Road Test

2011 Cadillac CTS Coupe is a looker with moves

New Coupe has the ability to tackle turns with an alacrity not associated with Cadillac

Despite downsizing, bankruptcy and all the flack that has surrounded General Motors in the past few years, Cadillac has been on a steady drive forward with new product, new direction and every sign of setting a new direction for the corporation. The best example of this is the most recent addition to the Cadillac line – the 2011 CTS Coupe.

The stunning looks draw stares whether underway or sitting still. From the hidden door handles to the giant centre exhaust outlet it looks like a show car, a one-off the designers flaunted at car shows as an example of what they·d like to do.

There is nothing unusual about that, it happens every year at car shows around the world as companies use these concepts to gauge public opinion. If it is positive and a decision made to go ahead, some of the design cues of the show vehicle are incorporated in the production vehicle.

Cadillac showed the CTS Coupe concept at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in 2008. There was a collective and vocal expression of awe as the covers were pulled off. Jaded scribes who had seen dozens of car shows and hundreds of concept cars around the world collectively said ·that·s one they should build.·

When word came that GM was going ahead and the production version would be unveiled at the Los Angeles Auto Show last fall, we expected the usual watered-down, faint reminder of the concept vehicle. The covers came off and there was near silence. We thought that in the midst of its financial difficulties, GM had not been able to proceed with the coupe and were showing the concept vehicle again; how embarrassing.

Shockingly, this was the real deal! The CTS Coupe that would be rolling off the assembly line was pretty much exactly the same as the concept car and even the clay model where it all began. They even kept the hidden door handles and giant pair of centre exhaust outlets! Love it or hate it this is one stunning example of automotive architecture, a distinct design that copies nothing from any other manufacturer.

The 2011 CTS Sports Coupe was designed to be the centre-piece of Cadillac·s new line-up. It joins the CTS wagon and will also be available in 'V' trim with a supercharged 556-horsepower V-8, ensuring it can not only stand up to visual comparison to the top European luxury brands, but pace them on the Autobahn or track as well.

In the old days, the coupe would have been a two-door body slapped on top of the same chassis used for other models. It saves time and expense to do it that way.

But this is the new Cadillac and the CTS coupe has a 5-cm wider rear track, 5-cm less rear overhang and is almost 8-cm shorter than the four-door. The windshield is sloped an additional two degrees · an expensive alteration requiring different tooling that wouldn't have made the cut in those bad old days. But the added rake was necessary to retain those concept-vehicle looks, so it stayed.

Door handles would also have ruined the show car·s appearance so you get in by touching hidden electronic "touch pads" on the door frame. It's the same inside, no levers, rather buttons on the armrest.

Other than that, the interior is carried over relatively untouched from the sedan because there was no need for change. The instrument panel is modern and loaded with design features including Cadillac's signature pop-up navigation screen. There was no room for the sunroof to slide into the sloping roof as it does in the sedan, so it rises above when open. There is room in the rear seat for adults, but it is a coupe with a sloping roof so headroom is somewhat restricted.

And this Coupe is a looker with moves. The solid rear-drive platform and an independent suspension sorted on race tracks and European roads give it the ability to tackle turns with an alacrity not associated with Cadillac.

My test vehicle benefited from the optional ($1,900) sport package which includes bigger brakes at each corner and 19-inch polished aluminum wheels wrapped in sticky, summer-only performance rubber. Want more grip? All-wheel-drive is available.

So is a six-speed manual transmission. My tester had the six-speed automatic.

I actually drive two different test vehicles, with the same equipment levels; one in a combination of city and rural driving and another on a tight simulated track set up in a massive parking lot.

The Coupe performed like a Cadillac on public roads but most unlike one on the track! The ride is smooth and comfortable but without the sponginess associated with the brand. In fact, the performance package setup does become a little harsh on nasty pavement.

The transformation is even more impressive when you tackle the turns. The steering is well weighted and provides excellent feedback, the standard limited-slip differential enables you to get power to the pavement earlier exiting a turn and the ultra-stiff platform and rear-drive all but eliminate understeer.

The standard engine is a sophisticated 304-horsepower V-6 and you have to check beneath the hood to be convinced it is not a V-8. Silky smooth with plenty of low-end torque, it moves the rather heavy coupe with ease from rest or at higher speeds while passing. From zero to 100 km/h takes less than seven seconds. Pretty stout!

While it competes effectively with the high-priced imports, the CTS coupe is priced several notches below most with a $47,450 base. My tester was loaded and even then cost $57,700 which is comparatively inexpensive.

The 2011 CTS coupe is the latest iteration of Cadillac·s Art and Science design theme – a unique design idiom that bears no resemblance to any other brand. It will appeal to most and might turn off others, but it will not be mistaken for anything else on the road. The CTS Coupe points the way to Cadillac·s future · one that holds great promise.

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