A Caddy Aimed At The Continent

Its new STS could give BMW and Mercedes a run for their money, even in Europe.

Having already staged an impressive turnaround in the U.S., General Motors' (GM ) top-shelf Cadillac Division is poised to go after not only American drivers who love upscale European cars but Europeans as well. Its latest entry, the STS sedan, which ranges from $41,000 to $63,000 (with all-wheel drive), has the daunting task of duking it out in the luxury sports sedan market with popular cars like the BMW 5 Series, Mercedes E-Class, and Audi A6. To launch its bold play, Cadillac showed off the new STS at the Paris Motor Show in late September and let journalists from around the globe drive it around the French countryside.

I took the STS on some winding roads outside Nice to see what it could do. The car can really tear it up. That's not a total surprise, since it's built on the same platform as the smaller CTS, which can perform as well as some BMWs. I gave the pedal a punch, and the car's 320-horsepower V-8 kicked up a cloud of dust and got me to 60 mph in a hurry. Cadillac says the 0-to-60 trip takes six seconds in a rear-drive car (like the one I was testing), seven seconds if the car has the V-6 or combo of V-8 and all-wheel drive. That's plenty fast, but I have to wonder how it would do in a sprint against its rivals. The A6 has more horses, and Motor Trend says the BMW 545i is faster.

With all-wheel drive and a V-8, the STS weighs in at more than 4,200 pounds -- about 10% heavier than a 545. When I took the car on a tight turn doing about 50 mph, I could feel its weight leaning into the turn and had to fight to bring the car back out and keep it straight when I came out of the bend. Still, handling is nearly as tight and precise as the Continental competition. The car can dive in and out of turns nicely. Its traction control system keeps the vehicle firmly planted.

BAUHAUS SIMPLICITY

Inside, the STS is proof that GM is spending plenty more these days on nicer leather seats, cool dashboards, and slick gauges. The seats are covered in soft Tuscany leather that makes for a cushy throne. The dashboard, center console, and steering wheel are lined with eucalyptus wood. The whole instrument panel looks well crafted and has a Bauhaus simplicity that eschews the overly scientific look of the first all-new Caddies that debuted in early 2003.

Overall, the STS still doesn't beat its European rivals. But well equipped at $45,000 with a V-6 and $52,000 with a V-8, it'll set you back about $7,000 less than a comparable 545, making it a credible option. That alone could make a few lovers of European sports sedans give Caddy a look.

By David Welch

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