2008 Cadillac CTS4

01/07/2008

Shahed Hussain

The Cadillac CTS competes in one of the most crowded and competitive automotive arenas: entry level luxury/sport sedans. The $30-$50K price range has models from BMW, Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Lexus, Lincoln, Acura, and Infiniti. GM reworked every aspect of the CTS including the powertrain, interior, and chassis to ensure that the 2nd generation car would match or exceed its competition. Making a dent in this segment is a tough task for any manufacturer, but the new CTS aims to win a few new converts to Cadillac.

We tested a 2008 CTS4, which is the first time Cadillac has offered an all-wheel drive CTS. Since all of its German and Japanese competition offer all-wheel drive models, Cadillac had to offer an AWD CTS to remain competitive. The Cadillac's all-wheel drive system engages the front wheel once it senses tire slip, which allows the CTS4 to retain rear-wheel drive handling in dry weather, while offering AWD traction when the weather turns treacherous.

According to the sticker, the base 2008 CTS starts at $34,545 equipped with the 3.6L direct injection V-6, although our test vehicle was equipped with several option packages. These included the 18-inch wheel/all-season tire package ($1,740), all-wheel drive ($1,900), Crystal Red premium paint ($995), ABS with performance brakes ($395), and compact spare tire ($250). The expensive Premium Luxury Collection package ($8,015) includes a Bose 5.1 surround sound audio system, 40 GB hard disk, navigation system, Ultraview sunroof, sapele wood trim, heated/cooled seats, power tilt & telescoping steering wheel, 10-way power seats, rear park assist, and keyless access. The grand total for these options ratchets up the sticker price to $47,840 (including $745 destination charge). Note that as of January 2008, Cadillac has raised the base price for the CTS with the V-6 DI (direct injection) to $35,790.

With our bias towards value and performance, we would equip the CTS4 rather differently. Our ideal CTS4 must have the V-6 DI engine, but we would skip the Premium Luxury Collection package and the premium paint. Instead, the Seat Package ($2,200), with heated leather 10-way power seats, and 6-speed automatic with AWD ($1,900) would be added instead. The total for our preferred CTS4 is $40,140 plus destination charges.

The first CTS suffered from an interior design and materials that felt inexpensive compared to other sedans in its class. GM rectified this deficiency with the 2008 CTS, which has rich textures, soft touch plastics, and genuine sapele wood (African mahogany) trim on the dashboard, door panels, and center console. Stitching on the dashboard and door panels enhances the impression of craftsmanship lacking in the previous CTS. Overall build quality is world class; the CTS now makes no apologies to other German or Japanese luxury sedans in interior design or execution.

Inside the CTS, Cadillac crammed in the latest luxury and technology features such as heated/cooled seats, hard disk-based MP3 capability, rear park assist, keyless access, rainsense wipers, DVD navigation, etc. Drivers will appreciate the bright electroluminescent gauges for the 160-MPH speedometer and 8,000 RPM tachometer, inset in individual pods. Smaller gauges for fuel, coolant and oil temperature are nestled within another pod to the right of the speedometer. A 3-spoke leather-wrapped steering houses buttons for audio, cruise, and Bluetooth controls. Although the track/radio seek button works for compact discs and AM/FM stations, it cannot select XM satellite radio channels. Sapele wood trim is available on the steering wheel and shift lever, but our test vehicle was not so equipped.

Due to its keyless access fob, the CTS uses a simulated key in the ignition keyhole; the fob also automatically unlocks the car when driver approaches within a few feet of the door. The center console has three chrome-rimmed knobs and large pushbuttons for audio and HVAC controls. A prominent analog clock nestles between the audio knobs on the upper center stack. The motorized LCD display rises to show navigation data, or retracts for abbreviated audio system information. Although the LCD touch screen eliminates many buttons, it becomes more difficult to program the navigation system or access some audio settings while driving. Behind the console-mounted shift lever are dual cupholders and a storage bin; rear passengers get their own cupholders in the center armrest. Front door pockets can store maps or other small objects.

Audiophiles will be pleased with the Bose 5.1-channel/10-speaker audio system. With a CD/DVD player, MP3-capability, 40 GB hard disk, and XM satellite radio, the CTS includes virtually every audio and video source available. In addition, an iPod interface, USB port, and auxiliary audio jack are hidden inside the center console storage compartment. Adjustable DSP soundfield settings, combined with tight bass and superb clarity ensure that this Bose system will be a popular option.

