2003 CADILLAC CTS BASE
Used Car - 2003 Cadillac CTS Base in Duluth, Ga
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2003 Cadillac CTS ReviewThis car review is specific to this model, not the actual vehicle for sale.
Cadillac takes on the best of the European sports sedans.
Cadillac has broken a lot of new ground with its all-new CTS. It drives like a European luxury sports sedan and, like Mercedes-Benz and BMW, this new Cadillac uses rear-wheel drive instead of front-wheel drive. It is designed to appeal to younger buyers who want European performance in an American luxury product. The smallest of Cadillac's sedans, the CTS replaces the European-built Cadillac Catera, two generations of which failed to capture the imagination of the American buying public.
The CTS is built in America, but its power, handling, luxury, and electronics put it in direct competition with sedans from around the world: the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, the BMW 3 Series, the Audi A4, the Lexus ES 300, and the Lincoln LS. Cadillac engineers used a BMW 5 Series (the previous 528i) as a performance benchmark. This is the first car to be built on GM's all-new Sigma rear-wheel-drive platform. The CTS will be built in GM's first brand-new factory in years, in Lansing, Michigan.
Cadillac CTS is a five-passenger, four-door sports sedan powered by a 3.2-liter dohc V6 engine. For the first time ever in a GM car, it comes with a choice of either a five-speed manual or a five-speed automatic overdrive transmission.
Three variants of the CTS are available. The base CTS starts at just $29,990, which includes the $640 destination charge. (Everyone should include destination charges in their pricing.)
Two big packages are available for the CTS. The CTS Luxury Package ($2,000) includes an eight-way power adjustable passenger seat, audible theft deterrent system, Zebrano wood trim, memory package, rear-view mirror compass, and a three-channel programmable garage door opener with electronic voice recorder.
The CTS Luxury Sport Package ($3,500) includes all of those features plus the Stabilitrak 2.0 chassis control system, sport-tuned suspension, high-performance brake linings, load-leveling rear suspension, speed-sensitive power steering, and 17-inch polished wheels with V-rated tires.
Other options on our test car included the five-speed electronic automatic transmission, a Bose premium sound system with cassette/six-disc CD changer and CD-ROM-based navigation, 16-inch wheels, an engine block heater, heated front seats, express-open sunroof, xenon high-intensity discharge headlamps and a split-folding rear seat: The entire enchilada, the most expensive CTS you can buy, and it retailed for $39,690.
Whether buyers will opt for the five-speed manual transmission for truly sporty driving remains to be seen. But it is notable that Cadillac went to the trouble of developing the manual gearbox with German supplier Getrag. It says clearly that Cadillac sees the CTS as a sports sedan. It's a good transmission, whether anyone buys it or not.
Walking around the CTS reveals a festival of sharp junctions and angles, the first production car in Cadillac's new design vocabulary that started several years ago with the Evoq show car, a style called Art & Science.
First thing you notice are the big headlamps. The lighting elements fore and aft are huge, especially for a medium-sized car, and each of the lamp units is full of complex reflectors and shapes that add overall interest to the design.
The eggcrate grille is about all that's left of traditional Cadillac exterior design. The new look of the body shape and details takes some getting used to, especially with a short overhang in the front and a longer one at the rear that makes the 3500-pound sedan look tail heavy. Oddly enough, the big rear end houses a trunk that only opens up to 12.8 cubic feet.
Any way you look at it, the CTS looks better than the rounded, nebbish Catera in either early or late vintage. The CTS design is brawny, more muscular, and should attract equal numbers of men and women.
Inside, the CTS is as different from the Catera as it is from the DeVille and Seville, with a much more European presentation of instrumentation and controls (after all, they are going to sell this car in Eastern and Western Europe, Japan, and the Middle East).
In fact, the CTS interior isn't like anything else on the market today. Done up in several high-tech textures (about two too many for our personal tastes), the dashboard and instrument panel are rendered in muted shades of gray with excellent, highly readable graphics.
The center stack, where most of the adjusting is done, juts out proudly and prominently from the rest of the dash, with the elaborate GPS navigation system, when ordered, at the top center location. Climate controls are at the bottom, controlled by amber-lighted pictograms like other Cadillacs. One year of GM's OnStar service comes with the car.
The steering wheel, with more and different types of redundant sound system, cruise control and other buttons mounted to it, looks like something out of a luxury jet fighter, and is deliciously leather-padded wood, with a big, thick rim that's wonderful to use.
