2009 Cadillac STS Review

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Trevor Wild Trevor Wild Author
March 12, 2009

The 2009 Cadillac STS isn’t a standout for looks, but you’ll appreciate the way it drives.

TheCarConnection.com goes the distance to bringing you the best and most complete information available on the 2009 Cadillac STS. Experts have combed the Web to bring together diverse observations; these are then available with firsthand driving impressions and insights from TheCarConnection.com editors.

The 2009 Cadillac STS is the luxury make’s mid-size sport sedan. Unlike the front-wheel-drive STS of many years past, the STS has been primarily rear-wheel drive since 2005, sharing some of its underpinnings with the smaller Cadillac CTS. All-wheel drive is also available throughout the STS lineup.

The Cadillac STS saw some slight styling changes for 2008, including a new nose and wider grille, along with some engine updates, and they carry into 2009 with few additional changes. From the outside, the 2009 STS has a unique blend of angular proportions and smooth, continuous sheetmetal surfaces combined with simple but classy detailing, which still makes the design feel contemporary even if it’s no longer fresh.

Overall, the 2009 Cadillac STS bears a strong family resemblance to the smaller CTS sport sedan, and it has a similar mix of aggressive, assertive exterior styling, but its interior feels softer and more luxurious. Seating rivals that offered by the German competition; it's amply proportioned and very supportive, with plenty of space in front, but the backseat is barely roomy enough for average adults.

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The Cadillac STS comes in three flavors for the 2009 model year. There's a new base engine: a 3.6-liter, 302-horsepower direct-injection V-6 teamed with a six-speed automatic. A 4.6-liter, 320-hp V-8 with a six-speed automatic transmission slots in above it, while the top rung on the STS ladder is occupied by the performance-oriented STS-V and its hand-built 469-hp, supercharged V-8. V-6 and V-8 models can be specified with rear- or all-wheel drive, but the STS-V only comes with rear-wheel drive; all have an excellent six-speed automatic with tap-shift controls. The STS-V can accelerate to 60 mph in less than five seconds.

A performance handling package is offered on every model aside from all-wheel-drive V-6 editions of the 2009 Cadillac STS and includes 18-inch chromed wheels, Michelin summer tires, and the larger Brembo four-piston brakes. The STS-V also rides on larger wheels and tires, with stiffer stabilizer bars, a quicker steering ratio, and a specifically tuned chassis; Brembo brakes are included with larger rotors, pads, and calipers.

Between the V-6 and V-8 versions of the 2009 Cadillac STS, the V-6 makes the most sense. It’s nearly as fast as the V-8 model, and it saves fuel, with much better ratings of 17 mpg city, 26 mpg highway (versus 13/19 mpg for the V-8). With either STS configuration, you can expect brisk acceleration, sharp handling, and better steering feel than rival vehicles from Germany. Both models have a rather firm ride, but thanks to the standard Magnetic Ride Control, which can make almost instantaneous adjustments to damper firmness, ride comfort is quite smooth.

The 2009 Cadillac STS sports a heated, wood-trimmed steering wheel, a head-up display (HUD) on V-6 models, and more metallic trim integrated into the center stack, though the instrument panel won't be to everyone's liking. The layout, with some screen-driven controls and quite a few small buttons, can be confusing, and the materials haven't been upgraded to the extent seen in the CTS.

Technology is one of the STS's best selling points. Available features include an Easy Key keyless entry system, Adaptive Remote Start system, Adaptive Cruise Control, Intellibeam headlights, four-color HUD, and heated and ventilated seats. In 2009, the eNav system becomes a standard part of OnStar Turn-by Turn navigation.

Intellibeam headlamps are also on the options list for the 2009 STS; they sense approaching taillights or headlights and dim themselves accordingly. Other technological upgrades include revised stability control, a lane-departure warning system, and a blind-spot warning system.

Standard safety equipment includes front side airbags, head-protecting side-curtain bags, and electronic stability control—all expected features in a luxury sport sedan. Based on crash-test results, the 2009 Cadillac STS is in the middle of the pack in safety. Four-star results are awarded by the federal government in all but side protection for rear-seat passengers (five stars), and the STS earns "good" results in frontal-offset protection, "acceptable" results in side impact, and "poor" in rear impact insurance industry (IIHS) tests.

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2009 Cadillac STS

Styling

The 2009 Cadillac STS looks good inside and out, but it's not exactly groundbreaking.

