AVONDALE, Ariz. -- Perimeter embankments for the high-speed oval track at Phoenix International Raceway (PIR) rise high above a cactus-spiked desert, so high that the outside lap of this three-lane roadbed pitches at a steep angle.
For a vehicle to slip laterally up the banked slope and run in the outer high lane requires excessive speed so the physics of centrifugal force will push the car into the pavement and pin it to the track.
One sleek car rushing around the banked ring at PIR may at first blush seem like an unlikely contender for speed tests on a mile-long oval track -- you see, this vehicle's brash egg-crate grille bears the glitzy laurel wreath and crest of Cadillac, pinnacle luxury brand at General Motors.
It's the STS of 2008, edgy new four-door performance sedan by Cadillac reworked for Generation 2.0 with fresh package styling, powerful new V6 or V8 engine choices and exacting mechanical hardware mounted on a rigid rear-wheel-drive (RWD) platform to deliver world-class handling traits for those who love to drive.
As a kingpin vehicle in Cadillac's 2008 line, STS marks another evolutionary step for GM's elite brand in a decade-long procession initiated in MY-2000 to match the brand with Cadillac's long-standing motto, "The standard to the world."
For at least the first half of Cadillac's 105-year history, this automaker led the world in automotive style and innovation. During that era, the brand's image topped all others and the word "Cadillac" signified the best.
Today, Cadillac is approaching the end of a ten-year plan to return the brand to that favored position, as a string of modern products emerge, such as the XLR two-seat convertible sports car and new CTS sports touring sedan.
The sporty STS version of Cadillac's venerable Seville sedan faded with 2005 models but the name carried forward to describe a new mid-size luxury touring sedan riding on the RWD Sigma platform also underpinning the CTS.
New STS for 2008 continues to share a platform with the revamped 2008 CTS, although for STS the wheelbase stretches three inches longer and the body extends 4.7 inches further.
The make-over for STS of 2008 produces two powertrain choices and traction in conventional RWD or on-demand all-wheel-drive (AWD).
We log seat time in each version and discover that the STS V6 price leader amounts to a significant car with surprising power and sporty handling characteristics, while STS V8 runs head-to-head against elite touring sedans from Europe and Japan.
We'll outline the powertrain numbers and itemize all of the high-tech electronic gear on-board 2008 editions, but first treat your eyes to STS's stunning new skin.
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 Cadillac's signature egg-crate grille, and piercing optics with stacked high-intensity discharge (HID) xenon lamps which swivel in concert with the vehicle's front wheels.
Flanks are shapely but basically sheer below the shoulders, although the fenders flare 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 tall tail of STS shows vertical lamps, a Cadillac hallmark, with two round pipes in chrome protruding below a smooth bumper.
Inside the airy 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 below a sheltering canopy and the dashboard center stack of controls is trimmed in cool satin metallic finishes or with optional real wood like Sapele Pommele.
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.
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 the ZF Servotronic II speed-sensitive steering gear for speed-sensitive variable assistance, feels dead-on precise and quick in response.
Powertrain options begin with a new dual-cam 3.6-liter all-aluminum V6 engine featuring direct injection and variable valve timing (VVT). This plant produces 302 hp at 6300 rpm with the torque pushed to 272 lb-ft at 5200 rpm.
Standard transmission is an electronically controlled six-speed automatic, GM's smooth-to-shift and precise Hydra-Matic 6L50.
The optional V8 for STS employs Cadillac's 4.6-liter NorthStar engine with electronic throttle control and VVT. It develops 320 hp at 6400 rpm plus torque of 315 lb-ft at 4400 rpm.
Two available new safety devices -- Lane Departure Warning and Side Blind Zone Alert -- bring audible and visual warnings to improve driver awareness.
Also, Cadillac offers a new Performance Handling Package for STS with Brembo four-piston brake calipers, 18-inch chrome-plated aluminum wheels and Michelin Pilot Sport summer tires. For the STS V8 AWD version, this package adds the StabiliTrak skid controller linked to active front steering.
Another new option is the exclusive Platinum edition with Glacier Gold exterior finish and upgraded cabin luxury touches like a leather-wrapped and heated steering wheel and a hand-cut, sewn and wrapped instrument panel.
Standard equipment for the base STS V6 ranges from leather upholstery and aluminum interior trim to twin-zone automatic climate controls, a Bose AM/FM/CD audio kit, rear park assist, OnStar telecommunications and StabiliTrak.
Cadillac establishes 2008 price points beginning at $42,500 for the base STS V6 RWD edition.