In the United States the Cadillac CTS has become one of GM’s minor success stories. Cadillac builds 240,000 cars a year and the CTS, its 5-series saloon, has become a core part of the range. Now the latest Cadillac CTS reaches the UK this September, after the best part of a year on sale in the US. GM is desperate to export more than the current 5 percent of its production; this is the car it hopes will do the deed.
It’s a tough job for the new CTS though. In its recent history Cadillac has had two stabs at building its name in the UK, and both have bombed. Now with the operation taken in-house by GM, this is the third approach to an age-old problem – getting European buyers to understand that Cadillac is to be considered alongside Audi, BMW, Mercedes and Lexus.
So why is the Cadillac CTS going to work this time around?
With GM running the European sales operation directly it reckons it will keep a tighter reign on marketing. More importantly, the CTS has been built much more closely to British and European requirements.
So they say. One of the requirements most British premium car buyers demand is that the car is built in Germany. OK, Lexus isn’t but Cadillac would be delighted to match the sales of the posh Toyotas. Then there is style. The CTS has it in abundance, but there’s no arguing that it is an acquired taste. It does, we reckon, grow on you.
When Cadillac introduced the Saab-based BLS to the UK two years ago, it crowed about the ten percent price advantage over the competition. Was that a deal clincher? How many BLS have you seen on the road recently? It’s Cadillac’s biggest UK seller but the latest UK figures show that Cadillac has sold just 94 cars in the first six months of the year. The CTS has to offer much, much more to tempt A6, 5-series and E-class buyers.
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A rival for the BMW 5-series. Seriously?
It’s not as improbable as you might think. Dimensionally the CTS is spot on, and there’s no arguing that it has the road presence to match or even better the BMW. You may have your doubts now, but just think back to the disbelief that surrounded Chris Bangle’s new generation of BMWs.
But it is the interior that gains the CTS the most points. It shouts quality and solidity in way we haven’t experienced before from Cadillac, or indeed any other US brand. It’s subtle and refined, with some fine detailing like twin stitching along the seams of the leather, subdued light tubes that spill blue illumination to the floor and the discrete use of carbonfibre.
Forget the ten percent price advantage too. Spec a 525i SE to the same level as this CTS 2.8 Sport Luxury and you’ll get a bill the wrong side of £40k. The Cadillac costs £26,995. That includes full leather, a six-speed automatic, fully electric seats with memory on the driver’s side, and so on. Showroom success will also be helped by the infotainment system: sat-nav, 300 watt Bose 5.1 surround sound, full iPod integration, 40Gb hard drive for music storage and a DVD TV. The sound is witheringly good.
So it measures up in the showroom. What about the dynamics?
There are two engine options currently, a 3.6-litre V6 with 307bhp, and a 2.8 that produces 208bhp. Trim wise there’s little difference save for chrome alloys, twin exhausts and steering wheel button shift for the auto on the 3.6, and the saving is £6k on the smaller engine.
Which makes it the obvious choice. Except you’d never guess it has 208bhp. Acceleration away from rest is 'relaxed' and as much as you play with the box by shifting into Sport or tweaking the lever for manual shifts, the CTS is bogged down by its weight. At 1775kg it is 170kg heavier than a BMW 525, while torque that peaks at 6300rpm tells the other half of the story. Things get a little better once the speed has built up, with more enthusiastic throttle response once you reach 50mph.
It’s a shame, because the chassis is competent. The 2.8 gets a median suspension set-up, stiffer than the US cars but not as firm as the sometimes over-harsh 3.6. It is a satisfactory compromise, giving the rear-drive chassis decent poise in the bends with steering that has sufficient weight and directional accuracy. The performance isn’t there to make this a sports saloon, but it certainly makes a nod in the right direction.
Click 'Next' below to read our verdict on the Cadillac CTS
Sounds OK. So what’s the catch?
There is more than one. You may save yourself £13k on a similarly speced BMW 525i SE, but boy will you pay for it elsewhere. Economy is, on the combined cycle, 25.7mpg and we readily saw 24 on the trip computer. The benchmark BMW, however, has a combined mpg of 37.7mpg, and a CO2 output of 178g/km compared with the Cadillac’s 263. To be fair to Cadillac, take the Jaguar XF 3.0-litre as the comparison and the differences are very much smaller.
Of course a diesel will overcome some of these issues but the new 2.9-litre V6, developed in conjunction with VM Motori in Italy, is still a year away. A second problem is the dealer network. Currently there are just six places to buy your CTS in the UK. And when you come to sell your used CTS? One trade expert estimated that a three-year 60,000 mile CTS will fetch just 28 percent of its list price.
Cadillac doesn’t have massive targets for the CTS, just a few hundred petrol versions in a full year, at least double that when the diesel arrives. So take on board, if you will, the performance, economy and CO2 factors for the 2.8, and if you accept these, you’ll be driving a pretty nice car that probably no one else you know owns. Just don’t kid yourself that Cadillac ownership is going to be as straightforward as other brands, nor as cheap as the list price implies.