The rise and fall of Cadillac is a familiar tale. Already this country's standard of luxury, the carmaker defined the era of postwar optimism and affluence with such finned beauties as the '59 Eldorado and helped General Motors lead the U.S. market for nearly three-quarters of a century. Then came the disastrous '80s and '90s. Such Caddy offerings as the down-market Cimarron—a rebadged Chevrolet—and overpriced Allante opened the door for the import alternatives to bolt ahead.
But the story has another chapter, a plot twist engineered with the 2008 Cadillac CTS. First introduced in 2002, the knife-edged sedan forced the world to take notice. Today, the CTS is nearing its promise to kick-start what company officials call the "Cadillac renaissance"—albeit with a more refined, though still edgy look.
The first incarnation unveiled Caddy's visually striking Art and Science design theme and delivered driving dynamics on par with better European brands. But it had its shortcomings.
As GM's "car czar," Bob Lutz, readily admits, "We managed to take an incredibly expensive interior and make it look incredibly cheap." For 2008, the emphasis is more on art than science, and the result is an interior that is as good as anything in its class—which ought to worry Audi, the benchmark of cabin design.
Caddy originally slotted CTS somewhere between the BMW 3 and 5 Series in size. It's even closer to the big Bimmer now, though, at $33,490, still priced closer to the 3 Series. The 2008's wider track, meanwhile, keeps the sedan more firmly planted, especially in tight turns. Like the original, the new CTS has undergone extensive engineering time in Germany, on both the Autobahn and the grueling Nurburgring racetrack. This time, it really shows.
The CTS offers a choice of two 3.6-liter V-6s: a "base" six-banger, and the Direct Injection power train at 304 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque. Performance fans may want to wait until late in the year for the CTSv. That's "v" as in "velocity," and this pavement chewer is set to deliver well over 500 hp out of its V-8.
It may be too early for Cadillac to reclaim its old "standard to the world" boast, but the 2008 CTS suggests that the GM division is finally getting serious about its global competition. Those who might have written off domestic luxury cars as an anachronism are warned that they ignore Caddy's new offering at their own peril.