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Marking GM’s IPO: ADLX Issues Call On 2011 Cadillac CTS Coupe

I suppose it’s important that I first disclose that I’m not a financial expert. You need to fully understand the risks to determine your…etc.

Disclaimer aside, GM for the second time in its long history is opening its doors to (certain) investors. The initial public offering on the NYSE is anywhere between $26 and $33 a share. With hundreds of millions of public and private shares being issued, GM’s expected to raise somewhere north of $23 Billion -the world’s largest IPO.

Financial analysts who speculate on a stock’s value typically advise investors to either “Buy,” “Hold,” or “Sell.” It doesn’t quite work that way in the automotive market. For us auto scribes, the best we can advise car buyers is to “Buy” or “Don’t Buy.” And since so many of us are so closely affiliated with the subjects of our critiques, we rarely make such definitive proclamations.

This review will be an exception to the trend. With Wall Street as the appropriate background for our review, I will issue a “Buy” or “Don’t Buy” statement based on the merits perceived in the 2011 Cadillac CTS Coupe – a seriously handsome and seriously flawed new Caddy.

The 2011 CTS Coupe ranks among the latest in Cadillac’s “Art & Science” plan and GM’s best foot forward in monetizing tomorrow while drawing on yesterday’s better angels.

Like GM, Cadillac was recently bankrupt – in design and execution for far too long. The bearer of the “Standard of the World” saw an awful, heartbreaking decline in the 1970s that carried through to the 1980s.

There was a brief respite in the mid 1990s – the sharp STS, SLS, Eldorado, Deville, and Fleetwood featuring all-American swagger and potent Northstar V8s – and then a slump back into ambivalent oblivion up until the mid 2000s.

When the second generation CTS sedan bowed in 2008, it was clear that Cadillac was on its way back.

Three years on, the marque’s still on its way but hasn’t quite reached that pinnacle. You know, that 1960s -Dolce Vita-zenith. Days when a Cadillac cost more than a Rolls-Royce and fat cats didn’t blink when they cut the cheque for America’s finest. Needless to say, the $38K CTS Coupe (as tested $50K) and the $380K Rolls-Royce Phantom occupy very different positions in the automotive market.

What they both share is in trumpeting their own brand’s exceptionalism; or unique platforms. In point of fact, there is no direct, competitive rival for the 2+2 seater, CTS Coupe.

Sure, you could argue that buyers could cross shop a Mercedes-Benz E350 coupe or even an Infiniti G Coupe but most won’t. They’re very different cars for very different drivers. In terms of price, the CTS Coupe’s starting price is somewhere north of a C-Class and well south of an E-Class.

Further, and here lies the Cadillac’s strength, like the Phantom, the CTS Coupe succeeds in both being effortlessly bold and managing to land on the island of good taste and sound planning. The crisp edges, the (sparsely used) character lines, the short overhangs, broad, muscular wheel arches, and tight proportions draw us into a thoroughly modern, hugely compelling piece of contemporary artwork.

The CTS Coupe is, more than either the CTS sedan or sports wagon, sculptural. With highways littered with amorphous wedges, that’s a strong selling point.

If the CTS Coupe were Italian, we’d call it “exotic.” We’d gleefully ignore any deficiencies and marvel instead at those handsome, HID lamps, those fabulous rocket LED taillights, and the shine of the 19” polished aluminum rims that pop against the coupe’s black sheetmetal. Glamorous.

Step inside and the flair for suave design continues with a dash that sweeps smoothly into a metallic and wood console. And like similar examples in Maserati and Rolls-Royce, the centrally placed, analog clock that sits below the pop-up GPS display anchors the whole range of instruments.

Wood and leather are thoughtfully used throughout the cabin and the Bose 5.1 surround system is not only well integrated visually, it’s superior in sound quality.

All the CTS Coupe’s strengths lie in the visuals. Every single aspect looks brilliantly composed and masterfully incorporated into the overall design. Happily, there’s just enough heritage mixed in to help us identify with the thoroughly modern package.

That said, the grade of materials still fall short of the competition. There’s a new car scent that’s more Nissan than Lexus. And while there’s ample use of leather in the cabin, there’s also the frequent (mis)use of cheap feeling plastics – the door mounted surrounds to the window controls, the faux chrome instrument surrounds, the plastic console cubby doors.

Also, while we’re on the interior, you’re sure to enjoy the panoramic scope of the giant moonroof. The glass roof is so big it could be a targa top – if only. Trouble is you’ll have to make do with it opening upward by an inch for ventilation as it does not retract at all.

Oh, and while at speed, there was a slight whistle of air that seemed to slip through the driver’s window. Somehow.

But back to quality of materials. If we’re fair, Cadillac hasn’t made truly bespoke-grade interiors since the Sixteens of the 1930s. Even the vaunted Caddys of the 50s and 60s featured leather interiors that looked and felt like the same vinyl seating you’d find at Johnny Rockets. That aside, these were still legendary cars. But legends aren’t perfect and every design features compromise.

Unfortunately, compromise extends to the driving experience. The CTS Coupe proves to be more the handsome boulevardier than true performance coupe.

That’s what the CTS-V Coupe is for, you say. True. And if it’s anything as psychotic as the CTS-V sedan, it’ll sate the appetites of the most power craven among us.

