2008 Cadillac CTS Performance

$4,828 - $5,287

2008 Cadillac CTS Performance Review

Note: This performance review was created when the 2008 Cadillac CTS was new.


Performance: 8.3

The redesigned Cadillac CTS is a high performance car worthy of comparisons to the celebrated imports in its class, thanks to its powerful engines and impressive driving dynamics. The Detroit News summerizes the consensus, writing, "The handling and performance of the CTS is exceptional."

The 3.6-liter V6 that was an option on the 2007 model becomes standard on the 2008, while another, more powerful V6 is now optional. According to Autobytel, they're "powerful enough to blow that blue hair right off Auntie Millie's head." Either engine can be paired with a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission (the automatic on last year's CTS had five speeds), and all-wheel drive is available with the base V6. "On the track or on the road," reports the Kansas City Star, "the new CTS challenges competitors such as BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Lexus without apology."

Handling on the new CTS is particularly praiseworthy, reviewers find. Motor Trend argues, "This is an American car with a German chassis: not exactly like a Mercedes or a BMW, but taut, tied down, nicely balanced, and stable at high speeds. It's not just the best-handling Caddy in history, but probably the best-handling American sedan ever." In 2007, CTS buyers had the choice of two chassis setups. For 2008, buyers have three options -- the FE1, FE2 and FE3 -- that range from smooth and compliant to sporty and firm. These enhancements provide "an improved ride overall," says Automobile.com, "with greater driver feedback."

Acceleration and Power

The base engine on the 2008 Cadillac CTS is the 3.6-liter port fuel injection (PFI) V6 that was optional on last year's model. For 2008, it gets a slight bump in power, and creates 263 horsepower and 253 pound-feet of torque. A 3.6-liter direct injection (DI) V6 is optional, and creates 304 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque. Consumer Guide determines that "both engines have good low-speed punch and plenty of passing power," with the "Direct Injection model providing more muscle." The Kansas City Star comes to much the same conclusion, writing, "The direct-injection engine is the most fun because of its added horsepower, but the base engine performs with more than adequate élan." These engines are paired with either the standard six-speed manual transmission or the optional six-speed automatic, and achieve an Environmental Protection Agency-estimated 17 miles per gallon in the city and 26 mpg on the highway.

Edmunds argues, "The base, 263hp engine will satisfy many CTS customers." The majority of reviewers offer the same sort of muted praise. The Detroit News says it "holds its own" while Forbes calls its output "adequate, though not quite exhilarating," thanks to "the latest in engine technology, like variable valve timing and an electronic throttle." Cars.com is more enthusiastic, writing: "Many sport sedans have base engines that leave drivers longing for more. That's not the case here; the entry-level V-6 moves the CTS swiftly, with plenty of low-end torque and a burly exhaust note when the pedal is down."

Most reviewers prefer the more-powerful DI V6. AutoWeek explains, "Injecting gasoline straight into the combustion chamber results in a more thorough combustion process, cleaner emissions, better economy and an increase in output." Motor Trend says it's "a first for an American-built gasoline engine," and "uses an ultra-high-pressure fuel system to pump finely atomized gas directly into the combustion chambers, like a diesel." The result, finds Cars.com, is an engine that "feels about the same from a standing start" as the less-powerful V6, but one that "gets palpably stronger than its sibling as the revs build." Edmunds says, "This engine feels stout."

The standard six-speed manual transmission is generally liked, though some reviewers voice complaints. It "works well," says AutoWeek, though it "requires frequent downshifting to get back on the cams. It also tends to shift somewhat stiffly." While modified ratios "alleviate a previously large gap between second and third gears," finds Car and Driver, "the manual isn't nearly as fluid as those from BMW." Cars.com has no such reservations, writing, "The stick shift allows the uplevel engine to shine: Hold a gear all the way down a straightaway, and there's no trailing off of power or hoarse exhaust note -- just abundant acceleration that never seems to run dry."

The automatic transmission has two modes: auto and sport, which allows for manual shifts without a clutch. Edmunds says that, in auto mode, the automatic "works about like you'd expect, which is to say it upshifts and down shifts (quite crisply, too) when it should under normal driving conditions," while sports mode allows for "downshifting as you brake for corners (complete with a throttle-blipping rev match), holding gears longer (but still upshifting if you lift off the throttle) and generally figuring out your driving style and adapting to it." The automatic also has a manual mode. BusinessWeek complains, "We're not sure why Cadillac opted not to go with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters for the automatic's manual mode." Most reviewers, however, agree with the one for Road and Track, who claims, "This is a great gearbox." Only AutoWeek finds it seriously lacking, writing, "The wide-ratio six-speed automatic makes for easy cruising at just about any speed, but it hampers efforts at quickly finding the fat part of the torque curve, often requiring at least one or more downshifts to get the revs back up to where the car pulls with any authority."

Handling and Braking

Reviewers are impressed with the handling of the CTS. AutoWeek reports, "We found body motions well controlled." Edmunds finds, "Directional changes are suitably quick, yet the rear end of the CTS never slews off line." CNET says, "The car held traction and didn't complain as we pushed it hard around corners," and adds, "We were able to easily maintain a proper line as we put the power on during our attacks, holding the car around the turns to the track-out position."

Consumer Guide says the CTS has a "reassuring solid feel," with a "compliant ride and excellent bump absorption. Most road imperfections are more heard than actually felt." Buyers have the choice of three chassis configurations. The FE1 is smooth, best for highway cruising. The FE3 is the firmest and sportiest. The FE2 splits the difference, and is the one most reviewers prefer. "Note to all potential CTS buyers: Don't be fooled into thinking you must go FE3 to enjoy the CTS' dynamic potential," urges Edmunds. "The FE2 is better balanced in terms of effectively managing body roll while remaining poised over real-world pavement." "Most drivers probably won't need the high-performance suspension," agrees Cars.com. "It pays dividends on the track, but on regular roads it doesn't offer much stiffness beyond the midlevel setup." AutoWeek provides a dissenting opinion, writing, "Even though the FE2 is tuned to provide a bit more compliant, less enthusiast-oriented ride than the top-trim FE3 setup, we found the sportier chassis did a better job of minimizing the harshness at impact over broken surfaces even while delivering a slightly stiffer all-around ride characteristic."

Steering response is improved over model year 2007. Car and Driver writes, "The upgraded rack-and-pinion steering is linear and now offers more feedback." Road and Track says the steering "felt like it was rooted in a block of steel and only once did we wish it to be a bit firmer." As for braking, Consumer Guide deems "brake feel and performance impressive" on the base model, while saying the DI V6 models have "uprated brakes and provide sports car-like stopping ability." These "optional performance brakes add larger discs all around," explains Cars.com, but "with either setup, the pedal feels a bit grabby but delivers strong stopping performance."

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