2005 Cadillac STS Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
At last, Cadillac builds a world-class luxury car.
There's a new game in town, and the 2005 Cadillac STS is writing the rules. At long last, Cadillac has delivered on the promise of the original Seville Touring Sedan: a car that people who like to drive will want to drive.
The new STS gets GM's newest V6 and V8 engines, both of which boast the latest in computerized engine management and variable valve timing. The result is smooth, efficient power. And speaking of smooth, the new STS offers a choice of suspensions, too, from the traditional, keyed more to commuting, to the extraordinary, actively compensating for and adjusting to a host of inputs, large and small, smooth and sharp.
But the headline here is that the STS returns to rear-wheel drive, an essential element for truly spirited driving. All-wheel drive can be had as well, putting the STS head to head with the best of the world in the handling competition. There's much more in the hardware and technology arenas, but enough of the gearhead stuff.
STS is blessed with Cadillac's best interior ever, with comfortable but supportive seats that are infinitely adjustable, ample storage space, and superior sound systems. Most important, state-of-the-art occupant safety is standard.
Cadillac's top management rolled the dice. It empowered its stylists and engineers to create an all-new STS, one designed and outfitted from the tires up with one goal in sight: a car meant to bring as much joy and pleasure to the driver as it does comfort and convenience to the passengers. If the 2005 STS is any gauge, there's new life in the wreath and crest.
The 2005 Cadillac STS is a five-passenger sedan with a choice of engines, a V6 and a V8. Each gets its own, appropriately calibrated, five-speed automatic transmission. Rear-wheel drive is standard, while all-wheel drive is available on the V8.
Both packages start with a respectable showing of features expected on today's luxury cars: leather trim, dual-zone automatic climate control, Bose AM/FM/CD stereo, the usual lineup of power creature comforts and driver aids, OnStar telematics (with one year's service), Stabilitrak electronic stability control, automatic headlamp high-beam control, and rear park assist.
The popular option package for the V6 includes dual, eight-way power and heated front seats, a six-disc CD changer, rain-sensing wipers, polished aluminum wheels and memory for driver's seat, outside mirrors and steering wheel settings ($2,390); offered as an add-on to this package are satellite radio, programmable garage door opener and eucalyptus wood interior trim ($730). A more elaborate package adds heated rear seats, six-disc CD changer with navigation system, satellite radio (with three months' trial service), wood/leather trimmed steering wheel, power moon roof, rear spoiler, polished aluminum wheels, performance brakes, limited-slip rear differential, tire-pressure monitor and variable assist steering ($6,205); a heavy-duty cooling package ($150) can be added to this. Standalone options include a power moonroof ($1,200) and an engine-block heater ($100). Two of the nine exterior paints, Line Red and Diamond White, cost extra ($995).
Checking the first option box on the V8 order form gets the top-level stereo and navigation system, the satellite radio, high-intensity discharge headlamps with washers, Cadillac's Magnetic Ride Control suspension, the wood/leather steering wheel, moon roof, tire-pressure monitor, a rear spoiler, polished aluminum wheels, rain-sensing wipers, performance brakes and limited-slip differential ($11,065). The second box adds unique aluminum wheels, Tuscany leather seating surfaces, heavy-duty cooling system, variable assist steering and W-rated Michelin tires ($2,050). All-wheel drive can be added only to this latter package ($1,900), while adaptive cruise control is available with either or both ($2,300). A Performance Handling Package ($795) with special springs and shocks is available with rear-wheel drive but not all-wheel drive. The moonroof, engine block heater and extra-cost paints are also available on the V8.
A full spectrum of occupant safety features is standard, including dual, two-stage frontal airbags, front seat-mounted side airbags and front-and-rear side curtain airbags. Four-wheel anti-lock brakes are standard, too, though tire-pressure monitors are available only with the two noted option packages.
The 2005 Cadillac STS is both new and familiar. It is strikingly dissimilar to its immediate predecessor, the 2003 Seville STS. The new model's design is the latest example of Cadillac's new Art & Science design motif. Only the grille pretends to keep faith with any of the old Seville's softer, rounder shapes and lines.
