March 2008
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Upscale sports sedans: American dream
Cadillac gives its German rivals a wake-up call

BMW and Mercedes-Benz have long been considered by many to set the standard in the sport-sedan category. But this month a newly redesigned Cadillac outscored cars from both of the German automakers in our 2008 upscale sport sedan review in our 2008 upscale sport sedan review, earning high marks for agility, powertrain, and refinement.

The 2008 Cadillac CTS beat out the BMW 328i and the redesigned Mercedes-Benz C300 in our upscale sport-sedan group. It also outscored the freshened Saab 9-3 (all available to subscribers).

While the CTS vaults past most competitors, the Infiniti G35 and Acura TL still outscore it and lead the 2008 upscale sport sedan class in our Ratings (available to subscribers).

Upscale sport sedans emphasize style and performance more than traditional luxury cars. They tend to have less interior room and ride more firmly, but they have better steering and nimbler handling, which makes them fun to drive.

While German cars have historically dominated this category, more recent offerings from Acura, Infiniti, and Lexus have proven their worth. Now the CTS gives them a run for their money.

The new CTS carries over the taut ride and agile handling of the previous model and is now more refined. There are more safety features and interior amenities in the new model. Fit and finish is greatly improved, and the interior is much more pleasant than in the outgoing car. Our tested CTS had the base 263-horsepower, 3.6-liter engine, which was the top offering in the previous model. Also offered is a stronger 304-hp, direct-injection version.

In this group, the Cadillac, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz are all rear-wheel-drive cars; the Saab sends its power to the front wheels. But in catering to the needs of drivers in northern climates, each vehicle in this test is available with optional all-wheel drive. That gives significantly better traction, but we found in our 2008 upscale sport sedan review that the extra weight and friction of the additional drivetrain components often has a slight negative impact on fuel economy and acceleration.

Two models in this test are recommended. The 328i and 9-3 both have average or better reliability as of late. The reliability of the redesigned CTS and C300 is unknown, so we can't recommend either vehicle.

For this 2008 upscale sport sedan review, we tested the most-common versions of the CTS, 3 Series, and C-Class, whose prices range from $37,325 for the C300 to $40,835 for the CTS. More powerful and luxurious versions of those cars can easily add thousands to their prices. For the Saab 9-3, we chose the comparably priced Aero version.

There will be new competition in this category soon: Audi will introduce a redesigned A4 later this year as a 2009 model. The current A4 is a strong competitor in this market and is available in both front- and all-wheel drive. Audi says the new A4 will be longer, with more rear-seat space, which answers one criticism of the current model.