Debuting for 2003, the CTS introduced an edgy,
folded look to Cadillac. The midsize CTS looked like no other Cadillac, and like nothing
else on the road. Now, with the 2004s arriving, familiarity has made it look more
Not only is the shape radically squared-off, but the detailing is
superb too. The headlamp units, with their vertically stacked projector beams, are cleanly
rendered works of art. The alloy wheels are gracefully wrought. The interior surfaces
avoid the dry, fake-leather look favored by GM interior designers. Even the real wood is
carefully meted out, appearing only on the top of the steering wheel, shift knob, and door
Previous junior size Cadillacs failed because they didnt
capture the Cadillac essencebeauty, style, power, and exclusivity. In the 1980s, the
ill-fated Cimarron was hardly distinguishable from the Chevy Cavalier upon which it was
based. The 1990s brought the Catera, a better vehicle based on a European Opel, but it
missed something essential about Cadillacsa strong American character.
Well, after a week with a shiny new 2004 CTS, I can say with some
certainty that this time they got it right. The CTS is big and solid enough, but still
handles and parks like the midsized BMWs and Lexuses from which it hopes to lure its
customers away from. A good sign: First year CTS sales were about 25 percent above
The CTS offers two engine options, neither of them a V8. The
standard powerplant is a seriously reworked 3.2-liter V6 that generates a competitive 220
horsepower and an equal 220 lb.-ft of torque. Shockingly, it comes only with a manual
five-speed transmission. A pink 59 Elvismobile this is not. Boomer Europhiles expect
a stickshift in their BMWs and Audis, so Cadillac has given them one.
For everyone else, the automatic-equipped model has a new
dual-overhead-cam 3.6-liter V6 engine for 2004, with variable valve timing. The increased
size and efficiency boosts horsepower to 255 and torque to 252 lb.-ft., for 20 percent
more peak power and 13 percent more peak torque than the standard engine.
My White Diamond Premium 2004 test car came with this new
powerplant, and it lived up to its billing. Not only did my CTS rocket down highways and
byways like a sports car, but it felt incredibly stable doing it. As part of a
many-featured package (described later), my tester enjoyed a sport suspension with rear
load leveling, performance brake linings, and variable assist steering, which explains at
least partly why this car felt so unlike its ancestors.
Official fuel economy ratings were an encouraging 18 city, 28
highway - not traditional Cadillac numbers. My tester averaged 18.4 mpg during my
substantially freeway test week. I gleaned that information from the easy-to-use Driver
Information Center, which lives in the instrument panel.
The manual-equipped, 3.2-liter model comes with Cadillac levels of
luxury, including leather seats and steering wheel, power windows, power locks, power
drivers seat, power and heated outside mirrors, remote keyless entry, cruise
control, an AM/FM/CD with seven speakers, and the famous Cadillac Twilight Sentinel
Mechanically, the car gets a four-wheel independent suspension,
four-wheel disc brakes with antilock, and all-speed traction control. Safety features
include front to rear head-curtain side impact air bags, automatic door locks, and a
But thats just the entry point. My tester featured the nearly
$10,000 1SC Equipment Group, which pushed the vehicle up into the luxury stratosphere.
Highlights included the 3.6-liter engine, five-speed automatic transmission (the only
choice with the 3.6-liter), a killer Bose music system with in-dash CD changer, 10-way
power drivers seat with memory, wood trim, heated front seats, and the sporty
suspension mentioned earlier.
If you really want to go wild, you can order up GMs DVD
Navigation system, with 100-channel XM Radio (subscription costs extra). And my cars
fancy paint cost $995 extra, not unusual for premium surfaces on the competition.
The CTS pleased with its handsome gauge typeface, an eager-to-please
feature-packed audio system, genuinely exciting styling, and apparently high-quality
assembly and materials. The CTS surprised with its restraint without dullness,
"Headlamps suggested" screen message at dusk, and dash light dimmer mounted on
the ceiling. The CTS delighted with its silence at speed, the penholder slot by the
shifter base, and a radio screen that displayed, for some stations, dial location and also
call letters, program type, and even a promo message. The car dismayed somewhat with its
microscopic glove box, inaccurate reading outside thermometer, and extremely heavy trunk
An optionless manual-equipped CTS prices out at just $30,140, while
my tester, with packages and extras, came to $43,530. With ordinary midsize sedans pushing
the $30,000 mark, the standard CTS is something of a bargain. The loaded model matches up
well against its midsize luxury competitors.
The CTS, along with the Escalade SUV and the brand-new 2004 SRX
sport wagon, should drop the average age of Cadillac buyers by ten to twenty years. Built
right here in Lansing, Michigan, USA, the CTS is an American car to get very excited