2004 Cadillac CTS

By December 18, 2003
2004 Cadillac CTS

Years from now, the year 2003 will be remembered as the beginning of the comeback for Cadillac, carried on the broad edgy shoulders of the rear-wheel-drive CTS.

The 2003 CTS almost had it all, but the engine wasn't strong enough to fill the promise of the superb new chassis, and the competition from BMW and Audi demanded more than 220 horsepower. The 2004 CTS responds with two punches, a left jab (255-horsepower V6) and right cross (400-horsepower V8).

2004 also brings some needed softness into the interior, and tweaks the suspension to balance that additional horsepower on the road. The handling of the '03 CTS was widely praised, and now it's even better.

Model Lineup

The CTS comes standard with the 3.2-liter V6 engine introduced last year ($30,365). It offers a choice of five-speed Getrag manual or five-speed automatic transmission at no extra cost. Standard equipment includes 16-inch alloy wheels with all-season tires, leather upholstery, side-impact airbags and side air curtains front and rear, dual-zone climate control, driver power seat, driver information center, seven-speaker sound system, and one year of OnStar road assistance service. Also standard are traction control and ABS with brake proportioning, which balances the braking front and rear.

The new 3.6-liter V6 engine is optional ($1700); it also offers both transmissions. The Sport Package ($1875) takes the suspension tuning a big step further with monotube shocks, brake pads with more anti-fade heat resistance, 17-inch alloy wheels with 255/50R17 tires, load-leveling rear suspension, and StabiliTrak, an electronic stability control system. The Luxury Package ($2800) includes things like a sunroof, heater power seats, Bose sound system and XM Satellite Radio.

The new CTS-V ($49,995) is in another league altogether. Its 5.7-liter V8 engine comes from the Corvette, and it delivers 400 horsepower and 395 pounds-feet of torque, mated to the potent and smooth Getrag six-speed gearbox; it's fitted with 18-inch wheels, very grippy tires, Brembo brakes, and other high-performance tweaks.


The CTS is the first production car in Cadillac's new design vocabulary that started several years ago with the Evoq show car. Cadillac calls this new style Art & Science, and it relies on a festival of wedges, sharp junctions and angles. “Edgy” is the adjective that is frequently and aptly applied.

It looks slightly different from every angle, with all points of view interesting. From the front, it looks imposing, with a strong confident eggcrate grille sweeping upward like a wing, and horizontal sharp headlamps stacked with two beams inside. An all-business air dam features simple rectangular foglights and a long narrow intake near the skirt.

The sharp edges of the nose vanish from a side view, but they reappear on top of the tall, wide taillamps which travel vertically at the car's rear corners and extend horizontally on the short, high deck. The view from the rear is marred by the indentation cut widely around the license plate, housing the backup lights in a sea of sparkling white plastic. The seven-spoke alloy wheels look especially sharp in the mirror finish, mostly because of their sportier centers. The new dual exhaust pipes look cool too.

Interior Features

The CTS interior isn't like anything else on the market today. It's very angular, for the sake of style, although in '04 it's been softened here and there. There is a very European presentation of the instrumentation, meaning clear gauges. The CTS is sold in Europe. Done up in several high-tech textures, the dashboard and instrument panel are rendered in muted shades of gray with excellent, highly readable graphics. Almost everywhere the texture is dimpled like a golf ball, which we didn't particularly like and wondered if the texture would gather dust.

The center stack, where most of the adjusting is done, juts out proudly and prominently from the rest of the dash, with the elaborate GPS navigation system at the top center location. Climate controls are at the bottom, controlled by amber-lighted pictograms like other Cadillacs.

The three-spoke steering wheel contains buttons for the sound system and cruise control, and is deliciously padded in leather for all but the part of the rim between about 10 o'clock and 2 o'clock, a Cadillac trademark that we wish could be ordered away. The wood is lovely, but with gripping two materials with your hands, sometimes at the same time, is not ideal; the wood is colder, harder and more slippery than the leather.

The leather seats are excellent, comfortable for all-day driving with good bolstering to hold your torso in place through the sharp corners. There's good support for the driver's right leg; where the right shin touches it feels padded, but it's only soft and hollow. There's a good dead pedal for the left foot.

The CTS offers more interior room than some of its European competition. A quite tall driver or passenger will be comfortable in front, and only slightly cramped in the rear. There is a convenient pass-thru tunnel between the rear seats, to the trunk. The door pockets are not very deep. The small triangular speakers for the optional Bose system are mounted on the A pillar, and look cool.

Driving Impressions

The new optional V6 is state of the art. It displaces 3.6 liters, with a 60-degree aluminum block, double overhead cams, variable valve timing, electronic throttle control, six coils and a structural oil pan. Cadillac's engineers built it with a broad torque curve, which is important for a V6, and it runs on 87 Octane with EPA-estimated City/Highway mileage of 18/28 mpg; consider that the less powerful 3.2-liter takes 91 octane and gets 18/25 mpg. It lacks a great sound despite its dual exhaust system, and it can feel a bit harsh at full throttle, but it's smooth the rest of the time. Just keep your foot off the floor and you'll think it's silky, but no Mercedes V6.

