The 2008 Cadillac CTS boasts major changes to the engines and chassis that upgrade performance. The CTS offers a choice of two V6 engines and a choice of either a newly designed six-speed automatic or a six-speed manual, making it the only American luxury car still available with a manual. The CTS comes with rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive.
The front and rear tires are a full two inches farther apart in track width for 2008, so the general body shape is wider, and a great deal more aggressive looking, with exaggerated front and rear wheel flares.
In addition to the traditional 3.6-liter V6, there's a whole new 3.6-liter, 24-valve V6 engine with direct fuel injection that makes 15 percent more power. The new engine not only makes more power, it gets better fuel economy, even after adjusting for the new, stricter rules that the EPA is now using for fuel economy labeling.
Styling changes include a huge new grille and larger, more in-your-face light elements front and rear. It looks like it's hungry for red meat. Its new levels of grip, handling and steering were modeled after the BMW 530i sedan, and it was developed by the Cadillac engineers on BMW's home ground, the 14-mile, 73-turn Nurburgring circuit in Germany.
Cadillac CTS ($32,245)
Likewise, the taillights, rear quarter panels and decklid have been redone, and the rear bumper has been rejiggered to feature exposed dual exhaust tips. Altogether, this is a much, much better looking car than the previous CTS, with more adventurous lines everywhere, especially in the gracefully sloping rear roof section, which isn't as harshly angular as on the previous edition.
The entire dashboard has been lowered and moved further away from the front seats to give a more airy and open feel to the car that the original didn't have; it felt like a high-walled bunker. The center stack on the CTS is beautifully done, easy to read and use, with some interesting new readout placements here and there.
On our sojourn through some of central California's tastiest, windiest roads, the front bucket seats held us down and in comfortably, and behind the wheel. We really appreciated the range of adjustment offered by the power seats and the power steering column adjustments; we've always felt that all cars should have tilt-and-telescope columns for ultimate comfort and proper driving position. The instrument package is complete, easy to read, and graphically pretty.
Our car had the AM/FM/XM Bose 5.1 sound systems, the 40-gigabyte hard-drive, iPod connector and USB port for ultimate musical enjoyment. Using the navigation screen, it's easy to switch back and forth between the three broadcast and three stored-music formats by simply touching the screen, and the blue display is large enough to be read from the back seat. We think it's one of the best overall, most fun to use sound systems we've ever used in a car.
The more powerful of the two available engines is a new direct-injection V6 that produces 304 horsepower. It's extremely responsive. The difference in performance feel and sound from this engine compared with the standard 263-hp V6 is amazing. Not that there's anything wrong with the standard engine; the direct-injection engine just has more of everything, as it should, because it costs more.
The 304-hp V6 feels ready to go out and play anytime you want, delivering a really solid combination of power, torque and powerful sound whenever the throttle is opened all the way up.
The six-speed manually controlled automatic that comes with it is very quick and positive to shift, up or down, with a little bit of throttle blip on the downshifts to keep the drivetrain happy and to keep the tires from skidding.
Underneath all that new sheetmetal is a brand new suspension system with a new type of forward-mounted power rack-and-pinion steering system that pulls, rather than pushes, the steering arms, and it is sweet to drive, very accurate, with good feel and a nice, weighty demeanor.
With optional all-wheel-drive waiting to leap in whenever you decide to go a bit too fast through the corners, as we did in central California, the car feels very, very stable and inspires the confidence you need to go faster and faster through those corners.
If a cow or a truck wanders onto the road in front of you, the ABS/EBD brakes respond with very good stopping power, even for a car that tips the scales at 4100 pounds empty.
For all its newfound steering, cornering and handling prowess, the new CTS doesn't seem to exact any penalties in quietness or harshness over the road. It's very solidly put together, and in all other modes besides wide-open-throttle, it's quiet inside, even with 17-inch high-performance tires.
The new 2008 Cadillac CTS looks great and is relatively roomy inside. It's got lots of poke for the performance enthusiast with the bigger engine and available all-wheel drive. For those who don't need or want the extra stuff, there's lots of style with the standard V6 and rear-wheel drive. But we recommend checking the box for the all-wheel-drive system regardless of where you live because it adds so much more to the safety margin and it's more fun to drive, even if the car is heavier for it.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Jim McCraw test drove the CTS in Northern California.