Cadillac Catera CL500(2001)

Mercedes CL500

The Catera is the smallest and least expensive Cadillac, selling for just a shade over $30,000 as tested. The Catera was introduced in 1996 and has changed little since then, although GM did spring for a nose job and a fanny tuck last year.

The Catera is a surprisingly nice car to drive -- particularly if you remember some of Cadillac's earlier stabs at building baby Caddies. We all remember the Cimarron (i.e., the Chevy Cavalier with extra trim). So how did Cadillac come up with such a nice car? They borrowed it from GM's European arm, Opel. The Catera is based on an Opel Omega, built in Germany. It's been modified a bit for American tastes, but it retains some of the German feel for the road, which is a plus.

Comfort is good. It's a very easy car to feel comfortable in. It's got nice seats and a smooth ride, and it's reasonably sized.

Driving Experience

The Catera handles well. It's not a sports car but it's pleasantly firm -- not old-Cadillac squishy. There's not a whole lot of body lean, no swaying, no passengers looking like bobbing-head dolls when the car stops. It provides a very decent ride.

We think it's great that the Catera is available only with a six-cylinder engine and a four-speed automatic transmission. We applaud Cadillac for not offering the Catera with an overpowered V8. The 200-horsepower V6 is plenty for a car of this size. The drivetrain is a little bit noisy on hard acceleration. But once you get up to highway speeds, it's just fine.

Also, a word of warning to those inhabitants of Snow Belt states: the Catera is a rear-wheel-drive car. In our experience with an earlier Catera, we went absolutely nowhere in the snow -- even with traction control. So there's a pretty good chance you'll be making the acquaintance of a recently paroled tow truck driver when the weather gets truly nasty. Consider yourself warned.

Interior

If Volvo's warehouse manager discovers a bunch of interior parts missing, we know where they are. They're inside Cateras. The thick, squared-off style of the armrests, the tops of the doors, the dashboard, and other components look a lot like what you'd find in a Volvo. This is quite different from previous Cadillacs, which tended to overdo interior trim to gaudy levels only Detroit could possibly attain. This Catera is nicely understated and solid looking. Cadillac is clearly aiming for buyers looking at European cars.


Up front, our tuchuses were coddled by very comfortable leather seats, while the accommodations in the back were nothing to complain about either. Cadillac claims this is a five-seater, but the back-seat passengers may want to draw straws to see who has to sit over the drive-shaft hump. It's a rear-wheel-drive car, remember.

Visibility is pretty good all around. The Catera comes with side air bags, and since it's a Cadillac, it's, what? L-o-a-d-e-d. Eight-way power seats with memory, dual-zone climate control, cruise control, antilock brakes, automatically dimming mirrors and GM's OnStar system are among the standard accessories.

Ergonomics

When's the last time you paid much attention to the power window switches in a car? Well, the Catera's switches are worthy of your attention. They have a rubberized cover on them that makes the very act of opening a window an exercise in luxury.

Cadillac deserves credit for refusing to infest the Catera's dashboard with a video screen, an abomination to which so many other luxury-car makers have succumbed. Instead, there are straightforward controls for the ventilation system and the stereo. The instruments are nice, big, easy-to-read dials. Good job here, Caddy. The people at AARP applaud you.

Styling


The Catera has always struck us as plain looking -- something like a big Nissan Stanza. Some will find it boring, others will find it tasteful. You'd be hard pressed to find it gaudy or flashy. Prediction: This car will not sell well among pimps.

And yet, even though it's rather plain looking, when Tommy was stopped at a light, a young guy in a van stopped alongside to admire this car. He nodded his head about a hundred times, signaling that this was a great-looking car. Or maybe he just had a muscle disorder.

Reliability

The Catera has compiled a much-worse-than-average reliability rating from "Consumer Reports." And we couldn't help but notice that many of you who own Cateras and filled out the survey in the Car Reports area of this Web site reported having mechanical problems. So expect the Catera to be in the shop from time to time as it starts to rack up some miles.

Overall comments

There's a lot of good competition in the Catera's class. For about the same money, you could by a Lexus ES300. There's also the Infiniti I30, the BMW 3-series (which, like the Catera, comes with rear-wheel drive), and the Audi A4. There's also the Volvo S70. On the American side, the Lincoln LS starts at a little over $30,000, but you could buy a loaded Pontiac Bonneville or a Chrysler 300M for that dough.

The Catera's raison d'etre is to give non-AARP members a reason to swing by the local Cadillac dealer. And overall the Catera's not half bad. With a cars.com target price of a little over $30,000, it's also reasonably priced.

A final note: If you should decide this is the car for you, you'd better get off your duff. Cadillac says they're going to replace the Catera with an entirely new car in 2002.

View cars.com model report on this vehicle.


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