With its exterior, feature and engine upgrades, the 2008 Cadillac STS may make some car buyers think this midsize sedan is one of the automaker's latest and greatest — something in the vein of the redesigned CTS sedan or Escalade SUV.
That could have been the case, were it not for the interior. This is the Cadillac of three or four years ago: weighty doors and cushy leather, but too many shoddy finishes and some embarrassingly confusing buttons. It's a shame, because the driving experience reflects Cadillacs of today: capable yet comfortable. Your opinion will likely depend on what's more important to you.
The STS is Cadillac's midsize sedan; it competes with cars like the BMW 5 Series, Infiniti M and Lexus GS. All four offer rear- or all-wheel drive, V-6 or V-8 engines and price tags north of 40 large. Cadillac also sells the supercharged STS-V; it's covered separately in the Cars.com Research section. I drove an STS V-6 with rear-wheel drive.
Unified styling gets a lot of lip service these days, but few carmakers have managed to craft an entire lineup as cohesive as Cadillac has. Of late, the look has evolved to include more substance and fewer angles for the sake of angles. The STS follows suit, with a two-tone grille that matches the narrower air dam below. New side portals sit behind the front fenders, and there's a monotone bumper in back.
Seventeen-inch alloy wheels are standard, and 18-inchers are optional. The window sills and rocker panels have subtle chrome strips. Those who want to be seen should consider the STS Platinum Edition, which dresses the wheels, door handles and grille in bright chrome.
Under the hood, the STS has GM's direct-injection 3.6-liter V-6. The engine delivers 302 horsepower, which is 47 hp more than last year's port-injected V-6. A 320-hp Northstar V-8 is also available. The engines' reported 18-hp difference is likely even less in reality, as the V-8 has not been certified under the industry's latest engineering standards, which tend to result in slightly lower numbers. Both engines use a six-speed automatic transmission.
Gas mileage is on par with the competition. Note, however, that the V-6 runs fine on regular gas; all major competitors recommend premium gas.
|Size||3.6 liters||4.6 liters|
|Horsepower (@ rpm)||302 @ 6,300||320 @ 6,400*|
|Torque (lbs.-ft. @ rpm)||272 @ 5,200||315 @ 4,400*|
|Transmission||Six-speed auto||Six-speed auto|
|EPA fuel economy (city/highway, mpg)||17/26 (RWD or AWD)||15/24 (14/21 w/AWD)|
|Recommended fuel||Regular (87 octane)||Premium (91 octane)|
|*Certified under old SAE rating system.|
Source: EPA, automaker data
The V-6 proves remarkably versatile. It delivers enough low-end grunt for crisp acceleration from a standing start, and things get fairly potent later on. Power builds in a linear fashion — there is more as you rev, but it doesn't peak all at once. The transmission moves things along, though it isn't the most responsive one out there; I noticed some clunky shifts at lower speeds. There is a manual-shift mode, but like most it takes a moment or two to induce a shift. Should the computer think the car needs a downshift, it's quick to override any actions to the contrary.
I haven't driven the V-8, but you might consider a test-drive to compare highway acceleration. The V-6 proves expedient enough at 60-to-70 mph passing, but the automatic can take a second or so to find the right gear when downshifting, and the engine doesn't muster enough low-end power to muscle its way through the hesitation. With more torque at lower rpms, the V-8 might handle such situations better.
The standard four-wheel-independent suspension can incorporate GM's Magnetic Ride Control. The system uses liquid-filled shock absorbers at the rear wheels that continuously adjust firmness to changing road conditions. It comes with the optional Performance Package, which also adds larger rear stabilizer bars on rear-wheel-drive models.
Real-time suspension damping is designed to enhance handling without sacrificing ride comfort, and as such, it's growing more popular in luxury cars. With the Performance Package, my test car felt relaxed on straightaways and agile in corners. On the highway, the suspension helps preserve high-speed stability and relative silence in the cabin.
Body roll is impressively low, which plays right into the spot-on steering. BMW and Infiniti fans may find the Cadillac turns with too light a touch, but few will take issue with its precision. Dial the wheel into a corner, prod the gas and off you go — no need to worry about sloppy steering response or body roll. Note that my car had the optional high-precision ZF steering system. The standard rack-and-pinion setup might prove a bit lazier.
Push the STS hard, and the chassis tends to understeer. It does so predictably, plowing wider as you turn harder but never feeling out of control. The rear wheels come out to play eventually, but only under the most aggressive conditions. Lateral bumps induce remarkably little wheel hop, making it easy to correct course over even the most riddled pavement.
Four-wheel-disc antilock brakes are standard. The Performance Package adds Brembo four-piston calipers and enormous 14-inch discs — on paper, the sort of hardware you'd see on a Jaguar XJR or Mercedes S600. I never had the opportunity to slam them hard (a good thing, perhaps) but in normal situations, they proved as powerful as anything I've tested recently.
What's Stayed the Same
Stop here, and Cadillac has a real winner. Unfortunately, the STS falls short inside. It's comfortable and lined with respectable materials, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. Most of the flaws could have been fixed with a modest freshening, something on par with what the outside received. No such luck.
The front seats have plenty of range for different-sized drivers, and the leather upholstery is both supportive and well-cushioned. I'm 6 feet tall, and I had just enough headroom in back. Rear-seat legroom is ample, and should someone up front need to scoot all the way back, the front seatbacks have cutouts to give your knees an inch or so more room.