Yet the STS is recognizable in its striking similarity to the new CTS. The STS and CTS are indistinguishable to the casual observer even when parked side by side. Both cars present only minimally different iterations of the sharp angles and almost painfully flat planes we first saw in the Evoq coupe concept. We now encounter examples of the Art & Science design theme almost daily in the SRX sport utility and XLR sports car. The now familiar theme can be seen to a lesser degree in the forward quarters of the big Escalade sport utility.
The similarity between CTS and STS runs deeper than the sheet metal. They both ride on the same platform, for instance. The wheelbase of the STS is only three inches longer than that of the CTS, and its body is six inches longer. The 2003 Seville STS, in contrast, rode on a wheelbase four inches shorter than the 2005 model's, but its body was five inches longer. That means the new STS has much shorter overhangs, less metal hanging out over the front and rear wheels, and that makes for better handling, improved stability and better looks.
All that said, there's no mistaking the new STS for anything but a new Cadillac. Viewed head on, the trademark egg-crate grille and stacked headlamps are starkly functional in appearance. No wasted motion or volunteer excess there, to be sure.
From the side, the body's crisp lines draw an almost box-like silhouette that somehow still looks aerodynamic. Perhaps it's the gently curved A-pillar and C-pillar that tend a bit more toward 'Art' than toward 'Science.' Sharply contoured lower rocker panels tracking rearward from the front fascia's bottom edge pull the body down, adding a stylistic ground-effects look.
The backside is vaguely reminiscent of the late, lamented Eldorado coupe, with vertical taillights bracketing a tall, squared-off boot. Recessed in the boot's rear vertical is a trapezoidal inset, long enough for European-spec license plates, housing large backup lights at the left and right extremes. American-tradition dual exhausts exit below and at each end of the rear bumper. The optional rear spoiler, running the width of the trunk lid, adds stabilizing rear downforce without spoiling the look.
The interior of the new STS is much more welcoming than the exterior, with soft leather surfaces complemented by warm wood accents. Those wood accents are not standard, but we much prefer them over the standard brushed aluminum trim, which looks and feels cold and reflects sunlight to the point of annoyance. Get the wood.
Seats are refreshingly supportive, for a Cadillac, without being overly firm. Arm rests and head restraints are a degree or two softer than the cushions and side bolsters, boosting the comfort factor a couple notches. All essential controls are within easy reach, although there could be more clearance between the lower door panels and seat bottom to access the front seat adjusters. For this reason, we were especially grateful for the seat memory feature, which often saved us from having to reach down there. The interior is roomy, fitting in between the marginally smaller CTS and externally larger 2003 Seville.
Instruments are easily scanned, white-on-black round analogs, with a large nested tachometer and speedometer between the smaller fuel and engine temperature gauges. The speedometer changes between English and metric electronically, so there's only one set of numbers around its circumference. Cruise control and running lights are managed via a stalk on the left side of the steering column, windshield wipers and washers with a stalk on the right. Buttons in the steering wheel spokes provide redundant controls for audio and driver information functions. A word of caution: the top-level stereo system, although delivering superb surround sound, is multi-tasked with a navigation system that, in combination, demands an extensive study of the owner's manual to operate with any degree of alacrity and confidence.
All four doors boast map pockets. The front center console is deep and wide and pre-wired for cellular and Bluetooth (to wirelessly tie the cell phone into the car's audio system allowing hand-free operation). The glove box, though, is barely sufficient to hold the navigation DVD case and owner's manual. Two cup holders are provided front and rear. The trunk is fully lined, with articulated, gas-pressurized struts.
Fit and finish are top grade, with notably tight interior trim tolerances. Careful attention was paid to reducing noise, vibration and harshness, with remarkable and commendable success. Specially laminated windshield and front door glass, wind tunnel-tuned outside mirrors and high-density/low-mass sound-deadening padding combine to deliver the quietest interior Cadillac's delivered in memory.