The leather-upholstered seats, though they look pretty straightforward and planklike, are definitely not. Instead, they are very comfortable for all-day driving and there is plenty of side bolstering to hold your torso in place through the sharp corners. And Cadillac is happy to tell you that there is more room inside at CTS that there is inside some of its European competition. Although I am tall, in the 95th percentile in term of body type, I was very comfortable in both front seats of the CTS, and only slightly cramped in the rear seats when we tried them out.
Cadillac went way out of its way in developing the ride and handling characteristics of the CTS. All the way to Germany, in fact, where for several years, prototypes were flogged for weeks at a time on the famous Nurburgring circuit, a 13-mile-long racing circuit with 177 corners and nearly 1000 feet of elevation change. They used it because Mercedes, BMW, Porsche, and Audi use it, too, and they wanted this car to handle as well as any of the European competition.
One of the things that came out of the Nurburgring testing was the way the car is built, with an isolated subframe carrying the entire rear axle and suspension, and a solidly mounted subframe in front carrying the engine, front suspension, and steering. This was done for noise and harshness isolation at the rear, and precise steering action and steering feel at the front. In that regard, the CTS may be the best domestic car this side of the Corvette and Viper. The steering accuracy and the feeling of guiding precision machinery really comes through loud and clear, whether you're driving on the standard 16-inch tires or on the 17-inch tires that come with the Luxury Performance package. The suspension underneath this car is without a doubt the best ever on a Cadillac, singularly smooth, responsive, able to soak up the big bumps and the little undulations equally well without a hint of harshness. One the reasons it all works so well is that the body is enormously stiff and strong for its size and weight, allowing each corner of the car to work independently of the other three.
The braking system on the CTS, consisting of four large-diameter discs, a power booster, and ABS hardware and software, was also developed on the Nurburgring circuit. The average driver on an average drive will never know it, but the braking system on this car is capable of an incredibly high number of full-force stops just short of ABS activation without any sign of brake fade, no hint of hot, smelly linings, or uneven pulling from side to side.
The 3.2-liter V6 engine is an enlarged version of the 3.0-liter V6 that powered the German Opel-based Catera. However, the engine has been fully revised to improve driveability, power and emissions, and is represents a vast improvement. It is the world's only 54-degree V6 engine design (most are either 60 or 90 degrees). The CTS V6 is smooth and quiet, and responsive in traffic. However, with only 220 horsepower on tap, not reachable until 6000 rpm, and 218 foot-pounds of torque available at best, it will not thrill any driver who has had previous experience in a German or Japanese V6 of the same displacement. The CTS is not slow by any means, but neither is it quick. Driving this engine in a manual-transmission model, we found we had to downshift not once but twice to keep the engine in the powerband, and in the automatic, we either kicked the transmission down by hand or foot quite a lot when driving in the mountains of southern California. (The slick new 5L40-E automatic transmission is also used by BMW in the 5 Series and X5 sport utility). Cadillac says more power is a high priority for future models.
With a new chassis, a new body, a new engine, two new transmissions, a new factory and a new workforce, there is an awful lot that could go wrong with a car like the CTS in its first year of production. On the other hand, there is a lot that could go right, and that's what we're banking on when we recommend it as a car to be looked at and test driven if you are in the market for a entry luxury sports sedan.
The Cadillac CTS drives beautifully, it looks and feels extremely modern from the left front seat, it has all the feature content an American driver is looking for, and it looks different from anything else out there.
CTS Base ($29,350).
Options As Tested
automatic transmission ($1200); Bose premium sound system with cassette/six-disc CD changer and CD-ROM-based navigation system ($2700); heated front seats ($400); express-open sunroof ($1100); xenon high-intensity discharge headlamps with high-pressure washers ($500); 60/40 split fold-down rear seat ($300); Luxury Sport Package ($3500) includes the Luxury Package with an eight-way power adjustable passenger seat, audible theft deterrent system, Zebrano wood trim, memory package, rear-view mirror compass, and a three-channel programmable garage door opener with electronic voice recorder, plus the Stabilitrak 2.0 chassis control system, sport-tuned suspension, high-performance brake linings, load-leveling rear suspension, speed-sensitive power steering, and 17-inch polished wheels with V-rated tires.
Cadillac CTS ($29,350).
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