Like its looks or not, this American car is a viable player in the luxury segment.
2011 Cadillac CTS Coupe
Were you part of the 15,000 fans that lined up to see the Jonas Brothers at Yas Island last month?
If you shouted an emphatic "no", you missed out on another giant concert here in Abu Dhabi. And if you screamed a shrill "yes", I weep for the future.
Perhaps you who skipped it could say you had an important meeting or a friend was in town or you had to get your car washed, but more than likely you didn't go simply because there was not a chance in a chilled-over netherworld that you'd be caught there. Conversely, the throng of screaming fans that swarmed the concert venue wouldn't have missed it for all the tea in Emirates Palace.
Perhaps you've already guessed what side of that fence I'm on.
My point is, it's the kind of band that polarises people; forget about age groups or demographics - you either love 'em or hate 'em.
And I get that feeling with the Cadillac CTS Coupe. Because I can't remember another car I've tested that has people so squarely divided on its appearance alone.
Whatever you feel about it, the car is most certainly distinctive. It's really like nothing out there on the road, certainly not in its price bracket; BMWs, Mercedes and Audis are aggressive yet much more subtle. The CTS is just mean-looking, what with its huge, gaping grille and tall, muscular haunches. It's got an air of a stealth fighter with its crisp angles and creases and the long, flat flanks. In the back, the neon lights are some of the most attractive to follow behind on the road; I like the entire package.
And inside carries the theme; it's an attractive, modern setup. The materials are, for the most part, high quality, and everything is logically laid out. It might not be up to the standard of some European cars, but it's impressive how far GM has come concerning its interiors. The leather seats are downright huge - perhaps they should be called loveseats instead of buckets - but the sunroof impedes on headroom for the front passengers. It doesn't even slide open! I'd say leave that box unchecked on your order form.
Sunroof or no, rear passengers will be crouching in agony; the rear seats, while offering plenty of leg room, are cramped for headroom; it almost seems sensible to sit upside down if you want to stretch your neck out.
There is no revolution going on inside when it comes to technology, but you've got the usual bells and whistles of a luxury car. The pop-up infotainment screen is actually useful; when down, it still shows pertinent information, and the touch screen is infinitely more useable than a central mouse. When you need more information, such as the sat nav, it simply pops up with the push of a button.
But looks aren't everything, as the less attractive of us might emphasise. On the motorway, while it's comfortable and stable, there's a whiff of disappointment, as it tends to wander and feel just a little jittery on a long, fast straight. It's not like an old Toyota or anything, but when you step out of a rock-solid 3 Series and into the Cadillac, well, you notice a difference.
But take it into the corners and you'll forget all that. It'll dive into a turn faster than many other cars in its class, and its level of grip is surprising, especially for a big car pushing two tonnes. GM has really outdone itself with this world-class handling; no doubt those huge tyres at all four corners do their part in keeping the car square on the road.
The engine is a good match for the handling. No, it's not the 550hp V8 of the CTS-V, but 304hp can get this car moving quickly. Not only that, but it's smooth and still has a nice rumble coming out of the twin rear exhaust. There's not really anything with this power in the CTS's price range, either, so it offers good value.
The six-speed automatic - in normal mode - is definitely set up for comfort and economy, and it just doesn't have the reaction for quick downshifting and sporty behaviour - or even when you need that little extra oomph to pass in an instant. There is an option for a sport mode, which works a lot better when you feel like testing out that handling in the roundabouts. It keeps the lower gears longer for more torque, and shifting comes quicker with throttle response. You can also shift yourself, but it's just too bad that manual gear shifts are left to buttons on the back of the steering wheel, rather than larger paddle shifters; they seem like an afterthought.
But then again, this is a luxury car, not a sports car, and in that realm, it surpasses expectations. Considering the Mercedes E250 in its price bracket has only 204hp, you're getting a pretty good deal with the CTS Coupe - if you like its looks. If you don't, I have a feeling that no amount of horsepower will overcome that.