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2008 Cadillac CTS - Motor Trend

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First Drive: 2008 Cadillac CTS
Born and bred in Detroit; brought to life on the Nurburgring Nordschleife
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By Angus MacKenzie | Photography by Mark Bramley | Link to Original Article @ Motor Trend


You don't want to get it wrong through the Fuchsrohre. This is just one of the places where the legendary Nurburging Nordschleife can bite you. Hard.

You come out the Aremberg turn hard in third and plunge 250 feet downhill along a wriggling stretch of track, straight-lining one, two, three, four, five apexes almost as fast as you can count them. You reach the bottom of the hill on the sixth, the car's suspension on full compression as the track veers slightly left. That's not the tricky bit. Nope, the tricky bit is the next left, a deceptively sharp kink with an apex you can't see until it's too late. Get it right, and you carry a lot of speed up into the tight complex of corners at Adenauer-Forst. Get it wrong, and there's a good chance you'll eat the guardrail that's right on the edge of the track.

Last time around, the car had hit the rev limiter in fourth-about 127 mph-just before the bottom of the hill, and I'd ridden it all the way into that tricky left. This time, I grabbed fifth early, looking for just a little more speed through the dip. I got it, and that damned kink was on me before I knew it. I mashed the brake pedal, and turned the steering wheel. I'd missed the turn-in point by a mile, but by now this wasn't about a nice racing line; this was about getting through that kink in one piece.

The car dived left, understeering mildly. Another quick dab on the brakes brought the rear end around. Feathering the gas, we gently drifted through kink, maybe six feet further to the right than we should've been and in the wrong place to make good time into the Adenauer-Forst complex. But it was a nice recovery, thanks mainly to good brakes, nice steering, and an agile, sweet-handling chassis. I glanced at the wreath and crest on the steering wheel and smiled: Wow! Is this really a Cadillac?

It sure is. The new Cadillac CTS might've been born and bred in Detroit, but you can tell it has spent time on the Nurburgring Nordschleife during its development. This is an American car with a German chassis: not exactly like a Mercedes or a BMW, but taut, tied down, nicely balanced, and stable at high speeds. It's not just the best-handling Caddy in history, but probably the best-handling American sedan ever.

It starts with the fundamentals: sophisticated suspension and a rigid platform. The new CTS, codenamed GMX322, is an evolution of the Sigma-based original, via the STS. Basically the engineering team kept the old CTS's wheelbase, but used the wider track from the larger STS -- the floorpan structure, front of dash, lower A-pillar and rear chassis rails are all basically STS -- to fundamentally transform the car's proportions.

Although there's a lot that looks familiar under the new car, there's a lot that's brand new, and, crucially, expensive. The short/long-arm front suspension features lots of lightweight aluminum and is bolted to an all-new aluminum front cradle. A large aluminum brace across the engine compartment ties the top mounts together. The steering gear is a premium ZF Servotronic II system, with the rack mounted forward of the front-axle centerline to improve precision.

The multilink rear suspension looks similar to the existing Sigma layout, but features a 40-percent-stiffer cradle, plus larger body mounts, revised differential mountings, and shortened trailing links to improve NVH. "Overall, the rear end of the car is much more solid structurally," says CTS lead development engineer Rob Kotarak, "It's able to absorb much more of the coarse road stuff you see in Europe and China."

Cadillac has left the fine tuning to you, however: The new CTS is available with three different suspension setups, two different size wheels and three different spec Michelin tires. And it doesn't matter whether you buy a CTS in Seattle, Stuttgart, or Shanghai, the specifications are the same. All-wheel drive is available, too, if you want or need it. Derived from the system currently used in the STS, it features an electronically controlled transfer case that allows nearly 100 percent of the torque to be sent to the front wheels.

