2004 Cadillac CTS

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2004 Cadillac CTS

By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Rating: 7

Bottom Line:

Cadillac improves its foreign sports sedan fighter in strategic areas.
Pros:
  • More power from new engine
  • Roomy
  • Solid roadability
Cons:
  • Controversial styling
  • Small gauge numbers
  • Rear visibility

The extreme styling of Cadillac's CTS European-style sports sedan was widely criticized when the car debuted as an early 2003 model, but it's been a hit. Strategic changes enhance the appeal of the latest version, bringing it closer to rivals such as BMW.

Cadillac is no stranger to bold styling—just look at the huge tailfins on the iconic 1959 Caddy. In fact, distinctive styling allows Cadillacs to be easily identified from the late 1940s through the 1970s—although styling generally became more conservative, starting in the 1960s.

Cadillacs looked bland in the 1980s, except for the distinctively styled Seville sold early in that decade, and the blandness hurt sales. After a long slide, Cadillac no longer held the top luxury car sales slot by the end of the 1990s.

Clearly needed was dramatic styling, so Cadillac went ahead and gave its new CTS a sharp-edged design that jolted upscale car buyers into paying attention to it. To its delight, Cadillac saw the CTS draw much needed younger buyers to showrooms.

New Engine
For 2004, the CTS has an optional new 3.6-liter V6 engine. It has 255 horsepower and variable valve timing for more responsiveness. There's also a dual outlet performance exhaust system.

The new engine costs $1,700. It only comes with a 5-speed automatic transmission, which occasionally provides erratic downshifts, but is generally smooth. The new V6 also is in a rather pricey $5,235 Luxury package, which also contains heated front seats, power front passenger seat, and wood interior trim.

Retuned Suspension
The 2004 CTS also has a retuned base suspension with new shock absorbers and shock mounts for a smoother ride. Not that Cadillac is getting soft with the car, which has a suspension developed at a famous German race track and the rear-wheel-drive layout of European competitors such as BMW and Mercedes-Benz.

Interior refinements include a body colored center armrest, color-keyed center console, instrument cluster temperature gauge, bright white lighting, and (would anyone really care?) chrome accents on the ashtray. There's also a newly available power adjustable lumbar support for more comfort on long trips.

Manual Transmission
The new engine joins the standard 3.2-liter 220-horsepower V6, which comes only with a 5-speed manual gearbox. That transmission can make the CTS more fun, at least for car buffs. The CTS introduced the first manual gearbox for a rear-wheel-drive Cadillac since 1951. Most CTS buyers have gotten the automatic transmission, which does have a manual-shift feature.

Estimated fuel-economy with either engine is 18 mpg in the city and 26-28 on the highway.

Desirable Sport Option
Both V6s are offered with a desirable $1,875 Sport package, which includes variable-assist power steering, anti-skid system, upgraded brakes, sport suspension with a rear load-leveling feature and larger (17-inch) wheels.

Options easily can cause the $30,140 list price of the CTS to escalate. For instance, there's a $9,950 package that has features of the Sport package and such items as a power sunroof and Bose AM/FM radio with in-dash 6-disc CD changer.

CTS buyers need not necessarily go the option package route. For instance, some items in the packages, such as the sunroof, can be ordered separately. Stand-alone options also include a $1,750 navigation system.

Well Equipped
Moreover, even the base CTS is well equipped because this is a "near-luxury" car. Standard items include leather seats, air conditioning with dual-zone climate control, remote keyless entry, an AM/FM/CD sound system, a power driver seat, power windows and door locks and 16-inch tires on alloy wheels.

Safety features include anti-lock disc brakes, traction control, front-seat side and side-curtain airbags and General Motors' OnStar telematics assistance system.

The midsize CTS is fairly quick with the standard V6 and manual transmission. The smoother new V6 provides quicker merges into fast traffic and a better 65-75 mph passing time on the highway. It loafs at 2400 rpm at 70 mph.

Fun to Drive
The CTS is fun to drive, although it still isn't quite in the same league as, say, rival BMW 3-Series cars. Steering is nicely geared for quick maneuvers, and the car has alert handling. A comfortable ride is delivered by an all-independent suspension, even with the firmer sport suspension. The car stops quickly, and the brake pedal has a reassuring feel.

The dashboard has a businesslike layout, but gauge numbers should be larger for a quicker read. Front console dual cupholders are conveniently located to help prevent spills.

Roomy
There's decent room for four tall occupants,, and the unusually high roof lets them wear hats without brushing the ceiling. However, a high cowl and tall side sills might give some folks a closed-in feel.

Rear visibility is impeded from the driver's seat by thick back roof pillars, but outside mirrors are large. Rear windows don't lower all the way.

The trunk is large, with a fairly low, wide opening, and its lid has space-saving hydraulic struts. Many economy cars have a standard split-folding rear seat to enlarge the cargo area, but it's a $450 option for the CTS.

Hot Rod Coming
The CTS is a viable alternative to foreign sports sedans. A low-volume, approximately $50,000 hot rod version with a 400-horsepower V8, 6-speed manual transmission and cosmetic modifications is just around the corner. The CTS with either V6 engine should satisfy most buyers of the car.

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BB03 - 7/25/2014 2:03:55 PM