2003 Cadillac CTS

Oct. 10, 2002
The new-for-2003 Cadillac CTS is being billed as an entry-level, luxury-sports sedan...

The new-for- is being billed as an entry-level, luxury-sports sedan, competing with cars such as the BMW 3 Series and Lincoln LS. At close to $38,000, it's a market I'll not be entering soon.

That aside, the CTS is cushy and sophisticated inside, replete with the goodies you'd expect from Cadillac. The outside, however, breaks cleanly from tradition. Distinct, chiseled body lines appear to be borrowed from radar-evading stealth aircraft, while 17-in. cast-alloy wheels shod with Goodyear Eagle tires scream performance.

The purposeful look is backed by a 3.2-liter DOHC V6 that generates 220 hp at 6,000 rpm and 220 lb-ft torque at 3,400 rpm. Our test car had the Getrag five-speed manual transmission and a 3.73 final drive ratio. A five-speed automatic with a 3.42 final drive ratio is also available. The manual-equipped model is said to accelerate 0 to 60 mph in less than 7 sec. The relatively low final gearing with the manual transmission is good for get-up-and-go, but perhaps a bit too low for comfortable highway cruising. A higher axle gear ratio or a six speed would help. GM says expect about 21 mpg combined, which is about what I got.

Besides having decent straightaway acceleration, the CTS deftly handles twisties, thanks to a four-wheel, multilink independent suspension and antiroll bars, front and rear. The Luxury Sports package also includes TRW Speedpro variable-assist steering. Braking is sure helped by StabiliTrak stability control and high-performance brake linings. GM says extensive benchmark testing at Germany's Nuerburgring racecourse helped refine the CTS, including placement of the clutch, brake, and throttle pedals for optimal heel-toe operation.

Optional Xenon high-intensity discharge headlamps illuminate the road ahead -- and the roadsides -- with a uniform wall of light, easily outshining standard halogen lamps. High beams are hardly necessary. The HID system tacks on $400 but is well worth it for the added safety margin. Obviously, safety is a high priority with the CTS. Ultrahigh-strength steel weldments about the passenger compartment are complemented by safety-belt pretensioners, driver and passenger front and side air bags, and front-to-rear head curtain side bags.

Also in the safety category is the Onstar roadside emergency system. A voice-recognition feature on Onstar happens to make it the top onboard toy. Besides helping in emergencies, the system is a hands-free cell phone, a locator (it pinpointed my street), and a provider of news, weather, stock reports, and sports scores. Say, "Get my stock reports," and a friendly female computer voice responds: "Here you are, what next?" Not speaking clearly or too fast prompts a polite pardon and a request for the command again. The manual says to speak slowly and deliberately and that seems to work most of the time.

When you tire of talking to the car, a fine-sounding, seven-speaker Bose stereo fills the cabin with sound. Several radio controls are duplicated on the steering wheel for heads-up operation. Also adorning the steering wheel are memory buttons for storing personal settings of the driver's seat and mirrors. A multifunction button on the left bank of the radio accesses everything from the radio equalizer to the dual trip odometers and mileage indicator. This was not intuitive.

One thing for sure, the CTS turns heads. One admirer left his car in the middle of a parking-lot driveway and began telling me how he wants a CTS but his wife has her heart set on a BMW. "Wow, tough call," I laughed.

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