pursuits

Preview: 2005 Cadillac STS

Smoothing out the rough edges.

"The standard to the world." For Cadillac, a motto once so appropriate had taken on an air of derision in recent years, as the nation's leading luxury maker fell increasingly behind its import competitors - in sales, as well as in design and technology.

That began to change with the introduction of the big Escalade SUV, the "official" ute of the hip-hop generation, and a favorite backdrop for rap videos. Then, with the introduction of the CTS sedan and XLR roadster, Cadillac put a stake in the ground, wrapping the edgy and distinctive "Art and Science" design theme around a pair of sophisticated, high-performance platforms.

Now Cadillac takes aim at the heart of the luxury market with its eighth new vehicle since 2001, an all-new STS. The sedan the automaker unveils at the New York International Auto Show this week replaces the old Seville, but it derives its name from the Seville Touring Sedan, one of the better-handling front-drive luxury cars on the road.

To the letter

The decision to abandon the old Seville nameplate fits in with Caddy's switch to a European-style alpha nomenclature. But it's also meant "to communicate what a completely new vehicle it is," explains Cadillac General Manager Mark LaNeve.

Unlike the old front-drive car, the '05 STS makes use of the same, Sigma platform as the popular CTS, albeit in stretched form. That means a return to rear-wheel-drive, which demanding luxury buyers have increasingly come to expect. STS is also the first rear-drive Cadillac offered with optional all-wheel-drive, which will be available at launch.

The angular lines of the compact CTS certainly make the sedan distinctive, but translating that theme into a bigger, more up-market package "was my biggest challenge," recalls Caddy chief designer Kip Wasenko. Indeed, the project was pushed back about half a year when "car czar" Bob Lutz joined General Motors in late 2001.

Lutz wanted a look that was "more refined and more crafted," Wasenko says, noting the various ways the production STS will differ from the original, pre-Lutz design. The roof was lowered about an inch, and the doors now flow into the roof. Where the STS was originally going to be rather slab-sided, the look is now distinctly more curvaceous.

Nonetheless, the familial resemblance is obvious. The grille is a little lower and more trapezoidal, but it follows the theme established by the CTS, so do the vents, headlights and vertical taillights. This, stressed Wasenko, is the new look for all future Cadillacs.

Lutz also ordered the STS project team to rethink the car's interior, as well as the overall level of vehicle refinement, two of the most frequent areas of criticism for the CTS. The big new sedan is reportedly as close as anyone comes to Lexus levels of cabin quiet, though that will have to be proven when the first road-ready STS is offered up for a test drive later this spring.

There's no question this is the most attractive interior Caddy has produced so far as part of its comeback campaign. The version shown at a recent preview featured light eucalyptus wood tastefully integrated into the steering wheel, instrument panel, armrests, and center console. The wood is offset by leather and aluminum that gives the car a very modern, yet not too-trendy appearance.

Creature comforts abound, including front seats that are heated, cooled, and ventilated. Rear heated seats also are available as options.

Sizing up the competition

The basic dimensions reveal just how big a car this is. The 2005 Cadillac STS measures 196.3 inches, bumper-to-bumper. It's 76.2 inches wide and 57.6 inches tall. And it sits on a 116.4-inch wheelbase. The sedan ranges in weight from 3870 pounds for the V-6 RWD version to 4200 for the STS package equipped with a V-8 and AWD.

(That's about 400 pounds less than similarly equipped versions of the BMW 7-Series, points out Jim Federico, the chief engineer on STS. Ostensibly, Cadillac is targeting the STS up against the smaller 5-Series, but in overall size and roominess, it is closer to BMW's top-line sedan.

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The smaller STS engine is a 24-valve all-aluminum powertrain putting out 255 horsepower and 252 foot-pounds of torque. The bigger engine is a heavily re-engineered version of the trademark Cadillac Northstar V-8, in this case generating 320 horsepower. At launch, the AWD model will be offered with only the V-8; the V-6 will become available later in the year.

With fuel prices approaching record highs, there's renewed public interest in fuel economy, and the new STS scores reasonably well, especially in a market so hot on SUVs. The V-6 rear-drive model will get an estimated 23.9 mpg in the combined city/highway cycle, while the V-8 AWD package will trim that to 20.7 mpg.

Caddy engineers do little to deny reports that a true high-performance version, to be called the STSv, is under development, as well. The new V-series - "v" as in "velocity," according to Lutz - is Cadillac's challenge to the Mercedes-Benz AMG models and BMW's vaunted M series.

Even the base models should do well on track and street, if the earlier CTS is any indication of the Sigma platform's capabilities. And the Sigma platform is about 13 percent stiffer.

The STS will feature the slick GM Magnetic Ride Control system. This semi-active system constantly measures driving and road conditions, and can adjust the suspension hundreds of times a second. StabiliTrak stability control will be packaged standard on all-wheel-drive models, as well.

Stock and trade

The list of standard and optional features is impressive and generally in line with what the best imports are now offering, panic brake assist, and tire pressure monitors among them. The emphasis was on "purposeful technologies," explains Federico.

The STS gets the latest version of OnStar, as you'd expect, a new remote starting system, active cruise control, and a new, four-color Heads-Up Display system. Caddy adopted HUD for the first time on the XLR sports car, permitting a driver to see critical readouts, such as vehicle speed, as well as turn-by-turn navigation instructions, without having to turn eyes away from the road.

One feature that Cadillac engineers have notably not adopted is the new "turning" headlamp technology. Don't be surprised if competitive pressure forces that to change in a year or two.

Caddy officials aren't ready to discuss price, but they'll help make the case for the STS by erring towards the lower side of the segment, which ranges from $43,000 up to $66,000. "We think it's going to have tremendous value," says LaNeve.

The new STS will roll out of the same plant as the CTS, offering the automaker a fair degree of production flexibility. Intent to keep the bar low and easy to clear, LaNever is initially predicting sales of around 30,000 of the new sedans annually. Compare that to the more than 50,000 Mercedes E-Class four-doors sold in the States each year, and you can see the potential Cadillac is eyeing.

It's been a long time since Caddy could claim itself "the standard to the world," at least with a straight face. "We're coming back," insists LaNeve, though he quickly admits, "we're not there yet." The STS should move it even closer to the truth.

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