PINNACLES, Calif. -- California 146, two lanes of blacktop pointing into the Pinnacles Wilderness where gnarly spires of granite spike the horizon, is labeled appropriately as the Pinnacles Highway.
It´s a narrow road winding around lumpy hills where -- on one particular day -- there´s not another vehicle in sight to impede our freewheeling ride on the quick side of automotive performance in a new sports touring sedan that´s well equipped for the task of tracking quickly but adeptly through so many curves.
Our test car, rising off a rigid platform with pliable independent suspension components pinned above every wheel, also carries a forceful aluminum engine that translates all torque through a six-speed manual gearbox and sends it to the rear wheels in classic -- and highly predictable and controllable -- front-engine/rear-drive arrangement.
With its wide track and squatty stance for knife-edge sharp skin that ripples over wheelwells and amplifies a blunt in-your-face prow capped by a toothy grille, this four-door sportster seems like it could out-run the wind and finesse any twisty road course.
Odds are favorable that it can easily accomplish those feats and more because the agile sedan setting a lickety-split time over the Pinnacles Highway happens to be the latest iteration of CTS, the mid-size sports touring sedan from Cadillac.
This car made history in 2003 as the first rear-wheel-drive (RWD) vehicle in Cadillac´s fleet since 1979 and the first stocking a manual transmission for a RWD Caddy in half a century.
For 2008 a make-over for Generation 2.0 of CTS brings fresh package styling with a brash front grille patterned after the Cadillac Sixteen concept car.
New CTS also scores a wheeltrack that´s two inches wider, with traction in conventional RWD or on-demand all-wheel-drive (AWD) and two powertrain choices which culminate with a forceful new direct-injection V6.
We´ll enumerate the mechanical equipment, but first let´s check out that new package styling.
Lines are bold and sharp but clean with unique forms marked by angular shapes and crisp edges.
The aggressive face features a prominent horizontal louver panel in modern interpretation of the Cadillac egg-crate grille, and piercing optics with stacked round high-intensity discharge (HID) xenon lamps that swivel in concert with the vehicle´s front wheels.
Flanks are sheer below knife-edge shoulders and interrupted only by fenders flaring around some big wheelwells. The wheels stand near front and rear corners, leaving curt overhangs at the prow and tail.
Note the chrome air extractors, those fender slats designed to dissipate hot air below the hood.
The roofline remains low, canting in front in line with the windshield and rolling down in back with blacked-out center pillars to simulate a sporty coupe´s canopy.
Tail treatment for CTS shows a slick slab bumper in monochrome flanked by tall vertical taillamps, a Cadillac hallmark, with twin round pipes in chrome protruding below the bumper.
Inside a spacious cabin with seats for five, the exterior theme of chiseled forms and angular features is expressed in a monochromatic treatment with hand-cut, hand-sewn and hand-wrapped surfaces.
Vivid analog instruments are housed in three tubular binnacles and the dashboard center stack of controls is trimmed in a high-tech satin metallic finish or genuine Sapele Pommele wood.
Front bucket seats, heated and ventilated, are contoured to fit the body with firm side bolsters to hold you in place during quick-cut pavement maneuvers. The soft leather upholstery comes with French stitching, which also shows up on top of the instrument panel, door inserts and the shifter boot.
Extensive safety measures apply, including air bags surrounding front-seat riders and stretching like curtains in concealment above front and rear side windows.
The four-wheel disc brakes score big high-performance aluminum brake calipers and link electronically to an anti-lock brake system (ABS) and traction control system (TCS) plus GM´s StabiliTrak skid controls.
Steering, through a rack and pinion device enhanced by a variable-assist power system, feels dead-on precise and entirely quick in response.
Powertrain options begin with the base aluminum 3.6-liter V6 rigged with dual overhead cams and VVT (variable valve timing).
This plant generates 263 hp at 6200 rpm with the torque pushed to 253 lb-ft at 3100 rpm.
The standard transmission is a smooth-to-shift six-speed manual gearbox made by Aisin, the AY6.
Also available is an electronically controlled six-speed automatic, GM´s Hydra-Matic 6L50.
Optional power comes from a direct-injection version of the dual-cam 3.6-liter VVT V6, which generates the power of a V8 but with better fuel economy numbers.
With direct injection, the fuel goes directly into the engine´s combustion chamber and fosters a thorough burn of the mix of air and fuel.
The top V6 for CTS makes 304 hp at 6300 rpm, with the torque peaking to 293 lb-ft at 5200 rpm.
With the base V6 aboard, CTS works in RWD or AWD mode, but on the direct-injection V6, only RWD applies.
Designers of the CTS 2.0 conspired with the engineers who developed the iPod as well as computer and entertainment experts, and the outcome of this work is a center console for CTS that´s geared to work seamlessly with iPods, MP3 players and other digital music devices -- you can even recharge an iPod or MP3 player from the USB port.
An optional 40-gigabyte hard drive enables pause-and-rewind of a live radio program, or ripping tracks from CDs.
And the available Bose 5.1 Cabin Surround premium audio kit is a 300-watt and 10-speaker system that incorporates Bose Centerpoint technology which enables two-channel audio information.
Cadillac establishes MSRP figures for the 2008 CTS beginning at $32,245 for the base engine with RWD format and the manual shifter. Add the automatic transmission and the MSRP rises to $34,545.
Packaged equipment brings more gear for more dollars -- a Luxury Collection, Premium Luxury Collection, Performance Collection, Luxury Level One and Luxury Level Two.