My first glimpse of the 1997 Cadillac Catera was on England's M11 highway in July, 1996. I was northbound in the middle of three lanes driving my rented Fiat Punta at 155 km/h, when this beautiful machine passed me on the right, travelling so quickly I could barely make out the Cadillac badge on the trunk.
Returning to Toronto, I learned the Catera would not be available in Canada until early 1997.
I also discovered the engine (a 3.0 L, 24valve, DOHC V6 producing 200 hp) is built in Ellesmere Port, England; the technicians were likely testing when they blew past me the previous year.
I had been impressed, so in June of last year I took a three-year lease on one from Marvin Starr, a Scarborough, Ont. dealer.
This smallest Cadillac is based on the 1993/94 Opel Omega chassis. Assembled in Russelsheim, Germany, it competes in North America against the Mercedes Benz C and E-Classes, the Lexus ES 300, the BMW 3 and 5 Series, and the Volvo S70.
As a luxury vehicle (approximately $50,000 to purchase with taxes/charges included â€“ leases negotiable), Catera has all the features expected of a Cadillac.
The heated leather seating comes as a standard feature, as do the dual-zone climate controls.
Options include a garage-door opener built into the rearview mirror, a cell phone, sunroof, Bose stereo system and a 12-disc CD changer mounted in the trunk.
I chose the five-spoke, 16x7inch, chrome-finished aluminum wheels as an option. Combined with Goodyear Eagle 225/55R16 high-speed tires, I think they add to the car's appearance.
In fact, most people comment about the wheels first.
The Catera is rear-wheel drive. At 1710 kg, it's quite heavy. With two normal-sized people, it's well over two tonnes â€“ and likely why Cadillac went with four-wheel disc brakes and ABS, which gives the car superb stopping power.
Handling is excellent, with speed-sensitive power-steering controlling this uni-body construction car.
Bosch traction control can be defeated by a switch on the dash. Never having driven a rear-wheel drive car in snow before, I was not looking forward to last winter, but was pleasantly surprised that the Caddy handled everything in its stride, including our mini ice storm last Nov. 14.
However, in heavy rain "The Cadillac That Zigs," as the ads triumph, is a real handful.
The traction control compensates for slippage, but I instinctively correct the steering for what I feel the car is doing, and consequently we fight each other.
Switching the traction control off solves the problem.
For drivers who prefer to keep steering straight ahead, the TC will be fine.
One item I immediately had removed was the twincup coffee holder between the front seats. This Rube Goldberg invention was useless to me, and anyway, I needed space for some tapes. I got precious little of that, as the tiny compartment holds just four.
All was fine with my Catera for the first two months, but in the ninth week I found I had no brake lights. I check all lights every Saturday, but for those who don't do that, it could have been disastrous. (A switch had broken, and the dealer gave me a rental car for two days until they could replace it.)
Aside from that â€“ and an overspray of undercoating below the trunk, which Rony Sutanto of Permashine on O'Connor Dr. in East York removed â€“ there remained only niggling problems with the electrics on the car.
When signalling a lane change and not moving the turn signal all the way to the detent position, there was an annoying electrical crackle that the dealership said they had fixed. (It's still there, and that, too, was a switch failure, I'm told.)
And for the first five minutes on startup, there is an intermittent crackling sound emanating from the dash, which the dealer says may be a design flaw. The sales manager at Marvin Starr drives a Catera, and he is experiencing the same thing. Switches appear to be the car's Achilles heel.
The engine is adequate, in my opinion, although I have heard some dissenting voices.
It delivers 192 lb-ft of torque at 3600 rpm shown on the fully instrumented dash (no idiot lights here) â€“ with 0-96 km/h arriving in 8.5 seconds.
The compression ratio is 10.0:1, and if quicker shifting of the four-speed automatic transmission is desired, there's a Sport Mode button on the shifter for that. It works fine, but you can almost see the gas needle heading for empty, so I seldom use it.
The car gets a true 8.7 L/100 km highway using mandatory premium fuel, but I shudder to think of the mileage in the city, especially when it's cold.
Top speed is 200 km/h, according to the manual, but unless it has a governor I think it's capable of much more than that, because at 160 km/h it doesn't even breathe hard.
On downtown Toronto streets, which resemble riverbeds these days, every pothole, bump and ridge is felt by the fully independent suspension. The true realm of the Catera is the highway, where it's as smooth as silk at 130 clicks showing 3000 rpm on the tachometer. This car is a land cruiser.
Safety features include driver and passenger airbags, and I'm told the 1998 models include New Generation air bags that deploy with reduced force. The fouryear, 80,000 km warranty includes roadside assistance, oil changes, brake pads and all maintenance with no deductibles.