But for starters, the Fuel-Injected 304 horsepower V6 has a brassy V8 bark, but little bite thanks to producing all its torque at the top of the range. The infernal 6-Speed Automatic Transmission dithers on shifts, gear hunts on hills, and robs the driver of any instant-gratification. Sometimes you can count a full two-Mississippis from the time you plant your right foot on the go pedal to moment you feel any increase in momentum. Any at all.

There’s just no excuse for this. GM sells cars that are way more responsive. Aside from the tear-you-to pieces CTS-V, the Chevy Camaro and even, yes, the Chevy Traverse are much more responsive.

All these road going shortcomings could be forgiven if, say, the CTS Coupe’s rode as if on puffy white cloud. You know, like an old school Cadillac. But the combination of the “sport tuned suspension” mixed with low profile, run-flat Continentals means that the Cadillac shakes, bounces, and jiggles side-to-side over absolutely everything. It’s how I’d imagine the (F10) BMW 5-Series riding with 200,000 miles on the original set of shocks.

For its part, the CTS-V, also featuring a sport tuned suspension, suffers from none of this B.S.

So. Where does this leave us? As the analyst, I have to make my call. Is the CTS Coupe investment grade? And if you want to extend a metaphor – is GM’s IPO?

There’s a reason I chose New York and the financial district as the background for our photo shoot. Cadillac’s new two door may not provide the most sensational driving experience.

Not that the City’s pock marked, heavily trafficked streets accommodate much of a good time behind the wheel – they don’t. Rest assured, I drove the Cadillac on all kinds of roads and highways over the course of a week and the CTS Coupe’s performance falls short of rivals in the wider market.

On the other hand, like NY, the CTS Coupe’s sheer style and bravado combine to form a visual character that trumps just about everything. The Coupe draws stares and enthusiastic thumbs up wherever it goes. It’s a sensation. A rare triumph when the idealized concept made it through to production. People love this car. They recognize it as a Cadillac. An icon-to-be.

The Coupe has a level of popular appeal that a car thrice its price should enjoy.

GM’s also come a very long way in addressing quality control issues. It’s not done yet. Lexus is still king. So, there’s still work ahead for Detroit. But judging by the trajectory, the next generation CTS is going to be even better. And to remember that the standard CTS Coupe’s starting price is a relatively modest $38K, is to recognize a tremendous value-for-dollar.

Cadillac is setting a new standard. It’s imperfect. Flawed even.

Let’s encourage this special brand of American exceptionalism today and reap the dividends tomorrow. It’s right to dare greatly and go boldly in the face of unflagging competition.

Strong Buy.

November 18, 2010
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About the Author: Gunnar Heinrich is publisher of Automobiles De Luxe online and is executive producer of the Automobiles De Luxe Television series on PBS member station CPTV.

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RSSComments: 10  |  Opine Freely, But Smartly.  |  Trackback URL

  1. Thanks Gunnar, your articles are always a great balance between celebrating the car at hand yet providing a realistic perception for everyday drivers. I also appreciate the variety of backgrounds–Wall St. vs. Devil’s Hopyard.

    I myself am not taken with the styling of this Caddie (I think the CTS sedan is far better looking) and I am even more underwhelmed by the interior. I sat in a CTS sedan last year at the auto show and failed to discern anything “sporty” feeling about the mushy front seats.

    With that said, this car certainly makes a bold style statement that sets it apart from anything else out there (certainly more instantly recognizable than say the new f10 550i is). I think it is a good attempt by GM to start fighting its way back to being a strong competitor in the auto industry–I do not think it justifies all of the edgy commercials featuring a CTS-V racing around Nurburgring. While the car may have been extensively developed with testing there, it certainly falls down when cars of a more refined pedigree are considered.

    Finally, per your 200k mile comment above, do you think this car has the build quality to actually traverse such mileage as a 550i probably could (based on RDW’s M5 proving at least that could)? I have my doubts…

  2. Thanks Alex. To answer your question, I don’t think either the new 5er or the CTS coupe are designed with 10 years and 200k miles in mind. The electronics in both will be a real problem. Such is the nature of the car industry going forward. In a way, it’s kind of like reverting back in time when a car seeing 100k miles was rare.

  3. Isn’t progress great? I understand the need for auto companies to increase profits each year by selling more and more cars, but this does seem to cut against the alleged “green” trend in vogue now. Guess for my next car I better find a gently worn E39 and hang onto it…

  4. A late and loved (rare) e34 for that matter…

  5. I think this Cadillac is a very ugly car.

  6. It is not. Sheesh.

  7. It is hideous in my opinion. Looks like a CTS saloon that’s been in a rear-end shunt.

  8. Having spent time with the CTS, I still want one. I could see myself owning one someday…but a CTS-V, and not the coupe.

    Agreed on the interior quality, they are close. Great review.

  9. AWESOME Article! I’m currently in the market to LEASE a new sporty coupe… here are my choices:

    Infiniti G37
    CTS Coupe
    Would you add one more? Like Audi A5 or BMW 330?

    What do you think? I live in LA, so I’m really all about looks and price, I can care less about performance (like speed) but do embrace comfort and luxury?

    I need some help… please!!

  10. On looks, the Audi A5. On performance, the Bimmer.

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