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Executives at the launch of the Cadillac STS talked a lot about "renaissance." The company is changing, certainly, although at times it seems more like a crusade than a renaissance. In reinventing itself, Cadillac is walking a razor’s edge, bringing out products to attract new customers (younger, hipper) while trying to build in enough "Cadillacness" that loyalists (older, unhipper) still want the new models. A tough task, to be sure.

Through extensive marketing and the classic rock tunes of Led Zeppelin used in its advertising, Cadillac is trying to change people’s perceptions. But the guy in charge of building the cars knows slick presentations and rock ’n’ roll is not enough.

"We’re changing people’s attitudes by putting great products on the road," said Jim Taylor, GM vehicle line executive for prestige vehicles. The new models, like the CTS-V, XLR and SRX, are damn good. Now you can add the STS to that list.

The STS brings to eight the number of Cadillacs released since 2001 (Escalade, CTS, Escalade EXT, Escalade ESV, SRX, XLR and CTS-V), all dressed in the now-familiar Cadillac style. STS sports several evolutionary refinements of that style, softening the harsh edges a bit, and making the car (AW, April 12) that goes on sale this fall the best-looking of them all. And the STS drives even better than it looks.

STS replaces the Seville—a Cadillac standby since 1976—and in a major switch, the new car moves from a fwd platform to a rwd or awd. It is the third domestic car built on GM’s global Sigma platform, along with the CTS and SRX. We sampled all three versions of the STS—rwd V8 and V6 models, and an awd V8—in pre-production forms. Production cars will begin rolling off the Lansing, Michigan, assembly line later this summer.

When STS was unveiled just before the New York show, Cadillac general manager Mark LaNeve said the car would play against the BMW 5 Series and 7 Series (falling between those two models), not to mention competing squarely against the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Audi A6 and the Lexus GS 300 and LS 430. That’s a pretty tough crowd, but STS belongs in the same discussion. It is that good.

"The prestige luxury segment is where the big guys play, and that’s where we want to be. The key is finding the sweet spot between luxury and performance. And we have to include the latest technology that is reasonably customer-friendly," Taylor said.

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