Cadillac STS – 2008 Review: Many Americans are likely familiar with the lame duck political concept. In short, after the elections pass, outgoing officials are essentially seat warmers for their successors. The same concept applies to the Cadillac STS, which along with the DTS, will fade to black sooner than later as a single replacement fills the collective void. That model should feature the quality and attention to detail found in redesigned cars like the 2008 Cadillac CTS. Until then, buyers get the less impressive STS, which despite a flashy new face and more robust V-6, fails to measure up to its as-tested $56,000 price.
By: Thom Blackett
Photo credit: Oliver Bentley
What We Drove
Starting at about $42,000, the 2008 Cadillac STS is reasonably priced, but load on some options and watch out. Take our test car, a Crystal Red V-6 model provided by GM: That maroon paint added $995, the required destination charge tacked on another $745, and a V-6 Luxury Level Two Package pumped up the sticker with another $705. Those were minor compared to a $5,845 1SC Luxury Performance Package, a $4,250 V-6 Premium Luxury Collection, and a $1,600 Performance Handling Package, which granted us 18-inch chrome wheels and performance tires. Total price? $56,530.
Backing up revamped styling for 2008 is a new 302-horsepower V-6 engine with direct injection, mated to a six-speed automatic transmission with sport mode and manual shift features. Paddle shifters are absent. The new six-banger helps build speed quickly, and the tranny is plenty smooth in normal conditions, but push the envelope and the V-6 emits an unrefined tone. For its part, the alternate transmission selections work as intended, though the sport setting sometimes opted for the wrong gear during aggressive driving. We recorded 16.9 mpg over nearly 1,000 miles.
Michelin Pilot Sport tires (part of the Performance Handling Package) helped our STS stick in the corners even when pushed to extremes. That $1,600 add-on also included Brembo brakes which provided for a level of confidence base STS buyers may not enjoy. With excellent modulation and nary a hint of fade, these binders allowed for worry-free downhill jaunts all test-day long. The suspension did well to measure up, though the steering, which lacked road feel and longed for a tighter ratio, made the argument for the STS being more luxury than sport.
Much like its German competitors, the 2008 Cadillac STS features small exterior mirrors that sacrifice visibility for style. They’re sufficient, but none too big, and when coupled with expansive rear pillars leave a little to be desired. The rear window loses some space to overstuffed outboard headrests, and the thick lower sections of the A-pillars make it hard to see the yellow lines in corners. Our test car featured Cadillac’s Side Blind Zone Alert system, which flashes a small icon in the exterior mirrors to warn of nearby vehicles that may be out of sight.
Fun to Drive
Years ago, the idea of a large Cadillac sedan with a V-6 engine providing any semblance of fun would have been preposterous. These days, however, the brand has reinvented itself, offering engaging rides even beyond the bounds of its V series. Much to our amazement, the V-6 equipped STS can actually make for a fun afternoon of canyon carving, provided the Performance Handling Package has been added. Sure, the steering could be more responsive and the engine less rowdy at high revs, but the only real culprit was the transmission that occasionally became confused. Then again, dropping ‘er into manual mode takes care of that issue.
Many of the crucial elements are here – padded door and center armrests, effective side bolsters, multi-function power buckets that can be heated and cooled, a quick-acting power tilt and telescoping steering wheel, and generous amounts of passenger space. There’s even extra padding on the steering wheel, allowing for a comfortable grip regardless of how long the trip may be. Our beef, however, has to do with the lower seat cushions, which are wide and long enough, but are about as flat as freshly sawn board. Consider sitting on a pillow if you’re set to pilot a 2008 STS for a lengthy duration.
Instead of the flat lower cushions up front, the rear bench seat is contoured to create two outboard buckets, with recessed upper cushions that almost envelop occupants, and overall there’s more, or at least softer cushions serving to make the rear passengers more comfortable. That being said, there are negatives, including front seatbacks that, despite being slightly padded, may rub some knees the wrong way, and a lack of leg and foot room when taller drivers are at the helm. Head room is sufficient for average-size adults, especially those who slouch, but will likely be insufficient for taller folks.
With an as-tested price topping $56,000, we expected a quiet luxury car, and to some degree, that’s what we got. In regular traffic, exterior noise was nicely isolated, allowing the STS’s passengers to enjoy some peace. But when the driver dials things up a notch, the decibel level climbs proportionately. Our tester featured 18-inch summer performance tires that are designed for handling and not a quiet ride, a point we recognized instantly. Wind noise was kept to a minimum, but the powerful V-6 engine sounded raucous and unrefined at higher revs, stealing much of the big Caddy’s luxury aspirations.
