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Cadillac CTS: The Next Generation

The first-generation Cadillac CTS went where no production Cadillac had gone before. With the second-gen, it is a little older, but even a little bolder.
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When the first-generation CTS came out in 2002, it was startling. There was the brand best known for the occasionally outré (think of the various Biarritz models of the ‘70s and ‘80s) but conventionally bland (think of practically everything else in recent memory) suddenly with forms that would be more well associated with radar-invisible aircraft. Michael Simcoe, executive director of Exterior Design, General Motors, North America, explains that an objective of that car was to help people “understand” the “Art and Science” design approach that had been revealed at auto shows with concepts like the Evoq in 1999 and the Cien in 2002. Sure, concept cars can be edgy (literally and figuratively in the case of both of these cars). But production vehicles? Cars that are meant to be purchased by you, your next-door neighbors, the guy down the street, and...Speaking of that first car, Simcoe admits that “the planar surfaces shocked people initially.” Now, he suggests, that given the cars that have followed the CTS—including the SRX and the STS and the XLR—those surfaces are more familiar to people. And so for the second-generation CTS, the 2008 model, Simcoe and his colleagues set about to create a vehicle that would show more “maturity in surfaces” and one that would be “more art.” Simcoe says that the form language being deployed by Cadillac is “unashamedly American.” He points to the front end of the car and uses terms including “proud,” “bold,” “upright,” and “jewelry.” “I couldn’t imagine an Audi or a BMW doing this,” he says. Oddly enough, he says it in a voice that is accented from whence he is from: Australia. Theming for the ’08 was also done by Simon Cox and the GM UK Advanced Design Studio (as well as the Advanced Studio in North Hollywood, and Warren). When you’re competing with the world, as Cadillac most certainly is, your approach may be American, but your inputs must be international.

Back to that first-generation vehicle. As bold as it was in its day, compared with the ’08 it is a little, well, dowdy. Imagine.

Under the hood.

By and large, the story of the 2008 CTS is the story of its engines, a base 3.6-liter V6 and the optional 3.6-liter V6.

Wait a minute, isn’t that a typo? Shouldn’t that optional engine have a different number? No, 3.6 and 3.6. But there are differences. First, the similarities:

  • Aluminum block and heads
  • Variable valve timing
  • Chain drive
  • Polymer-coated piston skirts
  • Forged-steel crankshaft
  • Structural aluminum oil pan with steel baffles
  • Composite camshaft covers
  • Electronic throttle control

Both engines share the above. But here are the differences, first numerically. The base engine provides 263 hp @ 6,200 rpm and 253 lb-ft of torque @ 3,100 rpm, while the optional engine produces 15% more horsepower (304 hp @ 6,300 rpm) and 8% more torque (273 lb-ft @ 5,200 rpm). Which makes the optional engine the most powerful naturally aspirated V6 that General Motors has ever put under the hood of a production car. How is this achieved?

The more powerful engine features a direct injection (DI) system. The system deploys a fuel pump that provides fuel via a stainless steel rail directly into the cylinders at 1,750 psi. The injectors have a tailored spray pattern that optimizes performance and, by leading to more complete combustion, minimizes emissions (up to 25% fewer hydrocarbons at cold start, for example). What’s more, there is a 3% improvement in fuel economy (the base engine is rated at 17 mpg city/26 mpg highway; the DI engine at 18/26 mpg). One of the issues related to direct injection systems is that given the high-pressure injection of the fuel at a high rate, the opening and closing of the valves can cause quite a raucous rattling sound. So, because Cadillac engineers focused a great deal of their attention on making the overall vehicle quiet (e.g., the aforementioned chain drive is used, in part, because it is quiet in operation; there is a full-perimeter hood seal, hood absorber, and an acoustic engine cover, acoustic belly pan under the front of the car), the injectors have an isolated design to minimize the operating noise, which is the first of its type, and there is an acoustic cover for the direct injector pump. Yes, they went to some lengths to make sure that performance didn’t come with an audibly unpleasant price. Another notable aspect of the engines is that they use regular unleaded gas. Even the DI engine runs on regular, not the premium grade that is typical of performance engines.

