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Coast auto expert, Managing Editor Steve Irsay takes a 2008 Cadillac CTS on the road.

Coast auto expert, Managing Editor Steve Irsay takes a 2008 Cadillac CTS on the road.

Five years ago, Cadillac unveiled the first CTS sedan. Part of the GM luxury nameplate's new direction, its angular "art and science" styling and improved driving dynamics promised to make it the first American contender in the foreign-dominated luxury sports sedan crowd. But alas, promises, they say, are made to be broken.

That first-generation CTS proved competent, though hardly groundbreaking. And we doubt it changed the minds of anyone considering a BMW 3-Series or Infiniti G. Now, along comes the all-new CTS and a familiar promise: to "challenge the world's best."

Cadillac touts the car's performance breeding. Its complex suspension system and rigid, aluminum-bolstered chassis were both refined on Germany's legendary Nürburgring Nordschleife, the high-speed proving circuit where great cars cut their teeth. The new CTS is very capable, especially when packing the all-new 3.6-liter, direct-injection, 304-hp V-6 behind its massive grille. But the CTS really dazzles where recent American luxury cars -- including those from Caddy -- have floundered: style, refinement and quality.

Exterior design invokes the previous-generation CTS, but there are differences. Striking LED light pipes in the vertical headlamps and taillights accentuate Cadillac's unmistakably angular design language. Overall, a two-inch wider track, sculpted fenders and low, coupe-like roofline give the CTS a very athletic appearance.

The 2008 Cadillac CTS V-6 DI; $34,545 / $45,295 (base MSRP / as tested); www.cadillac.com

Improvements abound inside the CTS. Gone are the cheap plastics and uninspired layout that befoul Caddy's own range-topping $100,000 XLR roadster. Handsome metallic finishes, chrome accents, tasteful Sapele wood trim, and strategically placed LED lights bejewel a cabin lined in handcrafted leather. The sweeping instrument panel seamlessly joins the center stack, creating a sportier, cockpit-like driving environment. Thinner front seats add rear legroom, while a double sunroof provides front and rear occupants with sky views.

The CTS can also run with the best in the tech department. A world-class navigation system with real-time traffic and weather updates is accessible through a magnificent pop-up screen that can be retracted into the instrument panel, leaving only the top inch visible to display audio and climate information. An available 40-GB hard drive allows for TiVo-like pausing and rewinding of live radio and ripping of CD tracks, all of which can be enjoyed in near Lexus-like cabin quietude.
So where does the CTS fit in the sports sedan world? Though it's priced to compete with entry-level offerings like the BMW 3-Series, Infiniti G35 and Lexus IS, the CTS is larger and less agile than this spry pack. But with its edgy elegance and exemplary luxury and quality, this CTS is destined to turn heads and change minds. And that's a promise.

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