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2003 Cadillac CTS: GM's Luxury Division Develops Some Serious Attitude
By: Michael Cooney

There’s something exciting going on at Cadillac. And it’s not just about one model. Instead, it’s a whole new design philosophy Cadillac calls “Art and Science.” The first model to fully benefit from this focus is the new mid-size CTS, built in the brand new Lansing Michigan plant.

Trim Levels
Cadillac’s CTS is a rear-wheel-drive four-door available in three trim levels: standard, luxury, and luxury sport. A 5-speed stick is standard, with 5-speed automatic (the same one used in BMW’s 5-Series) optional. Base price is $29,990 including destination fee. My example came with the 5-speed automatic, luxury package, upgraded Bose sound system and High Intensity Discharge headlamps for a grand total of $34,965.

Motivation comes from a 3.2L dual overhead cam V-6 engine putting out 220 horsepower at 6,000 rpm, and 218 lb-ft of torque at 3,400 rpm. Four-wheel independent suspension is standard. The base and luxury versions ride on 225/55HR16 Goodyear tires mounted on 16x7 inch aluminum wheels. Seventeen-inchers come with the luxury sport package, along with the StabiliTrak control system and a sport-tuned suspension. Bucking the trend of some European competitors that require premium 91 octane gasoline, the CTS is happy with regular 87 octane.

Exterior View
This is a bold design that elicits strong reactions. I found that the color heavily influenced my views. I loved my black tester. Several folks commented, “It looks like a stealth fighter.” From the front it has a hunkered-down serious look about it that says “driver’s car.” In silver, though, it lost its seriousness, and the shape of the rear quarter panel where it met the red tail lamp lens looked “chopped up” and busy. In black, and perhaps in red as well, the tail lamp lens blends in with the flow of the lines and looks better.

Interior Features
An interior dressed in light beige leather seating and beige carpeting, with zebrano wood trim, cast a warm, relaxing feel. In gray tones it looks sportier but emotionally cooler. The interior vinyls are top-notch. Their nicely contrasting textures created visual interest and looked elegant.

The seats, which include driver’s side memory control, were comfortable for a two-hour stretch (my longest) and the proper side bolsters allowed spirited cornering without sliding around. Minor nits to pick were the lack of a temperature gauge either in the dash or in the Driver Information Center display, and the speedometer’s and tachometer’s italic numerals arranged in a circular pattern around the markings as they often were decades ago, hindering readability slightly.

The upgraded Bose sound system with both cassette and six-disc in-dash CD player sounded terrific. That, combined with the CTS’s very low levels of wind and road noise, created an enjoyable environment for cruising along.

Driving the CTS
Chassis and suspension tuning were conducted at Germany’s famed Nurburgring racecourse, with BMW 5-Series sedans alongside as the handling target. The result is a new breed of Cadillac that rides firmly and handles exceptionally well. Steering and braking are responsive and precise. When pushed in the curves, the suspension takes a set and you simply motor on through. To steal a line from Oldsmobile, this is NOT your father’s Cadillac! If you like some sport with your luxury, you’ll savor the beautiful snarl this engine makes on hard acceleration above 3,000 rpm. Expect 0-60 times of about 7.0 seconds with stick, 7.5 with automatic.

At night, the HID low beams light up the sides of the road nicely, and have a sharp horizontal cut-off. Adding the high beams creates a solid blanket of light ahead.

This Cadillac’s freeway ride is well controlled but not harsh, and feels secure, as it should in a performance sedan. My combination of city, freeway and mountain driving yielded an average of 20.0 mpg, even with a heavier right foot than I normally use. I couldn’t help it—this car is just plain fun to drive. Its EPA mileage ratings are 18-city, 26-highway mpg with the automatic transmission.

Final Word
Congratulations are in order here. Cadillacs serve many purposes, but I don’t remember “fun” as being one of them. This one is. The styling is controversial, but such is the territory of memorable automobiles. Time, and the public’s reaction, will tell. Once word gets out on this car’s well-balanced performance, I predict strong sales. If you are considering a BMW 3-Series, Mercedes Benz C-Class, Audi A4, Volvo S60, or Lincoln LS, add the CTS to your shopping list.