26 August 2006
If you believe GM, parent company to Saab and Vauxhall, then Cadillac is its next big thing destined for the UK. Except that in the UK, Cadillac isn't being run by GM, it's being sold by dealer group Pendragon. And for good measure Pendragon doesn't even report to GM directly - instead it reports to European importer Kroymans, based in Holland.
The result is some confusion about how Cadillac's newest car, and expected biggest seller, the BLS, will be sold to fleets in the UK.
According to GM, the BMW 3-series rival should sit above the Saab 9-3 in its pecking order.
In reality, the Cadillac BLS goes head-to-head with the Saab. The BLS is based on the Saab 9-3, itself based on the Vauxhall Vectra, and as a result the car is broadly the same size and uses many of the same components inside. At a quick glance we recognised more than 10 items that were obviously the same as the Saab's, including the handbrake, steering wheel buttons, door handles and key.
When asked what makes a Cadillac a Cadillac, and why a user-chooser would pick one over a Saab, Cadillac officials cite the car's looks and the fact that it has a more comfortable ride coupled to greater refinement.
On the first point, they are spot on. The BLS goes straight to the head of the class for looks.
However, on ride and refinement the engineers are only part-right. The car is softer than the Saab, but that also means the steering isn't as precise, particularly in the diesel.
Cadillac engineers admit they have a problem with this and say they're working on a fix that will sharpen the steering in the diesel in time for 2007 model-year cars (due later this year). The lack of precision in the steering means the car is difficult to place accurately on twisty roads and, on the motorway, near-constant corrections are needed. The 2.8 V6 petrol, which we also drove, was much better in this respect.
As for refinement, the diesel car was impressive at motorway speeds with only a slight wind ruffle from the door mirrors and no engine or road noise of any significance. But at lower speeds in town the diesel is audible and intrusive. This is coupled with suspension that thumps noisily over bumps and potholes.
Costs for the car have yet to be confirmed, although standard specification looks impressive with a good stereo (including MP3 player socket) climate control and cruise control.
However, GM has insisted that, because the car is positioned above Saab's 9-3, it must have a higher list price. Yet, the importer told us that the car will be priced below the equivalent Audi A4 and BMW 3-series. This doesn't leave much room for manoeuvre.
Let's hope the pricing is spot on because it needs to be to make the car a hit.