Full 2008 Cadillac CTS Review
What's New for 2008
The 2008 Cadillac CTS luxury sport sedan has received a full redesign this year. Highlights include more muscular styling, a much improved interior, more power and available all-wheel drive.
When Cadillac's original CTS luxury sport sedan debuted in 2003 with bold "art and science" styling and sporty chassis tuning, it heralded a new direction for America's traditional luxury brand leader. Although well-rounded and an acceptable performer, the CTS never fully lived up to its promise of matching the top import nameplates in this class. Its larger dimensions and tallish profile gave it more room for passengers than most rivals from Europe and Japan, but that also led to a less sporting personality than performance leaders like the BMW 3 Series. Additionally, the CTS's plasticky and unrefined cabin furnishings fell far short of the level of luxury and quality exhibited by class standouts like the Audi A4 or BMW 3 Series.
With the debut of the extensively reworked 2008 Cadillac CTS, virtually all of the first generation's faults have been addressed. Although its predecessor was certainly edgy, it lacked the elegance and lavish attention to detail inside and out that the new CTS exhibits. It starts off with freshened exterior styling that seems less "scientific" and more "artistic." Overall body dimensions are similar to the original CTS, but there are an additional 2 inches of track width to give the sedan a more powerful stance. This impression of substance is highlighted by aggressively styled fender flares and a new grille that takes cues from the Cadillac Sixteen concept car.
Inside, the entry-level Cadillac's cabin is constructed of higher-quality materials. Buyers have a choice of attractive carbon-fiber or real wood accents, and these frame an aluminum-trimmed center stack and console. Bright metallic accents also stylishly adorn the gauges, primary controls and dash vents. It's a classy look that avoids looking busy and overdone. Backseat passengers enjoy more than an inch of additional rear legroom, thanks to slimmer front seats.
If the passengers in the 2008 Cadillac CTS are happier, the driver will border on giddy, owing to the extensively retuned suspension and new powertrains. Cadillac chassis engineers spent a great deal of development time on Germany's famed Nürburgring road course, and it shows on even the well-controlled standard setup. Two additional sport suspension choices further dial up the fun.
While the base 258-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 is carryover, Cadillac also offers a high-output version of that engine for the new CTS. The same V6 as on the '08 STS, this engine features direct fuel injection technology and makes a very competitive 304 hp. Both CTS engines are available with a six-speed manual transmission or a new six-speed automatic. All-wheel drive is also a new option with the base engine this year as well.
Cadillac has raised the price for its new 2008 CTS, but the redesign is a good one and we expect the new model to be a winner for Cadillac. While it might not qualify for "Standard of the World" status just yet, the Cadillac CTS has evolved into a much more capable car all the way around and can now more than hold its own against entry-level luxury sport sedan rivals from Audi, BMW, Infiniti, Lexus and Mercedes-Benz in terms of both luxury appeal and driving prowess. Before you decide on any of these competitors, this heavily reworked sport sedan from America is worth a test-drive.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Cadillac CTS is a midsize luxury sport sedan. There are two base trim levels correlating to the engine fitted but actual equipment is pretty much identical. Every CTS comes standard with 17-inch wheels, leatherette seating, an eight-way power driver seat, dual-zone automatic climate control and a CD/MP3 player with an auxiliary audio jack and satellite radio.
Naturally, a variety of options are available either stand-alone or grouped in packages. The basic Seating Package adds leather trim and upgraded power/heated front seats. The Luxury Level One/Two packages build on this with items like a six-CD changer, rain-sensing wipers, heated/ventilated seats, power adjustment for the tilt/telescoping steering wheel, rear park assist and keyless ignition. The Premium Luxury Collection Package includes the previous options plus a 40GB hard drive-based navigation system with real-time traffic, a premium Bose surround-sound audio system, a large sunroof, additional wood trim and LED interior lighting.
Enthusiasts will want to check off one of two performance-oriented packages: The FE2 sport suspension package (available with either engine) includes 18-inch wheels, a limited-slip rear differential, performance cooling and adaptive xenon headlights; the FE3 high-performance suspension package (available with the direct-injection V6 only) includes an even higher state of tune with similar equipment, high-performance tires and more powerful brakes.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2008 Cadillac CTS is available with one of two V6 engines. Standard power comes from last year's optional 3.6-liter V6 generating 258 hp and 252 pound-feet of torque, while the available new 3.6-liter direct injection (DI) V6 puts out 304 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque. In performance testing, this engine produced a 0-60-mph time of 6.5 seconds. A six-speed manual transmission is standard with the base engine, and a six-speed automatic is available. The DI engine has the automatic as standard and the manual as optional. The CTS is offered in both rear-wheel and all-wheel-drive configurations. Note that all-wheel-drive models come only with the 258-horse V6 and six-speed automatic. Both engines get virtually the same gas mileage, with 18 mpg city and 26 mpg highway for the base engine and 17/26 mpg for the DI engine.
The CTS features all of the expected latest safety equipment, including antilock disc brakes, traction control, stability control, front-seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags and GM's OnStar emergency communications system.
Interior Design and Special Features
The cabin of the redesigned Cadillac CTS is substantially improved over its predecessor, and is a much more inviting place to spend time. Materials are high in quality, and the level of detailing in this car is comparable to the top import nameplates. Plus, its pleasing mix of available wood accents and tasteful alloy trim make the CTS interior one of the most elegant designs in its class. A new telescoping steering column gives the driver a bit more space, while thinner front seatbacks and a slightly stretched cabin add to the CTS's already roomy backseat.
The screen of the optional navigation system retracts into the dash, but leaves the top inch visible as the touchscreen display for audio and climate systems -- a slick touch. Another is the 40GB hard drive included with the premium Bose surround sound audio system, that stores digital music and includes an iPod integration interface. With this setup, AM/FM and satellite radio can also be rewound, paused and resumed in a TiVo-like manner. There are a few quibbles, however. Rear-seat entry and exit can be a bit tricky due to a low rear roofline, and loading bulky items into the 13.6-cubic foot trunk is hampered by a very short deck.
On the road, the benefit of the additional track width is readily apparent as the 2008 Cadillac CTS is more stable and copes better with quick directional changes and weight transfer. The steering is still a bit too light for a sport sedan but it's more precise than before. Overall, the Cadillac offers an excellent ride and handling balance that will give the Europeans a run for their money. That said, the CTS is larger than its like-priced competitors, however, and with a curb weight of almost 4,000 pounds, lacks the nimbleness of cars like the 3 Series, G35 and IS 350.
The new 304-hp direct-injection V6 certainly feels strong, but in acceleration this CTS isn't quite as quick as other 300-plus-hp cars in its class. The 258-hp base V6 and automatic transmission should still be very adequate for most consumers. The automatic is quick-shifting and can be manually controlled with a console-mounted shifter. The standard sport mode automatically holds onto revs longer during spirited driving and will downshift while braking. A major enhancement to the CTS lineup is its all-wheel-drive option, which makes this Cadillac a viable option even in Northern states.
Read our Cadillac CTS Long-Term 20,000-Mile Test