Dubspeed Driven First Drive – 2008 Cadillac CTS

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Story and Photos by Zerin Dube When I first laid my eyes upon the 2008 Cadillac CTS at the 2007 Detroit Auto Show in January, it was love at first sight. Of all the press conferences and reveals scheduled over the duration of the press days, the CTS reveal was probably the most highly anticipated of the entire show. This was one of the few reveals that wasn’t leaked out onto the internet weeks ahead of time, and thus carried a bit of mystique and drama behind it. Once the curtains dropped on the CTS, and the hip-hop violinists had left the stage, I was left mouth agape and captivated by the beautiful evolution of the art and science design language.

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The CTS unveiled at the show was quite simply one of the most beautiful and emotional designs I have seen come out of Detroit in my short 28 years of existence, and this sentiment was echoed by other members of the media I overheard in passing. I did leave Detroit feeling somewhat unfulfilled as there was still one big question that was left unanswered. Would the CTS have the same effect on me in real world conditions as it did in the beer-goggle-like perfect lighting of an auto show? I had a chance to answer my question at the 2008 GM Collection in Nashville, TN. This event gives members of the media an opportunity to sample all the latest and greatest offerings from the General in one carefully controlled environment, without having to fight for a spot on the media fleet reservation list. With the curvy and hilly roads of rural Nashville surrounding us, this was the perfect place to put the new CTS through its paces.

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As we rode to the event location from the hotel, I had a chance to reflect on the initial impressions I had of the CTS almost a full 9 months earlier. Aside from wondering how it drove, I wondered if I would have the same reaction to the design of the car as I did back in January. I was almost certain that when I saw the CTS the second time around, I would be disappointed. I didn’t think that the hand perfected quality of the show car could possibly translate into a production version built by the thousands. Much to my amazement however, the production version of the CTS still possessed all of the beauty and quality as the show car in Detroit. In fact, the natural sunlight brought out design details in the car that had previously gone unnoticed under the ideal lighting of a car show. Things such as the perfect laser welded seams joining the roof to the rest of the car, and the how-in-the-hell-did-they-tool-this front fenders show Cadillac’s commitment to quality, even in the details. Overall, the new CTS is much more athletic-looking with its wide track, flared fenders and sharp angular design, giving it much more road presence than the outgoing model.

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What really blew me away though was the interior of the CTS. This interior is unlike anything I have seen before from General Motors, and shows that they are genuinely committed to doing whatever it takes to not just be on par with the competition, but beat them by miles. All the materials used in the interior of the CTS are top notch, from the plastics used on the lower dash to the leather used to cover the seats. Switchgear has a nice tactile feel, and even the turn stalks feel like those found in much more expensive cars. Fit and finish of all the panels and materials is tight and consistent throughout the complex cockpit of the CTS. This is also the only vehicle I can think of in this class that features a fully wrapped and stitched upper dash. As a four-time Audi owner, the CTS interior is a true testament to the commitment GM is making to improving interior quality, and it is every bit as good as the interior quality of my latest generation A4.

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But enough with dash stroking, I was here to drive the car, not fondle it. The CTS I picked to test was equipped with the 3.6-liter direct injection V-6 engine, mated to a new six-speed automatic gearbox. A six-speed manual transmission will also available soon. This direct injection engine makes 304-horsepower, which in and of itself isn’t all that big of a feat. What is impressive about this engine though is that it makes that power on regular 87 octane fuel, and is rated at 26 mpg highway under the new 2008 EPA ratings.

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To keep the car well-sorted in the twisty stuff, my test car was equipped with the $3,300 “Performance Collection” package. This package includes 18” wheels wrapped in high-performance rubber, a limited-slip differential, and what GM calls the FE3 sport suspension, and a whole slew of other features like power seats and HID headlamps. The FE3 suspension features upgraded springs, dampers and sway-bars over the standard CTS suspension.