Editors at TheCarConnection.com note that the interior of the 2009 Cadillac STS is soft and luxurious. On the outside, it's similar to the CTS sport sedan with its aggressiveness and verve.

According to Kelley Blue Book, if you like the "edgy styling of the CTS and XLR cars...you'll like the 2009 Cadillac STS." However, Kelley Blue Book also points out that this model's styling has been seen before on the CTS, and buyers of cars at this level tend to prefer "a more distinctive vehicle." Forbes Autos describes the car as "spiffy" and a "viable domestic alternative to import luxury sport sedans." Cars.com comments that Cadillac STS "elements are in proportion" but says that the side vents are becoming an automotive cliché. Edmunds finds the grille "particularly striking."

Inside, the 2009 Cadillac STS is well liked all around. Kelley Blue Book notes that "the usual color choices of black, tan or gray are offset by the occasional use of nice wood trim...a sprayed-on urethane 'skin' gives the dash and door panels a rich look mimicking real leather." Edmunds observes "luxury buyers should be pleased with this Cadillac's generally high-class ambience." The STS sports a simplified dash over years past, with a wide center stack of controls and a nice balance of leather, plastic, and wood. Kelley Blue Book warns that one might "worry how well this material will hold up over time."

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2009 Cadillac STS

Performance

Don’t think that the V-8 option is necessary; even with the V-6, the 2009 Cadillac STS is a strong performer.

Almost all reviewers who drive the 2009 Cadillac STS emerge fans of its performance. Perhaps best of all is the realization that the STS’s V-6 engine performs nearly as well as the V-8, which costs a good deal more.

The new base engine in the STS is a 3.6-liter, 302-horsepower direct-injection V-6 teamed with a six-speed automatic. A 4.6-liter, 320-hp V-8 with a six-speed automatic transmission is also offered, and drivers can access a V-8 for a premium. (The 469-hp STS-V is covered in a separate review by TheCarConnection.com.)

The base 2009 Cadillac STS V-6 model is now virtually as fast as the V-8 model, and it’s much easier on fuel, with ratings of 17 mpg city, 26 mpg highway, versus 13/19 mpg for the V-8. Car and Driver confirms the figures: The available 4.6-liter V-8 offers only 18 hp more, costs an extra $9,000, and gets much lower fuel economy—"it's hardly worth it," they conclude. Kelley Blue Book also agrees, asking why anyone should pay extra for the V-8 engine. Edmunds confirms "the STS V-6 is basically as quick as the unchanged STS V-8," while Consumer Guide reports that the V-6 engine "provides strong acceleration...and has outstanding passing power."

In real-world driving, Kelley Blue Book finds that the V-6 Cadillac STS "fuel economy proved surprisingly good, especially on long highway trips."

Both the V-6 and V-8 models of the SRS can be specified with rear- or all-wheel drive. Both use a six-speed automatic transmission that Edmunds observes is "slow to downshift." Cars.com notes that the transmission of the 2009 Cadillac STS offers a "manual-shift mode, but like most it takes a moment or two to induce a shift," and if "the computer thinks the car needs a downshift, it's quick to override any actions to the contrary."

Forbes Autos reports "all versions deliver a fairly smooth ride with reasonably sporty handling." Kelley Blue Book says that the "STS tracked brilliantly in tight turns, though the steering response was somewhat soft and slow to react." The STS is known for good, sharp handling. Both models have a rather firm ride, but thanks to the standard Magnetic Ride Control, which can make almost instantaneous adjustments to damper firmness, ride comfort is quite smooth.

The optional Magnetic Ride suspension is a popular choice in the 2009 Cadillac STS. This feature has two options: Touring mode to provide a "cushy ride and composed handling," and performance Sports mode, described as being "a little sharper and a bit stiffer," says Edmunds, which reports that the car handles just fine in Touring mode.

ConsumerGuide finds that "reassuring brakes provide short, straight simulated panic stops" and adds that the 2009 Cadillac STS base suspension is great; however, the performance-handling package option "triggers mild jitter on coarse or rippled surfaces." The package is offered on each model aside from the all-wheel-drive V-6 editions of the 2009 Cadillac STS and includes 18-inch chromed wheels, Michelin summer tires, and the larger Brembo four-piston brakes.

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2009 Cadillac STS

Comfort & Quality

The 2009 Cadillac STS has room to improve—literally. Space is tight, and quality could use an upgrade.

TheCarConnection.com reports that the 2009 Cadillac STS offers a tight backseat. Fortunately, the front seats are quite comfortable.

