As the world becomes a global economy, car companies find that they can no longer restrict themselves to a few home markets if they hope to survive. But if your product, like Cadillac’s, has long been aimed squarely at mature American buyers, a new approach is called for. How new? Well, new enough to produce this 2003 CTS, a Cadillac like no Cadillac before it. So come along, and we’ll show you the new global face of America’s most famous luxury car brand!
And what a face it is! The 2003 CTS sedan is the first Cadillac to fully embrace the brand’s new Art and Science design theme, and their first serious attempt to go head-to-head against luxury sport-sedan stalwarts BMW and Mercedes, as well as Lexus and Acura.
The CTS wears a striking, crisp, shear style first seen in 1999 on the Evoq concept car. From the broad locomotive-look of the front end, with its camera-lens-like headlamp assemblies that can house High Intensity Discharge low beams, down the tall, slab-sides with their gently arching character lines, to the sharp-edged tail, it’s very much a love-it-or-hate it look that would be more at home on European roads than ours.
And on that point, the Euro-flavored body sits on Cadillac’s new rear-wheel-drive Sigma platform, which was fine tuned on Germany’s 12.8 mile Nurburgring racing circuit Despite a longer 113.4-inch wheelbase and a nearly identical 60-inch track, the CTS is slightly smaller overall than the Opel made Catera it replaces.
The U.S. built CTS chassis utilizes an aluminum intensive short-long arm front suspension and a sophisticated 5-link-per-wheel rear setup on a fully isolated subframe. 16-inch alloy wheels wearing 225/55-series Goodyear tires are standard, while 17-inch rims with VR-rated 225/50-series tires came with our test car’s Luxury-Sport package.
Driving the rear wheels is a new 3.2-liter twin-cam, 24-valve V6 that is loosely based on the Catera’s 3.0-liter. It delivers 220 horsepower, and 218 pound-feet of torque. It features a tight 54-degree cylinder angle for compactness, as well as coil-on-plug ignition for efficiency.
In the transmission department, the big news is Cadillac’s first 5-speed manual transmission in almost 50 years, and it’s a good one! The rod-actuated shifter is light, tight and accurate. Those who favor an automatic will get a 5-speed of their own. The 5L-40E is shared with BMW’s 5-series sedan and X5 sport-ute. But surprisingly, it lacks the manual shift mode found in BMW units.
We took our manual-equipped test car to our test track and clicked off a rapid 0 to 60 time of 7.1-seconds and a 1/4 mile time of 15.5-seconds at 93 miles-per-hour. The 3.2 V6, in keeping with the car’s global character, is Euro-smooth. But it also exhibits the strong bottom end that American drivers demand. It actually feels like a Mercedes- Benz 3.2, with a little extra kick. The clutch has a light touch, and very even engagement. But some of our drivers expressed a desire for more feel through the pedal.
Handling feel, however, is spot on. All that time at the Nurburgring paid off. The CTS is nimble, responsive, and cuts corners with precision. The suspension tuning is somewhere between a hard core 3-Series and the softer C-Class. Our car’s speed sensitive power rack-and- pinion steering was quick and well weighted. Push it hard, and the tail will drift out in a safe, controlled manner. And if you push it beyond the bounds of physics and common sense, the Luxury-Sport package’s Stabilitrak electronic stability system does an impressive job of bringing the car back from the edge.
And as for stopping, the CTS utilizes 4-wheel disc brakes with standard ABS and traction control. These brought the car down from 60 in an average distance of 122 feet. Stability, tracking and braking feel are all excellent. These are brakes that even drivers of the CTS’ European counterparts would be pleased with.
The interior also sets a new style for Cadillac, more industrial and modern with little wood, limited to the steering wheel, shifter, and door handles, and even less chrome. No limit on safety equipment, however, with every CTS coming equipped with dual- stage front, seat-mounted side, and front and rear curtain head protection airbags. Leather upholstery is standard as is an 8-way powered driver’s seat. Seat shape is very comfortable for most builds, and most of us appreciated the tall side bolsters that kept you squarely in place during sharp maneuvers.
The center stack resembles a home computer tower. In our test car it housed the optional DVD-based navigation and the awesome Bose stereo systems, both controlled by a large multi- function display. While it’s definitely simpler than the Mercedes COMAND system, it still required a fair bit of fiddling to access some functions The backlit analog gauges are more direct, consisting of a nice round speedometer, tach, fuel gauge, and clock.
In the rear seat, leg room is quite adequate, though head room is tight for folks over 5’9”. A trunk pass-through is standard while a split folding seatback is available, just in case you need more than the trunk’s quite reasonable 12.8 cubic-feet of luggage space.
And, most will certainly find the price of the 2003 Cadillac CTS reasonable too. Base price is a breath under 30gs at $29,990. While all the details are not out yet, the typical CTS will roll out the door at $35,000, and a car like our tester with the Luxury-Sport Package and Navigation System will top out at no more than $40,400. That’s very competitive with both European and Asian entry level luxury-sport sedans.
As our once segregated world stands on the brink of a truly integrated global economy, Cadillac looks ready with one of the most striking and innovative designs in its century long history. The 2003 CTS sedan truly is a Cadillac like no Cadillac before it. A machine that promises to take America’s most famous luxury car brand around this brave new world, and proves they are now a true global player.
Engine: 3.2-Liter Twin-cam, 24-valve V6
Torque: 218 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 7.1 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 15.5 Seconds @ 93 MPH
60-0 MPH: 122 Feet