If sports cars are from Mars and minivans are from Venus, the 2006 Cadillac CTS comes straight from the manly red planet. With all that hyper-aggressive styling and sharp edges, there's little doubt that this sport sedan was designed to appeal to the Y chromosome.
Although initial sales exceeded Cadillac's goal of 40,000 vehicles per year, the original 2003 CTS lacked the muscle to match its chiseled, masculine design. Its 3.2-liter V6 had the punch of an elderly woman.
Caddy was already planning to add the Corvette-powered 400-hp CTS-V to the lineup, but it still had to make an engine change on the standard CTS if it was really going to challenge the BMW 3 Series and Infiniti G35 sedans. So in 2005, Cadillac offered the CTS with a torquey 2.8-liter V6 and an all-aluminum 255 hp 3.6-liter V6 and essentially gave it a new lease on life.
Smooth V6 power
The larger V6 is a dual-overhead-cam, four-valve-per-cylinder design. It has variable valve timing and a dual-stage variable intake manifold, and cranks out 255 horsepower at 6,200 rpm and 252 pound-feet of torque at 3,100 rpm, a 35-hp and 34-lb-ft increase over the old 3.2-liter.
Although the CTS received a new standard six-speed manual transmission in 2005, our 2006 test car came equipped with the optional (and more popular) five-speed automatic. This transmission was in the original CTS and remains basically unchanged, except for the manual-shift mode that was also added last year.
This crisp combination is the setup the rear-wheel-drive CTS should have come with from Day One. It's powerful off the line and offers a smooth resonance at full throttle. With a 15.1-second, 92.3-mph quarter-mile, the CTS is slower than the G35's 14.7 seconds, but not embarrassingly so. That half-second difference keeps the CTS in the same sport-sedan ballpark.
Comfortable, if not sporty
Underneath, the CTS's architecture was good enough to be stretched for the Cadillac STS, and it does an admirable job of keeping the entry-level Caddy stable through everyday twists and turns. Our test car was equipped with the $1,640 17-inch Wheel Sport Package, which includes sportier suspension tuning, stability control, special aluminum wheels, a limited-slip differential and high-intensity headlamps. It's a step up from the standard suspension and 16-inch wheels, but falls short of the "V-Series light" stiffness that comes with the 18-inch Wheel Package.
Overall, the chassis feels good and tight, but the variable power-assisted rack and pinion steering, which is generally fine, would feel sharper without the CTS's big ol' steering wheel.
In our slalom test at the track, however, the CTS didn't perform as well as we had hoped. When pushed, its suspension was slow to react between the 100-foot cone gates, and its P225/50R17 Goodyear Eagle RS-A tires overheated after the fifth run. In the end, the CTS threaded the course at 61 mph, which is substantially slower than both the G35's 66.4-mph run and the 330i's 68.6-mph speed.
It was closer to its competitors when it came to braking performance, turning in a stop from 60-0 mph in 122 feet. That's nearly 7 feet shorter than the G35, but still not as good as BMW's very impressive stop of 111 feet. It might have made a smaller gap if we had the 18-inch Wheel Package that also includes high-performance brake pads. The standard four-wheel vented disc brakes felt pretty good to us, even with a slightly mushy pedal, but if you want more than average performance, you'll need the upgrade.
Interior upgrade, better materials and controls
Interior elements also received some criticism in the original Cadillac CTS, but the current interior is more Euro and less Camaro than the first model. Soft-touch plastics aren't as yielding as the Pillsbury Doughboy's belly, but you won't injure your funny bone with accidental contact.
Simple, large gauges span the instrument cluster, with white letters and numbers that are easy to read. The dual climate control buttons make short work of adjusting the cabin's temperature, and well-padded front seats and the most rear legroom among the G35, 330i and Acura TL sedans help all passengers get comfortable.
A Bose in-dash six-disc CD stereo unit is part of our car's California Luxury Package, and although we appreciate its posh sound, the coolest stereo gadget is the steering-wheel-mounted volume control wheel that is not limited to the Bose package, but comes with the standard stereo. A flick of your thumb mutes the volume in an instant, or brings Toto's "Rosanna" to life on XM's '80s channel.
Another nice feature is XM NavTraffic, which provides continuously updated traffic information in selected cities. The CTS is the first GM vehicle with this system and it comes standard in cars equipped with the DVD navigation package.
Offered exclusively by XM Satellite Radio, NavTraffic is fully integrated with the CTS's GPS navigation system to display current information about traffic incidents and average traffic speed. Enter a destination into the navigation system and a color-coded display will provide instant traffic data along a preferred route. The driver can see how fast traffic is moving and see symbols that identify crashes, construction and road congestion, ultimately choosing a faster route if necessary.
It costs how much?!
Four feature packages and the optional automatic transmission tacked $9,715 on to the CTS's base price of $31,190, bringing the cost of our 2006 Cadillac CTS test car up to a whopping $41,625 with destination. That's just a grand short of our long-term 330i, which, although less roomy, is a more compelling sport sedan. However, if you want more space than sport, and are a manly man who can live without heated seats, the CTS, sans a package or two, now deserves your attention.
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