2003 Cadillac CTS Review
2003 Cadillac CTS Review
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Used CTS for sale
Edmunds' Expert Review
by the Edmunds Experts
- Excellent handling, spacious cabin, alternative look.
- Average interior materials, considerably larger than its competitors, stability control only comes on most expensive model.
A replacement for the aging Catera sedan, the all-new CTS shares few parts with its German-built predecessor.
It can run with the best of them, but the awkward proportions and unrefined interior leave it a step behind the class leaders.
Cost to DriveCost to drive estimates for the 2003 Cadillac CTS 4dr Sedan (3.2L 6cyl 5M) and comparison vehicles are based on 15,000 miles per year (with a mix of 55% city and 45% highway driving) and energy estimates of $3.85 per gallon for regular unleaded in Virginia.
Monthly estimates based on costs in Virginia
Avg. Midsize Car
As the first car to employ Cadillac's new "art & science" design philosophy, the CTS is a bold step forward for a division that is slowly trying to regain its status as a top-tier luxury car maker. Competition in the entry-level luxury sport sedan segment is fierce, currently dominated by the likes of BMW's 3 Series, Audi's A4 and Mercedes' C-Class. Cadillac is hoping to attract customers by offering sport sedan performance combined with the room and comfort of a midsize.
The CTS comes equipped one way, but two option packages are offered to add varying levels of luxury and sport. Standard equipment includes leather seating; front, side and head-curtain airbags; an eight-way power adjustable driver seat; dual-zone climate control; an AM/FM cassette stereo and CD player; the OnStar communications system; ABS; and traction control, all for a base MSRP of $29,990.
Upgrading to the Luxury package adds a power passenger seat, an audible theft-deterrent system, two-driver memory package, programmable garage door opener, electronic voice recorder and wood trim on the steering wheel, shift lever and door handles. Additional options include an upgraded Bose audio package with CD-ROM ( where's the DVD?) navigation, heated front seats, xenon headlamps, a power sunroof and machine-finished aluminum wheels.
For the ultimate in handling and comfort, you'll want to upgrade to the top-of-the-line Luxury/Sport package. This includes all the added features of the Luxury package along with a sport-tuned suspension, 17-inch wheels and tires, speed-sensitive power steering, high-performance brake linings and the StabiliTrak stability control system.
Only one engine is offered, a 3.2-liter V6 rated at 220 horsepower and 218 lb-ft of torque. Power is directed to the rear wheels through either a five-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission. The fully independent multilink suspension was developed during months of testing on Germany's famed Nurburgring test track, a notoriously rigorous circuit used for years by Porsche and BMW. The testing paid off, as the CTS displays brilliant handling, precise steering and highly capable brakes that make spirited driving a pleasure. The five-speed manual is light through the gates, but a little rubbery upon engagement. The automatic gearbox responds quickly to throttle inputs, providing crisp, well-timed shifts with little hesitation.
Although the CTS competes in the entry-level sport sedan category, its physical dimensions more closely resemble that of larger midsize luxury sedans like BMW's 5 Series and Audi's A6. The result is a spacious cabin that easily swallows five adults. The bucket seats in front are supremely comfortable, offering a wide range of movement and supportive side bolsters. The cabin materials aren't quite up to European quality standards, but most surfaces are soft to the touch, so the cabin at least feels luxurious.
Compared to its predecessor, the CTS is a giant leap forward. Every aspect of the car has been improved over the Catera. From the excellent handling to the smoother, more powerful engine, the CTS is now much better equipped to handle the intense competition in the sport sedan category. The edgy styling is sure to garner both fans and critics, but one thing is for sure, it will never get lost in the crowd. If that's the kind of sedan you've been waiting for, then the CTS certainly deserves a test drive.
4.5 out of 5 stars
Most helpful consumer reviews
4.38 out of 5 stars
LOVE the car but it's had its problems
4dr Sedan (3.2L 6cyl 5M)
My parents bought me an '03 luxury model CTS for my 16th birthday and I've been driving it for two years now. For 10 years old, it still looks great and in style, however it has had its share of problems. I have had to replace the rear O2 sensor. The camshaft and crankshaft position sensors on the engine also both went bad, which made the car stall randomly after running for a while. It … was also leaking fluid onto the exhaust manifold which caused a bad burning smell when the heat was on, which was an expensive fix. Handles OK in the winter, but I wasn't able to make it up a snow covered hill. Great car but it's showing its age under the hood.
