tCE 2008 CTS Review – ride and drive

Part 1 – Overall impressions
Part 2 – Interior and Storage
Part 3 – Electronics and Entertainment
Part 3 – Electronics and Entertainment – Part 2
Part 4 – Ride and Drive
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tCE CTS MountainsOh, the tightrope that a company like Cadillac must walk when making a car like the CTS.

Old-time Cadillac faithful expect a pillow-soft ride that hammers into submission every pothole, expansion joint, and texture – and do it all in complete silence.

New-age luxury/sports sedan buyers expect taut handling, tight and communicative steering, and want to know what the road is telling them – basically a sportscar with room for five.

How can Cadillac expect to balance these two conflicting demands with the new CTS?

Quite simply, they don’t. If you want old-time Cadillac traits – go buy a DTS (or maybe a Lincoln Town Car before Ford discontinues them).

That certainly doesn’t mean that the CTS beats you up, but don’t go into a test drive expecting to not feel the worst of the bumps or to be isolated completely from what the road is trying to tell you. This is a sports sedan in the vein of a BMW or Audi with a harder edge than you might get in a Mercedes or Lexus.

That said, our test car packed the FE2 suspension tuning (1 step firmer than the base car’s but not as taut as the FE3 performance suspension you can get on the rear-drive versions of the CTS) – basically the sportiest tune for the all-wheel drive CTS.

Speaking of all-wheel drive, the system in the new CTS is an excellent example of a sport-themed system. Rather than all-wheel drive in cars like the Audi quattro line or a Subaru, the all-wheel drive in the CTS is rear-biased. This is a road-feel consideration in that power to the front wheels often, if not always, compromises steering feel by introducing torque to the system (tugging the wheels, if ever so slightly, and dulling the feel of the road). Audi has attacked this problem on their latest product by tuning their system to put 60% to the rear wheels. Cadillac has gone to extremes by putting all power to the rear wheels by default and only transferring power forward (up to 100% can go to the front) if needed.

In addition, helping our car were Michelin Pilot sport all-season tires, sport brake pads, and the latest version of Cadillac’s excellent StabiliTrak stability control system.

We didn’t get a chance to test out the all-wheel drive system in the white stuff that we often have in Colorado this time of year – but we did manage, accidentally, to end up on some Colorado dirt roads and got to play ‘rally driver’ enough to know that the combination of rear-biased all-wheel drive and StabiliTrak will protect you from just about any indiscretion.

When not on something loose or icy, the suspension tuning, sport brakes, and tires combine with the computer controlled six-speed automatic (with manual shift mode – though no paddle shifters until 2009) to provide quite an entertaining driving experience. Pushing the shift lever into manual mode enables a ‘sport mode’ that, if anything, is a touch too aggressive for most street driving (down-shifting, etc. for you as if you were going for a hot lap).

The new CTS certainly show great promise for what we can expect from a smaller/sportier sedan (the new Alpha-based car due in a couple years) and certainly should worry the German competition about what to expect from the V-series car next year.

I have read many times since the new CTS debuted that it was the best American car ever.

After my time behind the wheel – I certainly agree.

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