NEW YORK I've driven many cars. None of them has been perfect. BMW automobiles often came with technology, such as the iDrive vehicle infotainment/navigation system, that offered more complexity than advantage. Mercedes-Benz cars have had their share of electrical woes. A check of Toyota's U.S. "consumer satisfaction campaigns" -- essentially silent recalls to repair defects unrelated to safety or emissions controls -- shows past problems with engine sludge. And there are the Italian makes, including Lamborghini and Ferrari, which have had difficulties ranging from fit and finish to engine failure.
All of which is why I become agitated when a U.S.-based car company does something very right and the automotive media still find it extremely difficult to say "congratulations" or "job well done" without implying that the car in question somehow ranks behind its foreign rivals.
That bias rankles me, especially when I've spent hundreds of miles in an exceedingly fine American automobile such as this week's test car -- the extensively redesigned 2008 Cadillac CTS4, an all-wheel-drive, mid-size luxury sports sedan with a 3.6-liter, 304 horsepower, direct-injection V-6 engine.
The CTS4 isn't perfect. It doesn't come with a 438 horsepower, gasoline-electric hybrid drive system, such as the one in the 2008 Lexus LS 600h L all-wheel-drive sedan. The Lexus is awarded a "green" label although it barely gets 22 miles per gallon on the highway.
The CTS4 gets 17 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway without hybrid technology -- which, of course, means it isn't "green." With options, it offers all of the amenities available in European and Japanese luxury automobiles. And it does it at a reasonable price.
The greener-than-thou Lexus LS 600h L will cost you $104,000 to $112,000, depending on equipment chosen. The lighter, faster, more-fuel-efficient, much more nimble, equally luxurious, equally accommodative CTS4, with a full raft of options such as onboard navigation and tasteful African mahogany wood trim, costs well under $50,000.
Purists won't like that comparison. The CTS4 is "mid-size luxury." The Ls 600 h L is "full-size luxury" -- a difference that really is no difference at all when you consider that both automobiles seat five adults in splendiferous comfort.
Nonetheless, let us consider what purists would call more-appropriate comparisons -- the CTS4 vs. the Acura TL, BMW 328i, Infiniti G35 and Mercedes-Benz C300. All of the rivals are fine mid-size luxury automobiles. But the CTS4 beats or meets them in price, quality and performance. In terms of looks, in my thinking, the CTS4 beats all of them hands-down. I've driven all of the above-cited cars. Not one of them comes close to the CTS4 in garnering totally unsolicited, unanimous spectator praise for exterior and interior styling.
Example: My wife, Mary Anne, drove the car all around our community in Northern Virginia. "People are going nuts over this car," she said later. On one occasion, we drove it to a shopping center in Marshall, Va. The car was glistening when we parked it. When we returned, we found fingerprints and head smudges all over the windows, fingerprints all over the exterior panels.
When I parked the car here in my favorite East Side garage, a place that prides itself on its genteel handling of luxury automobiles, attendants greeted me with "wows" and comments such as "nice car" and "really pretty."
Simply put, the angular, in-your-face, broad-shouldered, damned-right-I'm-from-Detroit styling of the CTS4 has strong emotional appeal. That kind of appeal sells.
Do I like this car? Yeah, I love it. The CTS4 is hip. It rocks. As for all of that nattering nonsense about it not running as fast and handling as crisply as European models, all I can say is this: In 600 miles of driving the CTS4, I had no trouble passing comparabe European and Japanese cars whenever I wanted to pass them, no trouble outmaneuvering those cars in tight urban traffic whenever such maneuvers were necessary, and no trouble slowing down, or hiding in a pack of over-the-speed-limit motorists to allow the craziest and less-attentive speeding drivers among us to get the traffic tickets.