Road & Travel Magazine

Auto Advice & Tips
Auto Buyer's Guides
Car Care Maintenance
Climate Change News
Auto Awards Archive
Insurance & Accidents
Legends & Leaders
New Car Reviews
Planet Driven
Road Humor
Road Trips
RV & Camping
Safety & Security
Teens & Tots Tips
Tire Buying Tips
Used Car Buying
Vehicle Model Guide

Travel Channel
Adventure Travel
Advice & Tips
Airline Rules
Bed & Breakfasts
Cruises & Tours
Destination Reviews
Earth Tones
Family Travel Tips
Health Trip
Hotels & Resorts
Luxury Travel
Pet Travel
RV & Camping
Safety & Security
Spa Reviews
Train Vacations
World Travel Directory

Bookmark and Share

A Sporty Caddy
The 2003 Cadillac CTS

by Denise McCluggage

Question: Will Cadillac ever again be "the Cadillac of cars?"

Answer: Don't bet against it.

The journey back to the lost throne of being the world's "standard" is begun under the banner of "Art and Science" and leading the way is the all-new Cadillac CTS, a so-called entry level luxury four-door on sale after the first of the year as a 2003 model. Powered by a 3.2 liter V6 offering 220-hp, the rear-wheel drive CTS is available with a five-speed transmission, either automatic or manual. It will be stickered in the $30,000 to $35,000 range.

Forget that the CTS is a Catera replacement (you remember that zig-car?) because both the approach and the outcome are different enough to have no precedent. The CTS is not the remake of a borrowed concept, but a totally new car and the first to be built on GM's new world platform called Sigma.

The CTS is aimed at drivers. The assumption: most of those who prefer performance, agility and style to a Laz-e-Boy ride are generally younger, and thus will Cadillac's demographics begin a desired turn toward maturing Baby Boomers rather than their aging parents and grandparents.

Start with the "art."

2003 Cadillac CTSThe look of the CTS is not a familiar sleek envelope, as smooth as used soap. Think soap fresh out of the wrapper with edges and planes still distinct. The CTS is blockier, more technoid in appearance than other cars. Someone said the stylists' intent was to make the CTS look as if it were carved from a single block of steel. Whatever. The result is a unique blend of sharp demarcations with interim planes reminiscent of the rocks in a Marsden Hartley landscape.

The CTS with its blocks and creases could have been constructed by a paper engineer, those clever folk who create intricate pop-up books. Imagine a page opening and there pops up this car in its edgy intricacy. There is a touch of magic about both the CTS and pop-ups.

For me the handsomest aspect of the CTS is the rear three-quarter view with its interplay of edges and spaces accented by the exclamation point of the strong vertical taillights (said to emulate the verticality of the Cadillac fins of yesteryear.)

Less successful for me in the front end. The horizontals in the grille too quickly reminded me of Venetian blind slats. Nor does the shape of the headlights delight me, nor the bulldog-jut of the jaw line. Those impressions came as I stood in contemplation of the car in August on the lawn at Pebble Beach where I first encountered it. Then, oddly, in the road testing months later that front view looked rather better when seen in a rearview mirror. Certainly it is not just any old car.

But whatever cavils over details come to mind the overall effect is excitement, piqued interest and often from bystanders the mouthed "Wow!"

Like most designs that stir such a strong positive response there are those that dislike it intensely, too. But as Bob Lutz, now at GM after retiring from his presidency at Chrysler, said years ago about the love-it-hate-it redesign of the Dodge Ram pick-up: "That's the response we want. Nobody buys their second choice".

Will it appeal, as Cadillac hopes, to the younger crowd? My simple answer: yes! A collection of 30 and 40-somethings I tried it on were enthusiastic, making buyer-like noises. Said one husband to his wife: "What d'ya think? His and hers? I get the black."

Ordinarily I like any car best in silver but I think the champagne-like beige is the garb of choice for the CTS. And of course black (the edges make highlights) but only if you're fond of constant dusting.

The interior of the CTS, happily, is a fitting companion to the exterior. A matter not to be taken for granted with GM in past years. Too often at a motor show I've opened the door of a handsome exterior only to be stunned by the ugly escarpment of an instrument panel and an interior jarringly unrelated to the outside. This dichotomy was predictable when interior and exterior design teams worked in total separation. The CTS gives hope that such integrity-sapping isolation is over at GM.

2003 Cadillac CTS InteriorAnother hope from the CTS interior: the penchant for acres of wood grain is on the wane. Here we have the slightest wood touches, warming and not overwhelming. They're on the steering wheel, the shift lever and the door handle. (I'd like to see a cross-hatched metal in those places on a sport model with 50 or so more horsepower -- my, imagine: a Caddy inspiring slamming dreams.)

The comfortable seats (leather of course) are easily and completely adjustable for individual preference. In all, the interior is quite nice if not yet up to that of an Audi, but then nothing is. And at least Cadillac had the wisdom to emulate Audi's elegant dial adjustment on the sunroof opening. "We copied it!" an engineer delightedly admitted. Ah, another cheering note from Cadillac. Not-invented-here need no longer be restricting.

That a glance at the Art, now the Science.

For driverly appeal the CTS is rear-wheel drive and offers a manual transmission. This combination has not been seen in a Caddy for half a century.

Furthermore the CTS was developed to handle more challenging topography than the controlled grades and curves of major US highways on which Cadillacs have traditionally set sail across country and earned their reputation for cushy comfort. Serious drivers know that such floating alienation from the surface beneath the wheels makes for woozy discomfort, even dangerous lack of control, on more demanding roads.

To prepare for that more sinuous, more irregular world the CTS took basic training on the 187 turns and twists in the mountainous old Nurburgring racing circuit of Germany. German sports sedans have regularly trained on the 'Ring. (Like Broadway: make it here, make it anywhere.)

Cadillac engineers let the demanding circuit be their tutor regarding the ideal rigidity of the chassis, the suspension systems, the brakes. And thus the CTS was toned and honed. The results are impressive.

The CTS, unlike any Cadillac before it has become a dancing partner with the road, not just a passing guest. To allow some of us motoring journalists to experience this the Cadillac people chose surprisingly testing routes on Southern California roads. (From my old racing days at the Nurburgring I recognized similarities in some of the down-plunging twists.) On the test routes we had rough surfaces, off-camber turns, snaking paths up and down as well as the usual highway stretches. The CTS seemed to enjoy the outing as much as the drivers.2003 Cadillac CTS Rear ViewCadillac has known its survival depends on its ability to appeal to others than its traditional but aging regulars. Yet for a transition that echoes rather than denies the company's century-long heritage a new Caddy must still be a Caddy, not jarringly unfamiliar to the marque's long-time devotees. The CTS is thus a departure but not a divorce from tradition.

Drivers who long ago left American cars for the more sporting appeal of, say, German sport sedans, will also find a bridge in the CTS. They'll welcome the improved handling, the "autobahn" brakes. They might find the steering not as light as an Audi, nor as sharp on turn-in as the BMW three-series used to be (even that model feels more cottony now) but the usual extreme understeer of American sedans is absent. Shining all around is the serious intention to make serious drivers consider a sporting Cadillac.

This is only the beginning for this CTS (hotter engine) and other Cadillacs. The Evoq and Imaj concept cars are slated for production in some form. And surprising and gratifying has been the reception of the Escalade. The giant SUV has received the ultimate accolade - a 'Hood nickname: "the Slade." Caddy has been hip enough to latch on to that: expect "Max Slade" soon.

For more information on the 2003 Cadillac CTS, click here.