What's New for 1999
Catera's "black chrome'' grille will be darkened this year, while new electronics and emissions systems make the '99 Catera the first Cadillac to meet the federal Low Emissions Vehicle (LEV) standards. There's also a redesigned fuel cap and tether with an instrument cluster light to indicate a loose fuel cap. Up to four remote entry key fobs can now be programmed for separate memory settings, all with enhanced automatic door lock/unlock functions. Cadillac is rumored to be working on a special Sport Edition planned for later in the model year.
The entry-level luxury sedan market accounts for nearly half of all luxury car sales in the US, growing rapidly from 25% just a few years ago. Characteristically, Chrysler, Lincoln and Cadillac have been lethargically slow to react to shifting luxury car buyer tastes, while Lexus, Infiniti, Audi and BMW have been actively wooing these customers with fun-to-drive, lavishly appointed sedans and outstanding customer service. While companies from across either pond brought the ES300, 328i, and A4 to market, the Big Three produced the Eldorado, Continental and New Yorker during the same time period.
Cadillac was the first domestic luxury automaker to attack the entry-level market head-on with the introduction of the 1997 Catera. After its first full year on the market, Catera rolled up sales of 25,411 units, making it the most successful launch of an entry/luxury model in U.S. history. (The previous best was set by Acura, which sold 24,700 copies of its TL model in 1996.)
Based on the European-market Opel Omega MV6, the Catera features a 200-horsepower 3.0-liter DOHC V6 engine mated to a four-speed automatic transmission and rear-wheel drive. Built in Russelsheim, Germany, the Catera is touted by Cadillac as a blend of the best of German and American engineering. It features antilock brakes engineered for the German Autobahn, dual front airbags, traction control and an engine-disabling theft deterrent system.
With prices starting around $30,000, the Catera qualifies as a bona-fide bargain in this segment. Options are restricted to a power sunroof, power rear sunshade, heated front and rear seats, a Bose audio system, and chrome-plated aluminum wheels. Standard equipment includes power windows with express-down features for all four windows, remote keyless entry, heated windshield washer nozzles, and an automatic dual-zone climate control system. Two models are available; a standard model and one appointed with leather.
The Catera also benefits from a roomy interior (it is classified a mid-size car by the EPA) with an outstanding dash layout featuring large, analog gauges and easy-to-use controls. Wood trimming is kept to a tasteful minimum, helping the Catera exude a level of interior luxury uncommon for the class.
But what about performance? With 0-60 mph arriving in about eight and a half seconds, the Catera holds its own. But we suspect there will be sales lost to the BMW 328i, Infiniti I30, Nissan Maxima and Audi A4 due to the Caddy's lack of a manual transmission. Cadillac also opted to limit the Catera's top speed to 125 mph so it could fit all-season rubber to the standard aluminum wheels. The result is a smoother, softer ride on America's often harsh pavement, and better wet-weather grip, but at the expense of dry-weather handling.
Still, the Catera is a fine effort from Cadillac, priced competitively and offering all the luxury and most of the performance a buyer could want from this segment. All it really needs is more low-end punch and an optional five-speed stick to stir up enthusiast interest.