Cadillac’s CTS is credited with turning Cadillac’s fortunes around. The first car offered by the company to be truly world-class in modern times, particular emphasis was placed on the driving characteristics of the car. This came about because Cadillac’s market research determined the majority of buyers in the segment of the contemporary premium market the CTS occupies give as much credence to the performance of their cars as they do the style.
Introduced in 2002 as a 2003 model, the Cadillac CTS was the first American entry-level luxury model to credibly compete with comparable Japanese and European products on value, performance and style. Owing to its success, the CTS spawned a number of variants, including a coupe and a station wagon — as well as high performance CTS-V iterations of each body style.
There have been two generations of the Cadillac CTS offered to date.
Cadillac CTS: 2003 – 2007
The first modern Cadillac to be offered with rear-wheel drive and a manual transmission, the CTS signaled a number of philosophical changes at GM’s top marque. Adopting the angular styling of the “Art and Science” design language introduced with the Evoq concept car (a version of which was later offered for sale as the XLR) the CTS ushered in a whole new image for Cadillac.
Initially issued with a 220-horsepower, 3.2-liter V-6, the first CTS was rear-drive and offered a choice of either a five-speed manual transmission or a five-speed automatic as standard equipment. In 2004, a second engine choice was offered, a 255-horsepower 3.6-liter V-6. However, the 3.6 was offered only with the automatic transmission. For 2005, the 3.2 was replaced with a 210-horsepower, 2.8-liter V-6 and the five-speed manual was replaced by a six-speed manual, which was also offered with the 3.6.
While many decried the overwhelming use of plastic in the interior of the first CTS, its equipment level was universally praised. Features included Bose audio, DVD-based navigation (state of the art at the time), antilock brakes, and side curtain airbags.
With its chassis developed in part from observations gathered from testing at Germany’s Nurburgring racing facility, the Cadillac CTS benefited from outstanding handling. For the first time in decades, a Cadillac automobile was truly fun to drive. Winner of the 2002 North American Car of The Year award and featured in “The Matrix Reloaded” film, the Cadillac CTS was a true revelation for America’s most celebrated car brand.
In 2004, Cadillac introduced a high performance version of the CTS and called it CTS-V. The company borrowed the 400-horsepower V8 and six-speed manual transmission from the Corvette Z06 of the era to produce the fastest production Cadillac ever (up until that point). In 2006, the Z06 engine was replaced with the LS2 400-horsepower engine from the 2006 Corvette. While the horsepower was the same, the LS6 engine had a wider power band and was more suited to use in a sedan.
To contain the output of the more potent engine, larger brakes, shocks, anti-roll bars and tires were fitted to the CTS-V. In ’06, in addition to changing the engine, the differential and half-shafts were upgraded to larger units. For this reason, those interested in a GEN1 CTS-V would do well to focus their search on an ’06 or an ‘07 model.
Cadillac CTS: 2008 –
With the success of the first CTS, the second one was more of an evolution than a revolution. Cadillac’s engineers kept all the stuff that worked, while improving the car’s perceived weaknesses. Thus, while the GEN2 car has a much nicer interior and a more comfortable ride, it still excels dynamically.
Two V6 engines comprise the standard CTS engine offerings. The CTS-V variants run a supercharged V-8. A 270-horsepower, 3.0-liter V-6 is the base engine and a 304-horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6 is the upgrade. Either engine can be had with a six-speed manual (standard equipment) or a six-speed automatic (optional). All-wheel drive is available with both engines too, but only with the automatic transmission.
Both wider and longer than the GEN1 car, the base GEN2 CTS got the previous generation’s CTS-V suspension brakes and steering. Key comfort and convenience features include a Bose 5.1 audio system, traction control, tire pressure monitoring, satellite nav with real-time traffic and weather, a 40-gig hard drive for audio storage and remote start.
In 2009, the CTS Sport Wagon went on sale with both the 270-horsepower 3.0-liter and the 304-horsepower 3.6. The six-speed automatic transmission was paired with rear- or all-wheel drive. In 2010, the CTS Coupe went on sale featuring the 3.4-liter V-6, rear- or all-wheel drive, six-speed manual and six-speed automatic transmissions. Each of the body styles is also available as a CTS-V — featuring a 556-horsepower supercharged V-8 borrowed from the Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1.
The next planned update for the Cadillac CTS line is for MY2012.
Cadillac CTS: Summary
By studying the sport sedans proffered by the competition and putting a uniquely American spin on them, Cadillac came up with a runaway hit in the CTS. The car has reinvigorated America’s most prestigious auto manufacturer, gaining legions of new fans for the marque.
Of course, like any other car, the CTS has seen its share of recalls over the years and so we recommend running an Internet search for “Cadillac CTS (or CTS-V) recalls”, incorporating your model year of interest. Naturally, one should also subject any CTS they are serious about buying to a thorough pre-purchase inspection by a trusted professional mechanic, one familiar with the marque.
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