2008 Cadillac CTS Expert Review:Autoblog

click above image for new live shots of the 2008 Cadillac CTS

While Damon was lucky enough to get an early shot at driving the brand-new 2008 Cadillac CTS on Laguna Seca last month, the rest of us had to wait until GM showed off its 2008 collection at the Milford Proving ground this week. We'll be bring you more First Drives from the GM event in the coming days, but let's start with our favorite GM product for 2008, the Cadillac CTS.

Customers in North America get to choose from two variants of the 3.6L V6 available in the CTS, one with port fuel injection and the other with direct injection (both models have variable valve timing). All four of the cars on-hand at Milford had the direct injected engine sending its 304 HP to either all four wheels or the rear axle only. The effort that Cadillac engineers and technicians put into designing and developing the CTS was certainly not in vain. That much should be evident by anyone who takes the new CTS for a test drive. Our latest driving impressions of Caddy's new sport sedan, including VIDEO, can be found after the jump.

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GM set up a special course on the Milford Proving Ground's Vehicle Dynamics Test Area and Ride and Handling Loop that allowed us to evaluate the cars under a variety of conditions and road surfaces. After settling into the incredibly comfortable and supportive seat of the CTS, a press of the start button brings the engine to life. At idle the engine is almost Lexus silent, but underway it makes its presence felt with a solid push in the back and a deliciously precise mechanical sound as the revs climb. The 3.6L is as smooth as silk and pulls strongly throughout its rev range. One of the beauties of the direct injection system is that in addition to boosting output from 263 to 304 hp, fuel economy also climbs by 1 mpg and hydrocarbon emissions dip by twenty-five percent. Magic bullet, anyone?

General Motors has made it known repeatedly that it has spent a lot of development time on the treacherous Nordschleife at the Nurburgring in Germany with the CTS and other cars. The older North Loop is an old racetrack with lots of bumps and surface changes, and if the suspension can't articulate enough to keep the wheels in contact with the pavement, you can easily end up in the forest. The Milford Ride and Handling loop has some pretty nasty surfaces too, and the 'Ring time pays off in spades here. Hustling over some railroad tracks, sine waves, and assorted other rough stuff, the CTS body never shivered at all and stayed under control at all times. It never felt floaty or harsh, just perfectly balanced.

The Milford Loop has one particular sweeping right hand corner with some small amplitude, medium frequency bumps all the way through that can really unsettle lesser cars. The CTS just powered through, never feeling like it was going to let go at either end. This is the way a real world car needs to handle, able to absorb anything the road offers up without pounding the occupants into submission. The all-wheel-drive version felt just as responsive as the rear drive model, and would probably make a wonderful choice for drivers in more northerly regions. Our all too brief ride definitely yields a big yet tentative thumbs up so far. Of course, a more conclusive assessment will have to wait until we can spend more real world seat time with the CTS that includes kids in the back seat and stop and go traffic. So far, however, all the signs are good.

Click the image above for over 50 high-res pics.

It's easy to write off a new model when clever ad campaigns and the PR machine work overtime to convince you that it's God's gift to tarmac. In the case of the new CTS, a hard sell is completely unnecessary. Eschewing the hype and the art-and-science drivel, you're left with a striking exterior and the driving dynamics to match. Surprised? We were. And after a day of merciless flogging though the undulating hills of the Pacific coast, followed by a two-hour all-out assault on Laguna Seca, we came away with a newfound respect for not only Caddy's 2008 sports sedan, but the automaker as a whole.

When the CTS was introduced back in 2001, the new knife-edge design vocabulary may have proved off-putting to some, but it was a sign of good things to come. For 2008, Cadillac has moved the bar northward more notches than we can count, and came away with one of the most compelling American designs of the 21st century.

The hard lines found in the previous model gave way to a more smoothed out appearance which is still instantly recognizable, but strikes us as considerably more mature. The wheelbase remains the same, but the track has been widened by a full two inches, which not only pays dividends in the design department, but also offers considerably more grip than its predecessor.

