Redesigned for the 2008 model year, the Cadillac CTS keeps everything that was good about the first-generation model and seems to improve everything that wasn't — and not just a little. More-refined exterior styling, greatly improved interior design and quality, more power and optional all-wheel drive mean the CTS is poised to give the Infiniti G35 and other entry-level sport sedans some tough competition.
Introduced in 2002, the current CTS generation has love-it-or-leave-it styling. Fortunately for Cadillac, there were as many love-its as there were leave-its — or at least enough to make the model a success. Still, some aspects of the car were odd and looked unfinished, and Cadillac has been tweaking the design ever since. The new model is a much more unified design that will be hated by some but loved by even more than the original model was.
One controversial element is the tall grille, which plunges down low on the bumper — similar to new designs from the likes of Audi and Volkswagen. If you don't like those, you probably won't like this. The CTS hasn't given up the edges, but it now has more curves in the right places. The wheels are 2 inches farther apart, which together with the lowered front bumper gives the car a ground-hugging, sturdy look. The bizarre tail has been replaced by a more sensible shape, with a lip spoiler that incorporates the center brake light.
The CTS is another in a string of new cars to incorporate small vents high on the front fenders, right in front of the doors, but Cadillac gets extra credit because those on the CTS are functional: They're an outlet for cooling air that's routed past the front disc brakes from inlets in the wheel wells.
Seventeen-inch wheels are standard and 18s are optional.
The interior is perhaps the CTS' greatest improvement — which says something about both the original and the new version. In the previous generation, someone's idea of a high-tech look was to base the center control panel's design on a tower PC, complete with a plasticky finish, gridlike vents and a CD player slot that emulated a disk drive. (You remember those, right?) When you think luxury, do you really think of something you hide under your desk?
The new interior design is more conventional, yet modern, with vastly improved materials that look and feel high-quality. The "satin metallic" center control panel bezel is borderline, but real wood trim can be substituted as an option.
The heated and ventilated seats use what Cadillac calls thin-seat technology to provide the same comfort in a chair that's thin enough to increase legroom.
Under the Hood
The big news is that a new version of the 3.6-liter V-6 engine generates 300 horsepower and 270 pounds-feet of torque, partly through the use of direct fuel injection. The original 258-hp, 3.6-liter engine is the base powerplant.
The standard manual transmission is a six speed, as is the optional automatic, which also provides a manual-shift mode. Steering-wheel shift paddles aren't offered. Also new is optional all-wheel drive, which mates with either V-6, but only with the automatic transmission. This helps the CTS join the ranks of the Infiniti G35 and BMW 3 Series models with an "x" in their model name, and is sure to increase sales in snowy regions.
The CTS offers two suspensions: standard and performance. The latter provides a firmer ride, (claimed) improved roadholding, larger brake discs, two-piston rear calipers where the regular suspension has one, and 18-inch wheels with lower-profile summer or all-season performance tires.
Some of the CTS' notable standard and optional features include adaptive headlights that swivel in the direction of a turn, remote start, Easy Key keyless access and ignition and a 5.1-channel digital surround-sound stereo.
In addition to an analog auxiliary input jack for an MP3 player, the CTS lets you attach a player that uses a USB cord and control it through the stereo and steering-wheel controls. The playlist appears on the optional navigation screen. This 8-inch touch-screen telescopes out of the top of the dashboard. For parking assistance, the CTS offers a sonar system that beeps with increasing frequency as the rear bumper approaches an object.
Standard safety equipment includes four-wheel-disc antilock brakes and an electronic stability system with traction control. In addition to the required frontal pair, there are side-impact airbags for the front occupants and side curtains that protect all occupants. The steering wheel tilts and telescopes.