2008 Cadillac CTS 4 – Waiting for Harmony

According to Wikipedia, “Avant-garde represents a pushing of the boundaries of what is accepted as the norm or the status quo, primarily in the cultural realm.” In 1863 in Paris it meant artistic revolution. If BMW, Audi, Infiniti and Lexus represent the homogenous and conservative “Salon de Paris” of the automotive world, then Cadillac is a “Salon des Refusés” of one with the bold 2008 CTS 4.

Right off there’s the look of the CTS 4, Cadillac’s “Art and Science” design imperative, could so easily have been called “Avant-guard” . The sharp angles, gentle sweeps, crisp lines, pillars of taillights, light pipes front and rear evoke classic Cadillac verticality, flush-fit of the frameless windshield and back window, geometric forms and the visual threat of the grill, would see a designer escorted from the building of the officially sanctioned “it” brands.

The CTS’s exterior is a brash, aggressive, and distinctive new world slap in the face of the automotive establishment, and that gives it some serious curb appeal. The CTS pulls admiring glances from 40-somethings, thumbs up from passing Audi drivers, and, inevitably, from no-neck 20-somethings with a pitbull straining at the leash.

Those sharp edges have cleaved away Cadillac’s old persona – this is no longer the first choice of those who think Florida’s “circuit” involves 4pm early bird specials, sensible loafers, and pants hikes up to their nipples.

Inside the design doesn’t stop, it’s just a bit softer and classier at first glance, but the touches of brilliance are tinged by irony. The dash and console wrap around driver and passenger alike in sweeping organic grace, with the switchgear integrated, but it’s bejeweled with satin finish faux chrome. There are carbonfiber accents here too, but that evil adjective “faux” crops up again. French stitching adorns a dash covered in “leather”. Oh wait, it’s pleather. You bought that in the 90s when you couldn’t afford real leather pants for clubbing.

Everywhere you glance, there are artistic touches each telling of a battle. One between what I’d like to imagine is a small and plucky group of engineers and designers against legions of GM accountants.

“Leather,” says the Accountants, “is bad for the bottom line.” The wily designers French stitch it nonetheless, think Prada, and the result at least looks fabulous.

Apropos to the new era of US class-ism the CTS offers an option list long enough to and calculate a moon shot. Our CTS 4 tester, the ‘4’ meaning it has all wheel drive, was equipped with a staggering $17,640.00 worth of options.

“Oh, you only have the base CTS. We can’t associate.”

The problem here is a lack of integration to this snowstorm of up-selling checkmarks. Systems that should communicate don’t. The CTS’s car set up, allowing activation of parking assist, puddle light setting, entry light settings and the works, are done though a cluster of six buttons on the dash to the left of the steering wheel. Handily hidden out of sight, with prompts and options displayed on the miniscule information display below the speedometer.

What was wrong with the elegantly deploying navigation screen, front and center? Other than the fact its navigation system was implemented by Microsoft and crashed repeatedly.

Here in Canada, an all wheel drive vehicle’s raison de etre is often to see it’s way through snow. How then did a rear seat pass through and ski bag escape being one of the $17,640.00 worth of options? Oh, wait it was negated by the “comfort and convenience” group.

Probably for the better, the AWD lets the rear slip for a moment, before transferring power to the front. At which point the car goes from predictable neutrality to whopping over-stear. This is not your grandpa’s Caddy because heart failure did him in.

The CTS 4 leaves me intrigued to take the rear-wheel drive variant of the CTS out to affirm that all-wheel drive doesn’t help the CTS’s cause.

It’s not all ersatz bling, the CTS 4’s driving experience is pure and genuine.

The steering ratio is outlandishly quick for a midsized sedan or even sports car. It’s light to the point to twitchy. Communicative as a 23-yr old on an unlimited cell-phone plan – every bit of road information is telegraphed instantly. Cadillac made it so, to conquer the Nürburgring’s “Green Hell” onslaught of corners. So don’t expect a relaxing waft though traffic, the CTS requires attention.

The suspension is softer that what BMW or Audi serve up, but offers a better real world compromise. “Sport” suspension, in a BMW means hitting a pot hole requires calling your MD about a seat-ectomy. The CTS doesn’t float along, but nor does it pummel. A two-inch wider track this year provides the CTS 4 with additional interior space and Great Pyramid style stability. With the handlings knifelike precision, hefty 1860kg / 4101lbs curb weight

The CTS hides it’s mass exceptionally well.

You’re not down on power either. The 3.6L, direct injection, V6 gives the CTS some serious hoof – 304hp to be precise. Hold the throttle from 5,000 rpm to red and it sings star spangled banner in an outraged howl. At these lofty RPM’s the engine offers up its best, a maximum of 273lb-ft of torque at 5,200rpm.

With most of the grunt high in the rev-range, you’re not catapulted off the line like BMW’s 335xi – its twin-turbo inline-six motor produces a steady 300 lb-ft of torque neatly anywhere on the tachometer for instantaneous gratification. Instead the CTS’s is requires more revving, to reach its peak, and that makes it a bit more involving.

Sadly, the rest of the time this engine is saddled with a passionless and uninvolving drone of an exhaust note.

The braking, offers good feel, better than the wooden bite of the 3-series, but lack authority given the engines power. Shooting up to speed is a quick affair, but be ready to seriously tramp on the pedal to haul yourself back down.

Avant-guard, has over the years, come to mean art for art’s sake. The Cadillac CTS, ironically may suffer from options for option’s sake, and in doing so it steals its advantage from itself. Loaded with options, the CTS misses the masterful brushstroke of coordination to bring harmony to this work. At a base price of $41,400 for the 2008 Cadillac CTS with 304 horses of direct injection violence under the hood, the CTS delivers value and style in a way that should make the European masters quiver.

The 2008 Cadillac CTS is so close to being everything the new Cadillac dreams of. It is a utopian variant of Dorian Gray, but the picture we are viewing shows vanishing imperfections and flaws as the CTS improves. With each generation of the Cadillac CTS, it’s a picture that the European “standards” should fear to gaze upon. Now it’s up to Cadillac’s to add harmony to the CTS’s composition, then we’ll have an artistic revolution.

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