Our tested CTS4 was equipped with the optional 10-way power adjustable seats (heated and cooled) for the driver and front passenger; the seats are upholstered in perforated "cashmere" leather. With their multitude of settings, including power lumbar adjustment, the supportive front seats should accommodate most drivers. A bulge in the transmission tunnel narrows the front passenger footwell. When equipped with the optional sunroof, headroom in front and rear is marginal for 6 ft. tall occupants. However, rear seat comfort is above average, and legroom is plentiful. For extra cargo capacity, the split seatbacks fold down to allow longer object to protrude into the passenger compartment.

CTS models sold in the US are equipped with a choice of two versions of the 3.6L V-6 (263-bhp or 304-bhp), while a 2.8L V-6 is available for cars destined for export markets. Transmission choices include an Aisin 6-speed manual or a Hydra-Matic 6-speed automatic. Our CTS4 had the high output 3.6L direct injection V-6 coupled to the 6-speed automatic. This new engine variant has the same fuel economy (17/26 MPG, city/hwy.) as the non-direct injected V-6, while reducing cold-start emissions. Even more impressive is that the direct injection V-6 takes 87-octane regular fuel, whereas most other comparable powerplants require premium unleaded to achieve similar horsepower.

Like some other direct injection engines, the 3.6L "ticks" immediately after startup, but it disappears within 30 seconds as the idle becomes smoother. With its linear throttle response and wide powerband, the DI V-6 is a world-class powerplant. The DI engine makes its 304-BHP @ 6,300 RPM, while its maximum torque of 273 lb.-ft. occurs at 5,200 RPM. As the specifications show, the V-6 becomes stronger in the midrange as it revs to its 7,200 RPM redline.

CTS4 models are only available with the Hydra-Matic 6L50 6-speed automatic, a silky-shifting transmission that works seamlessly with the V-6. At 75-80 MPH the automatic is slow to downshift, so we slipped the shift lever into manual mode when we wanted more control. The selected gear is shown in the trip computer display on the speedometer. Even though both manual and automatic transmissions have six ratios, the 6L50 has taller 1st, 5th, and 6th gears. The CTS4 also has a different final drive ratio: 3.23:1 vs. 3.42:1 for 3.6L DI RWD/automatic models.

Cadillac spent considerable time doing suspension development for the CTS at the Nurburgring track in Germany. The result of this development work is three different suspension options: FE1, FE2, and FE3. AWD and RWD models are available with FE1 and FE2 suspensions, while the FE3 is only available on RWD models with the limited-slip differential. For CTS4 models, the front suspension consists of short/long arms (SLA), dampers, and tubular stabilizer bar (33 mm diameter). A multilink rear suspension, dampers, and tubular stabilizer bar (19 mm diameter). We tested a CTS4 with the FE2 suspension, which includes the optional limited-slip rear differential. Braking duties are handled with 315 mm diameter vented rotors and aluminum calipers (dual piston/front, single piston/rear). ABS, traction control, and StabiliTrak stability control are standard. Optional Michelin Pilot HX MXM4 all-season tires (P235/50R18) on 18" x 8.5" alloy wheels are part of the FE2 package.

Combined with its on-demand AWD and all-season Michelin tires, the CTS4 has confident handling on slippery roads. Under hard acceleration, the driver can feel the front wheel scrabble for traction on wet roads, but torque steer is undetectable. The FE2 suspension endows the CTS4 with minimal body roll, combined with finely balanced ride comfort and handling. Nonetheless, the FE2 setup may be too firm for traditional Cadillac customers accustomed to a more compliant ride. The Michelins don't send much information about road surfaces via the slightly numb, but accurate steering. Tire noise is subdued on asphalt, but become noticeably louder on concrete pavement. Wind and engine noise is minimal at 80 MPH. The CTS4 excels at high speed cruising on interstates, an ability its owners will appreciate. Ultimately, the CTS4 is a luxury sedan with mild sporting abilities.

There is no doubt that the 2008 CTS is Cadillac's best effort yet. In this crowded and ultra-competitive luxury/sport sedan segment, nothing less will suffice. Current CTS owners living in the northern US will be drawn to the AWD CTS4 for its foul weather traction. What is not so clear is if the CTS4 can siphon customers from the slightly smaller, but similarly priced BMW 335xi, Audi A4, or Mercedes-Benz C350. Other buyers may be tempted by less expensive alternatives to the CTS4 such as the Infiniti G35x or Lincoln MKZ AWD. We aren't sure what the marketplace will decide, but we can confirm that the 2008 CTS4 can now be compared on equal terms with its world class competition.

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