- The Washington Times - Friday, December 29, 2000

In an effort to bring younger buyers into the fold, domestic luxury marques Cadillac and Lincoln have both unleashed smaller, sportier models.
For Lincoln, it's the LS, while Cadillac has Catera. The LS traces its lineage to the Jaguar S-Type and Catera to the Omega built by General Motors' European nameplate Opel. Both seek to siphon off buyers from the likes of BMW's 5-Series and the Mercedes-Benz E-Class.
In the case of Catera, sales have been strong since its start as a 1998 model, despite a production glitch here and there. Last year it received a major makeover, sharpening its looks and enhancing its handling. Highlighting the changes for 2001, GM's emergency/driver's aid/concierge communications system On-Star, vented rear disc brakes and projector beam headlamps are now standard on all Cateras.
Although it appears this is destined to change, Catera remains the only rear-wheel-drive sedan in GM's domestic arsenal. This in itself should attract some buyer attention. On the other hand, Catera lacks a manual transmission option, limiting its appeal to shoppers in search of a true European-style sport sedan.
Granted, buyers in this country overwhelmingly opt for automatic transmissions where a choice is available; but if you really want to go toe to toe with the European imports, offering only an automatic transmission is like bringing a knife to a gunfight. It's an uphill battle.
Relatively unheralded, Catera deserves more attention than it receives. It is a solid performer with spot-on handling, refreshingly responsive steering and a gutsy power plant. With a 0-60 time of nearly nine seconds, Catera is more of a tourer than a sprinter; however, its 192 foot-pounds of peak torque get it up and moving with alacrity.
Although Saab, another GM nameplate, squeezes out a bit more torque, it can be credited with the 200-horsepower, 3-liter V-6 engine found in Catera. A four-speed automatic transmission sends engine output down the line to the rear wheels. Catera's fuel economy is well within the bounds of its competition, earning it an Environmental Protection Agency rating of 17 miles per gallon in the city and 24 on the highway.
Catera's four-wheel independent suspension excels at softening surface imperfections, yet it maintains a tenacious grip in the curves. This is helped in part by its sticky 17-inch tires. The Sport version raises the handling ante with an even more tightly tuned suspension. Providing just the right amount of resistance and generous feedback, the speed-sensitive steering system is one of Catera's real strengths. Four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock and traction control are all standard.
A pleasing collection of black and gray hues, the Catera interior has a decidedly German aura about it. A combination of no-nonsense styling and understated luxury, its surfaces are primarily flat and linear. Not much in the way of swoops or swirls. Like the perception of Germans, it's all business.
Instrumentation is clear and easy to read. The switches have a quality feel. Passenger room doesn't seem a problem with sufficient space both front and rear. The seats are firm, but well padded. The driver has an excellent view of the road in all directions. Perhaps a bit smallish, the trunk has a wide opening and low lift-over for easy access.
The new On-Star system has a couple of added features for 2001. It offers hands-free telephone connections without the need for a separate cell phone service, and it now provides Virtual Advisor for Internet information such as stock quotes and news headlines.
Base price of the Cadillac Catera is $31,305 and includes such amenities as leather seating, power windows/door locks, remote keyless entry, eight-way power driver's seat, split-folding rear seat and eight-speaker AM/FM stereo/ cassette. A $2,510 option, the Sport Package adds eight-way power passenger seat, memory for seats and outboard mirrors, heated front seats, Sport specific 17-inch alloy wheels, anti-theft deterrent system, rear spoiler and xenon headlamps. My test Catera also had the $995 power sunroof and a Bose $973 audio system upgrade with compact disc player and weather band.
Adding the $640 delivery charge brought the price as tested to $36,423.

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