It's sometimes said patience is its own reward. For those who've been waiting, lo these many years for Cadillac to deliver on the promise of the original STS, this has been small comfort. Now, however, the time has come. At last, the STS is everything it should have been from its inception, and more.
The 3.6-liter engine generates 255 horsepower, while the V8 produces 320 horsepower. The V6 does a more than adequate job of moving its 3,857-pound burden down the road. While the accompanying mechanical chorus from the V6 isn't as robust or viscerally satisfying as that from the V8, it's nothing to be ashamed of either.
The sportiest setup is the V8 with the optional performance handling package ($795). Nudging the shift lever over to the right, into the manu-matic gate where the selected gear will hold all the way up to redline, and thoughtfully alternating between the accelerator and brake pedal allow frolicing at extremes heretofore beyond the reach of sedans wearing the wreath and crest. Cadillac's suspension engineers have finally learned the difference between stiff and firm. Thankfully, all the sound filtering and deadening doesn't keep the V8's throaty exhaust note out of the cabin. Who needs a stereo with these tones to enjoy?
Then again, the all wheel-drive packaged with the Magnetic Ride Control supplementing the latest generation Stabilitrak is hard to top, though it adds some weight and isn't available with the handling package. Still, body lean in even the tightest switchbacks is almost non-existent, and mild whoop-de-doos barely give occupants' stomach a flip. Biasing 60 percent of the power to the rear wheels gives the all-wheel-drive STS the sporty dynamics of rear-wheel drive while sending enough power to the front wheels to pull the car through and out of corners with sureness and confidence.
The electronic steering is a delight, with the only shortcoming a slight softness on center. The car tracks well through corners, and turn-in is crisp, especially with the 18-inch, low-profile tires. The brakes are up to the car's potential, with a firm pedal and a feel that's more linear than not. Cadillac has ratcheted the Stabilitrak back a smidgen from its earlier aggressiveness, and it now waits a bit longer before stepping in. And when it does, it does so less abruptly, too.
The 3.6-liter V6 and the 4.6-liter V8 are GM's latest engines with double overhead cams, four valves per cylinder and variable-valve timing, or VVT. This latter system continuously varies valve operation to generate the most power from the least amount of fuel with the lowest emissions possible. Torque is what American drivers really use; torque is what gets a car moving in the first place, like when merging onto a freeway or passing on a two-lane. Recognizing that, Cadillac engineers designed the STS engines to generate lots of torque throughout the rev range for responsive performance at all engine speeds. The V6 gets a dual-stage intake manifold that makes available 90 percent of the engine's 252 pound-feet of torque from 1900 to 5800 rpm. The V8 uses electronic throttle, or drive-by-wire, to match the engine's performance to a variety of driver demands, from sedate interstate cruising to rambunctious backroad motoring. The V8 generates 315 pound-feet of torque at 4400 rpm.
The Cadillac STS may not threaten BMW's grip on the fun-to-drive crown, but it's definitely arrived when put up against Audi, Lexus and Mercedes-Benz. People who enjoy getting where they're going as much if not more than being there but who pine for luxury touches and good ol' American V8 power need no longer compromise. Come on home.
New Car Test Drive correspondent Tom Lankard is based in Northern California.
Cadillac STS V6 ($40,300); Cadillac STS V8 ($46,800).
Options As Tested
AM/FM stereo with 6-disc CD/DVD changer and navigation system, XM satellite radio (3-month trial service included), HID headlamps with washers, Magnetic Ride Control suspension, wood/leather-rimmed steering wheel, power moonroof, tire pressure monitor, rear spoiler, polished cast aluminum wheels, rain-sensing windshield wipers, performance brakes, limited slip rear differential, Tuscany leather-trimmed seats, heavy-duty cooling system, variable assist/ratio steering ($13,115); all-wheel drive ($1900); adaptive cruise control with heads-up instrument display ($2300).
Cadillac STS V8 ($46,800).
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