Cadillac Catera Research

The Car Connection Cadillac Catera Overview

The Cadillac Catera was one of several failed attempts by General Motors' luxury brand to develop and successfully market a car smaller than its large and full-size sedans in the U.S. Sold from 1997 through 2001, the Catera was based on an Opel design from Germany, built in that country to U.S. specs. It was marketed with a distinctly odd advertising campaign that used the tagline, "The Caddy that zigs," and featured supermodel Cindy Crawford speaking to an animated duck.

The Catera was sold only in one body style--a mid-size four-door sedan--and with one powertrain, a 200-horsepower 3.0-liter V-6 engine mated to a four-speed automatic transmission driving the rear wheels. Coming before the era of Cadillac's hard-edged "Art and Science" design language, its rounded corners and relatively generic shape failed to make it distinctive in any way.

Worse, while the Catera initially received good reviews, its handling had been returned to reduce perceived European firmness, making it unresponsive and miles away from the handling of the German luxury sedans it sought to compete with. With a curb weight of almost 4,000 pounds, the 200 hp produced by its engine was simply insufficient to provide any kind of sporty performance.

Standard equipment on all Catera models featured alloy wheels, a cloth interior, keyless entry, a security system, and an eight-speaker audio system with cassette player. Options included leather upholstery, a combined CD and cassette player, a sunroof, a Bose premium sound system, chrome wheels, and the Onstar telematics system. In 1999, a Catera Sport model was added at the top of the range, which featured eight-way heated power adjustable front seats, memory settings for the driver's seat, 17-inch alloy wheels, high-intensity discharge (HID) headlamps, and a rear spoiler.

In 2000, its fourth year on the market, the Cadillac Catera received a mild facelift and some equipment upgrades. The grille, front bumper, and fascia were all revised, as was the tail, and new wheels and stiffer suspension components were fitted. Some minor interior changes were made, and side airbags joined the two standard airbags fitted in the dashboard. HID headlamps were offered as an option.

After a few years, it became apparent that the Catera's reliability ratings were considerably below average, hurting its chances for continuation. Specific problem areas included higher-than-usual tire wear, timing-belt issues that occasionally produced catastrophic engine failure, and defects in the oil cooler that could allow oil to leak into the engine coolant. Over a five-year period, Cadillac sold about 95,000 Cateras. 

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