Cadillac is all the way back. The revival began not in Detroit but at the Nürburgring, Germany’s legendary racetrack and development facility where the original CTS was honed in 2002. Although that sedan’s track-tuned handling—and the Led Zeppelin ad soundtrack—fairly howled that this wasn’t the Caddy of yesteryear, its dowdy, plasticky interior was same-old General Motors.
But the company’s engineers kept the faith and a second home at "the Ring," where virtually every German luxury and sports car earns its wings. The result is the second-generation Cadillac CTS: still an affordable alternative to a BMW or Benz, but now a legitimate luxury sport sedan both inside and out.
The updated cabin’s shapely contours, leather chairs and markedly improved craftsmanship elicit an immediate response: That’s more like it. A pop-up navigation system features the intuitive, touch-screen operation that still eludes most German makes. The crisp Bose audio system offers a forty-gig hard drive that stores songs from CDs or flash drives and smoothly manages an iPod.
An optional 304-horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6 features direct fuel injection, a technology that increases power and saves fuel. So equipped, the CTS scampers to 60 mph in 5.9 seconds and hums to a top speed of 151 mph.
During my trek along the Rhine River and northwest into the Eifel Mountains, I was taken with the Cadillac’s Lexus-like quiet and nicely weighted steering. But the payoff came at the Nürburgring’s Nordschleife circuit. As I lapped the diabolical hundred-turn track, which Scottish racer Jackie Stewart dubbed "the Green Hell," the CTS exercised its Deutsche finishing-school credentials, setting a zesty pace through the blind turns, the brutal pavement and the nearly one thousand feet of elevation changes.
Sure, Cadillac lost its self-proclaimed "Standard of the World" status long ago. But by refusing to give up or look back, the carmaker has created the modern standard for American luxury sedans. Oh, and a friendly heads-up to the Europeans: A five-hundred-plus-horsepower CTS-V version is expected to hit showrooms in 2008.