July 10, 2009
"There was a time when people used to say 'the Cadillac of Watches' when they were describing a Rolex, or 'the Cadillac of Boats' when describing a Chris Craft. It's great to be reminded of those times."
Inside Line Road Test Editor Chris Walton hit the nail on the head in his full test of the all-new 2008 Cadillac CTS V6. Like watching a beloved family member slip slowly into senility, it's been difficult to watch the decline of Cadillac's worldwide reputation over the past few decades, even as it revived itself commercially with the first Cadillac STS and then subsequent models like the Escalade. And then, virtually out of the blue, came the revised second-generation CTS with a high-tech direct-injection V6, turning back the clock like a super cocktail of stem cells and Viagra.
Cadillac got a new lease on life and a sharp new suit; we wanted a piece of the action. As soon as the new CTS hit showroom floors, we sought one out for a long-term road test.
Why We Got It
The first-generation CTS had been a stylish sedan aimed at the Acura TL, BMW 3 Series and Mercedes C-Class. With the exception of the CTS-V that debuted in 2004, the CTS didn't really break any new ground. It represented an overdue American entry in this segment of sporting-size premium luxury sedans, but missteps by Cadillac in terms of refinement and quality kept it out of the inner circle.
For 2008, Cadillac reimagined the CTS from the ground up, honing its Arts and Science exterior theme and letting some creative types go wild on the interior. The result proved to be an overwhelming critical success; Cadillac was, once again, without peer in the field of design, execution and innovation. But 2008 brought more than just a visual refresh; GM, still solvent, OK'd the expense report from Cadillac's ride and handling department for a trip to Germany, where the CTS would be tuned on the world's most famous racetrack-turned-proving ground — the Nürburgring Nordschleife.
Beauty, brains and balance — the 2008 CTS brought everything to the table a Cadillac should. Our hopes were high.
Our driving impressions of the new 2008 Cadillac CTS begin with logbook entries about the car's new engine, a 300-horsepower, direct-injection 3.6-liter V6. Cadillac itself has received some initial customer complaints regarding engine noise when the windows are open, or from outside the vehicle, but this was never a complaint during our stint behind the wheel. It's not that we didn't notice the clicking from the V6, it's just that this is what direct-injection (DI) motors do. Turbochargers whistle, superchargers whine and DI systems click. It's a function of the high-pressure (somewhere around 1,800 psi) fuel delivery system. And it's probably a sound we won't even notice in five years.
Inside the plush cabin, however, there was no discordance. Brian Moody summed it up after only a month in the fleet: "Cadillac's excellent 3.6-liter direct-injection V6 is all the reason I need to recommend the car. The engine is smooth, responsive and has plenty of punch when you need it.... Plus, am I imagining things, or is there a bit of an exhaust note, too? I'd gladly drive this car every day." GM's DI V6 not only proved pleasant, but reliable to boot. In 26,000 miles the CTS required only two oil changes — the first one was complimentary; the second, performed at Martin Cadillac cost $95.15 but included a litany of other routine service checks that we'll get into later.
The combination of a world-class engine, interior refinement and national pride prompted Dan Pund, Senior Editor in Detroit, to kidnap the CTS and drive it 2,800 miles to his home in Michigan. During his sojourn with the 2008 Cadillac CTS, Dan was confused by homophones, pimped our key fob and gave the all-season tires their only real workout. Unfortunately, the eventual homecoming in Detroit was not all roses. The CTS blew a fairly difficult-to-find fuse and struggled with intermittent window operation.
The two problems Pund experienced were but a fraction of the issues that cropped up over the term of this test. Senior Road Test Editor Josh Jacquot was the first to notice the malfunction in the nav system, which persisted throughout the life of the car. No solution was found, no upgrade was available and the dealer never broke a sweat trying to satisfy us. A turn signal failure required us to order special parts. And an overwhelming number of rattles and creaks caused one editor to nickname our 2008 Cadillac CTS "Rattlesaurus." Some of these issues were cleared at the CTS's last dealer visit, but we left the dealer with some problems still unresolved.
