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(08:30 July 12, 2004)
The Beat Goes On: Cadillac’s Metamorphosis Continues With STS


BASE PRICE: $40,995
POWERTRAIN: 3.6-liter, 255-hp, 252-lb-ft V6; rwd, five-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT: 3857 pounds
0 to 60 MPH: 6.6 seconds (mfr.)

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.

By customer-friendly, Taylor means Cadillac customers want to be able to tune the car’s radio without an hour-long ground school from their dealer. Taylor didn’t mention BMW’s infamous iDrive by name, but the point was taken. Customers of high-end luxury cars demand a level of technology that requires more than a radio with a couple of buttons, and try as they might, designers haven’t yet figured out how to put the features in an easy-to-use package. The STS has all the electronic goodies you would expect in a luxury car, and while some may find the controls easier to use than iDrive, others may disagree.

Our evaluations began in what was jokingly referred to as "the doctor’s car," a Northstar V8 in base trim, with 17-inch tires and the standard (meaning softer) suspension—an independent front using aluminum upper and lower control arms with monotube Sachs shocks. The fully independent multilink rear has aluminum upper control arms, knuckles and brake calipers.

Before heading out to the freeway, we sampled the car’s electronic features, plugging in our destination in the nav system and switching on the 15-speaker 5.1 Bose surround-sound system, pre-loaded with CDs and DVDs. The controls combine hard buttons under the eight-inch nav screen and several touch-screen buttons. Not all of the operations are straightforward. We needed to pull off the highway and spend about 10 minutes pushing buttons and touching the screen in order to eject a CD we didn’t want to hear. We even tried using the voice-recognition system, asking it to eject the disc, but the words we were using were not recognizable commands to the system. It was frustrating enough that we wished we had iDrive, since we’ve invested enough time figuring that system out.

Once we did work out Cadillac’s interface, we loved the audio system. We may have to rethink using Lexus’ Mark Levinson unit as the gold standard of OEM sound. Cadillac’s 5.1 Bose system offers true surround-sound and its integrated six-disc CD/DVD changer will play DVD-A and MP3 formats. Audio input plugs in the center armrest compartment can connect to your portable music player, and there is optional Bluetooth connectivity as well.

We had all afternoon to enjoy it on a drive from San Francisco to the Monterey Peninsula. On a stretch of freeway, we slotted in with traffic at about 80 mph, and found the STS a comfortable cruiser. That we expected. The suspension eats up expansion joints and the car is Lexus-quiet. We could detect just a hint of wind noise and little tire noise. Laminated "quiet steel" in the firewall, laminated acoustic glass in the windshield and front windows, triple-sealed doors and sound-deadening foam throughout the chassis cut down on noise intruding into the cabin. A high-density, low-mass foam mat on the engine side of the firewall keeps noise out. The exterior mirrors are designed to minimize wind noise at speed. All this effort has paid off—the cabin is quiet.

Top-of-the-line power comes from the familiar, all-aluminum 4.6-liter Northstar V8 with variable valve timing. With 320 hp at 6400 rpm and 315 lb-ft of torque at 4400 rpm, the potent engine is a good match for the car. Power is routed through a five-speed automatic, the only transmission available, although we wouldn’t be surprised to see a six-speed manual gearbox down the road at some point.

You can manually shift the automatic, and it will stay in the gear you choose right up to redline, a nice feature when you’re driving the car hard. Hit the throttle, and besides feeling the thrust, you hear an exhaust note tuned to remind you that you’re driving a modern-day muscle car. In cruising mode, it quiets down considerably.

Full Article Here

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