The front fascia is far and away the most striking exterior element, with its deeply downward drawn grille, high-tech headlamps and conservative chrome accents. Moving on to the side, the air outlets ahead of the A-pillar have been talked to death, so we'll just say that they're as handsome as they are functional. Viewed from both the front and rear three-quarters perspective, it's obvious that the design department was going for a pitched, coupe-like profile. And while the C-pillar may appear chunky at first, it integrates well into the trunk lid, and does little to hamper rearward visibility. All that said, the back end left us longing for something a bit more compelling, but the revised tail lamps, complete with LEDs and light bar, offset the otherwise moribund posterior.

Pop open the hood and you're greeted with acres of plastic hiding away Cadillac's optional 3.6-liter direct injection V6. Producing 304 HP at 6,200 RPM and 273 lb.-ft. of torque at 3,100 RPM, this is the most powerful NA V6 engine GM has ever brought to market, and it fits the CTS like a glove. The high points include variable valve timing, aluminum block, cylinder heads and baffled oil pan, and an electronic throttle that does little to dampen enthusiastic squirts to the long pedal on the right.

The direct injection system on the CTS increases output both in horsepower and torque (fifteen percent and eight percent, respectively) as well as lowering emissions and boosting fuel economy by a marginal level (three percent). The only problem: noise. As anyone who's driven or been around a direct injected vehicle can attest, the incessant clicking from underneath the hood is enough to warrant a set of earplugs. With the CTS, Cadillac's acoustic engineers realized that engine noise is contrary to the brand's image and went about installing, not one, not two, but eight different buffers to negate the noise both inside and out. The abridged list includes a full-perimeter hood seal accompanied by an acoustically-tuned engine cover, engine valley "stuffers," engine bay "side curtains", a cover for the DI fuel pump and belly pan, as well as a laminated steel and blanketed dash panel. While noise reduction is all well and good, our first concern was how much weight this would add over the front end. A GM spokesperson wasn't sure, so we're hoping to find out tomorrow, but considering that the CTS is a full 400 pounds heavier than a 3-series, we think it's a valid concern.

The CTS comes in three different suspension specs: FE1, FE2 and FE3. While all models get the ZF steering rack and a functional front strut tower bar, we spent all our time in the FE3 model, which comes equipped with uprated brakes, Sachs Nivomat rear shocks (Bilsteins are standard) and 18x8.5-inch wheels with supercar-chic Michelin Pilot Sport 2 summer performance gumballs. We've had the chance to sample these tires on a number of vehicles, and they are far and away some of the best OEM-equipped rubber we've ever encountered – which speaks volumes about Cadillac's intentions for the CTS.

On the road, the suspension's compliance, even in FE3-spec, is incredibly tactile and exceptionally comfortable. Even on some of the more pocked roads that made up our test route, the CTS soaked up most imperfections with aplomb, but there was never a feeling of being overly isolated. Since the suspension has been only slightly revised for 2008, with the front upper and lower control arms getting aluminum units, while out back the multi-link arrangement remains largely the same, we were impressed with how small tweaks have made the new CTS a superior vehicle over its predecessor.

Our drive took us through some light South Bay traffic and then pointed us east through some of the more therapeutic roads winding through the hills leading to the Pacific. Most were narrow thoroughfares with sweeping, high-speed turns that brought out the best in the CTS's suspension. However, the best was yet to come, and the real test was awaiting us at Laguna Seca.

With access to both six-speed manual and automatic versions, our first hot lap out on the track introduced us to the idea of swapping cogs in a Cadillac. While pedal placement was spot-on, and heel-and-toe downshifts were easily achieved, the action of the shifter left much to be desired. Rubbery, long throws lacked any real feedback and were the preeminent buzzkill for the day. With everything else going for it, the manual-equipped CTS was a considerable disappointment, but thankfully, we doubt that many owners will check off the stick-shift option, which is all well and good, since the automatic fits the bill six days a week.

