Another US saloon arriving in Britain with right-hand drive? What’s so special about the BLS?
It’s the first Cadillac offered with a diesel engine. Well if you discount the disastrously unreliable 5.7-litre Seville diesels of the late 70’s.
So a creaky old car maker trading on past glories has finally caught up with the rest of the world. Big deal. Why should I be interested?
It rides and handles just like a European car, albeit a very average one, and it’s got a decent interior that’s far more suited to European tastes. The seats aren’t covered in red velour at all.
Ah. Now you’ve got my attention. What’s behind the sudden about turn?
No mystery: the BLS is a reskinned 9-3 and it’s built at Saab’s Trollhattan factory. The Americans have taken a Saab rolling chassis and grafted on their trademark vertical lines. Both marques come under the General Motors umbrella and the bigwigs in the States think that selling Cadillacs in Europe is a way of easing their financial woes back home.
What’s it like, then?
Identical to a Saab 9-3. The ride is on the firm side, as we Europeans like, and the handling is surefooted enough. The overlight steering lets things down though – there’s no feel through the wheel. Inside there are several clues that this remains a 9-3 at heart – the steering wheel, some switches and the instrument cluster are all lifted from the Saab. However, the Swedish firm’s trademark ignition barrel position by the handbrake is replaced by a more conventional location on the steering column. It all feels well put together, and the bespoke centre console looks and feels like a quality item.
Is it good value?
The BLS undercuts its key rivals significantly: BMW 320d by £2k, Lexus IS by £800 and even the Alfa 159 by around £500. Offsetting that is the BMW’s better fuel economy and lower CO2 emissions which might swing things Munich’s way for company drivers. What might swing them back is the BMW’s meager goodie count – the BLS comes with all the toys you’d expect on a proper Cadillac.
So it’s a decent enough car, but does it stand a chance in the marketplace?
Ultimately no. It lacks the brand appeal of the BMW 3-series and Audi A4, especially in company car parks, where Cadillac expects to sell nearly three-quarters of the 2000 cars it will import this year. But at least there’s an oil-burner to reduce the company car tax bills, borrowing the 1.9-litre turbodiesel also used by Saab and Vauxhall. It’s quiet, refined and offers smooth, easy performance thanks to the 236lb ft of torque available from just 2000rpm. There are also three petrol engines – 175 and 210bhp 2.0-litre turbo fours from Saab and a range-topping 2.8-litre V6 turbo with 255bhp, which is plenty enough for a front-wheel drive car.
Interesting alternative to the predictable junior exec choices with strong diesel engines but not good enough to take a big slice of this market, as the early sales figures testify.