Review: 2009 Cadillac CTS 6-Speed Manual



After President Obama put GM on a much needed diet – shedding itself of brands it didn’t need, he also stipulated that they do something about their gas guzzling line up or else government money would disappear quicker than Jessica Simpson’s sex appeal.

So the restructuring process began. For Cadillac, the new SRX is now Saturn Vue sized, the DTS and STS are going to be axed in favour of a single model and a new entry level Caddy is expected to be introduced to comepete against the likes of BMW 3-series et al.

So where does that leave the CTS?

Touted as a ‘real’ competitor to the BMW 5-series, I was eager to try out my tester to see if it really stacks up.

The CTS is quite an eye catcher from the front end. It’s wide, low and a bit overstated. Without a doubt, this is the CTS’s best side. The side profile induces nothing but a big yawn and the rear end is a tad awkward with literally sharp tail lights and an invasion of LED’s. It’s definitely an improvement over the first generation CTS and its styling is more in line with the rest of the Caddy family. Overall it’s decent.

Unfortunately the same can’t be said for the interior. While it’s leaps and bounds ahead of the old interior, it’s still awkward and my tester’s beige mixed with fake wood and metallic didn’t help.  It didn’t feel like an entry level luxury sedan. And while I’m on about it, the key fob with the key attached by a ring is very econobox. Now a days you need a push button start to be competitive in the sport luxury sedan segment or at the very least a single key with the fob buttons on it (a la Honda). Cadillac uses the same key that the Cobalt uses. CTS owners deserve better if their going to plunk down this kind of money.


The centre stack has an Infiniti-esque analogue clock to keep the old folks happy and it has an abundance of buttons to keep computer geeks happy. I didn’t like either of these features. Too many buttons to distract you from driving and the clock is hard to read if the sun hits it. The front and rear seats are comfortable with the latter seeming more spacious than a 3-series with which it is price-competitive, and more like the 5er.

But if you’ve ever been sitting on a bus while it power slides into a 180 turn, then you’ve already experienced how supportive the CTS’s seats are. Aka they aren’t. Make sure you hang on to something if you want to drive it like a BMW. The steering, however, is very much like a Cadillac, but that’s not exactly praise. It had very little precision and feedback; virtually no road feel.

The CTS handles better than I thought it would, but it really needs a sport suspension and bigger wheels and tires to remain competitive. A sport package is available, but my tester didn’t have it.

Another thing my tester didn’t have was a manual gearbox from this decade. The CTS is the first Cadillac to offer a manual transmission option since the  Cimarron, and they either took it directly from a 1988 Cimarron or they just plain don’t know how to make a proper manual. The throws are about as long as a football field and it’s very clunky from shift to shift. On top of that, it’s awkwardly placed. It’s raised too high, the stick is too long and you actually have to bend your wrist back to a 90 degree angle for shifts to 2nd, 4th, or 6th gear because the centre arm rest gets in the way. It very much pains me to say this but you’re probably better off with….(sigh) the automatic. If Caddy took their gear box from the CTS-V (which has short throws and a sportier, smaller stick) then this would likely help the problem.


The 3.6 litre V6 is about as interesting as Bob Dole. It produces 258 horses and 252 pounds feet of torque, but don’t expect much in terms of excitement. Power is adequate at best, and the engine noise is a bit intrusive to the cabin. This could be excused if the engine made an impressive or aggressive growl, but it doesn’t, in fact it’s a bit whiny.

All that said, once you do get used to the gearbox, and accept the mediocre engine and handling, the CTS can be a little fun to drive. It’s a champ on the highway, with plenty of passing power, an abundance of comfort and no road noise. In essence, does what a Cadillac does best: be a comfortable luxurious cruiser.

So, has Caddy been able to make a real 5-series competitor? No. Is it still a Caddy? Hell yes. Is that a bad thing? Maybe. Caddy needs to make a car that keeps that Caddy charm, all while offering younger buyers something that will get them out of their Audis, BMW’s and Benz’s. The CTS-V seems like the only credible offering. But with massive discounts available, decent fuel economy and enough fun once you get used to all its faults, it’s definitely something worth looking at.

Summary: The Jack Layton of the sport luxury sedan segment. Interesting but ultimately uncompetitive.

As tested price: $44,605

Exterior Design: 8.5/10. Definitely an eye catcher, bold front facia.

Interior Design: 5.5/10.  Colour scheme is vomit inducing and it needs more luxury feel.

Engine: 5/10. Not heart pounding fun, but will do the job.

Transmission: 3/10. Gives your right arm a good workout, but pretty useless for sporty driving

Audio/Video: 9/10. Very good, easier to use than BMW or Mercedes’ systems

Value: 9/10. With up to 7 grand off the sticker price, you can use what you saved to make it truly competitive

Overall: 6/10