The auto-box gives you the option to stick it in Drive or Manual, with the latter changing the aggression of the shifts, even though you may choose not to pick your own gear. When you do downshift, a reasonably quick blip matches the revs after only a slight hesitation. Our only gripe with the manumatic operation was upshifts, which seemed to take far too long to be considered sporty. If there's an Achilles heel with the CTS, the gearboxes could be it.

As for handling, the CTS still may not be in the realm of its Germanic rivals, but it's getting closer than the folks at BMW and Mercedes would like. While the over boosted steering of the ZF setup was a bit lackluster at low speeds, once the friction circle starts getting beyond 7/10ths everything seems to click. Turn in is aggressive and easily correctable, while dive and squat is virtually non-existent. A truly compelling piece of kit, and we're still amazed that it's a Caddy.

Tomorrow, we'll be sampling all the wonders within, as the PR folks get into detail about Cadillac's new interior and infotainment setup. Look for that in another 24 hours.

Click the image above for over 20 high-res images

While the exterior styling of the new CTS has garnered its fair share of praise, it's not until you step inside and realize that Cadillac's design renaissance is not an aberration. Swathed in acres of high-quality material, the textures, colors and layout is provocative enough to get your attention, but subdued in a way that doesn't distract from the task at hand.

Click here to read Part 1 on exterior styling and driving impressions.

Beginning with the center console, the styling ethos that dictates the sheet metal outside carries forward into the cabin, with smooth creases and flowing lines that cleanly integrate one element with the next. The center-mounted analog clock is framed by the volume and tuning controls; while underneath, a mass of high-grade plastic buttons walk the line between straightforward selection and overwhelming chaos. It's a bit much at first, but it's quickly learned and easily adapted.

Turn the ignition to the "On" position, and those who've opted for the Bose 5.1 audio system, 40-gig hard-drive and navigation system ($3,145) are in for a show. The infotainment touch screen rises from the dash within a few seconds, simultaneously displaying an animation of the wreath and shield logo. After the pomp and circumstance concludes, you're greeted with a host of options ranging from sat-nav to music selection.

While being able to hook up your iPod is quickly becoming par for the course, Cadillac allows users to choose between a standard 1/8-inch audio jack or a USB connection. The latter allows the driver and passenger to navigate playlists via the touch screen or steering wheel controls.

The 40-gig hard drive is nothing we haven't seen before, giving users the ability to rip their own tunes for access on the road, but one particular function proved to be a complete revelation and is far-and-away Caddy's killer app. The hard drive has the ability to record 60 minutes of live radio or XM transmissions, which can then be paused, rewinded or stored for later consumption. It's TiVo for the car radio! We're so impressed with this particular feature that we're going to dedicate a post to it later in the week.

Once you've navigated the navigation, fooled around with the XM and marveled in the iPod integration, you're finally able to take in some of the more subtle, sophisticated elements employed in the CTS. While we'll concede that there are a few too many materials spread throughout the cabin, thankfully, each one lacks the err air of GM's former bean-counter dictatorship. Paramount among them is the new "cut-and-sew" material process, which covers everything from the instrument panel, dash, center console and door trim, all of which has been sewn and applied by hand. Wood trim was an optional extra which we could take or leave, but for our money the two-tone charcoal and "titanium" gray color combo was the most handsome in the group.

The air vents flanking both sides of the center console sit atop the dual-zone climate controls, and proved to be our only real complaint with the interior arrangement. The cambered angle of the console and the placement of the controls proved a little off-putting and seemed like a design afterthought.

After spending over two-hours in the car on Monday, followed by another two hours of track time, we're happy to report that we never experienced any kind of driver fatigue. The seats, while thinner than on the outgoing model, are well bolstered and offer a nice amount of cushioning. Back seat passengers should be happy if they're required to spend time aft of the driver, with an acceptable amount of legroom and more space for shoulders and hips, thanks to the new CTS's widened track and redesigned interior. Our only qualm with the front seats: a metal chevron placed right between the shoulder blades will prove to be a shock for female passengers wearing a backless outfit in the summer months.

