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Video Review: 2011 Cadillac CTS Coupe

Cadillac's seductive two-door deserves more than a fleeting glance.

To coin a phrase, it ain't easy being Cadillac. They aren't just competing with Lexus and BMW; they are competing with their own past. Consider, if you will, the 1967 Eldorado. You will look in vain through the history books of Cadillac's competitors for something that powerful, that well-desgined, that imposing, that tasteful, and that modern. Perhaps a few of the pre-war Benzes come close, but make no mistake: Cadillac has built some amazing cars.

The CTS Coupe may be a financial success if it competes effectively with anonymous Japanese iron like the G37 Coupe and Lexus IS 250 C, but in order to be worthy of the Cadillac wreath-and-crest, it needs to be special, the same way the '67 Eldorado was special. Is it?

Not quite.

But don't damn the car yet. Nobody is going to make a car like the '67 Eldo again. The days of putting styling (and style) first are long gone. Selling a new car that has less interior room than an Aveo (excuse me, Sonic) and covers more garage floor space than an LS 460? Not a chance.

In the modern context, the CTS continues to be a bold, unique styling exercise and the Coupe is even more so, with a completely unique rear treatment that pays homage to the XLR and the '81 Seville at the same time. It's dynamic, it's exciting, and it's even good-looking. It just isn't dignified, you know?

Neither is the interior particularly dignified. It's the same V-console we've seen in everything from the Cruze to the LaCrosse, with better finishing and digital temperature displays. Nothing special. At least it's well-assembled and constructed from quality materials. It's easily the equal of the current Infiniti G. Take that as praise or criticism, as you please.

Time to get moving. The GM direct-injection 3.6-liter V6, which can be had for less than half the cash in a base Camaro, motivates the CTS Coupe with authority. Starting this year, the six-speed manual is no longer available, so it's self-shifter or nothing. Luckily this is a decent one, shifting strongly and with little of the confusion that marks the front-drive automatics in the Cruze and LaCrosse. At full throttle, the V-6 sounds aggressive, if very un-Cadillacesque.

I've driven the CTS-V coupe on a racetrack and found it to be a predictable handler with reasonably high limits and outstanding brakes. All of this is true, to a lesser degree, in the base car. The CTS, like its competitors from Germany, has a performance envelope well beyond what one can enjoyably use on the street. It might be nice to trade some of that overall grip for a better ride. Very few Bimmers ride this badly, and no current Mercedes-Benzes "pogo" on rough roads like the CTS.

The steering is accurate and provides reasonable feedback at a low effort. There's a bit of an exaggerated "sneeze space" around the straight-ahead steering position, which means you'll need to crank some serious steering into the car to provoke quick lane changes. Remember, this is a fairly large car that weighs about two tons loaded up, but it's responsive enough, and the power/handling combination is overkill for getting through traffic.

That's lucky, because the blind spot in the Coupe is so enormous that for many drivers a quick stab of the throttle will become an automatic prelude for lane changes. The CTS sedan isn't blessed with outstanding visibility, and the Coupe adds a pair of big "sail panels" to the mix. Nor are the mirrors particularly helpful; they've sacrificed size and usability in the name of "Art and Science" styling.

The rest of the car is exactly what we've come to expect from Cadillac in the modern era: Killer stereo, uncomplicated driver interface (through a little pop-up screen that, truth be told, doesn't look that durable) and a nice sense of solidity. The original CTS and SRX had simply loathsome Cobalt-plastic dashboards and a distinct lack of upscale appeal. That problem's been fixed and it's no longer disappointing to enter the CTS. Exiting is done as with the Corvette - crappy round plastic buttons or emergency levers in the floor - but there's something appropriate about this. In many ways, this, not the long-forgotten XLR, is Cadillac's answer to the Corvette.

If only it made a better answer to the Eldorado. The contradictions keep piling up in the Coupe's reasonably sized trunk: It's premium-priced but shares interior design with a Cruze, it weighs more than a 3-Series without being any more spacious, it looks oddly truncated but is still a large car, it is styled in a unique fashion that somehow fails to convey any sense of luxury cred.

It isn't easy to figure out who the buyer for the CTS 3.6 Coupe will be. The CTS-V Coupe? Easy: it's for the Corvette buyer who needs an occasional rear seat. But this six-cylinder model lacks the broad appeal of the 3-Series coupe and it's priced at a hair under $40,000 for the cheapest one you'll find, a number that is usually reserved for cars with that much appeal or more. At least it's recognizably a Cadillac. If that's what you want, it's now that much easier to get.

Words by Jack Baruth
Photos by Nick Aziz / Jan 2011
Video by Matt Sargent / Nick Aziz