The headlights are excellent in night driving. The Catera has driving lights â€“ termed fog lights in the manual â€“ but they only function when the low beams are on, and the latter switch on when a device at the interior base of the windshield senses low light.
The automatically dimming photosensitive interior rearview mirror is a boon, especially to combat those clowns who insist on following with their high beams.
Exterior features are what you would expect from a General Motors luxury car the radio antenna is incorporated in the rear window, the windshield washer nozzles are heated as are the side-view mirrors, and all windows are tinted/solar controlled.
An optional equipment package adds a theft-deterrent system, and power eight-way driver's seat adjustment with three memory buttons.
All who have ridden in the rear of my Catera say there is plenty of legroom back there. An automatic load-levelling feature balances the shocks if you have rear-seat passengers or suitcases in the trunk.
A neat feature that I've really come to appreciate is the cargo net; it's handy for preventing my briefcase and spare bottle of windshield fluid from banging around.
But a word about the load-levelling feature: I started the car on uneven ground at Shannonville Motorsport Park (near Belleville) last fall with a heavy suitcase and a cooler in the trunk, and when I got on the paved road the car was so unstable I thought I had a tire going down.
Stopping, turning off the engine and restarting so the rear shocks reset solved the problem.
And one final small complaint why have a gas cap that requires five clicks to pressurize the engine management system and keep the "check engine" light off, when one turn could be easily designed?
If you go to full-service gas stations, as I imagine the majority of Cadillac drivers do, telling the attendant "five clicks" gets to be a pain.
Naturally I've read everything I could find about the Catera since I've leased one, but reports have been scarce.
Back on Feb. 9, Autoweek labelled its long-term tester a "lame duck." The magazine's drivers had no start problems and were dissatisfied with the radio and some loose interior panels. As well, the ABS light kept coming on for no apparent reason.
The July, 1998 issue of Car and Driver reports on 40,000 miles in a '97 Catera.
Styling is "clean and tasteful." Regular maintenance costs totalled a "moderate" US$438 (four unscheduled stops added US$197 to be bill). But: "Although we were impressed at first with its road manners, our long-term experience with the Catera was neither inspiring nor reassuring."
While I have had minor electrical glitches (aside from the brake light failure, which I consider major), my car has been mechanically perfect, with no problems whatsoever. Lucky?
I enjoy my Catera. The European styling and the power, combined with excellent handling in all conditions, definitely meet my requirements for a vehicle I'll use for two more years.
If I had the time, a cross-Canada trip would be a pleasure.
The owner's manual boasts of the Catera virtues: "Cadillac has been designing and building luxury cars for 95 years. With the Catera, you have selected the first Cadillac ever to be engineered and manufactured in Germany. It is a unique expression of Cadillac luxury with a sensibility to European ride and handling. . ."
General Motors, find a cure for the switch problems and the electrical annoyances, and I'll agree completely.
Jerry Hudson is a Toronto-basaed freelance writer specializing in motorsports.
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That's no minor undertaking by anybody's account.. Significant reinforcement of an already solid unibody improved both bending resistance and torsional rigidity; redesigned front and rear subframes attenuate tire and road noise input to the passenger compartment.. Save for a subtle tweak of the character lines on its hood, the car retains all the Omega's basic sheetmetal.. Changes to the front and rear fascias impart a different flavor from its Opel counterpart, and additional detail modifications further distinguish the Catera from the original Omega-based Cadillac LSE concept car, first seen in early 1994.. The grille on the prototype seen here is merely painted.. Rear fascia styling also changed, with a single full-width taillight lens replacing the LSE's two-lamp design.. Due to the Opel's autobahn breeding, Cadillac's engineers deemed it unnecessary to make changes in the Omega suspension to prepare it for Catera duty.. Goodyear Eagle RS-A 225/55HR16 radials on unique five-spoke cast-aluminum wheels (chrome-plated, optional) do a solid job of combining grip with ride comfort.. Don't open the hood expecting to find a Northstar V-8.. Motivating force for the Catera is a mildly revised version of the Omega's existing 3.0-liter DOHC V-6, which makes 200 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 192 pound-feet of torque at 3600 rpm in this latest application.. We found the suspension more adept at soaking up larger bumps than at dealing with minor road imperfections, however spring and shock rates may undergo minor revisions before the cars hit U.S. showrooms.. Cadillac admits the biggest challenge will be finding a way to effectively market the Catera, which will be built in Germany and classified as an EPA import.. Show AllPRICEEstimated base price$33,000-$35,000
(first posted 8/9/2011) Lots of people rightfully think of Cadillac as the All American car. Founded in the U.S.A., long called the standard of the world, no other country could be the home to…
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