- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 26, 2006

Cadillac has been the one constant bright light in the huge General Motors constellation of product for the past decade. During that period, an automotive journalist asked what is right with GM required about as much thought as Pavlov’s mutt put into answering the sound of the can opener with a sprint to his dinner bowl. Cadillac is what’s right.

With the debut of the Northstar V-8 in 1993, Cadillac suddenly had a brand within its brand. Beyond being a world-class engine, Northstar’s success contributed to reinvigorating the thinking at Cadillac, inspiring today’s current stable of highly credible products. The STS, replacing the front-wheel-drive Seville last year, is a fine example of Cadillac’s newfound persistence in creating ever-better sedans, SUVs and performance cars.

Cadillac has left well enough alone in the STS for 2006. Only two new features are worthy of mention: The V-6, as well as the V-8, can be fitted with all-wheel drive, and 18-inch wheels are a new option. AWD adds $1,900 to the cost of either the $48,240 V-8 or the $41,740 V-6. The upsized wheels will set you back an additional $600.

While it’s the 320-horsepower 4.6-liter Northstar V-8 that soaks up most of the STS limelight, the 3.6-liter V-6 shouldn’t be overlooked. Its 254 horsepower is 33 more than the Mercedes-Benz E320 and 29 more than the BMW 530i. A driver-shiftable five-speed automatic transmission delivers engine output to either rear or all wheels. Smooth and quiet, the V-6 seems to gather power rather than exploding into action when the throttle is tickled. On the freeway, it still has plenty of reserve for passing at speed. With an Environmental Protection Agency rating of 18 miles per gallon in the city and 27 on the highway, the STS V-6 gives up roughly one mile per gallon to its closest German competitors.

STS earned its stripes as Seville’s sporty trim level. Eliminating the less aggressive SLS trim level while replacing the Seville nameplate with STS, Cadillac fortified its challenge to the German luxury imports.

The last Seville SLS and the new STS couldn’t be less alike if they belonged to opposing political parties. Gone is the soft, luxury cruise liner ride of the SLS. A firmer, more nimble self-leveling suspension architecture sharpens handling while the RWD allows for better steering feel. Over all the STS is as roadworthy as anything in its class.

The EPA classifies the STS as midsize. Although longer than the 530i and E320, STS falls between them in height and width. STS puts its extra length to good use by offering about an inch of extra front-seat legroom and at least two inches of additional rear-seat legroom than the BMW or Mercedes-Benz. With 13.8 cubic feet of trunk space, STS is about equal to the 530i and a couple of cubic feet shy of the E320.

Compared with its German rivals, the STS layout of gauges and controls is refreshingly simple. Although stylish, the dashboard is uncluttered. The materials are high-grade and aluminum is the standard accent trim.

Cadillac traditionalists won’t recognize the three-way power front seats, which are firm and well bolstered. The keyless remote fob not only operates the power door/trunk locks, but can also prestart the engine. XM satellite radio with three free months of service energizes the eight-speaker Bose audio system.

Buyers looking for more luxury can opt for the $8,285 Performance Package with 18 enhancements including a DVD-based navigation system, an upgraded 15-speaker Bose audio system with surround sound, eucalyptus wood trim, rain-sensing wipers, sunroof and tire pressure monitor.

While not quite as cute as the CTS, the STS sheetmetal wrapper is highly sculpted and follows Cadillac’s “art and science” styling theme reflected in the SRX, CTS, XLR and Escalade. Its square shoulders, high beltline and vertical front lamp array flanking the familial grill collaborate to project a sporty, serious-about-performance exterior.

When added, the 18-inch wheels and Michelin all-season rubber fill the wheel openings. While the STS styling isn’t neck-snapping and won’t leave pedestrians slack-jawed in its wake, it is a handsome, elegant package that will probably age like a good bottle of Silver Oak cabernet.

A little comparison shopping will reveal that the STS V-6 is a bargain when measured against most of the competition. Value is not a word often used in a discussion of luxury sedans. Typically buyers in the more expensive segments would like to be thought of as not interested in the bottom line. This, of course, is rarely true. For those closet bargain hunters shopping for a luxury ride, the STS V-6 is the ideal starting point. Its combination of upscale styling, luxurious interior, potent engine and sporty handling successfully disguise its value story.

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