Friday, October 26, 2007
Those few who follow these pages (or who know me in the flesh) know that I have a love of cars that's almost a fetish. I'm rather particular in my enthusiasms, but they also cover the whole map of genres and brands and models. So it's not as simple as saying "I'm a Ferrari fanatic." I've owned something shy of 30 different cars over the years, covering full-sized and compact 2- and 4-wheel-drive trucks, station wagons, coupes and sedans and SUVs from several different manufacturers. Something over half my vehicles have been American, the rest Japanese (I had an old Volvo years ago, too)--I've never owned a German or Italian car. Over half the list were purchased used, but I'm a sucker for a new car. I both love a car which has no one else's history about it, and I love that a new car represents the industry's latest & greatest.
One of the perks of my job, or one of the silver linings that comes with the cloud of being away from home a lot, is that I get to wander thru a lot of car lots. Over the past six-plus years I've spent may months sitting in Kentucky waiting for my phone to ring with an assignment, and one of my favorite pastimes is to make a driving loop past my favorite ten or so of Louisville's dealerships.
Over the course of a year, I manage quite a few test drives from these wanderings. Some of my favorites of the past few years: the new Mazda RX-8, the Mercedes E320 CDI, the Subaru Legacy GT, the Chrysler 300C. And now I've added another, not-quite-expected one to my list: the 2008 Cadillac CTS. I've been reading quite rave reviews about the car, and I went out yesterday to look at one in the showroom. And in no time we were whisking along the twisted, grid-defying roads of semi-rural Kentucky.
As I've talked about several times before, I have a real love / hate relationship with the American car industry. My best cars quality-wise have unquestionably been my Toyotas and Hondas. Clearly it's not just me, since these brands consistently top Consumer Reports' reliability & quality rankings. My American cars have been kind of all over the map, and the financial bloodletting brought on by my '97 Buick Riviera (which led directly to the Honda Civic I'm now driving) had me vowing, not for the first time, that I was DONE with American cars.
But I don't seem quite able to stick to that conviction, for a few reasons. First, the industry, which is really a most adept marketing organization, often manages to target cars directly at my fat self, producing what is, on paper anyway, a more attractive product. I'm a product of a culture in which these automotive ideas have figured prominently; so I'm still a sucker for what we seem to do well in this country: big V-8s, rear-wheel-drive, body-on-frame trucks and big cars. We don't do small cars very well in America, but--my fabulous little Civic notwithstanding--I don't really like small cars. The General knows this, and he's looking out for me. But the other reason I keep coming back to look at American cars is that I worry about the ramifications on our culture and economy of things going really South for this industry. (Jeffy and I have discussed the sketchy wisdom of "mercy purchase" on this site before.) It's a fluid thing, and I go back and forth. My fetish combined with my economic hand-wringing will not allow me to wander out and buy a Ford Taurus, but neither can I, standing on some principle, turn my back when an American car company has a respectable at-bat.
That's where this CTS comes in. I was intrigued in 2003 when the model first debuted. It looked rather athletic and sensibly-designed, and had an enthusiast air about it, something not said about any Cadillac for decades. The CTS-V, with the Corvette's fabulous high-output V-8 under the hood, was actually a Cadillac which even enthusiast German marques had to reckon with. Call me a sucker for marketing, but there's a loud voice in my head at these moments which tells me I should be rewarding the company for making a huge correct decision for once. Luckily, since I didn't feel like shelling out $40 grand just then, lots of other buyers felt the same way, and the CTS has been a runaway best seller for Cadillac.
Well, whoever was in charge of the good decisions the first time around appears to have been given a nice raise and told to keep their nose to the grindstone. The new car seems improved on the original in pretty much every particular. It's slightly larger (wider, actually), it makes more power and it has a considerably upgraded interior. I didn't put the car thru any serious paces in rush-hour traffic, but it seemed very responsive and fun to drive from what I saw. I would look for excuses to go driving with a car like this. I drove one of the higher-power ones with a sport package on it, and it drove like a luxurious sports car--kind of what Cadillac intended, I imagine. Not whisper quiet or floaty in any way, it was still an enveloping experience, and the steering and brakes were delightful. The 3.6 liter V-6 produces 304 horses, and it's mated to a 6-speed transmission with a responsive manu-matic feature (and a manual transmission is offered). Our test vehicle was rear wheel drive--long my preference for basic driving dymanics--but four wheel drive is offered as well. Everything is in close reach, and the seats are unexpectedly supportive for a Cadillac. The switch gear approaches the quality of those in my Honda (which are top-shelf, in my experience).
So the car itself seems most worth a look. It helps that, compared to a BMW 5-series or Mercedes E-class (which are the comparable vehicles, size-wise, and not the 3-series and C-class to which the CTS is often compared because of closer price parity) the CTS will save you about $10-15 big ones. Of course, the Cadillac will not likely hold its resale like a Mercedes will, so that has to be figured into the cost of ownership. But again I'm left feeling that I should send the only message which a large corporation understands--the checkbook vote--and say "Yes. THIS is a good idea. Do more of THIS."
There's not one of these in my near future. But we'll see what happens next year.