Ignore the temptation to think about this new Caddy as the next-generation Seville. When the 2005 Cadillac STS hits the road later this year, it will usher in a new and promising era for the once-dominant luxury brand — though General Motors’ high-line division still has some work ahead of it before it can confidently reclaim the title of “standard of the world.”
The STS designation originally stood for Seville Touring Sedan, the sportiest version of Cadillac’s flagship, front-drive four-door. The ’05 edition is an entirely different animal, and that sporty nature is about the only thing the new car carries over. The decision to stay with the alphanumeric name reflects Caddy’s intention to challenge products like the E500, 540i, and LS430.
The ’05 STS starts out with the same platform as Caddy’s smaller CTS, though the wheelbase has been stretched more than three inches, and the overall length has grown by six. Known to insiders and aficionados as the Sigma “architecture,” it allowed Cadillac to return to rear-wheel drive with the CTS, a must in today’s luxury market. With the STS, however, Caddy also adds the option of all-wheel drive, a feature likely to appeal to snowbirds and performance fans alike.
Standards and measures
2005 Cadillac STSEnlarge Photo
There was a time, some decades back, when Cadillac truly did set the standard. It was not only a technology trendsetter, but a design leader, as well. The edgy CTS showed there’s still some serious talent in GM’s styling studios. But soon after arriving at GM three years ago, “car czar” Bob Lutz decided some of the sharp creases of the new “Art & Science” design theme needed to be softened on the STS to yield a more sophisticated, up-market look.
According to Caddy’s chief designer, Kip Wasenko, the roof was lowered about an inch, making it easier, among other things, for the doors to flow into the roof. Where the STS originally was going to be rather angular and slab-sided, the look that’s making it to market is notably more curvaceous.
GM has also addressed one of the few consistent points of criticism leveled at the “entry-luxury” CTS, the lackluster design of the smaller car’s interior. Exterior design may catch your eye when it’s time to buy a new car, but in the years that follow, you’ll be living inside, and interior design has begun a big differentiator between brands like BMW, Lexus, and Audi — the latter unquestionably the industry pacesetter.
There’s no question that Cadillac has made significant gains with the STS cabin. The look is as refined as any Caddy past, with an array of elegant details, such as the chrome sill plates. The seats are supple, striking the right balance between comfort and support. The huge, eight-inch navigation screen is one of the largest in the industry and the nav system is among the easiest to use. The wood is well executed, and for those who’d like a more distinctive appearance, there’s a novel eucalyptus wood option.
Yet as a senior executive on the STS project privately acknowledged, “we still have a ways to go.” The flat, black plastic that dominates the center stack inserts the same, boring feel of a base Chevrolet. Even Toyota’s Scion tC offers a more sophisticated appearance for its audio and climate control units, more like something from Bang & Olufsen than Wal-Mart.
2005 Cadillac STSEnlarge Photo
That said, there are plenty of other features that make us willing to ignore our minor gripes.
Appropriately, Cadillac has made the new STS a technological showcase. It’s equipped with everything from a 15-speaker XM/Bose audio package to DVD navigation to GM’s slick StabiliTrak suspension system. There’s also a new Heads-Up Display, or HUD, system, the first on a Cadillac.
Buyers will be offered a variety of powertrain options, including a 3.6-liter, 255-horsepower V-6, and the 320-horsepower, 4.6-liter Northstar V-8. The base car comes in rear-drive configuration, but there’s also an all-wheel-drive package — the latter will initially be available with the V-8, but will be added to the V-6 list of options in the months to follow.
During a long day of driving through the mountains and valleys of Central California, we had the chance to experience all the various powertrain configurations.
The ’05 STS comes with a keyless ignition system, so you fire up either engine by pressing the Start button mounted just behind the steering wheel. You can also opt for the new Adaptive Remote Start system, which will start the vehicle from distances of up to 200 feet. The latter system will also warm or cool the car, as needed, and turn on the front and rear defrosters, if necessary.
In the case of the V-8, the big Northstar starts with a reassuring growl, music to those who’ve grown up with the sound of big Detroit muscle. The sound is matched by plenty of fury. This 4.6-liter powertrain provides lots of low-end torque, with a wide power band that doesn’t fade at extra-legal speeds.
One place the STS lags slip behind, technologically, is its five-speed automatic transmission. Yes, we expect to get a few e-mails from GM telling us just how well this Hydramatic gearbox performs, but in an era when even mainstream vehicles are switching to six-speeds, and Mercedes-Benz has launched the world’s first seven-speed automatic, Caddy needs to catch up.
