Lately, it seems that Euros and Asians, who tend to dominate the sporty passenger sedan market, are trying to cash in on full-size trucks and SUVs. Meanwhile, certain U.S. automakers, who invented humongo-trucks and -SUVs in the first place, are paying special attention to sport-touring sedans. It's a world turned upside-down; yet for enthusiasts, things are definitely looking up.
2005 Cadillac CTS-V
Cadillac loyalists are going through a "pinch-me-to-prove-I'm-awake" phase. First came the knife-edge styling that has cleaved a spirited New Cadillac away from a dowdy Old Cadillac. Next came the engineering epiphany by which it dawned on Cadillac that, "hey, ride and handling do matter, after all." Now, with the debut of Cadillac's high-velocity CTS-V version of its revolutionary CTS midsize sedan, General Motor's luxury division has rediscovered a front-engine, rear-wheel-drive formula for over-stimulating incredulous drivers.
Pinch a 400-horsepower "LS6" V8 from Chevrolet's Corvette Z06 hypercar and funnel all that performance into a classic rear-wheel-drive powertrain via 'Vette's "Tremec T56" six-speed manual transmission. Stuff intimidating Brembo disc brakes into 18-in. wheels and hang them off the chassis using four-wheel independent suspension.
Add four-mode, computerized "StabiliTrak," and devise a cockpit wherein the driver's needs are pampered and paramount. The result is a rip-snorting, pavement-tearing super-sedan that takes the battle to BMW and its ilk rather than sulking at the sidelines like a cowering maidservant.
Cadillac's CTS-V is a real performance car that just happens to be a five-person sedan. In normal mode, StabiliTrak can save the unwary from themselves with intelligent traction management and stability control. Or, having mastered a touch-and-hold sequence with the pushbutton, a more experienced (or adventurous) driver can progressively eliminate both traction and skid interventions until the only safety sensor left is the one holding the steering wheel.
That's when the CTS-V starts wagging its tail in frenzied delights of power-sliding throttle-steer. And, far from better judgment, enthusiasts will begin embellishing the neighborhood with tire-stripe graffiti that resemble graceful Celtic knots scorched into the pavement.
It's what patriotic U.S. auto aficionados have been craving for so longa genuine, American-made luxury/performance sedan that stacks up against the best that Germany and Japan have to offer. "Be very afraid," is Cadillac's unmistakable warning to the likes of BMW's M3 and M5 partisans or to owners of Mercedes' AMG E55 "tuner" car.
With its hard-edged styling and relentless feeling of throb-deep V8 torque, CTS-V stalks the competition like a Viking horde terrorizing coastal villagers. Think of BMW's reputation for rapier-like finesse in terms of both handling and acceleration, and suddenly the CTS-V comes to resemble a two-handed broadsword by comparison. Both are daunting in their own way, although one puts a premium on sly wit, the other on brute force.
Cadillac's CTS-V costs almost $20,000 more than its far more demure, unassuming and V6-powered CTS sibling; and yet its $51,295 as-tested price (including $1,300 gas-guzzler surtax) remains competitive among those of its European and Japanese rivals. Sensitive and nuanced it is not, but CTS-V's unilateral brashness nevertheless calls its Old World rivals to heel.
2005 Chrysler 300C
"If you wanna beat 'em, join 'em" is the distinct message emanating from Chrysler's head-turning 300C. By unabashedly incorporating much that sibling Mercedes-Benz has to offer, the 300C ushers a new era of stateliness into the American auto market.
"The Brick," as it is affectionately being dubbed less than a year on the road, is every bit as revolutionary as Cadillac's CTS-V, and yet it seems to fulfill a very different assignment. For one thing, there are two versions of V6-powered Chrysler 300 that cost as little as $24,000. With its "Hemi" V8, the 300C is a class apart, although its own $33,855 as-tested price is still a fraction of what CTS-V costs.
Both models feature pushrod V8s displacing 5.7 liters. True, the 300C musters 60 fewer horsepower at 340 hp; but torque is tantalizingly close at 390 ft.-lbs., vs. Cadillac's 395 ft. lbs. It doesn't much matter anyway (even though CTS-V sprints zero-to-60 in 4.6 seconds whereas 300C needs 6.3 seconds). While CTS-V is flogging and hot-dogging, 300C is surging with effortless calm into traffic with all the stately degree of a royal progress.
Whether driving or merely riding along, being inside the 300C is like finding a temporary refuge from the madding world that rages outside darkly tinted windows. The interior is almost 10 percent larger than the Cadillac's, and the trunk's 15.6 cu. ft. bests CTS-V's 12.5 cubes. Starting with an elongated version of Mercedes' E-Class platform, Chrysler has managed to devise what is perhaps the most solid and princely interpretation of a five-person American automotive interior since the halcyon days of Packard and Duesenberg.
The timeless ambience inside is complemented by innovative technology underhood. Chrysler's Hemi boasts a clever Multi-Displacement System (MDS) that imperceptibly alternates between four- and eight-cylinder power. In other words, when demands of acceleration require full power, the 300C is in V8 mode; but, when cruising speed can be maintained with less effort, the Hemi lopes along on only one bank of cylinders.
It is impossible to sense the difference. And for the sake of improved mileage, MDS is certainly welcome enough. For all of this complexity, however, it's a bit anti-climactic to note that 300C's mileage of 17 mpg/city, 25 mpg/highway (using mid-octane fuel) is only marginally better than the Cadillac's 15 mpg/City, 23 mpg/highway (using premium).
There's no gainsaying Chrysler's remarkable accomplishment overall, however. Here's a powerful, eye-catching sedan that boasts luxury credentials for a family-car price. Instead of beating its rivals at their own game, 300C is playing to win at solitaire.