Currently, the cheapest Cadillac is the best one you can buy. The all-new 2008 Cadillac CTS, at the bottom of the Cadillac lineup, builds in great performance and superior cabin tech. If it had better emissions performance, it would truly hit the trifecta.
The CTS uses Cadillac's 21st-century "Art and Science" styling, its sharp lines marking it clearly as a product of America's main luxury car manufacturer. The front of the car in particular abounds with geometric shapes, such as trapezoidal headlights and a pentagonal grille. The headlights are vertically aligned, with blinkers stacked above lamps. From the side, a thick C-pillar distinguishes the roofline from the window line, the latter also made distinct by a chrome liner.
Test the tech: Around the track
Cadillac wants to emphasize the sport aspect of the new CTS and gave us the rare opportunity to test the car out on the Laguna Seca racetrack. 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 it 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 hit a sweet spot for fuel economy and power, it was a little lacking on the track, keeping us from hitting 100 mph on the straightaway.
In the cabin
The cabin of the 2008 Cadillac CTS, with its comfortable seats and aesthetic design, makes for a good place to sit during a long drive. Although the car has good performance characteristics, these seats fit more strongly on the luxury side of the equation. They lack the kind of side bolstering that would keep you in place during hard cornering.
On the electronics front, the CTS employs first-rate navigation and stereo systems, but it doesn't offer cell phone integration. Hands-free calling comes through an OnStar service. When asked about Bluetooth, Cadillac staff offered two explanations: one, that people would prefer to use their Bluetooth headsets, and two, that the CTS is at the bottom of the lineup, so some gadgets need to be reserved for higher-end models. We appreciate the dancing but would still like factory-installed cell phone integration.
Navigation and audio information are displayed on an LCD that raises and lowers into the dashboard of the CTS. We like this clever interface for its good use of space--with the screen down, a narrow band remains visible where audio information is displayed. With it up, you can look at full navigation maps and more detailed audio information. There are basic audio and navigation buttons on the center stack, but most selections are made with the touch screen. We found the screen a little bit far forward, making some selections are a reach.
The navigation system uses high-resolution maps, which you can look at in plan or 3D mode. In 3D mode, major buildings and landmarks are rendered to give you a point of reference. The major problem with 3D mode is that few street names are shown. The navigation system is integrated with XM live traffic reporting and will show you incidents and traffic flow in major metropolitan areas. We like this integration, as it will warn you of upcoming traffic jams, even when you aren't under route guidance. For example, we were driving down Highway 101 south of San Francisco, and the car told us about a traffic jam 2 miles ahead, in San Mateo. That was enough warning to get off the road and take surface streets. Under route guidance, the system can route you around traffic obstructions. Weather information, another data feed from XM, can also be displayed on the car's LCD.