• Nov 20, 2007

There's an all-new CTS in town, replacing the original that made its debut six years ago and far exceeded Cadillac's sales expectations. By the company's count, some 300,000 CTSs are now on the road, spearheading the company's renaissance with edgy "Art & Science" bodywork on the sporty rear-drive Sigma chassis that was fine-tuned on the Nürburgring in Germany. In size, it slotted between the BMW 3 Series and 5 Series, two cars Cadillac clearly had in mind when it developed the CTS.

Well, the all-new 2008 CTS is here, and guess what -- it's the same length as before, but with a 2.0-in.-wider track that’s the equal of its larger STS brother. And it's based on a strengthened Sigma chassis that has an all-new upper structure. Also tuned on the Ring, this new CTS has bodywork best described as evolutionary. It's a bit slab-sided, but the pronounced fender flares make the car look especially aggressive, with 17- or 18-in. tires filling out the wheel wells nicely. Interesting stylistic details include die-cut metal heat vents in the front fenders and ribbed vertical LED light tubes in the headlights and taillights, which give the new CTS a highly technical look.

And technology is at its peak underhood, where the base engine, the familiar 258-bhp port-injected 3.6-liter V-6, is now joined by a direct-injected 3.6-liter V-6 with 304 bhp at 6400 rpm. This aluminum block 24-valve powerplant with chain-driven overhead camshafts is a gem, fitted with a forged crankshaft, coated pistons and variable valve timing that spreads the torque across a wide rev band. Peak torque of 273 lb.-ft. arrives at 5200 rpm, but there's already 220 lb.-ft. on tap as low as 1000 rpm. As for performance, expect 60 mph to arrive in about 6 seconds.

Direct injection of fuel into the combustion chambers does wonderful things. According to Cadillac, the new V-6 makes 15 percent more horsepower and 8 percent more torque than the port-injected 3.6-liter, while getting 3 percent better fuel economy and reducing cold-start emissions by 25 percent. So, the new CTS is unusual in that its optional, more powerful engine is actually more economical than the base powerplant, although the official EPA fuel economy ratings of both cars are expected to be 17 mpg city/27 mpg highway.

Cadillac has gone to great lengths to silence the ticking sound of the high-pressure (1750-psi) injectors. With proprietary rubber O-rings isolating the moving part of the injectors from the stainless-steel fuel rail, plus strategic use of dense foam around the mechanical fuel pump, in the engine's valley and in other underhood areas, the new CTS, says Cadillac, is quieter than Audi's benchmarked direct-injected engines. Further quieting efforts include a laminated firewall, an acoustic engine cover, a full-perimeter hood seal and a sound-absorbing bellypan that also reduces drag. The efforts have paid off, as the engine is loud only near its 7000-rpm fuel cutoff point.

And with the new 6-speed automatic transmission in manual mode, it's easy to accidentally bump the engine off its rev limiter by forgetting to nudge the gear lever. This is a great gearbox and, dare I say it, more entertaining than the base 6-speed manual, an Aisin-built unit with vague linkage nowhere near as precise as that of the previous CTS's manual. At any rate, the GM-built Hydra-Matic auto is the star. In automatic mode, it shifts smoothly, right when you'd expect. With the lever in the manual gate, the car engages Sport mode, which translates to crisper upshifts and throttle-blip downshifts when the car is being driven aggressively. It works well, and if the driver chooses to call for a downshift via the lever, the transmission allows it when most others won't, even letting the engine zoom close to redline in the lower gear.

If there's one small complaint, it's this: In manual mode, when the driver lets off the throttle, the automatic tends to hold a gear longer than it should before upshifting, a problem that's fixable with simple programming, says CTS chief engineer Dave Leone. On a positive note, CTS models with the automatic are now available with all-wheel drive; an active transfer case bolted to the gearbox sends 75 percent of the power rearward in most situations to give the car a rear-wheel-drive feel, but can send as much as 100 percent of it forward if needed, making the CTS much more worthy of consideration in states with real winters. The system works in conjunction with StabiliTrak yaw control, which is standard on every 2008 CTS.

