Another American invasion?

29 May 2015 | Author: | Comments Off on Another American invasion?
Cadillac BLS

It is generally accepted in this part of the world that American cars are dismissed as being not quite as good as the European norm. It should follow that the new Cadillac BLS tested here is not a worthy entrant into a hectic marketplace already dominated by the likes of the accomplished BMW 3-series. the classy Audi A4 and Alfa’s stylish new 159. What then if I tell you that the BLS was developed specifically for European tastes?

Yes, we’ve heard that before, but the killer punch is this: no Cadillac dealer in the US will get to sell this car.

It’s hardly surprising that GM wants a bigger slice of the premium mid-size pie in Europe. Despite the prestige of many of the badges, this is a high volume, high profit sector equating to about two million buyers a year. However, Cadillac is quick to point out that it doesn’t see itself as being a sales leader over here; in fact, the PR people at the launch were refreshingly frank in saying that they don’t actually know how many the UK dealers are going to be able to sell.

Individuality could be a key ingredient if the Cadillac BLS is to be a success in Europe.

On first acquaintance, the BLS scores big. Cadillac has had a design resurgence in recent years with sharp upright shapes now the norm across the range, punctuated by prism-like headlights front and rear. The BLS is a successful design, though the egg-crate grille with not be to all tastes. I personally like the rear three quarter view on this car and though it looks American in flavour, it is undeniably attractive with it.

Its proportions lend it a big-car luxury appearance, but it hovers close enough to the 3-series overall; it’s longer with a shorter wheelbase. This can be seen in the rear overhang though it is not unattractive and makes for a decent sized boot. If you’re a numbers anorak you’ll notice parity between the Cadillac BLS’s dimensions and those of the current Saab 9-3.

Funny you should mention the Saab. Well, you didn’t think that GM could afford to go out and develop a whole new platform for a mid-size premium saloon it will only sell in Europe in numbers nobody can really predict, did you? Especially not when General Motors Europe has a sizeable parts bin to raid.

In fairness, the Cadillac does share a few noticeable interior bits and pieces with the 9-3, including switchgear, steering wheel shape and most annoyingly the handbrake, which should be a good idea, integrating into the centre console design when released, but it just doesn’t work and its button is unpleasant to use.

Saab parts aside, the Cadillac team has made its own mark on the interior, with plenty (but not too much) chrome-effect plastic and a ‘peak’ in the centre of the dash echoing that on the bonnet and boot lid. Crucially, the switchgear is tactile to use, which is a necessity in this market segment. The Cadillac BLS is also high on comfort.

Its seats were developed to be softer than the Saab items and I had no complaints after 100 miles at the wheel on mixed roads; a decent driving position fell to hand easily too.

Indeed, comfort is high on the Cadillac agenda, with damper and spring rates changed to ensure the BLS rides with a more supple gait than many sports saloons. To assist further with easing the occupants’ journey, Cadillac spent a lot of its development dollars on giving the BLS a better NVH profile (noise/vibration/harshness) than the Saab equivalent. It shows; the BLS has commendably low wind and road noise, the latter helped by the fitment of bespoke tyres on some models.

With all this talk of comfort and soft seats you’d be forgiven for thinking that the new BLS handles as well as the USS Ronald Regan in stormy seas, but you’d be wrong. We tried 1.9-litre turbodiesel and range-topping 2.8-litre V6 versions over the course of two days, mainly using the sweeping open B-roads of the Salisbury Plains. First off, the BLS is front-wheel drive, so we were not expecting really engaging dynamics, nor was Cadillac promising them.

However, the BLS turns in quickly, giving the feeling that the rear is not just a pair of wheels along for the ride. Even spirited cornering is soaked up well with restrained body roll and impressive body control all round. The balance is nice and neutral, yet the BLS feels quite agile too.

We did notice that individual wheel control over some trickier surfaces was lacking though. Where front-wheel drive cars usually suffer in comparison to their rear-drive rivals is at the helm. Saying that, the Cadillac BLS has a perfectly good level of communication through the steering wheel, even if the assistance provided is stronger than we think is really necessary at speed. The downside of a communicative system as ever is the presence of some kickback over the worst potholes.

These comments apply to both cars we tried, so it was unsurprising to learn that the ride and handling guys at GM were given the same targets for both cars, with a sports suspension package available at a later date to interested customers. The ‘Sport Luxury’ tag on the V6 models does not apply to its chassis.

Though sales targets are modest, Cadillac appears to have made all the right moves for success. By the end of 2006 there will be 175 dealers throughout Europe (also dealing in the Corvette brand). Take a look at the line-up below and I think you’ll agree that it fits in well with current European buying trends. The big seller will no doubt be the diesel (Cadillac’s first ever). The car we drove was the six-speed manual Luxury version.

I must admit to driving the car before looking at the specification and actually guessing that it had nearly 170bhp, such is its pace. In the BLS, 150bhp may not sound like much, but thanks to the torquey nature of the engine (peak torque of 236lb.ft is available between 2000 and 2750rpm) this car actually feels quick. The manual ‘box is slick too with few gearchanges really needed to dispatch slower traffic.

In comparison, the turbocharged V6 engine (shared with Vauxhall’s extrovert Vectra VXR) promises tyre-shredding performance with licence-losing potential, but in reality it turns the civilised BLS into a very quick, but still civilised BLS, especially when bolted to the six-speed automatic ‘box, as in the car I tried. At no stage did this car feel like it was fitted with a turbocharger, which is good in terms of instant response. I’m more of a manual gearbox kind of guy anyway, but I must say that I was not that impressed by the smoothness of the auto, though the manual override feature does work well thanks to tactile shift buttons on the spokes of the steering wheel.

As this story goes live, you can order your fresh new Cadillac BLS from a dealer and the range is quite comprehensive too. Aside from the diesel and V6 models we drove, there are two versions powered by a 2-litre turbocharged petrol engine (175bhp and 210bhp). It will be interesting to drive these later in the year to see whether Cadillac has maintained the lag-free nature of the cars we tested here.

It’s early days yet for the new Cadillac BLS, but I’m not really taking a risk when I say that it should sell quite well. It is priced keenly and offers something a little different to the usual suspects. The BLS may have an American badge stuck to the front, but its European roots are showing through. Cadillac BLS UK range overview

Cadillac BLS SE 1.9TD 6-speed manual: Ј21,473

– Cadillac BLS SE 1.9TD 6-speed auto: Ј22,933

Cadillac BLS

– Cadillac BLS Luxury 1.9TD 6-speed manual: Ј25,073

– Cadillac BLS Luxury 1.9TD 6-speed auto: Ј26,533

Cadillac BLS SE 2.0T (175bhp) 5-speed manual: Ј20,728

Cadillac BLS SE 2.0T (175bhp) 5-speed auto: Ј22,078

– Cadillac BLS Luxury 2.0T (175bhp) 5-speed manual: Ј24,278

Cadillac BLS Luxury 2.0T (175bhp) 5-speed auto: Ј25,628

Cadillac BLS Luxury 2.0T (210bhp) 6-speed manual: Ј25,678

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