD to one of the cars, and found the operation seamless. You can also play tracks directly from a USB drive, or hook Cadillac's iPod cable to the USB port and have complete access to an iPod. The music navigation interface is everything we would expect, with buttons for sorting music by artist, album, genre, or track.
One exceptional feature unique to the CTS is the ability to pause and play radio stations. Similar to a TiVo, you can hit the pause button while listening to a radio station and the car will store up to 60 minutes of audio. Instead of waiting for your favorite song to finish before going into a store, you can just hit pause, do your shopping, and come back to it when you get in the car.
The navigation system is also first-rate, incorporating a complete points-of-interest database with just about any destination you could think of. It also gets XM live traffic reporting, showing traffic flow and incidents for most U.S. metropolises. Live traffic reporting is integrated with the navigation, and will advise you of slow traffic along your route. Better yet, if you're driving along a major road without route guidance, it will still tell you about incidents up ahead. On part of our drive, we were approaching San Jose from the south on Highway 101, when the navigation voice let us know of an incident ahead. When we passed it, we saw it was an accident on the other side of the road, but it was causing rubbernecking from our side. Our only issue with the navigation system was that it seemed sluggish in performing some of its operations--a surprise as hard drive-based navigation systems tend to be faster than DVD-based systems.
One of the few criticisms we could find with the car was that Bluetooth cell phone integration is a dealer-installed option, essentially a device that attaches to the visor. We would rather see a better-integrated system. OnStar is installed in the car and can be used for placing phone calls, but it isn't as convenient as using your own cell phone.
Overall, we came away impressed with the 2008 Cadillac CTS. From its design, to its powertrain, to its cabin electronics, Cadillac set high goals and seems to have reached them for the most part. We will do a complete review of the new CTS when we get the car at our offices.