First Drive: 2008 Cadillac CTS

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1255687050 1425510729176 jpeg

Oh, the things we do for you. Cadillac invited journalists this week to pilot its latest sport sedan, the redesigned CTS, across some 250 miles of challenging mountain roads south of the Bay Area. The CTS proved to be one capable four-door — planted on the highways, poised in the corners and a flat-out riot when you put the pedal to the floor.

About that pedal: It drives Cadillac’s 3.6-liter V-6, which now has direct injection to make 304 hp. The base V-6 makes 263 hp; we had a chance to drive both. The uplevel engine doesn’t feel 40-plus hp stronger, but that’s mostly a testament to the unexpected strength of the regular one. Both V-6s move the CTS swiftly, with a gratifying exhaust snarl under hard acceleration. Aggressive drivers might still choose the high-output engine, as it gets stronger at higher revs – and on the highway, it scoots a bit quicker from 60 to 80 mph — but the base car should still induce plenty of smiles.

The CTS comes with three suspension setups, more or less reflecting base, touring and sport tuning. You probably don’t need the sport suspension unless you’re looking to do some serious corner-carving. Even on twisty mountain roads, we noticed little difference between the sport and touring. Neither one beats you up over the bumps, which isn’t something we can say for every $35,000 sport sedan.

The interior hits a lot of the right notes. The center controls are a bit busy – below the navigation system, I counted 40 buttons and three knobs — but the craftsmanship elevates Cadillac, and possibly this entire segment, to new levels. The dashboard is formed from stitched materials that give it a leather-wrapped look. The chrome and wood trim integrate well, and there are none of the panel gaps that plague the larger STS. Infotainment options are equally impressive, with real-time navigation traffic, full iPod integration and a 40GB hard drive that records live radio with TiVo-like efficiency. Provided you stay on the same channel, it can rewind, fast-forward and pause over a 60-minute buffer.

The seats could use a bit more padding, though; if you sit down hard, you can feel the entire chair flex. Interior quality takes a modest dive in the backseat. Most of our other complaints relate to pricing and equipment. Optional AWD can put the starting price past $36,000, and even then the CTS comes standard with cheapo leatherette upholstery, a manual passenger seat and no moonroof.

All told, those are nitpicks. As far as driving entertainment and overall versatility go, this car rivals an Infiniti G35 or Mercedes C-Class. For Cadillac, that means the Escalade might not be the only car the import shoppers consider.

We’ll be updating this post with a photo gallery later today so make sure to check back.

Photo of Kelsey Mays
Former Assistant Managing Editor-News Kelsey Mays likes quality, reliability, safety and practicality. But he also likes a fair price. Email Kelsey Mays

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