These issues might seem minor, but as automobiles in general improve in sophistication and quality, it's the little things that separate the good from the great.
Total Body Repair Costs: $325
Total Routine Maintenance Costs (over  months): $95.15
Additional Maintenance Costs: None
Warranty Repairs: 2
Non-Warranty Repairs: None
Scheduled Dealer Visits: 2
Unscheduled Dealer Visits: 1
Days Out of Service: 1
Breakdowns Stranding Driver: None
Performance and Fuel Economy
When you take a look at the federal government's online component of the EPA, it rates the DI CTS with an automatic transmission at 17 mpg city/26 mpg highway and a combined rating of 20 mpg. We didn't quite average that over our 30,355 miles, but we came close with an overall average of 19.3 mpg. This is, of course, considering our best tank of 32.5 mpg (must've been boring) and our worst tank of a meager 9.9 mpg (must've been fun).
And speaking of fun, we had one last burst of it just before we said good-bye, giving the 2008 Cadillac CTS a thorough wrap-up test. At the test track, our CTS recorded a 0-60-mph time of 6.6 seconds (6.3 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip) and a quarter-mile pass of 14.7 seconds at 95.9 mph. This is virtually identical to the results from our first test. Braking, too, was virtually identical, although our test driver complained about what felt like warped rotors. Handling numbers (surprise!) were comparable to the first test.
None of these track numbers are anything to write home about, but not once did we complain that the CTS didn't have enough grunt — though we certainly pined for the supercharged 556-hp LS9 V8 resting in the 2009 Cadillac CTS-V.
Best Fuel Economy: 32.5 mpg
Worst Fuel Economy: 9.9 mpg
Average Fuel Economy: 19.3 mpg
Our 2008 Cadillac CTS V6 DI with all of the goodies, including the glitchy-yet-impressive infotainment system, bore the burden of a $46,690 window sticker. The depreciation began before we got it off the dealer lot. Even though the car was brand-new, our local dealer gave us more than $4 grand off the MSRP, bringing the sticker down to $42,272. Now, some 16 months after that initial transaction, our CTS carries a value as appraised by the Edmunds.com True Market Value (TMV®) Calculator of $28,985. Compared with the price we paid, this is a 31 percent depreciation. Compared with the sticker price, this is a 37 percent depreciation. Our long-term Mercedes-Benz C300 showed only 34 percent depreciation, so clearly the perception of Mercedes-Benz and Cadillac does not truly reflect the state of affairs today, as both cars had similar quality and similar problems.
It took a few weeks, but we finally found a buyer who was looking for an FE2 suspension, red exterior and the navigation package. Thrilled as he was, he was only willing to pay $27,500 — about $1,400 off TMV. We called it a deal and walked away happy. The actual sale price represents a 41 percent drop from the original MSRP.
True Market Value at service end: $28,985
What it sold for: $27,550
Depreciation: $19,140 or 41% of original paid price
Final Odometer Reading: 30,355
What It All Means
At the end of the CTS's tour of duty, our editors were split in their opinions about this car. Nearly half felt disappointment and a tinge of anger about the small squeaks, rattles and glitches that plagued our Caddy. The other half were still taken by the striking design, excellent motor and controlled ride. The little things, they said, were a small price to pay for everything good that comes with the CTS. As one editor said, "Supporting the home team isn't always easy, and this car is like a 14-2 season. Is complaining really worth it?"
That impassioned football analogy didn't sway anyone, though it illustrates an important point. There are certain cars that stir the soul in a way no spreadsheet can quantify, and the 2008 Cadillac CTS is one of those cars. It's not perfect, but it's honest and true to American driving habits.
It's not a 3 Series or a C-Class, but after 16 months, we're glad it isn't.
Edmunds purchased this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.