What was tested? 2008 Cadillac CTS V6 DI Performance Sedan ($34,545).
Options: Performance collection ($3,300), summer tire performance package ($1,240), stereo upgrade ($1,000), compact spare tire ($250). Price as tested (including $745 destination charge): $41,080.
When the Cadillac CTS was introduced, it had one glaring weakness.
It wasn't how it looked - with an angular, creased body that still seems fresh today - nor was it how it drove. Unlike previous Cadillacs, which felt like they were floating through a sea of giblet gravy, the rear-drive CTS performed like a fine sports sedan.
It was fun. It was fast. It was exciting.
But it also had that one problem - the interior.
When you sat down in the driver's seat, it felt like you were plunging into a plastic cave of death. The poor quality of materials was absolutely shocking in a $30,000 luxury car, making it seem like the whole instrument panel was designed to be the Little Tykes Darth Vader playset. So when the CTS was thoroughly freshened for the 2008 model year, you can guess what was at the top of Cadillac's list.
The new interior couldn't be more different from the old one. Cadillac did the right thing and completely ripped out the old cabin, replacing it with one that actually uses nice materials like a soft-touch dash with contrasting stitching that feels like a fine piece of leather furniture.
It also shows an attention to detail that Cadillac hasn't always been known for. The way the turn signal, buttons and knobs feel, for example, are dramatically better. They feel solid and robust, which is admittedly a minor detail, but it's the small things like these that add up to an overall perception of high quality.
For the super-picky, it still may not be good enough. It uses a gaudy amount of chrome and doesn't have the Swiss-timepiece precision of an Audi cabin, but it's an enormous improvement nonetheless. Nobody can objectively say the CTS's interior is a drawback anymore.
Other changes on the new CTS aren't as dramatic, but they're significant nonetheless.
A two-inch-wider wheelbase gives it slightly better handling and a good excuse for Cadillac's designers to massage the sheet metal. Dramatic fender flares cover the wider tracks and make it look more muscular and less slab-sided. A bold new front end with a wide grille opening matches the aggressive theme.
And you can't forget the engine. A new 3.6-liter direct-injection V6 delivers an impressive combination of fuel economy and performance. It makes 304 horsepower, gets 26 miles per gallon on the highway and even uses regular gasoline.
If there's a downside to this car, it's that it is fast becoming a porky sports sedan. Smaller and lighter cars, like the BMW 3 Series, can be more fun to drive, and Cadillac may be missing this market as the CTS gets bigger and heavier.