Two six-speed transmissions are available: GM's new 6L50 automatic and the Aisin Warner AY6 manual. The auto features a sport mode that adapts to your driving style and dynamic inputs such as brake and steering. The algorithms in the transmission computer needed fine tuning on the early production cars we drove-they tended to hang on too long in a lower gear-but Cadillac engineers say this'll be done before cars hit dealer showrooms. In manual shift mode, the transmission matches revs, race-car style, on downshifts. You have to reach for the shifter-back for down, forward for up-to change ratios, as there are no steering-wheel mounted shifter buttons-yet. Expect them on the 2009 models.

Probably barely two percent of American CTS customers will opt for the six-speed manual. Even so, Caddy engineers have put considerable time and effort into optimizing it for the car. The second, third, and fourth gear ratios were changed late in the program as a direct result of testing on the Nordschleife, says Rob Kotarak. (Good news for manual Camaro buyers: Your cars will get this gear set, too.) Though there's no difference-according to Cadillac's figures-between the straight-line performance of manual or automatic cars equipped with the top of the range 3.6-liter DI engine, the manual car clearly feels quicker around the 'Ring, punching harder out of corners and with less of a gap between the second and third ratios. In fact, says Sigma products development manager Rick Kewley, the manual is five to eight seconds a lap faster.

The CTS will initially be offered with three engines: a 210-horse, 2.8-liter V-6; a 258-horse, 3.6-liter V-6; and a 304-horse, 3.6-liter V-6 with direct injection. All three V-6s are versions of GM's all-aluminum, quad cam, 24-valve "high-feature" engine and come with state-of-the-art goodies such as a forged-steel crank and variable valve timing. The 2.8 is an export-only engine, destined for China, Europe, the Middle East, and any other markets where engines over 3.0 liters attract higher taxes. The 258-horse 3.6 is essentially a carryover from the current CTS. The big news is the new direct-injection-DI-version.

This engine does exactly what the badge says-inject gas directly into the combustion chamber, just like in a diesel engine. This requires much higher fuel-rail pressures-up to 1750 psi-but the benefits include much more precise fuel metering, with a resultant improvement in power and torque, but with better gas mileage and lower emissions. GM global rear-drive chief engineer Dave Leone claims a 15-percent power increase (though you'll only get the full 304 horses if you run it on premium unleaded), and an eight-percent increase in torque to 272 pound-feet over the PFI version. The three-percent improvement in gas mileage sounds meager, but Leone points out the DI-engined automatics run a lower final-drive ratio (3.42 versus 3.23) to deliver best performance.

It's a technically impressive engine, but in truth, it's the CTS's weakest link. Performance isn't the issue-proving ground tests in Germany suggest Cadillac's claimed 0-to-60-mph time of 5.9 seconds for both auto and manual DI cars is right on the money, and we saw 7000 rpm in fifth-an indicated 153 mph-in a manual on the autobahn south of Mainz. The problem is noise and vibration; there's a granular quality to the 3.6's soundtrack that can be heard and felt, especially in the upper rev band where the DI V-6 loves to play. You hear it in the gargling induction note and feel it back through the pedals and the shifter, especially in the manual cars. It's not overbearing, but you notice it because the rest of the car is so quiet.

The new CTS deserves a creamy BMW six under the hood. Yes, it's that good. It has great road presence, thanks to designer John Manoogian's dramatically chiseled exterior, and the interior looks upscale without the cheesiness Detroit once specialized in. Fit and finish, inside and out, looked good on the early build cars we drove in Germany, though some hard plastics and visible parting lines (the thin strips of raised plastic you get where the pieces of the die join) were still evident. And though it rolls on the same wheelbase as the previous CTS, interior packaging is much improved: Thinner backrests on the front seats liberate about two inches of knee room for rear seat passengers.