We took the CTS for a wonderful Sunday drive on a brisk fall day in the country, and seriously enjoyed stomping it. There's nothing like a rear-wheel-drive sedan with tight handling and good power, ripping away from slow corners when there are no other cars around. We'd feel and hear the tires chirp as we accelerated up to 6200 rpm redline and let the electronic five-speed automatic transmission do its thing.

The ride and handling were impeccable; smooth, steady, predictable. Solid, but not heavy. Precise, with just the right amount of resistance from the speed-sensitive power steering. The CTS suspension was developed on Germany's legendary Nurburgring circuit, because that's where the German sports sedans are developed, and Cadillac was eager to challenge them on their terms. It shows in the car. The ride is very comfortable, erasing the bumps; and still the suspension is there when you need it in the rippling twisty curves. The front suspension was sometimes noisy on our beautiful hard Sunday drive, but the overall noise level in the cabin was low.

We pushed it to the point where StabiliTrak began to make brake and throttle corrections to keep the car on the road. It was the correct point, not too early like some others, particularly some Mercedes-Benz models. We gave the ABS with brake proportioning a good test, and it passed with flying colors. We slammed to a stop from 70 miles an hour with our hands off the steering wheel, with zero drama: no squealing, no swerving.

Our biggest regret with the CTS is that the automatic transmission doesn't have a manual mode. It shifted down and up a lot, especially at a casual pace. But with Sport mode engaged, the transmission takes on a new attitude, sharp and decisive. Enthusiast drivers might want to wait for the six-speed Getrag gearbox.

As for the Corvette-powered CTS-V, we can think of worse ways to spend 50 grand. Cadillac didn't use its own great Northstar V8 with double overhead cams (as it does in the SRX sport-utility) because it couldn't quite fit under the CTS hood. Cadillac claims acceleration from 0 to 60 in a mere 4.6 seconds.


The rear-wheel-drive Cadillac CTS offers performance, comfort and overall engineering in the same sports sedan league as BMW, Audi, Mercedes and Infiniti. Its styling is distinctive and its image fresh and reborn. For 2004, it adds two new engines, one of them high tech and the other high performance. The CTS needs to be good because it will be sold in Europe and Japan as well as the U.S. It's good enough that those fine four manufacturers are watching Cadillac come on strong.

Model Line Overview
Model lineup:Cadillac CTS ($30,365); CTS-V ($49,995)
Engines:3.2-liter dohc V6; 3.6-liter dohc V6; 5.7-liter V8
Transmissions:5-speed manual; 5-speed automatic
Safety equipment (standard):dual airbags, side air bags, and roof air bags standard; ABS, traction control, yaw control
Safety equipment (optional):Stabilitrak electronic stability control
Basic warranty:4 years/50,000 miles
Assembled in:Lansing, Michigan
Specifications As Tested
Model tested (MSPR):Cadillac CTS ($30,365)
Standard equipment:air conditioning; variable assist power steering; power brakes; power mirrors; power windows; power locks; tinted glass; passive anti-theft system; tilt wheel; cruise control; sport front bucket seats with leather seating surfaces; remote keyless entry; ABS; traction control; electric rear window defroster; fog lamps; one year OnStar
Options as tested (MSPR):1SC Equipment Group ($9,950) includes 3.6-liter V6, automatic transmission, Stabilitrak, HID headlamps, split-folding rear seat; sunroof; Bose audio system, sport suspension, performance brake pads, polished alloy wheels with P225/50WR17 tires, heated power memory front seats; DVD navigation system ($1750)
Destination charge:$695
Gas guzzler tax:N/A
Price as tested (MSPR):$42760
Layout:rear-wheel drive
Engine:3.6-liter dohc 24v V6
Horsepower (lb.-ft @ rpm):255 @ 6200
Torque (lb.-ft @ rpm):252 @ 3200
Transmission:5-speed automatic
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy:18/28 mpg
Wheelbase:113.4 in.
Length/width/height:190.1/70.6/56.7 in.
Track, f/r:60.0/60.0 in.
Turning circle:35.5 ft.
Seating Capacity:5
Head/hip/leg room, f:38.5/53.3/42.4 in.
Head/hip/leg room, m:N/A
Head/hip/leg room, r:36.9/53.5/37.0 in.
Cargo volume:12.8 cu. ft.
Towing capacity:1000 Lbs.
Suspension, f:independent
Suspension, r:independent
Ground clearance:N/A
Curb weigth:3694 lbs.
Brakes, f/r:disc/disc with ABS, EBD
Fuel capacity:17.5 gal.
Unless otherwise indicated, specifications refer to test vehicle. All prices are manufacturer's suggested retail prices (MSPR) effective as of December 18, 2003.Prices do not include manufacturer's destination and delivery charges. N/A: Information not available or not applicable. Manufacturer Info Sources: 1-800-333-4CAD - www.cadillac.com

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