2011 Cadillac CTS Coupe: First Drive

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The Cadillac CTS Coupe is the culmination of a Manifest Destiny-like aspiration — a dream that, one day, an American automaker would be able to stand up to Mercedes, BMW, and Lexus. America, luxe yeah!

Full Disclosure: Cadillac wanted us to drive its pointy-wedge so badly they put us up in a nice hotel in Napa Valley with individual saunas and an outdoor shower. It sorta felt like camp. A very expensive camp. A camp I want to go on for my next vacation. If I could afford it.


Historically, there have been three types of commoditized automotive luxury. Western luxury is the first — the elder statesman of grandeur. It's a luxury all about breeding and sophistication. Western luxury carries itself with an air of Noblesse oblige pretentiousness. It screams to the competition, "get off my lawn before I release the hounds," and it avoids innovation like the plague. Despite a modicum of performance, it is beige and boring.

The second type of luxury is Eastern. It's a luxury all about technological superiority — a contest of who has more buttons on the dash. Whether or not the car has automatic, six-way, night vision-assisted, laser-guided parallel parking is more important than refinement. It is most assuredly not about performance. Despite a modicum of useful technology, it is also beige and boring.

The third type of commoditized automotive luxury is a joke. It's American luxury. Filled with brands named after dead presidents or pitched by horrific Canadian singers, the cars are boatlike coffins. American luxury is about checking all the right boxes. Leather? Check. Sunroof? Check. Nav system? Check. It mostly centers on cradling an owner before death. It is more boring, more dead, more soulless than the other two luxuries combined.

Illustration for article titled 2011 Cadillac CTS Coupe: First Drive

Until now. Until the CTS Coupe.

How can this be? We have, after all, seen much of this car before. The CTS coupe's interior is so similar to that of its bigger brothers — the Cadillac CTS Sport Sedan and Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon — as to be virtually indistinguishable. Other than the lack of sunroof (it's just a moonroof with a vent) and two fewer doors, the interior is a familiar place. Until you look in the back seat and out the back window. The first time I sat in the coupe I was worried I wouldn't have enough headroom to swivel around and look out the back window, much less whether I'd then be able to see out it. On both counts I can say affirmatively the sight lines are just fine and yes, I can sit in it comfortably. Any rear-seat passengers? Not so much. The CTS Coupe is on par with its 2+2 competition — meaning, it's a great car for a couple and their two amputee children.


From a driving perspective, while the sedan's no slouch in terms of performance — the two cars share the same 3.6-liter direct-injection 304 HP V6 engine — the CTS Coupe gets off the line a bit quicker in sport mode (just a flick of the shifter over to the right), thanks to a shorter (3.73:1 vs. 3.42:1 on the sedan/wagon) final drive. That's not anemic, but it's sure as hell not going to give you the epic burnout you really want to see. It's almost like a tease — with us sitting around wanting for the LSA-powered CTS-V Coupe. Still, "Sport mode" can be — just as it is on the CTS Sedan — a heck of a lot of fun and 304 HP is more than enough power to overtake an artichoke truck on the outskirts of town.

The Coupe also has a smaller front stabilizer bar (29 mm, or two millimeters smaller than the one found in the sedan), while the rear bar increases in size, from 20 mm to 24.55. Rear track also grows by one inch, to 63 inches. The combination gives the car a much more planted feel, especially when cornering at high speed. Which I did in the CTS Coupe — over and over again — on the twisty roads north of Napa Valley. Still, we're not talking epic differences here. If you've driven the CTS sedan you've driven the coupe.


No, the real story, and what sets the Coupe apart from its siblings, is its exterior design. It's the most polarizing car shape I've ever seen. From that sassy ass all the way forward, you either love it or you hate it. Your eyes move from the back, past the touchpad door handles and the side vents, all the way to the "Art & Science" signature pointed nose. The whole car (whether with the performance tuning setup with 18-inch wheels and all-season tires or the summer tire setup with 19-inch wheels and summer tires) just screams "look at me."

But that's what American luxury should be. American luxury should reflect the content of the car, not the pedigree. It should be dramatic, it should be risky, and it should be sexy and magnificent. It should reflect our American colonial experiment, our melting pot of ideas. It should have technology in spades, but that tech shouldn't be the car's reason for being. It should be explosive, dynamic, and fun to drive. It should be everything the CTS Coupe is.


American luxury finally has a standard-bearer, and this is it. And with a pricing starting at $38,990 plus destination — plus a just-announced free regular maintenance for the first four years or 50,000 miles (more on that story later) — you can afford to pay for it, too.

I, however, can't wait to try it with a manual transmission and an extra couple hundred horsepower.

Illustration for article titled 2011 Cadillac CTS Coupe: First Drive

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Clearly I'm going insane here since everyone seems to love this thing.... I'm gonna miss the days when the XLR coupe was still the slim, sexy car it was....