More important, the CTS drives like a proper BMW rival. It's light and agile on its feet, with quick steering response yet impressive straight-line stability at speed, and a StabiliTrak system that's beautifully tuned to be almost unobtrusive in its interventions. The sporty FE3 suspension with the Michelin Pilot Sport 2 tires is probably a bit too firm for most people-the ride can get jittery over broken pavement-but if you value handling above all else, that's the one to go for. The midlevel FE2 setup, which comes with the 18-inch-wheel package and all-season Michelin MXV4 tires, is probably the best compromise for most people, offering a good balance between ride and handling.

The new CTS isn't quite the Standard of the World. But it's certainly world class. The best damn Cadillac sedan in 50 years? Easily.
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Media Bias! Media Bias!

Ooops...wrong article...:)

As always, good product=good review. See how easy that is, GM?

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This is a rather positive review, which is good, Cadillac needs a lot of good press since the 3-series outsells the CTS over 2-1 in the USA. Hopefully they can close the gap.

My concern is the base model looks too cheap and resale values of all could suffer, plus the weight is way too high. The CTS is over 150 pounds heavier than a Mercedes E550 and that has 382 hp, 391 lb-ft. 0-60 in 5.8 seconds is good, but not good enough when Lexus, Infiniti, and the BMW all have sedans in the 4.9-5.5 second range. I fear this CTS has to wear too many hats, which isn't the car's fault, it is the fault of poor GM planning. If they had a 3 series fighter, this midsize car wouldn't need the low end cheap model, wouldn't have some of the interior flaws and would have a V8 offered. Then it would align better against the competition instead of being in the middle trying to take on the 335i, 535i, IS350, GS350/GH450h, M45, G35, etc.

I get their point about the engine, I've driven the Aura with the 3.6, it it is a little loud and harsh when it revs up, BMW engines are smoother, especially their V8. Luckily I don't need a car for a few years, maybe Cadillac will get a V8 in there or get the car on a diet.

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It's a lot older than that isn't it?

probably.

i'm sure balthazar could give us the exact date that it was tabled internally at GM as a possible name, the first car that used it and every model since.

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It is physically impossible to dicern a 0.3 to even a full 1.0 second difference to 60 by the seat of the pants. So unless you are lined up on the dragstrip with your CTS 3.6 DI vs. a e550 and have similar reaction times, you will NEVER know how quick one is compared to the other.

Or you memorize magazine test results.

>>"i'm sure balthazar could give us the exact date..."<<

Nah; it's Olds... I have never studied Olds much. I equate it with the early '80s and I have no recollection with any '70s 'FE'-suspensioned Olds'.

EDIT... Got a print ad in my collection for a '77 Olds Omega SX with the 'new Omega V-6 Sports Pack', where part of the package was the "FE-2 suspension". That very well may be the first... I know the '74 442 had what was called 'Rallye suspension'. Close enough for you, 97GS?

Edited by balthazar
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It is physically impossible to dicern a 0.3 to even a full 1.0 second difference to 60 by the seat of the pants. So unless you are lined up on the dragstrip with your CTS 3.6 DI vs. a e550 and have similar reaction times, you will NEVER know how quick one is compared to the other.

I think it is very easy to tell the difference in 0-60 times. If I drive my mom's A4, I can feel a huge drop in acceleration from my Aurora, and the difference is probably only .3 or .4 seconds, but the Aurora's V8 makes the Aurora feel stronger. My mom used to have a 9-5 Aero that was 6.7 seconds 0-60, and I could feel it was much quicker than my Aurora which is about 7.4. My step dad has a 540i, it is 5.9 seconds 0-60 and I can feel a huge difference in that, than in any of those other cars, especially on hills. You can be going uphill at 40-50 mph and hit the gas and the BMW takes off, the V8 rocks, it has a lot of torque.

The 335i is a full second faster than the CTS 0-60. The DTS is about 1 second slower than the CTS, and a Honda Accord or Nissan Altima with a V6 are less than that. I doubt many people could drive a DTS and CTS and think they were about the same in acceleration or drive an Accord and CTS and find them the same.

