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car review

I've been chronicling Cadillac's revival for nearly a decade and a half, and continue to wonder when Caddy's ongoing attempts to climb out of the doldrums will show serious sales results.

I can say this: the polarizing, unconventional styling first called Art & Science in the mid-1990s has been refined nicely over the years. Indeed, the basic design language has mostly survived, its edgy lines and chiselled shapes now recognizable, if not entirely popular - except on the 2011 CTS Coupe, a car only a crusty cynic or a philistine would say is anything less than stunning.

Gorgeous as it is on the outside, this question stands out about the prettiest Caddy perhaps ever: What is it supposed to be: a sporty, racy, raucous ride or a comfy boulevard cruiser? The answer is neither.

Certainly the CTS Coupe is a fashion statement. For some buyers, the bold thinking of the designers and the brave decision-making of General Motors' executive in approving it will be more than enough. We should all applaud this creativity and courage.

The problem that this car is mostly the CTS sedan with fewer doors, a glittering grille, a windshield angled back a heroic 62 degrees - nearing Lamborghini territory - and rear glass sweeping nearly horizontally back to the car's huge rear bustle, the boomerang taillights and a deck-lid with a high-mounted brake light doubling as a spoiler. Whew! That's some bit of design work.

All of these flourishes work together to create something unlike anything else offered by Audi in the A5, BMW in the 3-Series Coupe, Mercedes-Benz in its E-Class Coupe and Infiniti in the G37 Coupe.

Among other things, designers had the good sense to lower the Coupe versus the CTS sedan; it's also shorter and wider, riding on the same wheelbase. This car looks to have been carved into a wedge by an axe - and that's a good thing. Onlookers gawk, wondering if it's an escapee from a concept car collection.

What is considerably less potent is the 3.6-litre V-6 under the hood. There is nothing wrong with this sophisticated, 304-horsepower motor. GM uses various versions of it in everything from the Chevrolet Camaro to the Buick LaCrosse and, yes, the CTS sedan.

The CTS Coupe delivers a reasonable 6.6/6.7-second sprint to 100 km/hour, yet because in rear-drive form this Caddy is a tubby 1,774 kg (1,874 kg in all-wheel drive), the stopwatch says the four-cylinder turbo Audi A5 and the 268-horsepower Mercedes are slightly faster. So, too, are the 335is coupe and the G37.

Enthusiastic buyers can also opt for a Sport Package ($1,770) with aggressive 19-inch summer tires and aluminum wheels, a performance-tuned suspension and paddle shifters for the six-speed automatic transmission. These additions help to make the Coupe shine, hunkering down in great, sweeping turns. When the turns get tighter, though, the responses grow a little choppy. This is a big, heavy car.

Big, but not particularly roomy inside. Sure, it's easy to pick on the back-seat room in a stylish coupe. At six-feet, I did, indeed, find my hair brushing the CTS's rear glass when sitting in one of the two rear buckets. Worse, the front seat belts bisect the opening to the rear seat at a low angle. If you want in back there, you'll need to climb over them or limbo underneath.

The story up front is surprisingly similar. The CTS Coupe has noticeably less headroom than the sedan. If you're tallish, skip the $805 sunroof. The rest of the interior is essentially unchanged from the CTS sedan introduced in 2008.

In other words, the cabin is dated, though graveyard quiet. The switchgear, instrument displays and shiny trim materials are nice enough and what's there looks and feels nicely executed. But, in its design and richness, this cabin isn't competitive with the likes of Audi and Infiniti.

There are some nifty touches, though: the doors open with electronic touch pads, as on the Corvette; they replace conventional door handles inside and out. And the multimedia touch screen, which rises automatically from the top of the dashboard, is blessedly intuitive to operate.

As for the trunk, it has a tiny opening and cheap gooseneck hinges. The latter steal space or clamp down on cargo in the way. Caddy needs to address this. However, not much can be done about the high lift-over into the trunk - a concession to style.

That's really the story here - style. Cadillac has nailed a compelling look, one a lot of buyers will find bewitching. Love is like that; it blinds you to so much else.

But for the rest of us, while we applaud how well the design language is working, we want Caddy to focus harder on minimizing tradeoffs and nailing all the details.

2011 Cadillac CTS Coupe

Type: Luxury coupe

Price: $47,450 ($1,550 freight)

Engine: 3.6-litre V-6

Horsepower/torque: 304 hp/273 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Drive: Rear-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 11.3 city/7.2 highway; regular gas

Alternatives: Audi A5, BMW 3-Series, Infiniti G37, Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupe


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