2006 Cadillac CTS


2003 Cadillac CTS

This 2003 review is representative of model years 2003 to 2007.
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
Rating: 6.75

Bottom Line:

Cadillac leaps into the future with the severely styled CTS. The lowest-priced Cadillac, this entry-level luxury sedan has a fine V6 and is the first Cadillac since the 1950s with a manual transmission. But details—such as lots of hard plastic inside, ride vibration and distracting headlight beams—detract.
  • Lowest-priced Cadillac
  • Uniquely styled
  • Fine V6 power
  • Ride vibrations
  • Severe look
  • Distracting headlight pattern

Will people really like the newest Cadillac—enough to put it in their driveways?

It's a serious question, because the 2003 Cadillac CTS—which becomes the lowest-priced Cadillac with a starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, of just under $30,000—is the first Caddy to embody a severe, almost other-worldly look.

In fact, the CTS exterior is about as far from the sensual Jaguar look as you can get in the luxury car market.

For example, I can easily imagine caressing the sleek shape of a Jaguar. Truth be told, I've done it on occasion (hopefully when no one was looking).

With the test CTS, there was no temptation to caress. It made me wonder if some car buyers would find the serious, heavily-machined look of this new luxury auto off-putting.

I know that I did. As I wrestled to make sense of my feelings, I realized I don't mind off-putting, even brutish looks on trucks and sport-utility vehicles. But somehow I had more conservative expectations for a luxury sedan.

There, I admit my bias.

For folks bored by today's cars
Cadillac isn't counting on people like me—which is to say women—to be the majority of CTS buyers. Company officials project women will make up 40 percent of buyers.

They may be correct. Several times during my test drive I was chased down by other drivers who wanted a closer view of Cadillac's newest addition.

Every inquiry was from a man, and most were younger than the 35 to 49 years of age that Cadillac projects for the CTS buyers.

To be sure, Cadillac officials are counting on buyers being bored by today's cars and attracted to this new, unconventional, high-tech look.

"Much of the car population . . . has become very, very similar in its profile, looks, front and rear," said Jim Taylor, vehicle line executive for the CTS. "This one does definitely stand out."

Very early 2003 model
The five-passenger CTS replaces the entry Catera in Cadillac's lineup. It's okay if you don't remember the Catera. Few people do.

The rear-wheel-drive CTS is the first Cadillac to have a suspension system tested and tuned, repeatedly, at the same famous Nurburgring racetrack that BMW uses.

It's also the first rear-wheel-drive Cadillac since 1952 to offer a manual transmission—a Getrag five speed.

Even the name is, as Cadillac admits, "a sea change" for one of America's luxury brands, because CTS isn't a word. Rather, CTS stands for Cadillac's new C-series touring sedan.

"Customers in other parts of the world are accustomed to alphanumeric names for their vehicles, and eventually all our vehicles will have names that reflect our global nature," said Mark LaNeve, Cadillac general manager.

In other words, get used to it as more names like this are coming from Cadillac.

Satisfying V6
Most of the sharp edges on the outside of the car are left out of the CTS interior, which comes across as an efficient driving environment that's nicely devoid of gimmickry. In fact, the CTS interior is less showy than that of a Lexus IS 300.

The real draw, though, for serious drivers will be the 3.2-liter double overhead cam V6 that's the only CTS engine for North America.

Generating 220 horsepower and 218 lb-ft of torque at 3400 rpm, this engine makes the CTS a very satisfying car.

Even with a five-speed automatic transmission, the test CTS had a spirited personality. I scarcely pushed down on the accelerator and I could feel the CTS quickening its pace. It rushed forward to get past other cars in city traffic, and I never feared when I darted out onto busy streets.

On the freeway CTS is a capable cruiser. Even when pressed for passing power on long uphill stretches, the CTS readily complied.

This new Cadillac is competitive with other V6 entry-luxury sedans, such as the 210-horsepower Lexus ES 300 and the 220-horsepower V6 trim of the Lincoln LS.

The LS can also be had with a 252-horsepower V8 that provides 261 lb-ft of torque at 4300 rpm.

Tight turning circle
I continually heard the CTS engine, even at idle. This is a car that does not have a deadened, isolated interior.

I used the standard traction control quite a bit one soggy, rushed morning when the rear wheels began to spin as I aggressively started up from neighborhood stop signs.

The power-assist rack-and-pinion steering managed the car with a precision that didn't require constant, minute steering wheel inputs.

Happily, the CTS turning circle is just 35.5 feet, which is smaller than that of the ES 300 and LS.

Driving enthusiast suspension
Don't look for a cushioned ride in the CTS. In fact, I'd describe it as more on the stiff side, rather than merely firm. It's not that riders feel road bumps harshly. It's more a constant sense that something is going on underneath the CTS and riders are made aware of it.

Even on visually smooth pavement, I readily felt vibrations in my body as I rode in the CTS.

Engineering a tremendous amount of stiffness into a vehicle structure is great for optimizing handling characteristics. But I had to wonder if it—or something else—accounted for the queasiness that I felt each time I traveled in the CTS.

The CTS uses a new General Motors Corp. rear-wheel-drive platform called Sigma. The CTS front suspension is an independent, short/long arm arrangement, while the back has a modified multi-link design.

Standard CTS tires are 16-inch H-rated Goodyears, but 17-inch, V-rated tires are available with the sport package.

Not an other-worldly interior
Seats are nicely bolstered, especially on the seatbacks, to help hold riders in place. Leather seat material was soft.

Insides of doors and dashboard areas in the CTS are amply covered by plastic that, while textured and pleasant in appearance, isn't a soft-touch material.

The center "stack" on the dashboard composing the audio system controls and heat/air conditioning controls protrudes a bit to make it easier for the driver to reach.

A nice touch came each time the CTS started up: The name of the car would appear in big amber letters in the display area.

Sized like competitors
Interior room is mostly on par with that of the ES 300 and Lincoln LS, but cargo space of 12.8 cubic feet is less than the 13.5 cubic feet in the LS and 14.5 in the ES 300.

I liked that the CTS rear windows went down nearly all the way, and the optional moonroof has an efficient, European-style dial control.

The CTS headlight beams on the test car were distracting—a plastic piece that incorporated headlight washers interfered with the beams' paths.

I found the center point of the CTS test car's front bumper looks funny, as if it was rippled a bit, when I viewed it from the rearview mirrors of vehicles driving in front of the CTS.


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BB03 - 9/21/2014 1:12:58 PM