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Hate the first four paragraphs. Why does MT feel the need to prove their hardcore, enlightened, enthusiast, automotive connoisseur credentials in every article? You're not a racing driver, you're not writing descriptive pornographic fantasy, and you don't need to show off your antisocial technical jargon... yeesh.

They're so insecure about this car writing stuff, unlike with C&D.

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Hate the first four paragraphs. Why does MT feel the need to prove their hardcore, enlightened, enthusiast, automotive connoisseur credentials in every article? You're not a racing driver, you're not writing descriptive pornographic fantasy, and you don't need to show off your antisocial technical jargon... yeesh.

They're so insecure about this car writing stuff, unlike with C&D.

'Tis why I bold. ;)

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>>"I think it is very easy to tell the difference in 0-60 times. ..."<<

There's a lot more to it that overall numbers: gearing, # of gears, torque curve... it's EASY to have feelings & make assumptions, but I'm telling you if you drove 2 different cars on the same day/road, you could not guess their 0-60 time within .3 sec reliably... and if the 2 were .3 sec apart- you could not tell which- it's all those other factors that are giving the impression.

This is all academic- why would you buy a car you didn't like as well just because it could hit 60 .3 sec quicker? Are you a professional street racer? Does ANYONE drag these types of cars, or is it all merely about bragging rights?

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Hate the first four paragraphs. Why does MT feel the need to prove their hardcore, enlightened, enthusiast, automotive connoisseur credentials in every article? You're not a racing driver, you're not writing descriptive pornographic fantasy, and you don't need to show off your antisocial technical jargon... yeesh.

They're so insecure about this car writing stuff, unlike with C&D.

angus must have a small - cough - . so he needs to make up for it somehow?

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Although there's a lot that looks familiar under the new car, there's a lot that's brand new, and, crucially, expensive. The short/long-arm front suspension features lots of lightweight aluminum and is bolted to an all-new aluminum front cradle. A large aluminum brace across the engine compartment ties the top mounts together. The steering gear is a premium ZF Servotronic II system, with the rack mounted forward of the front-axle centerline to improve precision.

Yet it weighs 2-ton? GM come one give your vehicles some diet pills. Even the 5 series competitor, the 535 which you are trying to attack weighs about 350 lb less than this car.

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FE3 was first used on 1976 (special suspension). Pretty close to the same suspension naming as today but not exactly. The current FE3 has been used since 1984, (sport suspension)

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Over all a good article, but the back-handed compliments are in abundance.

Until North Americans realize there is a strong advantage to keeping their money here where it can recirculate and create more value-added jobs, I doubt articles like this will be enough to unseat the 3-series as the Snob King.

There is something for everyone in this article: the "pissing contest" buyers have plenty of references that there are "better" cars out there, and the "clipboard" buyers will enjoy the references that BMW outsells the Caddy and the frequent references to its (only) American roots.

For those few loyal domestic buyers left, I suppose the new King has been crowned.

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>>"I think it is very easy to tell the difference in 0-60 times. ..."<<

There's a lot more to it that overall numbers: gearing, # of gears, torque curve... it's EASY to have feelings & make assumptions, but I'm telling you if you drove 2 different cars on the same day/road, you could not guess their 0-60 time within .3 sec reliably... and if the 2 were .3 sec apart- you could not tell which- it's all those other factors that are giving the impression.

This is all academic- why would you buy a car you didn't like as well just because it could hit 60 .3 sec quicker? Are you a professional street racer? Does ANYONE drag these types of cars, or is it all merely about bragging rights?

.3 seconds would be hard to tell, but .5 or more I can feel the difference. It also depends on drive train, front drive cars often feel faster than they really are because they pull you. I wouldn't buy a car on 0-60 time alone, ride handling balance matters a lot to me, but at the same time there are 6 cars that are 0-60 in 4.9-5.4 seconds, and one car that is 5.9 seconds, that one car doesn't look as appealing. People and car mags alike brag about the Corvette's .5 second 0-60 time advantage over an Aston Martin or Porshe Cayman, base 911, etc so I think it is reasonable to wish for class average from the CTS.