4 out of 5 stars
A great used car style and reliability
4dr Sedan (3.2L 6cyl 5M)
my car is used 2003 I had 96,000 when I brought the car I now have 229,000 miles. So far just minor work I have been blessed. Its a great car.
2.38 out of 5 stars
Never buy again
4dr Sedan (3.2L 6cyl 5M)
I liked the looks of this car when it first came out so I bought one. I should have waited until they figured out the problems. I had instant problems with the check engine light. It took 5 trips back to the dealer before they figured out that it was the thermostat and had to reset the sensors every time. Now it dies when you come to a stop. The final kicker was the headlamp. It … went out so I looked in the manual on how to replace it. Of course it said see dealer. They quoted me $1100 to replace it. How stupid is the design team at GM? I will never buy another GM car.
2.88 out of 5 stars
2003 CTS Tire Noise
4dr Sedan (3.2L 6cyl 5M)
I've had problems with abnormal tire wear and very annoying tire noise. The dealership says there's not a problem. I replaced the original Goodyear tires with new Goodyears because the dealeship said tire noise & abnormal tire wear was due to my not rotating tires every 6,000 miles. The new tires have less than 6,000 miles on them and are already noisy. I think there's an alignment … problem that GM needs to address.
Features & Specs
NHTSA Overall Rating
The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration offers independent analysis.
- Frontal Barrier Crash RatingOverallNot RatedDriver4 / 5Passenger4 / 5
- Side Crash RatingOverallNot Rated
- Side Barrier RatingOverallNot RatedDriver4 / 5Passenger5 / 5
- Combined Side Barrier & Pole RatingsFront SeatNot RatedBack SeatNot Rated
- RolloverRollover4 / 5Dynamic Test ResultNo TipRisk Of RolloverNot Rated
The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety uses extensive crash tests to determine car safety.
- Side Impact TestNot Tested
- Roof Strength TestNot Tested
- Rear Crash Protection / Head RestraintAcceptable
- IIHS Small Overlap Front TestNot Tested
- Moderate Overlap Front TestAcceptable
More about the 2003 Cadillac CTS
More About This Model
The Cadillac CTS is built by a company whose vehicles used to be considered "the standard of the world." These days, cars from Germany and Japan battle for that title, while Cadillac sits on the sidelines, watching its market share plummet along with its prestige.
The CTS represents Cadillac's most determined effort yet toward reversing that trend. With a cutting-edge design and extensive development work on Germany's famed Nurburgring test track, this new entry-level sport sedan is aimed squarely at the class leaders in one of the industry's most competitive segments.
Having finally seen the car in person, we would agree that the revolutionary design is distinctive, if not pretty. Its European influence is obvious, with short front and rear overhangs and a slight rake. But the tall, bulldozer nose and thick, heavy-looking tail make the car look bigger and heavier than it really is.
Although intended to compete in the entry-level luxury sport sedan segment against cars like the BMW 3 Series, the 2003 Cadillac CTS is actually 2 inches longer than BMW's larger 5 Series sedan. Much like Lincoln does with its LS, Cadillac is going with the "we give you more for less" philosophy rather than battling the Europeans head-on with an identically sized package.
Despite its midsize proportions, the CTS comes equipped with hardware similar to its smaller European competitors'. The sole engine is a 3.2-liter V6 tuned to produce 220 hp and 218 lb-ft of torque. Transmission choices are a five-speed manual or five-speed automatic marking the first time a manual transmission has been offered in a Cadillac in decades.
An all-new rear-wheel-drive chassis underpins the car for more even weight distribution and improved stiffness. The suspension is a sophisticated fully independent design that uses the latest in high-tech materials to achieve maximum performance and comfort.
Only one model will be offered, but two options packages will allow customers to add varying levels of luxury and sport. Base models are well equipped with standard leather seating; front, side and head-curtain airbags; an eight-way power adjustable driver seat; dual-zone climate control; an AM/FM cassette stereo and CD player; the OnStar communications system; ABS; and traction control, all for a base MSRP of $29,990.
Upgrading to the Luxury package adds a power passenger seat, an audible theft-deterrent system, two-driver memory package, programmable garage door opener, electronic voice recorder and wood trim on the steering wheel, shift lever and door handles. Additional options include an upgraded Bose audio package with CD-ROM navigation, heated front seats, xenon headlamps, a power sunroof and machine finished aluminum wheels.
