STS makes Cadillac a real world player

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Cadillac’s amazing renaissance is almost complete with the introduction this fall of the STS, the all-new full-sized sports sedan that replaces the Seville and the Seville STS in the Cadillac lineup.

It is perhaps the best Cadillac in history. That’s a tall statement, but not difficult to defend especially after spending a week behind the wheel marveling at the sedan’s driving dexterity and smooth, seamless performance.

The STS is a worthy competitor to such vaunted European and Japanese sedans as the BMW 5 Series, the Mercedes E-Class, the Lexus GS 430, the Audi A6 and the Volvo S80. That’s another tall statement, but again the proof is in this phenomenal new car.

As the saying goes, “Out of the ashes…” Cadillac began reinventing itself several years ago with the Evoq concept roadster. The Evoq pointed toward a new edgy design for the brand that formerly believed it to be the “standard of the world.”

The insiders pushing for a Cadillac transformation from a rapidly sinking company of soft, flabby sedans into a modern cutting-edge luxury division with hot designs, powerful engines and sports suspensions got their way – thankfully.

And the new contemporary lineup has paid big dividends in returning Cadillac to its glory. If there is one General Motors’ success story so far in the 21st Century it’s Cadillac.

The transformation started with the new Escalade, a completely revamped full-sized sport utility vehicle based on the Chevrolet Tahoe. The Escalade, with a new hard edge look, was an immediate hit upon its arrival in 2002.

The first of the new cars, the mid-sized CTS, arrived a year later. Next, the mid-sized SRX crossover vehicle and then the XLR roadster hard top convertible, the production version of the Evoq. Now the STS join the new rear-drive fleet.

Just a note: The recent history of the Seville STS had been the exception to the rule at Cadillac. It sported GM’s gem of an engine, the Northstar – a capable and worthwhile V-8. Its design and handling were among the best in domestic cars; but the Seville STS was lost among mediocrity.

All that has now changed, and here in 2005 what we see and will see from Cadillac is not only a rekindled spirit but the sheetmetal and muscle that go along with a brand that deserves recognition for remaking itself.
All that remains is a reworking of the big front-drive DeVille, which still attracts much attention from the older segment of the population and hasn’t had a complete reworking in several years. That will happen as the DeVille replacement, newly named DTS will be introduced later this year. It remains front drive meeting the needs of its market; but make no mistake, it too is a nice leap forward in design and execution.

The STS, which joins the CTS and the SRX on the new ultra-stiff rear-drive Sigma platform, carries the same so-called Art and Science design theme, but with a cleaner look and softer edges.

It’s a slightly different direction from the original crisp, almost harsh, lines of the Evoq and the XLR. But it is certainly recognizable as a new Cadillac.

Inside, the STS carries the same modern styling theme as its siblings. The materials are first class and the execution is exemplary.

Now Cadillac has two sports sedans. The slightly smaller CTS evolved over its first three years of existence into a very satisfying mid-sized entry luxury vehicle. And if you so desire, you can plunk down a few thousand more and get the CTS-V (Cadillac’s AMG or M) with a muscle-bound 400 horsepower V-8 under the hood that pleads to be driven hard. It’s a remarkable piece of vehicle performance.

The STS provides three models offering a wide enough price range to attract a variety of customers. The noteworthy thing here is that whether you plunk down $41,000 or $62,000 you get a sports sedan with quick reflexes, satisfying performance with solid built quality, one of the quietest interiors in the world, an excellent sound system and a wide array of features a buyer would expect for over 40 grand.

Two engines are offered, a 4.6-liter Northstar V-8 generating 320 horsepower and 315 pound-feet of torque, and a 3.6-liter V-6 making 255 horsepower and 252 pound-feet of torque. Another note; sometime in the not to distant future there will be a V-version of the STS as well.

We drove the V-8-equipped STS in Michigan this summer and just finished a week behind the wheel of the V-6 model.

The V-8 offers neck-snapping behavior that will rival anything in its class. That’s expected. But surprising is the strong, seamless delivery of the V-6 mated to a 5-speed automatic transmission.

It never let us down and we were never disappointed. We came away thinking the V-6 lived up to the performance expected from a $41,000 luxury sedan.

Requests for downshifts were instantly and effectively granted. Power was available at 60 miles per hour for a quick passing maneuver or at 30 miles per hour to make a quick lane change.

The V-8 is world class starting at $50,350. Add all-wheel drive and the base jumps to $62,510. The twin-cam V-8 is a rocketship, particularly when you figure it has to push a more than two-ton vehicle. A planted foot can send the STS from 0 to 60 in 5.9 seconds and through a quarter mile in 14.3 seconds at 97.5 miles per hour.

One of the downsides to the library-hushed interior setup, which includes special mats and blankets in the dash, rubber sound-absorbing material in the shock towers, driveline tunnel and wheelhouses, and triple-sealed doors is that the Northstar’s wonderful snarl is muted along with all the annoying sounds associated with driving and traffic.

The upgraded V-8 edition comes with a handsome dashboard with swatches of real wood and rich-looking materials. Our V-6 test car substituted the wood for a brushed aluminum look. It didn¹t convey the warmth of the wood, but was pleasing nonetheless.

One of the few criticisms we had with the STS is a back seat that perhaps is a couple of inches too tight for a car in the full-sized category. That being said, four adults of average height can ride in comfort. The 13.8 cubic feet of trunk space is a bit on the skimpy side, also.

The STS can be loaded with gee-whiz technology. One of the standard features is keyless access. This system only requires that you have the key fob in your possession. Approach the car and the doors unlock. There is no keyed ignition switch. Simply put your foot on the brake and push on a dash-mounted rocker switch to bring the engine to life. Not having to fish in your pocket for a key is a luxury we hated to give up when the STS left us.

Other techno goodies include a windshield head-up display, adaptive cruise control, active climate control, and Magnetic Ride Control plus Bluetooth wireless cell phone connectivity.

We enjoyed our V-6 test car because it was about as close to a base STS as possible, but it really lacked for nothing. That’s not to say we don’t like the good stuff, but our test model vividly pointed out that the base STS could be very satisfying. It gave us a week of pleasant, performance driving.

Standard equipment includes 17-inch aluminum wheels, leather seating surfaces, eight-way power driver¹s seat, dual-zone climate control, eight-speaker Bose system with CD player, keyless access, traction control, ABS with brake assist, head curtain side airbags, ultrasonic rear park assist and auto-dimming mirror with compass.

Our test car came with two option packages. The luxury package at $2,390 includes heated front seats with memory feature, upgraded stereo with 6-disc changer, rain-sensing wipers, and polished aluminum wheels. The second option was a power sunroof at $1,200. That brought the bottom line of $44,585 including destination charge.

This new Cadillac has the stuff to compete on the world market. And it vividly shows that Cadillac is indeed headed back in the right direction after losing its way in the last two decades of the 20th Century.