It's a rare occasion that we find a vehicle that looks as good at night as it does during the day, but the CTS proves to be the exception to the rule. Like we mentioned in our previous post, the crisp lines combined with the LED and light tubes make it a handsome after-hours cruiser. On the inside, it's more of the same, with ambient lighting piped throughout the dash and underneath the door handles. It's a somewhat dramatic setting that we look forward to seeing more of in Cadillac's future offerings.

It's clear that Cadillac, and GM, are on the upswing in the product department, and the new CTS is proof positive that after two decades of neglect, the General's executive and design teams are beginning to work together to produce compelling vehicles. We came away impressed, and may we be the first to say: it's about damn time.

Click here to read Part 1 on exterior styling and driving impressions.

All Photos ©2007 Damon Lavrinc / Weblogs, Inc.

All-new and more upscale than before.


The Cadillac CTS is virtually all-new for 2008. Cadillac has moved the style, performance and in-car electronics way upmarket from the original CTS in an effort to be more competitive with the best of the imports, namely the BMW 530i, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Lexus GS, Infiniti G35, and Audi A4. 

The 2008 Cadillac CTS boasts major changes to the engines and chassis that upgrade performance. The CTS offers a choice of two V6 engines and a choice of either a newly designed six-speed automatic or a six-speed manual, making it the only American luxury car still available with a manual. The CTS comes with rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. 

The front and rear tires are a full two inches farther apart in track width for 2008, so the general body shape is wider, and a great deal more aggressive looking, with exaggerated front and rear wheel flares. 

In addition to the traditional 3.6-liter V6, there's a whole new 3.6-liter, 24-valve V6 engine with direct fuel injection that makes 15 percent more power. The new engine not only makes more power, it gets better fuel economy, even after adjusting for the new, stricter rules that the EPA is now using for fuel economy labeling. 

Styling changes include a huge new grille and larger, more in-your-face light elements front and rear. It looks like it's hungry for red meat. Its new levels of grip, handling and steering were modeled after the BMW 530i sedan, and it was developed by the Cadillac engineers on BMW's home ground, the 14-mile, 73-turn Nurburgring circuit in Germany. 


The new 2008 Cadillac CTS ($32,245) comes standard with a 263-horsepower V6. A 304-hp V6 ($1,000) is optional. A six-speed manual gearbox is standard; a six-speed automatic ($1,300) is optional. The CTS is rear-wheel drive, but all-wheel-drive ($1,900) is optional. 

Every CTS comes with a basic package of 32 luxury, comfort, convenience and safety items including all the normal power assists, XM satellite radio, OnStar with turn-by-turn navigation, and a Bose eight-speaker sound system with CD, MP3 and auxiliary capability. 

Options are many. The big one, called the Premium Luxury Collection ($8,015) includes a pop-up navigation and audio screen, a 10-speaker Bose 5.1 sound system with a 40-gigabyte sound storage system, an iPod interface that will operate your iPod from the touch screen and display artist and title info, 10-way heated and cooled leather seats, split folding rear seats, a huge sunroof panel, sapele wood trim, 17-inch alloy wheels, power tilt/telescope wheel, remote starting and keyless entry, and a few odds and ends. 

Other options include an 18-inch wheel package ($1,740) with P235/50R18 tires, HID headlights and washers, limited-slip differential, sport suspension, heavy-duty cooling and fog lamps; metallic paint ($995), heavy-duty anti-lock brakes ($395); and a compact spare tire ($250). A performance tire package is available with P235/50ZR18 performance tires and alloy wheels, upgraded ABS, and the FE3 performance suspension ($1,240). 

Safety features that come standard on all models include front, side and curtain airbags, ABS, traction control, and Stabiltrak electronic stability control. All-wheel drive improves safety further. 


Cadillac has completely redesigned the CTS front end for 2008, with a much larger eggcrate grille that fits with the Cadillac family look of the DTS, STS, and Escalade. The new grille provides more incoming air for the engine cooling, brake cooling and transmission cooling functions. The large lighting units at the front and rear make very good use of light-emitting-diode or LED technology, lots of light and lots of style for little electrical load. 