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Once behind the wheel and on the road, the results of the countless hours spent testing the CTS on the Nurburgring was immediately apparent. As I heaved the CTS through tight corners at speed, it always stayed fairly flat and I never heard much of an argument from the Michelin tires. With the transmission holding the correct gear for me almost every time, it was easy to help the suspension rotate around these corners with some input of the throttle. Though the FE3 suspension is the most aggressively tuned of the three available on the CTS, the ride is never harsh to driver or passengers, and stays very well sorted even on very rough transitions. Brake feel was excellent as well, and there was no sign of slop in the pedal that is found in other GM cars.

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[Photo Credit - GM Media]
Power delivery was strong and linear all the way to the 6500 RPM redline, and the six-speed automatic was nearly transparent during upshifts. When in M mode, the transmission can either be shifted manually, or left to shift itself in using a much more aggressive drive program. This sportier program will sense the way the car is being driven, and hold gears longer rather than immediately upshifting or downshifting. I especially liked that under braking going into a hard corner, the transmission would blip the throttle and put you back into the sweet spot of the power curve. As far as automatics go, this is a pretty damn good one.

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As brilliant as the new CTS is on the road though, its manners won’t soon be confused with those of a BMW 3-series. The CTS isn’t as responsive during turn-in nor is the handling as aggressive and sharp as the 3-series, nor does the 3.6-liter have the instant throttle response and beautiful baritone exhaust note of the German’s inline-six. This isn’t completely fair though, as the 3-series has long been the high water mark of the mid-size sport luxury segment. While it may not be as good as the BMW, the CTS is every bit as good as the current generation Audi A4 and Infiniti G35. I’ll even be so bold as to say that the CTS is a better driver’s car than either the A4 or G35.

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All in all, I left my day with the CTS feeling very satisfied and very impressed with the CTS. I certainly didn’t expect this level of refinement from anything out of Detroit. General Motors is putting its money where its mouth is, and really did a fantastic job of delivering a world class vehicle that excels exactly where it needed to. For the first time, GM has managed to put together a complete package by combining a simply stunning design with high quality materials and extreme attention to detail. Most importantly, they built a car that is engaging and fun to drive on top of everything else.

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With a very nicely equipped price-as-tested of $41,080, the CTS is poised to steal sales away from the Japanese and Germans with ease by delivering performance, refinement, luxury and value. Will the American public be willing to forget everything they know about Cadillac and actually set foot in showrooms? I, along with General Motors, certainly hope so, as the new CTS is the best new car to come out of Detroit in decades.

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Zerin Dube

9 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Well, I am glad to see a review that didn’t bash a GM product. I too hope the general public will forget what Cadillac has done in the 1970s to 1990s and just focus on this and if they must look at the pass, look at the time when Cadillac was a competitor of Rolls-Royce and Mercedes-Benz back in the 1920’s. Hopefully Cadillac will get up to more of that status, this is certainly a good start! keep it up Cadillac!

  • Impressive, a GM that has the interior quality/fit/finish comparable to Audi, available in RWD or AWD, better driver’s car than the G35, sounds like a threath to all!

  • I really like this car. Dare I say I’m almost considering one for my next vehicle. I really like the design and the specs seem to point to it being more of a driver’s car now. GM is really putting out some nice products now.

  • I appreciate Zerin Dube article and am looking forward to comments on the comfort, noise, and space of the rear seat and the utility of the trunk. I’ve spent time on tracks and have found that cars that are sweet on a track may often be unpleasant on the road. Is the CTS with the FE2 option that happy compromise of price, roadworthiness and utility?

  • Nice to read a review of a GM product that doesn’t start off with GM products stories from the 1980’s. How refreshing to read a review on the car in question!

    Great job GM.

  • I’m glad to see a US car getting a good review, but the comparison to the 3 series is way off, they may compete in price but not in size, the CTS is closer in size to a 5 series. I don’t think many people will be considering both these cars.

  • I took the 08 CTS DI for a test drive; it didn’t take me long to really love it; the MSRP was a little over $47,000, but compare it to the MB E Class is a great bargain. Car critics called it “The best Cadillac in 50 Years” and I called it “the best Cadillac ever”.
    Unfortunately it has a cheap sunroof cover (with wind noise) which blocks only 50% of the sun when I don’t need it; what makes it worse is that you can’t configure the car with the Premium Luxury Package minus the sunroof, unless you’re willing to pay more for less, by not taking the Premium (bundling) package..

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