This week’s Meh Car Monday is sort of a counterpart to another recent Meh Car, the Cadillac Catera. Where the Catera was an American brand looking to Europe to find a car that would be more exciting to Americans, the Cadillac BLS was an American brand taking a European car and trying to sell it to Europeans, but without anything at all that you could give a shit about. It was, however, the only Cadillac ever to have a Fiat engine, so I guess that’s something. But not much.
The Cadillac BLS was, really, just a second-gen Saab 9-3 half-assedly dressed up like a Cadillac, like a Saab that didn’t realize it had a Halloween party until 5:45 that afternoon. Plus, this was a Saab from the deep GM infiltration of Saab, so it was already pretty aggressively enblandified as it was.
The 2005-2010 BLS, like the 9-3, was built on GM’s Epsilon platform, GM’s FWD mid-sized, mid-ranged, mid-everything erection-evaporating platform that gave the world such standouts as the rental-fleet-only Chevy Classic and the Malibu and Oldsmobile Cutlass no one gives a brace of BMs about.
Now, to American, and especially the lesser-evolved subcategory of Jalop-American, the BLS seems to have some appeal; after all, you could get a manual-shift diesel wagon version of the car!
But we have to keep context in mind here—in Europe, manual shift was nothing to fetishize, and diesel just meant louder and slower. Aside from the badging and body panels and more wood inside and less ignition keys in between the seats, there really wasn’t much to differentiate the BLS from the Saab 9-3, and even beyond that, there really wasn’t much to differentiate it from, well, pretty much anything.
It was modern (for the time), inoffensively styled, and capable enough. The engine options ranged from a 150 horsepower Fiat 1.9-liter diesel to a few 2-liter gasoline fours making between 175 hp and 210 hp, and one V6 2.8-liter turbo making a decent 250 hp. Everything was more designed to be quiet and comfortable than actually engaging in any way, and that’s what they got.
In fact, a metric shit-ton of money was spent re-engineering the 9-3 into the BLS ($140 million, Wikipedia says!) and it seems most of that went into an extensive character and distinction eradication program, with the car getting more quieter, softer, and generally more like a soporific suppository than the already non-thrilling 9-3 base.
That’s a lot of money to spend on a blandification project.
Marketing the BLS wasn’t easy, since there was so little to actually work with, and as a result Cadillac ended up with commercials like this, that just sort of sold the general concept of clean, sleek modernity:
The problem is, of course, that looks like the sort of society where people live in vast dorms and babies are made exclusively via automated insemination machines and artificial womb-vats, as efficient, dead-eyed people slurp protein gels from wall-mounted tubes.
Even the name was a bland cypher, with no official meaning for the three letters. It was sometimes said that BLS stood for “B-Segment Luxury Sedan,” or, more colorfully, “Bob Lutz Special,” since it was Lutz that had the idea in the first place, mostly as a way to get the most work out of the Saab factory that was lazily making 9-3s.
The real problem with the name was more likely that once you said “BL” and then followed it with an “S,” the vast majority of people would be disappointed, as they were really hoping to hear a “T.”
Seeing the BLS as a profoundly Meh car is not one of those exercises in revisionist history, in case you were wondering. Contemporary reviewers raved about the car as being “OK,” and absolutely gushed that it was “competent,” and “pushes no boundaries!”
One British publication breathlessly enthused that
“You could drive either to the golf club and no one would raise an eyebrow because no one would notice.”
That’s pretty much the Meh Car Holy Mug (grail is too exciting), right?
You gotta admit, though, it feels pretty good reading about a car we never got in the U.S. that you couldn’t give a shit about for a change, right?