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Cadillac BLS review

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An interesting but unflattering review of a Europe only "Cadillac".


From The Sunday Times

March 12, 2006

Cadillac BLS

It's a Yank tank with a secret

Andrew Frankel

There is a delicious reality gap between the way this new Cadillac BLS is being presented and the reasons for its existence. Ask at Cadillac and you’ll be told this is “a brave new product” for those who “dare to be different”. As it goes on sale in Europe it will be accompanied by a slogan stating that it’s “more than a car, it’s a Cadillac”.

This, of course, is cobblers. It’s not a Cadillac at all, unless you choose to call a reskinned Saab 9-3 built at Saab’s Trollhattan factory a Cadillac. It exists because Saabs aren’t selling as they should, leading to spare capacity at the factory, and while the car makes a virtue of this necessity it will also help the Cadillac brand in its ambition to establish a credible, long-term presence in Europe. It’s not even being sold in America, much less built there, for heaven’s sake.

None of which I have any problem with. These days it rarely pays to look too closely under the skin of many alleged premium brands, or you might discover your Jaguar X-type owes rather a lot to the Ford Mondeo or that your Audi A3 is genetically indistinguishable from a VW Golf.

And the Saab 9-3, from which the BLS takes its platform, suspension, engines and much else is closely related to the Vauxhall Vectra. These days it’s not the raw materials that matter but how they are used. In this case, not very adventurously. The BLS is a steady-as-she-goes machine that does little to offend the driver and even less to engender enthusiasm for the open road.

The truth is, when fitted with the 1.9 litre turbodiesel (which will outsell all petrol models combined in Europe), driving the BLS is about as rewarding as watching daytime television. The engine offers performance and refinement best described as acceptable, and its suspension is configured to provide neither excellent handling nor a fine ride quality — its talents in both areas are superficially impressive until you find a less than smooth and straight road, whereupon they become disappointing.

It boasts an interior that’s notably smart by Cadillac standards but still stands no comparison to that of, say, an Audi A4. It’s not even spacious. And yet I cannot bring myself to write off the BLS. Indeed for someone who gives not a hoot about dynamic prowess and just wants a rather different-looking way of getting from one place to another, it might prove rather appealing.

The Cadillac name has a certain inverted cool. Mention it at a dinner party and instead of eyes glazing over they’ll open wide. People will be interested. And they’ll be surprised beyond words to find not a 20ft houseboat but a sharply styled and distinctly different small saloon. It’s an excellent piece of work, particularly given that its designers were forced to retain the roofline and the glass of the Saab 9-3. I don’t think anyone looking at the BLS would guess its origins.

Which is exactly what Cadillac is hoping. Privately its executives admit there’s nothing technologically new about the BLS and stress that Cadillac is a only a niche player in Europe. But those looks may get customers interested, and the comforting fact that it’s based on one of Europe’s most dependable cars could clinch the deal. For drivers who want to appear edgy while playing it safe, there is something to be said for the BLS.

And it’s cheap, at least by Audi and BMW standards, with the diesel starting at £20,750, compared with £22,345 for the cheapest diesel 3-series. The first of two petrol-powered cars, the 175bhp 2 litre turbo, is cheaper still at £19,950 while the range is topped by a 2.8 litre V6 turbo model with 255bhp selling from £30,200.

Anyone who cares about residual value must choose the diesel and remember they are passing up the opportunity to sample the same engine in not only the slightly cheaper £20,480 Saab 9-3 but also the new, gorgeous and reasonably capable £20,495 Alfa 159 JTDM Turismo.

Sadly the BLS is going to struggle against such competition and while I know it deserves to, I still hope I’m wrong. It’s not much to drive, but it is fresh and interesting and I can forgive it a lot for that. Despite it all, and on a very fine balance, I wish it well.


Model Cadillac BLS 1.9L TiD

Engine type 1910cc, four cylinders

Power/Torque 150bhp @ 4000rpm / 236 lb ft @ 2000rpm

Transmission Six-speed manual

Fuel/CO2 39.2mpg / n/a

Performance 0-62mph: 9.5sec /

Top speed: 131mph

Price £20,750

Verdict Great looks conceal a mediocre car

Rating 3/5

Date of release April 8


Model Alfa Romeo 159 1.9 JTDM Turismo £20,495

For Exquisite styling inside and out, reasonable performance

Against Doesn’t handle like an Alfa should

Model BMW 320d £23,485

For A strong candidate for being the best car on sale

Against Those dull, awkward looks and the people who drive it

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