While we didn’t have the opportunity to run our own tests, we’re reasonably comfortable with Cadillac’s preliminary numbers. The V-8 rear-drive package is expected to launch from 0-60 in a flat six seconds, while the heavier AWD edition takes another second to get there.
The V-6 also is rated at seven seconds, a surprisingly modest sacrifice underscoring the technical sophistication of the 3.6-liter engine. By offering such features as variable valve-timing on both the intake and exhaust valves, and integrating an electronic throttle control, the V-6 pumps out 90 percent of its peak torque from 1600 all the way up to 5800 rpm.
Name that tuning
Caddy executives like to note that much of the suspension tuning on the STS, like the CTS before it, took place in Germany, on the harsh and demanding Nurburgring race track. It’s easy to ignore such claims — until you put the new car through its paces.
The highways and back roads leading out from Santa Barbara offer an almost endless assortment of road conditions, from smooth, high-speed concrete, to twisted, torn blacktop. The STS handles all with equal aplomb. Give much of the credit to the basic design of the Sigma platform and the STS suspension. Up front, it’s a short/long arm coil-over-shock configuration, with integrated anti-sway bar. In the rear, Caddy engineers went with a modified multi-link suspension package with load-leveling shocks.
One also has to applaud the StabiliTrak system, and GM’s unique Magnetic Ride Control. The combination constantly monitors road and driving conditions, and is capable of adjusting the magnetically operated suspension in barely one-thousandth of a second.
We found the STS’s steering confident and connected, with a precise, on-center feel. The car feels particularly well-balanced, though an aggressive driver could hang the tail out a bit in a sharp corner, especially if they shut off all the electronic controls.
There’s an ongoing debate over the merits of all-wheel drive on a high-performance luxury car. Some dislike the extra weight and internal frictions, which lower performance, as well as mileage. We found the STS AWD system surprisingly unobtrusive, though it clearly does cut into straight-line acceleration. But for the average driver, it’s likely to improve handling on rough roads and in tight cornering situations. And back in Detroit, we’d certainly appreciate its extra grip during a January blizzard.
Overall, there’s little to fault with the STS’s road manners. It’s not quite so quiet as a Lexus LS430, but we’re not sure that’s necessarily worth a demerit. The Caddy might be hard pressed to keep up with a 5-Series BMW, but it would make for a tight race.
Actually, we’ll hold our bets until next January, when Cadillac pulls the wraps off the long-rumored STSv, which would be the second entry into the automaker’s new high-performance brand-within-a-brand. Look for horsepower numbers to well exceed 400, insiders proudly hint.
We already know a few folks sitting on the sidelines waiting for the so-called velocity edition, but unless you’re out for every last ounce of power, we’re not sure if there’s good reason to wait.
The STS is the latest addition to a growing lineup of world-class cars carrying the Cadillac badge. We’re not willing to declare the newest sedan “the standard of the world,” but it clearly shows that Caddy is back in the game, with a contender no luxury buyer should ignore.
Base price: $40,995 V-6 AWD; $50,340 V-8 AWD
Engine: 3.6-liter cast-aluminum V-6, 255 hp/252 lb-ft; 4.6-liter cast-aluminum V-8, 320 hp/315 lb-ft
Transmission: Five-speed electronically-controlled automatic; rear-wheel-drive or optional all-wheel-drive
Length by width x height: 196.3 x 72.6 x 57.6 in
Wheelbase: 116.4 in
Curb weight: 3857 lb (V-6 RWD) – 4230 lb (V-8 AWD)
Fuel economy (EPA city/hwy): 23.9 mpg combined (V-6 RWD, est.); 20.7 mpg combined (V-8 AWD, est.)
Safety equipment: Anti-lock four-wheel disc brakes, Stabilitrak stability and traction control system, dual front, side, and head curtain airbags, tire pressure monitors, daytime running lights (DRLs), ultrasonic park assist, alarm system
Major standard equipment: (V-6 AWD) Illuminated keyless entry and keyless ignition; DVD navigation, dual-zone digital climate control, power windows and doors, dual heated power mirrors, power tilt/telescope steering wheel, Bose AM/FM/CD, OnStar with one year free service, fog lamps, cruise control; (V-8 AWD) six-CD changer with XM satellite radio, leather seats
Warranty: Four years/50,000 miles