DRIVE TIME


Car Review: Cadillac CTS

Cadillac Scores One for the Home Team



Sticker price: $32,990
Dealer cost: $30,894
Horsepower: 263
MPG: 18 city, 26 highway
3-yr resale value: 54%
5-yr resale value: 35%
Cargo space: 13.6 cu. ft.

Highs: Luxury car sensibility at an entry-luxury price; easy-to-use navigation/audio system
Lows: Pricey options; tight back seat

When you turn on your car, does it return the favor? Cadillac posed this question in ads for the new CTS. For my part it evoked a raised eyebrow and a skeptical question in return: Who really gets turned on by a car?

Turns out I do. I’ve just been driving the wrong car. Sliding behind the leather-wrapped steering wheel and running my hands over the Sapele Pommele wood trim gave me a shiver of excitement even before I started the car.

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I’m not the only one Caddy has excited with its new sedan. Sales for the redesigned CTS are up more than 65% in the U.S. since its September launch. And Kiplinger's named it Best New Car in the $30,000 to $45,000 category.

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Fast and stylish

On the road, the 3.6-liter V6 engine hums as it smoothly delivers 263 horsepower via the rear wheels. Opt for the direct-injection engine ($35,790) and you up the ante with 304 horsepower. The suspension and steering combined to produce flawless handling and a solid connection to the road. Four-wheel disc brakes ensure that it stops on a dime.

Fuel economy is about average for the category. The automatic-transmission model with the lower-power V6 engine gets the best EPA rating, at 18 mpg in the city and 26 on the highway. You’ll spend about $2,150 annually to keep it filled up. One bonus: unlike many competitors, it doesn’t require premium gasoline.

The exterior is stylish -- with Cadillac's signature razor sharp lines and bold grill -- but the interior is where the car really shines. The dash and center console are clean and functional. For example, the dual climate controls are thoughtfully separated and positioned near the console, so the driver's control is closer to the driver and the passenger's control is near the passenger.

In addition to the obligatory overhead and reading lamps, optional ambient lighting ($1,000 with the Luxury Level One package) via recessed LEDs light the cockpit with a soft glow at night. Another nice option: an oversized "double" sunroof ($1,450) to add light during the day.

The crown jewel of the CTS is its pop-up navigation screen. Eight inches diagonally, it’s the largest in its class and the system responds to touch as well as voice. The nav/audio system ($3,145) is hard-drive based with 40GB of memory and is as detailed-oriented as the rest of the vehicle -- for example, it displays freeway exit information via expandable icons. It also lets you pause and rewind live radio or rip tracks from CDs. Plugging in your iPod is simple; a USB audio connection lets you see and navigate your playlists on-screen.

The CTS rates a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The CTS also gets good ratings on front, side and rear crash tests by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Stability control and traction control are standard, in addition to anti-lock brakes. Six standard airbags include front and side airbags for front-seat passengers and curtain airbags that cover both rows.

Caveats

The cabin is spacious, but the trunk could be roomier. It's only 13.6 cubic feet -- less than the cargo space in a Toyota Corolla or Ford Focus. Designers didn’t add the missing space to the back seat, either -- with 36 inches of legroom, rear passengers can feel a little cramped.

And options can quickly raise the price. My direct-injection-engine test model started at $35,790. Fully loaded -- including the $3,140 nav/audio system, the $1,000 ambient lighting, the $1,450 sunroof and so on -- the price spiked to $48,585.

Even so, the CTS is a value alternative to, say, the Audi A4 3.2 Quattro ($38,025) or the BMW 335i ($39,675). The best news: With more cars like the CTS, Motor City might just motor back.



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