Autos: Crying Uncle Sam

  • Fluto Shinzawa

When the 2003 Cadillac CTS first arrived on the showroom floor, recalls John Howell, director of product development, company executives were worried as well as excited. The CTS, which featured a brash, sharp-angled exterior, was Cadillac’s first attempt at revitalizing its lineup with what it called “Art and Science” styling, and the company, with reservations about how the audacious design would be received, cautiously expected to sell 30,000 units of the compact sedan. The car became a hit, however, with 38,000 models selling in its first year, and Cadillac expects 60,000 buyers to claim keys to the CTS this year.

Despite the success of the CTS, Howell acknowledges that he feels some trepidation about the current release of the 2005 STS, Cadillac’s new luxury sedan, which, like the new XLR roadster and SRX wagon, displays styling similar to the compact sedan, though more subdued. Howell recognizes that for the STS to succeed as the CTS has, the $48,000, rear-wheel-drive sedan will have to lure drivers away from the midrange BMWs and Mercedes-Benzes to which they have become accustomed.

The CTS’s sharp-as-a-blade exterior design has been softened and stretched for the STS. Howell explains that on smaller cars, such as the CTS and XLR, tighter design lines make the vehicles appear crisper, but that on larger models, exteriors need to flow. At one point, Bob Lutz, General Motors’ vice chairman, sent the car back to the designers with instructions to give the STS more tumblehome, increasing the inward angles of the windows to bestow the vehicle with a more aggressive stance.

With these adjustments and a 4.6-liter V-8 that produces 320 hp, 315 ft lbs of torque at 4,400 rpm, and a top speed of 155 mph, the STS resembles its German counterparts in appearance as well as performance. While BMW loyalists may argue for the excellence of the 5 Series’ handling, the STS, which features a 5-speed automatic transmission and does not require premium fuel, performs nimbly on curvy roads. The interior, which rivals a Lexus’ cabin for comfort, can include wood accents for the dashboard and shifter and a heated, leather-covered steering wheel. The car is equipped with a Bose surround-sound system, and it can be fitted with XM satellite radio.

Howell is coy about discussing when the STS-V will make its debut, but positive owner reaction to the CTS-V assures that the STS also will receive the hot-rod treatment. After all, BMW’s M5 and Mercedes’ E55 still lack American competition, and Cadillac is determined to complete its Teutonic conquest.

Cadillac
www.cadillac.com

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