In the automotive world it’s hard to pick a ‘best’ of the year, but two new cars brought something new and exciting into the marketplace in 2011.
First, the Cadillac CTS-V coupe is a futuristically styled, fabulous-looking wedge coupe that even has a rear spoiler. A spoiler on a Cadillac—unthinkable just a few years ago. Fortunately, it also has the high performance to accompany its good looks, which makes it an all-around knock-out. It’s nice to see an American car of this caliber that truly can compete with European supercoupes. To paraphrase a now-defunct GM brand slogan, this is not your grandfather’s Cadillac!
The heart of the beast is a supercharged 6.2 liter V-8 lifted from the Corvette that pumps out a whopping 556 horsepower to the rear wheels. A 6-speed automatic is available, but the slick-shifting 6-speed manual gearbox is definitely the way to go on this car. With a short-throw shifter and dual-disc clutch, the gear lever shifts with bolt-action rifle precision to greatly up the driving fun. Mega kudos to Cadillac for offering a stick on a performance vehicle to attract real drivers! Push the ‘sport’ button on the dash, and you can get to 60 mph in less than four seconds. Brembo brakes, a limited slip differential, stability control, tight speedsensitive steering, and a control arm front, multi-link rear suspension round out the performance hardware that turns this Cadillac into a Corvette with a rear seat and Cadillac luxury. The price for all this performance is a pretty crummy gas mileage of 14 city, 19 highway.
The performance theme is carried into the cockpit by highly bolstered yet comfortable Recaro seats that can be heated and cooled. Rich leather covers most interior surfaces, and a pop-up touch navigation screen doubles as a back-up camera. A sunroof, dual automatic climate control and an excellent stereo provide comfort and entertainment, though the growling exhaust note is better music than can be found on the radio. The back seat holds two and is very comfortable for a sports car if you’re a pre-teen. Adults may find it a bit cramped, and the side windows are a bit small. It has a decent-sized trunk, and the rear seats fold down to expand cargo-carrying capacity.
According to Elco Cadillac’s Bill Pastor, “The CTS-V’s styling and performance are bringing in a whole new demographic. There’s lots of value for the performance you get.”
Of course, luxury and performance don’t come cheap, and at $70,000+ fully equipped, they’re not giving the CTS-V away, but to get similar performance and luxury in a European coupe would cost a lot more.
A second great new car for 2011 is the Fiat 500, which marks the return of Fiat to the U.S. market after more than 20 years. Like the new Mini, which is based on a small European car from the ’60s, the 500 is a modern variation of the tiny Fiat cinquecento that roamed Italy and beyond in decades past.
The first thing you notice about the 500 is its styling. With big round headlights, an arching roof and sloped rear hatch, the 500 is just plain cute. The interior is basic, but stylish and functional, and includes A/C and power locks, mirrors and windows, though window buttons are on the center console, not the door. Front seats are comfortable and moderately bolstered. The rear seat is a bit small, as expected, and best suited for briefcases, purses or small children. The cargo area in back is also fairly small, but if you fold the rear seats, there’s a decent amount of cargo area. Ventilation controls are three-rotary-knob simple. The display gauge is an interesting series of concentric circles with speed on the outside, the tach in the middle, and then digital information in the middle.
The 500 is powered by a diminutive 1.4 liter 4-cylinder 101 horsepower engine that feeds power to the front wheels and returns impressive gas mileage of 30 city, 38 highway. The standard transmission is an enjoyable 5-speed manual that really lets you get the most out of the small engine. The gearshift knob is made out of plastic, however, and feels a bit cheap. An aftermarket shift knob would remedy this minor problem. A 6- speed automatic also is available. Safety features include 4-wheel ABS brakes, traction and stability control, and front, side, curtain and driver knee air bags. The 500 offers a comfortable ride while handling quite well, especially in ‘sport’ mode. It’s a fun car to drive. In May, I had the chance to drive one on an autocross course and it performed very nicely. A convertible version is available for an extra $4,000. Next spring, the Abarth edition will up the horsepower about 50 percent, and add a sportier suspension.
Lou Fusz Fiat’s Bryan Hughes finds lots to like about the 500, “I love the feel and the performance. It’s a fun-to-drive vehicle with lots of value for the price.” Fortunately, a nice small price accompanies the 500, which starts at about $16,000, ($18,000 for the Sport) and tops out around $28,000 for a loaded Gucci model convertible.
Robert Paster (robertpaster.com) also is an attorney in private practice, concentrating in estate planning and probate.