DETROIT ó The
Cadillac stand at the North American International Auto Show last
month neatly summarized Cadillacís current product predicament,
one that goes beyond how many crossover SUVs it sells.
For 15 years,
Cadillac has hoped that its V performance vehicles would join the
hallowed ranks of BMWís M Series and Mercedes-Benz AMG models. And
it has succeeded admirably, producing cars that equal or beat the
competition in performance, only to be shunned by consumers as
Cadillacís sales and reputation continues its long, painful slide
into irrelevance, despite producing cars that out-German the
And perhaps, thatís
where the problem lies.
The thought occurred
to me after sampling the 2019 Cadillac CTS-V, the highly strung,
high-performance version of Cadillacís midsize luxury sedan.
Itís not that the
Cadillac CTS-V isnít a superb performer; it is. With a rigid
rear-wheel-drive chassis and a 640-horsepower supercharged 6.2-liter
V-8, reaching 60 mph from a standstill takes 3.7 seconds, comparable
to its challengers from Stuttgart. The transmission shifts smartly,
the tires communicate their intentions, the brakes grip fiercely and
the seats hold you firmly in place. Itís a car that becomes an
extension of yourself, a tool for gobbling up the highways. In other
words, this car is an absolute blast.
Better yet, the car
is connected, with a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, wireless charging, and
the requisite infotainment system. This way, you can be entertained
as you toddle along in traffic.
Do I admire this car?
Absolutely, despite its minor annoyances that only a GM could
manage. For example, when you order the Recaro front bucket seats,
you give up front-seat ventilation, a luxury you can get in a car at
half the price. The cabin is noisy at speed, with way too much tire
noise. I donít mind the symphony coming from the exhaust, but I do
mind it coming from the road and tires. This is a Cadillac, not a
Chevrolet. And trunk space is pathetically meager.
Nevertheless, this is
a fabulously fun car, just like the CTS-V models that preceded it.
But the problem with the CTS-V is the same one thatís plagued new
Cadillacs for 15 years or more, one that afflicts nearly every new
model from GMís flagship brand: These are great vehicles, but
theyíre not great Cadillacs.
journalists have sung these carsí praises, myself included. But we
donít buy Cadillacs. Those who do are clearly rejecting them
because itís not what they expect of a Cadillac. Buyers expect
what Cadillac has long delivered: indulgent comfort, spacious
accommodations, massive cargo space and state of the art technology
wrapped in sophisticated yet flashy styling in an impeccably built
This is why the
Escalade SUV commands the highest transaction price of any Cadillac;
itís the closest approximation of what consumers truly desire from
the brand. Itís big, brash, bold, bodacious, powerful and
unapologetic. Other Cadillacs seem timid in comparison; plain
vanilla imitations of Cadillacís past glory.
knife-edged styling is what weíve come to associate with
modern-day Cadillacs. Yes, itís eye-catching and sporty, but
youíd hardly call it fetching or seductive. In fact, its numerous
vents and go-fast body trim bits lack the panache a brand of this
caliber requires. Its look is stale.
design studios are capable of creating drool-inducing Cadillacs,
such as the Cien and Elmiraj, two concept cars that seemed as if
Cadillac truly understood its heritage.
And hereís where
the problem lies: Whereís the elegance, the eloquence that capture
the essence of our age?
And Cadillac knows
Itís why the
company displayed a 1959 Cadillac Eldorado Convertible at the auto
show in Detroit last month and attracted far more attention than the
hunchback-styled XTS sedan on the floor beneath it. Itís a car
that encapsulated the exuberance of the age, one manufactured to the
highest standards of the industry, built at a time when Cadillac
understood the difference between class production and mass
production, a lesson too many luxury brands have forgotten. GM
didnít build many Cadillacs, but every one it built was exquisite.
Can that be said
Do GM executives
understand what Cadillac needs to be? Better yet, are the vehicles
wearing the Cadillac name worthy of the badge, let alone $87,990
The market will
Base price: $87,990
EPA fuel economy
(city/highway): 14/21 mpg
Length: 197.6 inches
Cargo capacity: 13.7
Curb weight: 4,141