Between the Lines: Motor Trend on the Cadillac BLS

Despite the warm hotness that is the CTS-V, the words "Cadillac" and "small" go together like "male porn star" and "small." Cadillac obviously forgot to learn that lesson back in '81, when they released the "Cimarron by Cadillac". The badge-engineered Chevrolet Cavalier — complete with in-line four and four-speed manual — was the smallest, nastiest, most heinously over-priced Cadillac ever produced — followed closely by its replacement, the Catera. (People watching Saturn's decaying orbit should note that the Catera was a rebadged Opel Omega, imported from Germany.) And now, finally, the Cimmaron has a proper suck-cessor: the BLS. It's a Euro-only model, and Motor Trend's de-capitalized paul horrell likes it.

Cadillac remains one of those American things that just keeps getting lost in translation, especially in Europe, where the Standard of the World sold just a couple of thousand vehicles in 2005. If Cadillac is to get itself dug in over there, it needs a compact sedan. That's where all the other luxury brands maintain their balance- and a small car by itself just isn't enough.
Quick question: What the Hell is he talking about? Is horrell saying Cadillac is so quintessentially American that them snobby ferriners jest don't git it? As his ironic use of the Caddy's tagline suggests, foreign disinterest in the brand probably has more to do with the fact that the Standard of the World is not even the Standard of Passaic anymore (Tony Soprano's wife drives a Cayenne fer Chrissake.) And who (other than GM's beleaguered press corps) says Caddy needs a compact sedan to compete in Europe? That's like saying McDonald's needs roast duck to compete in China. Along the same lines, horrell's assertion that Europe's luxury playas need a mid-sizer to complement their small cars is irrelevant. Cadillac doesn't HAVE a small car in Europe.

But it has a re-bodied Saab 9-3. Well, now it does. Rather than attack Cadillac for badge-engineering a product for a thoroughly disinterested overseas market — when their North American operations still haven't quite got the measure of that whole corner-turning thing — horrell worries if the BLS will cannibalize Saab sales abroad. If only.

Well, if you rely on looks alone, the new Cadillac is sufficiently differentiated not to cause the Swedes too much angst. Of the skin, only the glass and roof are shared; and some cunningly applied matte black paint disguises the greenhouse similarity quite nicely.
An automotive journalist giving a Cadillac credit for disguising its SAAB DNA is like a straight guy telling a transvestite he would have never guessed, you know, if he hadn't. Badge engineering aside, is the BLS capable of cunning stunts?
A modern six-speed auto should shift smoothly every time, but this one occasionally stumbles. The front-drive tires are overwhelmed if you give it the max in a tight corner; otherwise you can take curves with little roll. Steering is accurate, too, though entirely without the feedback you'd want in a European sports sedan. The recompense is the ride, which is one of the most placid in this class.
Oh joy: a numb, herky-jerky, understeer-prone, floaty-drifty badge-engineered Saab. Sounds like Mercedes, BMW, Audi, VW and the rest of the top tier Euro sedans ought to be looking over their shoulders. With binoculars. Surprisingly (given the inanity of this entire endeavor), Cadillac knew enough to stick a diesel into their entry level model (how sad does THAT sound). We can surmise from other reports of the BLS junket that horrell didn't drive the oil-burning version. In any case, horrell is dead keen on GM's $4b FIAT-sourced diesel.
This is a 16-valve unit that revs happily beyond 5000 and kicks out 236 pound-feet at 2000 rpm. This sort of torque performance, together with real-world 30 mpg (US) even in rapid European driving, is why people love diesels over here.
horrell's unabashed deployment of passive construction is why I would like Motor Trend to hire a proper copy editor. Anyway, horrell's conclusion manages to push the outside of the ass-kissing envelope, by promising, on Cadillac's behalf, that they'll do better next time.
The BLS hides the fact that it's something of a stopgap conceived after the Saab and sharing a platform with some honest but inauspiciously non-premium machines, the Pontiac G6 for instance. GM's next-generation Epsilon platform is already under development to feed into now fewer than nine brands around the globe, and among them will be a BLS version developed from the start of the program. It'll likely get cabrio and five-door sportwagon body styles, too. And if the U.S. market is clamoring for a more fuel-efficient Cadillac by then, it might just make it over the pond.
Oh no! It's the attack of the honest but inauspiciously non-premium clones! You know, if horrell really wanted to help Cadillac put a positive spin on this obvious clunker, he might have mentioned that the 2145 Caddies sold in Europe in '05 represented a 73% increase on the previous year's sales. If they keep up that rate of growth, they'll be a major force within no time. If not, not.

RF

[Jalopnik's Between the Lines column parses the rhetoric of the automotive industry, and the media that covers it, from the point of view of that kid at the back of the class with ADD, a genius IQ and a thirst for mayhem.]

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