Those looking for the ultimate in handling and comfort will want to upgrade to the top-of-the-line Luxury/Sport package. This includes all the added features of the Luxury package along with a sport-tuned suspension, 17-inch wheels and tires, speed sensitive power steering, high-performance brake linings and the StabiliTrak stability control system.
We drove the Cadillac CTS in both Luxury and Luxury/Sport form in a variety of conditions. The first thing we noticed was how incredibly solid the car feels on the road. The stiff chassis and well-tuned suspension work brilliantly together, delivering plenty of feedback without ever feeling harsh or uncomfortable. The steering is precise with a solid on-center feel and a good balance of power assist. Although the sport model did feel a bit more capable during aggressive maneuvers, the Luxury model was still impressive and should have little trouble holding its own against any of its established competitors.
The V6 is adequate, but a few more horses would help make it a better complement to the supreme suspension. Although the engine is a heavily revised version of the 3.0-liter motor found in last year's Catera, it still has a long way to go to match the smoothness of BMW's silky sixes. The five-speed manual is light through the gates, but the shift detents are a little spongy and imprecise. The five-speed automatic delivered quick, clean shifts and rarely picked the wrong gear when pressed hard.
The well-bolstered front seats are exceptionally comfortable, with a good range of movement and articulating headrests, but the lack of lumbar adjustment is a bit disappointing. Interior materials are average, with decent-quality leather and plenty of soft-touch surfaces, but nothing overwhelmingly elegant. If Cadillac wants to steal customers away from BMW and Audi, it's going to need a more polished cabin than this.
The overall interior design is fairly simple, but its functionality is spotty. The climate control buttons are neatly arranged and logical, but the screen for the stereo is a mess of unsightly orange numbers and symbols. One side of the steering wheel features an easy-to-use thumb dial for volume control of the radio, but the other side confronts drivers with four numbered buttons that give no indication as to their function. They're probably handy once you get used to them, but they're far from intuitive.
As long as we're nit-picking, we could do without the trip meter integrated into the stereo display leave it coupled to the odometer as it should be. Also, a clock is not a gauge, and therefore, should not be a major component of the gauge cluster. Cadillac reasoned that since cars rarely overheat anymore, a temperature gauge isn't necessary. Wrong. Regardless of a car's resistance to overheating, a temperature gauge that never moves is reassuring to drivers blazing through the desert when it's 110 degrees out.
One more thing, for a car so dependent on its outward appearance, you would think they would have tried a little harder in the wheel department. The "sport" wheels that you have to pony up a few extra grand to get are virtually identical to the ones that have come on the Seville for years. A nicely cut set of alloys would go a long way toward making the CTS the eye-catching image-maker that Cadillac is counting on.
Looking at the bigger picture, the Cadillac CTS is certainly a huge improvement over its predecessor, the lowly Catera. But is it good enough to take a significant bite out of the hotly contested entry-level luxury sport sedan market?
Its distinctive looks may draw a certain contingent of buyers who want something different, but its overall lack of elegance may push just as many away. As a sport sedan, it certainly excels, especially considering its size, but unfortunately, most buyers are more interested in style than substance. The interior is comfortable and features plenty of technology, but it lacks the sophisticated look that Audi and BMW have honed to perfection.
As a sign of things to come, the CTS is promising. Cadillac has nailed the handling, and it's not far off in the powertrain department either. A nip and tuck to the exterior and an upgrade to the interior, and the sedan would be giving the Europeans a run for their money. The standard of the world? The Cadillac CTS hasn't quite scaled those lofty heights, but it's on its way.
Used 2003 Cadillac CTS Overview
The Used 2003 Cadillac CTS is offered in the following submodels: CTS Sedan. Available styles include 4dr Sedan (3.2L 6cyl 5M). The Used 2003 Cadillac CTS comes with rear wheel drive. Available transmissions include: 5-speed manual. The Used 2003 Cadillac CTS comes with a 4 yr./ 50000 mi. basic warranty, a 4 yr./ 50000 mi. roadside warranty, and a 4 yr./ 50000 mi. powertrain warranty.
What's a good price on a Used 2003 Cadillac CTS?
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Should I lease or buy a 2003 Cadillac CTS?
Is it better to lease or buy a car? Ask most people and they'll probably tell you that car buying is the way to go. And from a financial perspective, it's true, provided you're willing to make higher monthly payments, pay off the loan in full and keep the car for a few years. Leasing, on the other hand, can be a less expensive option on a month-to-month basis. It's also good if you're someone who likes to drive a new car every three years or so.