Likewise, the taillights, rear quarter panels and decklid have been redone, and the rear bumper has been rejiggered to feature exposed dual exhaust tips. Altogether, this is a much, much better looking car than the previous CTS, with more adventurous lines everywhere, especially in the gracefully sloping rear roof section, which isn't as harshly angular as on the previous edition. 


The crazy-quilt nature of the original CTS interior, with lots of different textures but all in black, has been thrown away, and it's been replaced by a very nice new design for 2008 using black and brushed metal and chrome, very contemporary and very space efficient. This was our biggest complaint with the pre-2008 CTS models. 

The entire dashboard has been lowered and moved further away from the front seats to give a more airy and open feel to the car that the original didn't have; it felt like a high-walled bunker. The center stack on the CTS is beautifully done, easy to read and use, with some interesting new readout placements here and there. 

On our sojourn through some of central California's tastiest, windiest roads, the front bucket seats held us down and in comfortably, and behind the wheel. We really appreciated the range of adjustment offered by the power seats and the power steering column adjustments; we've always felt that all cars should have tilt-and-telescope columns for ultimate comfort and proper driving position. The instrument package is complete, easy to read, and graphically pretty. 

Our car had the AM/FM/XM Bose 5.1 sound systems, the 40-gigabyte hard-drive, iPod connector and USB port for ultimate musical enjoyment. Using the navigation screen, it's easy to switch back and forth between the three broadcast and three stored-music formats by simply touching the screen, and the blue display is large enough to be read from the back seat. We think it's one of the best overall, most fun to use sound systems we've ever used in a car. 

Driving Impression

The 2008 Cadillac CTS is a responsive sports sedan with excellent handling and high-speed stability yet it's smooth and quiet when cruising. 

The more powerful of the two available engines is a new direct-injection V6 that produces 304 horsepower. It's extremely responsive. The difference in performance feel and sound from this engine compared with the standard 263-hp V6 is amazing. Not that there's anything wrong with the standard engine; the direct-injection engine just has more of everything, as it should, because it costs more. 

The 304-hp V6 feels ready to go out and play anytime you want, delivering a really solid combination of power, torque and powerful sound whenever the throttle is opened all the way up. 

The six-speed manually controlled automatic that comes with it is very quick and positive to shift, up or down, with a little bit of throttle blip on the downshifts to keep the drivetrain happy and to keep the tires from skidding. 

Underneath all that new sheetmetal is a brand new suspension system with a new type of forward-mounted power rack-and-pinion steering system that pulls, rather than pushes, the steering arms, and it is sweet to drive, very accurate, with good feel and a nice, weighty demeanor. 

With optional all-wheel-drive waiting to leap in whenever you decide to go a bit too fast through the corners, as we did in central California, the car feels very, very stable and inspires the confidence you need to go faster and faster through those corners. 

If a cow or a truck wanders onto the road in front of you, the ABS/EBD brakes respond with very good stopping power, even for a car that tips the scales at 4100 pounds empty. 

For all its newfound steering, cornering and handling prowess, the new CTS doesn't seem to exact any penalties in quietness or harshness over the road. It's very solidly put together, and in all other modes besides wide-open-throttle, it's quiet inside, even with 17-inch high-performance tires. 


The new 2008 Cadillac CTS looks great and is relatively roomy inside. It's got lots of poke for the performance enthusiast with the bigger engine and available all-wheel drive. For those who don't need or want the extra stuff, there's lots of style with the standard V6 and rear-wheel drive. But we recommend checking the box for the all-wheel-drive system regardless of where you live because it adds so much more to the safety margin and it's more fun to drive, even if the car is heavier for it. correspondent Jim McCraw test drove the CTS in Northern California. 

Model Lineup

Cadillac CTS ($32,245). 

Assembled In

Lansing, Michigan. 

Options As Tested

DVD navigation system ($1995); convenience package ($475); DVD entertainment system ($995); AdvanceTrac ESC ($495); Sirius satellite radio ($195). 

Model Tested

Cadillac CTS AWD ($35,700). 

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