Robert Bowen
Robert Bowen Editor
10/16/20 8:11 a.m.

[Editor's Note: this article originally ran in the June 2012 issue of Grassroots Motorsports]

The General Motors of 2002 was very different from the one of 2012. Long before the global economy whipsawed the company to its knees, GM was desperately trying to reinvent itself as a global automaker. 

Mostly it failed in its attempts to introduce new thinking to fossilized product lines, but there were a few bright spots. One of those was the Cadillac CTS, a mid-sized, rear-wheel-drive sedan that has been very successful for the brand in the years since.

The CTS was a breath of fresh air when it was introduced. The name was short for Cadillac Touring Sedan, and the model was based on the all-new Sigma rear-drive platform—developed with the help of rear-drive experts at Holden, refined in Europe and the United States.

This was the first Sigma-platform car to reach production, followed by the STS and SRX sport-utes. During development, engineers strayed from the traditional Caddy edict and gave the car more of a European flavor. Dual A-arms up front and a multi-link rear suspension were straight out of the European playbook. 

The styling was controversial, though. Its hard lines followed the new Cadillac Art and Science design language that first debuted on the 1999 Evoque concept car and was later implemented on the XLR convertible. The slab sides and upright grille garnered both praise and scorn, but most reviewers appreciated the boldness of the design. It has certainly aged well, as today the CTS looks just as contemporary as it did a decade ago.

The finished product stood out in a sea of mediocre front-wheel drivers, including other models in the Cadillac lineup. Measured against the dead Catera, Cadillac’s last attempt at a sporty, rear-drive model, the CTS was faster, larger, more aggressive-looking, more reliable and more agile.

GM advertised a top speed of 163 mph and a zero-to-60 sprint of just 4.6 seconds. It’s even at home on the race track. Photography Credit: Chris Clark

Compared to anything else in the GM lineup—except maybe the Corvette—the CTS was a revelation. Frankly, compared to anything from GM in the previous 10 years, the new car was from another planet in terms of styling, overall performance and engineering.

Enthusiast publications were understandably thrilled that good looks and solid handling had returned to the Cadillac line—as well as to mainstream GM products. It’s also worth noting that this was the first Cadillac with an available manual transmission since the 1988 Cimarron, a compact Caddy based on the rather pedestrian Chevy Cavalier. It was not a high-water mark for the brand.

The 220-horsepower CTS was no rocket, but a 7-second zero-to-60 time made it a competent Euro-fighter. This was a new kind of Cadillac for sure.

Buyers flocked to it. The $30,000 base price probably helped some of them overlook the less-refined aspects of the car—such as the overly wide center console and the subpar plastic and wood surfaces on the dash and door panels. 

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