For a large sedan, available trunk space is a bit limited in the STS. The liftover height is elevated, and though the opening is wide, it’s also short, so bulky boxes will need to go in the back seat or in a friend’s more accommodating vehicle. The fully-lined trunk is shallow, though hinges are designed to avoid crushing cargo and a lockable rear-seat pass-through allows for the transport of long items, such as skis or lumber. A grab handle assists with closing the lid, and a trunk release button has been integrated into the redesigned key fob. A cargo net is provided, as are multiple tie-down points.
There’s no sense in dancing around this one – in terms of build quality, the 2008 STS represents a step backward for Cadillac and GM as a whole. Recent products have demonstrated great strides in craftsmanship, which led to surprise when we found loose wood trim on the dash, a smattering of misaligned plastic parts throughout the cabin, and gap widths that were several marks shy of consistent. There are worse offenders on the market, but for those buying a car priced above $56,000, top-notch attention to detail is expected to be standard equipment.
As was the case with the STS’s build quality, the materials used are not quite up to snuff. On the plus side, there’s soft leather on the fronts of the seats, but the material on the sides feels like pleather. An abundance of rubberized and slightly-padded surfaces coat the cabin, from a spongy dash cap to textured panels on the center console and lower door panels. Indeed, except for the gauge and instrument panels, hard plastic surfaces can be hard to find. However, the oft-touched upper door sills feel like they belong in a Chevy Aveo, and the dated stalk controls are obvious parts-bin finds.
Catch a glimpse of a passing Cadillac STS and it will likely be hard to determine the car’s vintage. Visual changes for 2008 are limited and can easily pass unnoticed when this large rear-drive sedan is viewed as a blur at speed. Slow things down and one can clearly see the new face of Cadillac, which features a lower front end and more expansive grill derived from the Sixteen concept car. Side vents attached to the front fenders add a bit of flair and provide another point for adding chrome. Considered as a package, the STS is attractive, but lacks the boldness of the smaller CTS.
Storage is not an issue in the 2008 STS, thanks to pockets on all doors, a lined and average-size glovebox, a lined center armrest cubby with integrated CD slots and audio/video jacks, two front cupholders, and map pockets on the back sides of the front seats. A wide, padded, fold-down center armrest out back provides two additional cupholders for rear seat passengers. To improve things, we'd opt for larger door pockets, a deeper glovebox, and a larger center cubby.
Equipped with the V-6 Premium Luxury Collection Package, our particular STS featured an upgraded Bose surround sound system as well as a touch-screen navigation system. The latter was easy to use, activated by the Route or globe buttons integrated with the radio controls on the center dash. Another button tilts the screen to minimize washout in daylight, and as is typical, the system accepts user input only when the vehicle is stopped.
Basic radio controls are located on the dash, with supplemental and secondary functions displayed on the navigation system touch-screen. Narrow buttons on the steering wheel are well marked.
When sampled among electronic systems, the climate control setup in the 2008 STS may be about as simple as they come. There’s no need to use a central command dial to hunt through countless options on the navigation screen. Instead, Cadillac provides rubber dials for driver and passenger temperature settings and large, well-labeled buttons that control the heated and cooled front buckets, fan speed, mode, and defrost functions. Simple and effective – gotta love it. Our tester also sported rear seat climate controls on the center console, consisting of three-setting heated outboard chairs, a single temperature control, and a mode button.
Cadillac deserves kudos for keeping overly-complicated controls out of the STS. The typical power functions are on the door panel as expected, steering wheel controls are clearly marked, trip computer and heads-up display buttons are obvious on the left dash, and the traction control button is plain as day on the center console. Our only gripe centers on the memory settings, controlling the driver’s seat, mirrors, and steering wheel. Adjusting these settings required hitting Config on the dash and selecting/deselecting options on the center screen, rather than simply tapping a memory button on the door panel.
Cadillac has plenty of competition for its reworked STS sedan. Automakers from across the globe are adding luxury and technology to stylish rides with increasing levels of performance and refinement. Among the bunch are vehicles such as the BMW 5 Series, available in a variety of versions, all boasting admirable handling and quantities of horses ranging from sufficient to silly. Other offerings come from the likes of Infiniti, which sells an attractive package behind its M35 badge, and Lexus, entering the fray with the silky smooth GS 350.
2nd Opinion – Buglewicz
The Crystal Red color on our 2008 Cadillac STS test car looks delicious. I want to lick its fenders, maybe take a bite out of the hood. It glistens in the sunlight, and looks slightly menacing in the orange glow of sodium-arc street lights. The chrome grille, fender vents, wheels and other shiny accents just highlight the car perfectly. From a visual standpoint, this is one sharp car.
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