- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 9, 2004

MILFORD, Mich. — In the mid-1990s, it was impossible to keep a straight face when saying that Cadillac could compete with BMW or Mercedes-Benz. But for more than half a decennium, Cadillac has worked hard on its comeback, with new models and improved quality. The new Art & Science styling, introduced in 1999 with the Evoc concept car, was the first step to the rejuvenation of the GM luxury division. Then the new Escalade was introduced and new models joined the large SUV: the CTS, XLR and SRX.

Now Cadillac is on its way to reclaim its reputation as “standard of the world” and is ready to compete with the luxury imports with its brand-new STS. The successor of the Seville is just like the CTS and the SRX built on GM’s Sigma platform that has been stretched for the STS.

The development team has gone to great length to improve the quality and trim of the new STS, as well as to reduce noise, vibration and harshness, the dreaded NVH. To that end, the STS has a firewall of “quiet steel.” This is laminated steel: two thin layers of steel bonded with a thin layer of composite adhesive. It does not resonate noise and damps noise transfer much better compared with current applications. Cadillac also used a lot of high-strength steel that not only improves torsional stiffness, but also dampens noise.

The Sigma platform is developed for rear-wheel drive and is also made suitable for all-wheel drive (for approximately $2,000). Cadillac uses a system with 40/60 rear bias torque split. Its three-differential layout is coupled with four-wheel traction control and balances driving torque distribution to each wheel, thus minimizing wheel spin and optimizing on-road driving capabilities.

The STS will be offered with two powertrains, a 3.6-liter V-6 with 255 horsepower, and the 4.6-liter Northstar V-8 with 320 horsepower. The AWD-version will be available with the V-8, followed later by the V-6.

I started my test drive with the V-6 that proved to be surprisingly grown-up. We already know its qualities from the CTS, but also in the heavier (3,857 pounds) STS this engine performed well. You do not have the feeling of lacking power and if there were no V-8, you would not really yearn for it. The V-6 has a maximum torque of 252 foot-pounds and accelerates in just seven seconds from 0 to 60 mph and that is not bad compared with a BMW 530i, which is just a tad faster.

The Northstar V-8 has lots of low-end torque (the maximum is 315 foot-pounds) and performs with a pleasant sound of true V-8 muscle cars. It sprints from 0 to 60 mph in six seconds, while the heavier AWD takes another second.

Cadillac uses the second generation of its StabiliTrac suspension system and there is also a sporty version with Magnetic Ride Control, the intelligent damping system that adjusts 1,000 times per second, which means each inch at about 60 mph.

Cadillac has developed a really smooth and butter-soft-performing Hydramatic transmission. It is adjusted for each powertrain and matches well. But there is some criticism on the transmission not being a six-speed, but a five-speed. OK, there is always something more sophisticated and in this case Cadillac may start looking for such a high-tech transmission, but as far as I am concerned, the combination with both the V-6 and V-8 engines works very smoothly and flawlessly.

The suspension of the new STS has been set up during testing on the new road course at GM’s Milford Proving Ground in Michigan, but also at the famous Nurburgring racetrack in Germany. The result is a car that handles different road conditions and twisted turns very well. Braking is firm and steering gives a confident, precise feel. A nice thing for sporty driver is that you can have the feel of a rear-wheel-drive car by switching of the electronic controls and hanging out the tail.

Cadillac has made a big step forward with the interior design of the STS. The look is fresh, roomy and elegant. The seats are firm enough for support and provide comfort as well. The combination of a light tan interior with the new eucalyptus wood option is sophisticated indeed. Pity, though, that the console has plastic trim.

The 2005 STS comes standard with keyless entry and keyless ignition (the start button is mounted on the dash), but Adaptive Remote Start is an option. Furthermore there is dual-zone digital climate control and a new head-up display (HUD). Adaptive cruise control is an option. Also standard is a 15-speaker XM-Bose audio system and DVD navigation.

All together, the STS may not be exactly on the same level as its foreign competitors, but Cadillac is getting there. With a base price of $40,995 for the V-6 and $47,495 for the V-8 (both including $695 destination charge), buyers cannot ignore the STS and should at least make a test drive.

In Europe sales success depends even more on price and depreciation. Prices there can make or break a model, but as GM has a big commitment to conquer the European market, its new distributor will set up 15 “Experience Centers,” we expect pricing to be competitive. Then Cadillac needs only time.

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