Driven: Cadillac CTS
by Owen Ready    12 Sep 2014
CTS hits Midtown Detroit. Click for larger images
Classy surfacing
A cabin fit for Mr or Ms Shinola?
Shinola Runwell Chrono
Cadillac's chronographs
Do as the sign says, people

If you know Detroit, you might recognize the location of our photoshoot for this feature. Midtown is the home of Shinola's flagship store, one of the big success stories of the resurgence of ‘craft' in Detroit, and the States in general.

Shinola's flagship store
The more generic approach
This is Detroit's train station, which explains why everyone drives
Warm materials mix, but maybe drop the carbon trim
Framelss (above) meets slimline (below)
Shinola Bixby

"Why not accept that manufacturing is gone from this country? Why not let the rust and weeds finish what they started? Why not just embrace the era of disposability? And why didn't we buy a warmer coat before we moved here?" says its website provocatively, for the watch, leather goods and bicycle brand only uses materials and components sourced in the US in its factory situated in the same building as CCS. The quality and elegance of its wares is proof that the US is still more than capable of designing and manufacturing desirable, authentically American products. They can now be found in independent stores and boutiques from coast to coast, and beyond.

This is, of course, the situation the likes of Cadillac and Lincoln would like to find themselves in - purveyors of high-quality, desirable, American goods, sought after by the affluent intelligentsia.

The latest Cadillac CTS makes a fine first impression - like Shinola's finest goods it's classically conventional on a macro level, but enhanced by execution. As a large, rear-wheel drive sedan its proportions are straight from the text-book - its A-pillar intersects with its front wheel, the base of its C-pillar plumb over the rear axle. Quite the revelation in contrast to the ungainly, front-drive XTS.

From these solid foundations Cadillac has applied just the right amount of jewellery (one more front LED and the shark will jump, mind) and some sculpting that is genuinely evocative of traditional coachbuilding. The taut surfaces and tight radii of the hood is borderline exotic. And it's the nose of the car that really is the exterior's strong suit - low, wide and bold, it's the best interpretation of recent Caddy design yet. The CTS is less impressive as you move around although more by dent of its slightly generic nature than by any real failings. Overall it feels like something a Shinola customer might happily step into.

Inside, Mr or Ms Shinola will no doubt appreciate the use of perforated leather, suede and thick, glossy smoked chrome throughout the cabin - this mixture of materials is warm and inviting without resorting to country club cliches. However, as appreciators of authentic material use, they'll wrinkle their noses at the irony of using lightweight carbon fiber as decoration - it's lighter still if you leave it out. But even they won't fail to be secretly amused buy the electronically-assisted cup holder cover. Stowing your skinny latte has never been such an occasion.

If they're familiar with consulting a Runwell Chrono 47mm for information they'll find the digital gauge pack a little underwhelming in terms of crisp graphics, but the system works well, particularly in conjunction with the clear head up display. The CUE system still sits in the center console and we've covered its downfalls before. The situation is slightly improved here by faster operation and more intuitive physical buttons.

The mirrors - both the slim, angular door mirrors and frameless rear-view - are a good example of the attention to detail that subtly adds to the sense of wellbeing. Rather than off-the-shelf, cut-the-supplier-down-as-low-as-possible incidentals, someone has cared about how they look. The only downside is that the concept car slimness of the door mirrors might irritate (or worse) anyone following on a fixed-speed Bixby as you inadvertently cut them up. Rearward visibility isn't great.

In reality the CTS is quite some way behind the hand-crafted quality of a Shinola product. That's both a result of the way cars are developed and built and that, despite drastic improvement, Cadillac still has a little way to go in terms of perceived quality. And, of course, those enchanted by Shinola products would more likely be inclined to pin their colors to an anti-establishment Tesla than a GM.

But if the few remaining American premium brands can infuse a little of the Detroit startup's allure in their products they'll be on the right track. CTS Shinola special edition anyone...?

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Driven: Cadillac XTS