In the front, reviews are generally fairly positive in regard to the 2009 Cadillac STS. Of the front row, Consumer Guide notes "good headroom and legroom," but adds "some testers feel hemmed-in by the wide center console and high windowsills." However, "the standard power tilt and telescopic steering wheel helps dial in a comfortable driving stance." Cars.com agrees: "the leather upholstery is both supportive and well-cushioned," with "plenty of range for different-sized drivers." The only exception comes from a Car and Driver reviewer, disappointed with the hard plastic at the edge of the STS’s center console, which “still bruised our knees after just a few hours of driving.”

The back row is another story; Consumer Guide calls it "disappointing for a car this large," and TheCarConnection.com’s editors note that legroom is surprisingly tight for a car that’s so generously proportioned otherwise. Don’t plan to carry full-frame adults back there on a regular basis.

Regarding storage space, Consumer Guide reports that inside the cabin, "small-item storage is limited to a smallish center console and less-than-generous glove box." Meanwhile, "trunk space is unexceptional for STS's exterior size...a small opening limits the size of items that can be loaded."

Build quality in the 2009 Cadillac STS isn't particularly grand. Consumer Guide says 2009 Cadillac STS "interior materials quality is good when compared to domestic-branded premium sedans but falls just shy of the standards set by German and Japanese rivals." Overall, Cars.com finds the Cadillac STS interior "comfortable and lined with respectable materials," but notes "execution leaves a lot to be desired," adding that "most of the flaws could have been fixed with a modest freshening, something on par with what the outside received."

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2009 Cadillac STS

Safety

The 2009 Cadillac STS doesn't win high marks for safety—though it does have plenty of accident-avoidance features.

The 2009 Cadillac STS sports the expected safety gear, but scores in crash tests are lower than editors at TheCarConnection.com hope to see.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives the 2009 STS four of five stars for front-impact protection and for front seat side impact protection, as well as top marks of five stars for backseat side impact protection and rollover resistance. In tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the 2009 Cadillac STS's performance in frontal-offset crashes earns it the highest score of "good"; however, it only receives an "acceptable" rating in side-impact tests, which pulls its safety score down a bit.

Aside from the usual full complement of airbags and anti-lock brakes, the 2009 STS offers a Lane Departure Warning that is activated by a small camera located between the rearview mirror and the windshield, as well as a Side Blind Zone Alert feature. Car and Driver finds both annoying, as they tend to activate at the drop of a hat (but the lane-departure feature doesn't sound off until the car is "almost on the lane lines"). Both features can be deactivated if the driver so chooses.

If the buyer opts for the Cadillac STS V-8 with all-wheel drive, adaptive cruise control, and "enhanced StabiliTrak with active steering" can be ordered for an extra $2,690, according to Cars.com.

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2009 Cadillac STS

Features

The 2009 Cadillac STS offers scads of great features, though controls aren’t as great as they could be.

The tech lovers at TheCarConnection.com voice their approval for the 2009 Cadillac STS, which offers plenty of great features throughout.

There is absolutely no shortage of high-tech "bells and whistles" on the 2009 Cadillac STS. Cars.com reports that power front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, a keyless access system, an eight-speaker CD stereo, a power-adjustable steering wheel, and sonar rear parking sensors are all standard on the base STS Cadillac. For a few dollars more, the buyer can add a moonroof and a navigation system, as well as heated and cooled seats and a heated steering wheel.

Unfortunately, these 2009 Cadillac STS features aren't always so simple. It is necessary to wade through several levels of menu choices on the navigation screen in order to program settings. Consumer Guide notes that the STS Cadillac has "relatively few buttons" since most audio (as well as the mirror and climate controls) are now incorporated into the navigation screen, but insists that this "complicate[s] their use." Edmunds, however, points out that while Cadillac STS "controls are straightforward and easy to use," the memory setting procedure for many of the cabin controls are "confounding...frustrating and unnecessarily complicated."

New for 2009 is the announcement that the eNav system is now standard equipment and part of OnStar Turn-by Turn Navigation. Consumer Guide reports that available options for the top trim include "rear radio controls, wireless cell phone link, head-up instrument display, heated washer nozzles, [and] automatic-dimming headlights." The favorite Cadillac STS feature of reviewers at Kelley Blue Book is the optional 15-speaker Bose 5.1 Surround Sound audio system, which "delivers great sound." The base 2009 Cadillac STS model comes with an eight-speaker system.

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