I enjoy having bragging rights, but I wouldn't buy a car just on 0-60 time. But if people didn't care about it, why is there a V-series. The STS-V doesn't handle or brake any better than a CTS, it just has a good 0-60 time. It is also a marketing tool, it is hard to advertise how well a car brakes or handles, it is easy to flash a 0-60 stat up on a commercial, and BMW has a big advantage there, plus as much as I dislike BMW styling, I have yet to drive a better handling sedan than the 5-series. I hope the CTS can match it.

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I'm getting tired about how supposedly important the Nurburgring is for making great cars. It's gets way too much press for a road course.

Mark

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I'm getting tired about how supposedly important the Nurburgring is for making great cars. It's gets way too much press for a road course.

Mark

I wholeheartedly DISAGREE. Nurburgring is like New York City...if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. Everyone now uses it at the benchmark since it's such a tough course. But there are some real world benefits. How do I know? 4+ years ago my wife and I owned a 2003 CTS LuxSport and she was out driving on a local state road that's a divided highway driven at Interstate speeds. Ahead of her was a dump truck coming from a highway construction site she had passed earlier. All of a sudden, a metal shovel peels off the dump truck and bouncing into oncoming traffic...at 50 MPH. My wife, who was about 5 months pregnant at the time immediately reacted and tried to avoid it, but when she saw she made the wrong choice on the direction of the object, she immediately whipped the CTS to the other side of the highway, barely missing the object flying my her drivers window by inches. My wife had no advanced driver training and had never owned a sports sedan before the CTS. The vehicle did exactly what she asked it to do...no muss or fuss. It just responded. Oh, and the highway point where this happened wasn't a straight piece of pavement either, so she's managing the curve at the same time.

I wrote Cadillac engineers a letter thanking them for all the time they put into their 'Ring testing. I'm told it was passed around the group.

Edited by Sevenfeet
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I'm getting tired about how supposedly important the Nurburgring is for making great cars. It's gets way too much press for a road course.

Mark

You know, you don't post much. Which would be OK if the ones you did make had merit and logic, but they don't.....Take Automotive 101 again please.

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Overall, a *great* article, I'd say. Like many (or most) of you, I've been eagerly awaiting this CTS. I think it looks fantastic, both inside and out. I was at a charity event here in Los Angeles a few weeks ago, and Caddy had the full line-up peppered throughout the event. I sat in an Atomic Orange (is that the name??) CTS, black interior.... gorgeous. The French stitching we've been hearing so much about is amazing. I really hope they have contrast stitching in the CTS-v to give it a truly upmarket look.

As for the 0-60 debate about whether 5.8 is fast or, more to the point, competitive with the IS, 3-Series, C, G35... ehhhh, I don't know what I feel. I was initially disappointed to hear that this thing is weighing in at the 4000 pound mark, with a high 5 0-60 time.... but now I don't know. Maybe the target market won't mind so much. I would have loved to see a mid, to low 5 second sprint to 60 because here in L.A., the stoplight battles can make or break a car.

Speaking of target market, I'm it. Though some want to put this in the 5-series/E-class camp, it's not. It's definitely a 3 series competitor that's blessed with a slightly larger interior. I think the Caddy brand's prestige continues to grow by the day, as best typified by the Escalade, which is in every driveway in Bev Hills, etc.

A rambling post, I apologize.

Great article. Great car. Can't WAIT for the CTS-v. ^_^

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The point of this entire class of car is not how fast you can get to 60, but how good you look doing it.

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You know, you don't post much. Which would be OK if the ones you did make had merit and logic, but they don't.....Take Automotive 101 again please.

If a company produced a car that had terrific performance numbers of all sorts but had NEVER seen Nurburgring at all would you consider buying it?

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