Cadillac's resurgence has been a marvel to watch. The latest move away from "old rich guy's car" is the 2011 Cadillac CTS Coupe. With the new CTS Coupe, Cadillac is making a serious stab at the sports coupe realm, which has been pretty much owned by the Europeans (with a few Japanese exceptions) for the past 20 years or so. The 2011 Cadillac CTS Coupe will arrive in four different configurations priced from $38,990 to $62,990 (plus options), each with a 4 year/50,000 mile basic warranty, a 5 year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty, and EPA fuel economy estimates from 17 city/25 highway to 18 city/27 highway. Let's drive.
First Glance: Napa Valley beauty
Cadillac brought me (and a bunch of other automotive journalists) up to Napa Valley, California to drive some late pre-production examples of the 2011 CTS Coupe. The production vehicles are scheduled to go on sale in early August 2010 in the United States. Napa Valley in mid-June was the perfect venue to unveil the Coupe. The sleepy wine-growing region has a split personality. It is quaintly rural and agricultural, with sun baked pickup trucks parked in front of faded red barns, and rows of chest-high grape vines lining the fields. The rural front barely conceals opulent wealth, with manor houses lurking in the hills, world-class restaurants on the main streets, and wealthy weekenders strolling the sidewalks.
The CTS Coupe has a very angular, almost avant garde look. Cadillac bragged that it is virtually identical to the 2008 concept car (link goes to photo) that inspired its production. The Coupe shares virtually no sheetmetal with the CTS Sedan, wearing a lower roofline, a steeper windshield, a one-piece stamped roof and rear fender piece and a wider rear track. Front and rear fenders hug the wheels tighter on the Coupe than on the Sedan; door handles have been shaved off and replaced with recessed electromechanical switches. The rear deck looks higher, by virtue of a super-cool integral center high mounted stop light (CHMSL in designer-speak) that also forms a rear spoiler on the trunk. Cadillac's now signature vertical LED taillight array dresses each rear corner. This is a design that demands attention, and presents a different look from each angle of approach.
In the Driver’s Seat: Cut and stitch
Though Cadillac's exterior designs have gained much attention during its recent resurgence, recent improvements in its interiors have left me most impressed. CTS Coupe's dashboard is a thing of beauty, with luxurious cut and stitch covering, a great mix of textures and feels, and scarcely a wrong note anywhere. The instrument panel above the steering wheel is a model of simplicity, with three cylindrical gauge pods housing mostly analog instruments. Every CTS Coupe that I drove was equipped with a navigation package, which meant that it also got a cool, James Bond-esque control screen that rises up out of the center console when activated.
CTS Coupe's front seats are a far cry from the sofa cushion ambiance of your grandfather's Cadillac. They are firm, supportive and comfortable, with good side bolstering and nice, long thigh support. I have long legs, and for once, I didn't have to use up all of the driver's seat travel in order to get room to drive. The front passenger seat similarly has miles of legroom available.
The back seat is another story. Consider it for emergencies only, more suitable for carrying a briefcase than an adult human being. I did contort my body and climb into the back, if only to prove that it could be done. I needed help getting out, even though my contemporaries still consider me to be spry. If you use your second row for passengers on a regular basis, you'll probably want to look at the CTS Sedan. The Coupe setup results in a trunk with 10.5 cubic feet of capacity, smaller than almost all of its competitors.
On the Road: Hang on, it's gonna get bumpy
Aaron Gold will certainly review the V-Series version of the CTS Coupe when it becomes available. That's the real hot ticket in this lineup. Cadillac only brought out the Premium Package level of Coupe for my group. It comes with a 3.6 liter V6 with direct injection and variable valve timing, and is rated to produce 304 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque, which feels pretty well-matched to the 3909 lb curb weight for the rear-wheel drive model that I drove. All-wheel drive models are a couple of hundred pounds heavier.
Which brings us to CTS Coupe's Achilles Heel, as far as I was concerned. All of the Coupes we drove were equipped with Cadillac's "FE-3" suspension package, with 19" wheels wearing summer tires. "FE-2" vehicles get 18" wheels and all-weather tires. The FE-3 Coupe was great on smooth roads, and felt quite sharp during assertive cornering and tight maneuvers. But on rough roads, or during normal freeway cruising, the FE-3 suspension setup was harsh, transmitting road feel in more detail than I wanted. I wished for a "sport/comfort" selectable transmission, like you'll find on some of the competitive vehicles (Audi A5, Mercedes-Benz E-Class). An either/or choice like the FE-2 vs. FE-3 means that you have to choose between relative comfort and relative sport, not a happy choice.
CTS Coupe's brakes are excellent for street driving, with good feel and no noticeable fade. A full array of safety features abounds on the vehicle, including very lenient traction control and electronic stability programs that don't jump in too early when you're having fun.
Journey’s End: To Coupe or not to Coupe?
After spending some time with the 2011 Cadillac CTS Coupe, I had to sit and think for a while. I tried to picture the right buyer for the vehicle, and I couldn't conjure up a vision of that person. Was it that empty nester who didn't need the passenger capacity anymore, but wasn't quite ready to take the sports car plunge? Was it the young professional who wanted luxury and sport, but needed more class than a muscle car or pony car provided? Or was it the avowed sports coupe buyer who just had to have an American car? I realized that I don't really know any coupe buyers, and I couldn't put my finger on the right buyer for this car.
The challenge is that the competition is so very good. The BMW 3-series Coupe is spectacular, sleek and sporty. The Audi A5 ripples with appeal, style and grace. The Infiniti G37 bursts with technology, attitude and ability. The Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupe brings heritage to the plate, hearkening back to a long line of businessmen's coupes.
Cadillac is trying to break new ground, and they seem realistic about the niche appeal of the CTS Coupe. But they're committed to bringing out a car with few compromises, a car that embodies the passion that they have for their business. And the CTS Coupe does that. I'm eager to drive the CTS-V when it becomes available (if Aaron will let me), which promises to bring even more passion and technology to the table.
In the meantime, we're left to ponder the CTS Coupe. Perhaps you are the buyer they seek. Get in line at your local Cadillac dealer. I'm sure they'll be very happy to see you. -- Jason Fogelson