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First Drive: Cadillac CTS – on sale summer

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Review

Let’s clear one thing up: Cadillac might be premium in America; in the UK it definitely isn’t – not yet. However, its latest offering, the CTS, suggests it is making some progress.

Cadillac executives hope the summer launch will herald a change for the brand in terms of engineering integrity, quality, chassis dynamics and design.

Sales have been poor since Cadillac returned to the UK in 2004 amid much hype. Instead of the 4,000-plus units originally forecast for 2007, it sold just 382.

“I don’t think we’ve managed to establish the brand with any particular relevance to UK customers,” says Jonathan Nash, Cadillac UK managing director, bluntly.

“I have asked my team to focus on brands for 90% of the time and sales only 10%.”

Cadillac is GM’s top luxury brand in the US and the CTS is 2008 car of the year, according to Motor Trend, edited by former AM editor Angus MacKenzie.

The company is aiming for German levels of quality and reputation, but Nash says: “We’re not trying to be a US BMW. We’re not going to get people to drop their BMWs and Audis. It’s about an alternative package in a unique Cadillac way. We expect to attract customers who don’t want to blend in.”

Inspired by Cadillac’s landmark Sixteen concept, the CTS certainly stands out from the crowd. Contoured lines give it a polished look, yet the relatively square overall shape ensures it is distinct.

Dramatic styling includes a large chrome dual-textured grill, wheels that sit at the body’s outer edges and vertically stacked headlamps.

The CTS is 5cm wider than the outgoing model, giving it a more grounded appearance while accommodating the optional all-wheel drive configuration. Seven-spoke 17-inch wheels are standard and will be offered in both painted and machined finishes.

Manual and automatic six-gear transmission are available, with the 3.6-litre turbo injection model offered in rear-wheel drive.

Initially, only petrol variants will be sold in the UK, but a 2.9-litre 250bhp turbo-diesel engine will be available in 2009, which should bolster sales.

The interior is sleek and plush and definitely begins to reach German marque standards but finer details such as the silver central console, which was already scratched in my test car, need to be addressed. Nash plans to expand the brand on an ‘organic’ basis. There are no strict targets, but the CTS model is expected to strengthen Cadillac UK sales considerably.

A newly-announced franchised dealership at Bauer Millett in Manchester is due to open in January. Apart from this, there are no immediate plans for site growth but, Nash says: “With the new CTS launch in the summer, we expect a step change in volume opportunity, and that may well affect site expansion.”

Now Cadillac must live up to the hype of its '04 launch.

#AM_ART_SPLIT# Behind the wheel

The CTS is solid to drive and, encased within the tasteful interior, gives a real sense of occasion. The 3.6 V6 direct injection driven on test has the firmest of three suspension specifications, which was fine on the motorway but made for an uncomfortable experience on rural roads.

I expected the automatic to offer an effortless drive, but it was a little jumpy, with abrupt gearshifts. Others testers found the manual a much more pleasant drive.

A sport mode option, which quickens engine response and gear change, encouraged racing like Lewis Hamilton around winding bends.

A smart silver centre console houses neatly-placed controls and a retractable navigation system. Air conditioning vents angled towards both front seats are a nice touch.

Prices: Starting from around £27,000
Engines: 2.8 V6 211bhp, 3.6 V6 311bhp petrol; 2.9-litre 250bhp diesel to follow in 2009
Performance: 0-62mph 6.3-9.0sec; top speed 127-155mph
Transmission: Six-speed auto/manual, rear-wheel and all-wheel drive
Efficiency: 3.6: RWD 23.5mpg, 285g/km; AWD 25mpg, 267g/km
Rivals: Merc E-Class, BMW 5 Series, Saab 9-5, Honda Accord, Volvo S60

Also driven: Cadillac BLS Wagon

The 1.9-litre turbodiesel is both quiet and smooth, and the premium positioning of the car is enhanced by an excellent Bose speaker system and comfy leather interior as standard.

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