Curve dancing demands a tight body and responsive soul. It is ritualistic art -- engine humming, music pumping, speed building, approaching the entrance to the curve, easing into its apex, letting the curve take you as you take it, flowing into a graceful exit.
That is the joy of driving a car such as the 2005 Cadillac STS Northstar V-8 sedan. It is made to dance. Its body is sleek versus slick, chiseled yet sensuous, stunning without the slightest hint of being overdone -- purposeful.
May I have this dance?
The music was Armik, the Rev. Al Green, Ray Charles and B.B. King. The routes were U.S. 50 East running into Annapolis and Bay Ridge, Md.; and after a visit there with friends, it was back on U.S. 50 again, this time heading west toward a hookup with Interstate 66 on the way to Virginia's Shenandoah Valley.
If you love dancing and driving, you know that the only difference between the two is the size of the floor. In a car that can boogie, the floor is as wide and long as the road you're on. If the road has cozy and exciting corners, so much the better. You and your partner can become familiar in those spots, which is where I learned a few things about the STS V-8.
Two months before going out with that car, I had driven many other automobiles -- high-enders such as the Aston Martin DB9, the Bentley Arnage and Continental GT, and the Mercedes-Benz CL600 -- all of them good dancers, all of them costing substantially more than the STS V-8.
But bigger prices do not guarantee better talent. (Base price on the tested Cadillac STS V-8 is $47,025. Dealer's invoice price on the base model is $43,025.) The STS V-8 danced as well as all of the pricey exotics, and in the case of the elegant but stiff-bordering-on-stuffy $243,000 Bentley Arnage, it danced a heck of a lot better. If that surprises you, it's a safe bet you haven't driven a Cadillac, or haven't even been a passenger in one, for at least 15 years, which means you've missed a lot. Cadillac has changed tremendously for the better in recent years; and the new rear-wheel-drive STS V-8 and its siblings -- the rear-wheel-drive STS V-6 and the STS V-8 all-wheel-drive -- are proof. The cars collectively replace the Cadillac Seville, which was introduced in 1956.
Cadillac's workmanship now rivals that of any luxury automobile manufacturer from Europe or Asia. Exterior and interior gaps have been reduced to the most narrow of apertures. The STS V-8, for example, feels solid, tight, rattle-free right.
The car has a curb weight -- factory weight minus passengers and cargo -- of 4,230 pounds, but the STS V-8 feels hundreds of pounds lighter than that. You can swing with it. It goes exactly where you point it, exactly when you point it, keeping up with every movement of your hands with precision and grace.
The interior is comfortable and finely crafted. The seats are all leather, and it is rich and supple. There are attractive, judicious applications of eucalyptus wood trim on the center console and door panel, and the vinyl portions of the instrument panel are high-quality, soft-to-touch vinyl.
Technologically, the truly expensive luxury mobiles have nothing discernibly, measurably better than the STS V-8. For example, the Cadillac's touch-screen navigation system works better than anything lately used by BMW or Mercedes-Benz. Its standard OnStar emergency telecommunications system has long been the best in the business. The STS V-8 also is available with Bluetooth wireless networking capability and an advanced voice-recognition system.
In summary, the car is smart, sexy, hot -- very hot. The Northstar V-8 has a maximum 320 horsepower, and although you'll probably never use all of it, it's just fun thinking about the possibility.
The valves are electronically controlled (variable valve timing) for more precise air/fuel intake, combustion and exhaust, which help increase power without a big jump in fuel consumption. Maximum torque is 315 foot-pounds at 4,400 rpm. A 255-hp V-6 is available for the more fuel-conscious buyer.
Both engines are mated to five-speed automatic transmissions that also can be shifted manually.
And to all of the street spectators who asked: Yes, it's a Cadillac designed and engineered by General Motors Corp. No, it's not a Lexus, BMW, Italian car or any other foreign luxury car with a Cadillac grille and badge. It's a Cadillac. OK?
Purse-strings note: Check out all three STS versions. Compare with Audi A6, BMW 5 Series, Lexus GS 430, Mercedes-Benz E-Class.
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