Three suspension levels are available: FE1, with an emphasis primarily on ride comfort; FE2 with more of an emphasis on handling; and FE3, with an emphasis on outright performance. Interestingly, all three have the same springs; it's just the tuning of the dampers and anti-roll bars that differs, along with the size of the wheels, tires and brakes. The FE1 rides on 235/55R-17 all-season tires and, like the FE2, has 12.4-in. front rotors. The FE2 and FE3, both fitted with limited-slip differentials, ride on 235/50ZR-18s, although the FE3's are Michelin Pilot Sport 2 summer tires that stick like the proverbial cat to Velcro. FE3 models are fitted with huge 13.6-in. front rotors, gripped by 2-piston cast-iron calipers that are better at absorbing brake heat than the aluminum ones on the FE1 and FE2 cars.

And speaking of aluminum, the CTS employs gobs of the lightweight metal -- in the standard shock tower brace, in the upper and lower front A-arms and knuckles, and in the cradle and upper control arms of the multilink rear suspension. The differential housing is also aluminum, and now boasts three mounts instead of two.

I drove both an FE2 and an FE3 CTS on the Autobahn and at the Nürburgring's Nordschleife, two venues where much of the final testing of the CTS was carried out by GM test drivers such as Rick Kewley, who has more than 200 laps around the Ring and gave me a ride I'll never forget (see roadandtrack.com for video highlights). My initial impressions: On the Autobahn, the CTS is completely at home. Triple door seals help keep it quiet inside, and although the car is on the firm side, the added stability that the suspension provides at 140 mph is much appreciated. The CTS's steering is not light nor nervous. Bend it into a sweeping corner at triple-digit speeds and the car responds with composure, its speed-sensitive ZF steering rack -- now with "front-steer" geometry -- responding with good linearity.

On the Nordschleife, it's clear the engineers have done their homework. The CTS feels, well, like a German sedan on this hallowed 14-mile road course in the Eifel forest. Yes, I was learning the track (taking the slow sections fast and the fast sections slow, as all beginners do), but I could appreciate the excellent suspension damping, the minimal, well-controlled body roll, and a manageable hint of understeer on corner entry. Balance is excellent (51/49, says Cadillac), and with StabiliTrak set in the less-intrusive "Competitive Driving Mode," I couldn't sense any yaw control kicking in.

Although the new Cadillac is dynamically impressive, its biggest area of improvement is its interior. Gone is the somewhat funky futuristic design of the old CTS cabin, replaced by one that's far more modern and attractive, benefiting from extra width, a bit more rear knee room (thanks to thinner front seatbacks) and six standard airbags. All of the materials have a high-quality look and feel, and the controls of the handsome V-shaped center stack are both artfully integrated and easy to understand and use. Particularly well-designed is the large pop-up navigation touch screen, whose top section always remains visible to convey radio station information and the like. The analog gauges are also a model of clarity, with an oil-pressure readout reminding us that this CTS is a serious sports sedan.

But it's also one that's keeping apace with the always-advancing world of "infotainment," and it does so in some intriguing new ways. Every CTS is fitted with a 40-gig onboard hard drive, which allows folks to "rip" their favorite CDs and create their own custom playlists. What's more, the CTS has full iPod and USB connectivity, and a radio form of Tivo, which allows listeners to pause and rewind radio broadcasts of any kind -- all this in addition to standard OnStar and XM satellite radio. Options include swiveling HID headlamps, keyless ignition, remote starting and a killer 300-watt Bose audio system.

Boiled down to what matters most to the basic car, the new Lansing, Michigan-built 2008 Cadillac CTS -- with its excellent powertrain, great handling, substantially improved interior and dramatic new styling -- succeeds on all levels. Look for the cars to arrive in September.



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