The dashboard and center controls sport the same edgy contours that characterize the outside. Most surfaces are trimmed in soft-touch materials, and the wood and metal inlays integrate well with their surroundings. An optional Bose 5.1 surround-sound stereo boasts 15 speakers, including two in each front seat. It sounds terrific.
Look closely, however, and rough edges start to show: The overhead map lights click on and off with a hollow echo, and the power window switches look awfully down-market. The cruise controls are crowded onto the turn-signal stalk, an old GM trick that it needs to stop doing. Worst of all, my test car had gaps between the center panel and glove compartment that you could fit a nickel into.
The center controls are the same story: small dials, mismatched buttons and convoluted displays. I'll save my rants for the picture captions — check out the thumbnails for the navigation system and center controls. Suffice it to say Cadillac has largely moved well beyond this grade of interior quality, and it's time the STS caught up.
Trunk volume measures 13.8 cubic feet, which is at the low end for this segment. The short deck lid makes for a rather small luggage opening.
As of this writing, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has not crash tested the 2008 STS. Standard safety features include six airbags, four-wheel-disc antilock brakes, traction control and an electronic stability system. On all-wheel-drive V-8 models, the stability system incorporates an active steering mechanism that can steer the STS out of a skid.
Adaptive cruise control, which adjusts the car's speed depending on the distance to the car ahead, is optional. So is a head-up display, which aims to keep your eyes on the road by projecting a readout with vehicle speed and other essential details onto the windshield.
If you forget to turn off your high beams when approaching other drivers, an Intellibeam feature will do so automatically. It's included with the optional xenon high-intensity-discharge headlights. Note that when flashed momentarily, the high-beams stay on for half a second. That makes it impossible to flash them two or three times in rapid succession, a tactic some drivers — including me — use in certain situations to alert others to their presence. Cadillac spokesman David Caldwell says he hasn't heard of any complaints about it from STS owners.
Parents should note that the rear seat has two Latch child-seat anchors for each position. Most cars have anchors only for the outboard positions. In the STS, up to three seats can be installed; if you're traveling with one kid, the seat can easily latch into the center position, which is the safest spot. There are top-tether anchors for all three positions on the backseat shelf.
Two other safety options deserve discussion. One is a new Side Blind Zone Alert System, which warns drivers of cars lurking in adjacent lanes. Starting at the side mirrors, the system scans an area roughly 11 feet out and 16 feet back. If there's a car in that zone, a small orange icon illuminates in the mirror (check out the "Blind Spot" photo to see). It isn't as immediately noticeable as a similar system from Volvo, which illuminates a light at the base of the A-pillar, but it attracts enough attention.
The feature represents the last line of defense against potential collisions, and is not a green light for willful lane-changing. In practice, the warning icon stayed illuminated from the time cars approached the side mirror to the moment after they emerged into my peripheral vision. One editor found the system didn't light up until the cars were plainly in his view, so its effectiveness could depend on where you position your mirrors.
The system picks up faster cars as they pass, but it isn't designed to detect slower cars as you pass them. That's unfortunate — slower traffic may pose less risk, but it still represents a potential hazard should you need to swerve suddenly. It's also designed to ignore parked cars and inanimate objects. It did not always do so: In the parking garage near our Chicago offices, the light sometimes stayed on past entire rows of cars. In at least two other instances, a vehicle directly behind me with its lights on triggered the warning.
The second option is a Lane Departure Warning System, which uses a small camera mounted at the top of the windshield to scan the road for lane markings. It works similarly to a system from Infiniti, sounding a quick succession of beeps should you wander near the lane's edge. The feature engages at around 35 mph, and it won't beep if your turn signal is activated.
The Cadillac system works well, sounding beeps from the left or right of the cabin depending on which way the STS is drifting. I drove over plenty of diagonal ruts and old lane markings, and the system never sounded a false alarm. The same can't be said of Infiniti's system.
The blind-spot alert, lane departure warning and head-up display comprise a $1,290 Driver Awareness Package. If you find them intrusive, all three can be turned off.
Features & Pricing
Without the destination charge, prices range from $42,390 for the V-6 to $51,810 for the V-8. All-wheel drive costs $1,900 on the V-6 and $1,550 on the V-8. Load a V-8 STS with options, and the bottom line can run just over $70,000.
Standard features include leather upholstery, a power-adjustable steering wheel, sonar rear parking assist, power front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, a keyless access system and an eight-speaker CD stereo. Heated and cooled seats, a heated steering wheel, Bose premium sound, a moonroof, a navigation system and the high-tech safety features outlined above are optional. Two items common in this class, a rear backup camera and an auxiliary jack for MP3 players, are unavailable.
STS in the Market
I suspect a lot of Cadillac buyers spend more time luxuriating in their cars than driving them hard. If those buyers are looking for value, the STS may prove to be the right choice. Factor in the starting price, gas mileage and GM's impressive 10-year warranty, and the car undercuts most of its competitors — especially if Cadillac dishes out its usual sales incentives. In that case, a bare-bones version may be just what a buyer looking to stretch a $35,000 budget is looking for — compared to sedans in that price range, the interior might not seem so fatally flawed. Luxury lovers who can afford a genuine $50,000 car, however, will find better choices elsewhere.
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