Attached to those engines are a choice of two six-speed transmissions. But there are significant differences, as one, the Hydra-Matic 6L50 is an automatic and the Aisin AY6 is a manual—although the Hydra-Matic does offer tap-up/tap-down shift control, so there is the manual aspect to it, as well.

And while on the subject of powertrain, it should be noted that the CTS, while nominally a rear-wheel-drive vehicle, is available with all-wheel-drive. This system features an active transfer case that provides infinitely variable distribution of torque between the rear and front wheels, and that can transfer as much as 100% of the torque to the front wheels.

Engineering packages.

Although some vehicles offer a switch that allows suspension adjustment (e.g., sport/comfort), Cadillac engineers didn’t compromise with the CTS. Rather, they tuned three separate packages. The base suspension, FE1, has 17-in. wheels and brakes (not the rotor diameter, but the brakes fill the wheel area) and is setup for a balance between ride and handling, as would be expected of what will undoubtedly be the box checked most often. The FE2 has 18-in. wheels and brakes and is said to be biased more in the direction of handling. Either of those setups is available with rear- or all-wheel-drive. FE3 is rear-drive only. There are 18-in. wheels and brakes, but the all-season tires give way to Michelin Pilot Sport 2 summer tires. Yes, this setup is for those who plan to take their CTS to the track.

Further enhancing the drivability of vehicle is the fact that compared with the previous generation model, the track has been increased by 1.8 in., to 61.8 in. Additionally, there is a premium ZF Servotronic steering gear; Bilstein front shocks and rebound springs on the front of all suspension types and Bilstein rear shocks on the FE1 and FE2 suspensions and self-leveling Sachs Nivomat shocks on the back on the FE3 vehicles; and new suspension geometry for both front (short-long arm) and rear (multi-link). And, yes, they proved the car out at the Nürburgring circuit (which lead to not only the use of larger brakes and the premium steering gear, but structural reinforcements, such as a tower-to-tower brace).

The CTS is built at the GM Lansing Grand River assembly plant in Lansing, Michigan. This highly flexible 2-million ft2 facility, which was opened in 2001, is where the Cadillac SRX and STS models are also produced. One of the more interesting processes used in the production of the vehicle is laser brazing of the roof. What this does is provide a clean surface across the top of the vehicle. Whereas many vehicles feature a “ditch,” or a joint where the roof is joined to the body structure with spot welding, a longitudinal valley that’s sometimes filled in with a piece of trim, the CTS process uses a laser to provide the sleek top mating. In addition to which, the deck lid is also laser welded. This is a function of the deep drawn forms that would be impossible to attain through the use of a single piece of sheet metal. Through the use of laser welding the seam is nearly imperceptible so that anyone looking at it without knowing that it was there would probably think that a single piece of material is in place.

Inside, the driver is wrapped in a cockpit-like area (remember the aircraft antecedents). The controls are readily at hand. There is the cut-and-sew trim work that Cadillac initially launched on its limited production STS-V and XLR-V cars for the CTS’s IP, center console, and door trim. The 8-in. diagonal optional navigation screen is partially visible in the center of the IP; when activated it elevates for full display. While many vehicles are now offering an aux-jack interface for music players like the iPod, consultation was done with some of the people behind the iPod so that not only does the interface cable between one’s music player and the car charge the iPod, but the screen displays a clean, usable interface that while not like that of the Apple device is remarkably well done. The use of LED light pipes recessed within the IP provide a subdued but functional lighting effect.

Jim Taylor, Cadillac general manager, talks about how the 2002 CTS initiated a “product-led renaissance” for the division. “We’re a long way from being done,” he admits. But speaking of the 2008 CTS, a car that the engineers benchmarked against the BMW 530 despite the fact that it is more competitive with the 3-Series, Taylor says that a goal is not simply to be competitive from the standpoint of mechanical functionality and features, but “desirability.” Isn’t that what luxury is really all about?