I'm a loaner car abuser. I don't care. As a New Yorker, I barely get an excuse to drive a car more than a couple of times a year. So when I can—and it's still not as often as I would like—I ask Travis or Matt to call in a car for me.
Usually, it's for a weekend, or for a couple of days during a business trip. More often than not, it's nothing glamorous: a Chevy Spark, for instance, earlier this year in LA. (Which I enjoyed checking out!) But when I knew I was going to be spending a couple of weeks in Europe a couple of months ago—one week on vacation, then a week in Budapest for a work conference—I decided to push my luck. I sent Travis an email: "What can you get me for a couple of weeks in Europe? Anything is fine: Lamborghini, Porsche...maybe a BMW?" I wasn't going to be greedy, even though we all knew the only choice was driving a Zonda down to Croatia.
Coincidentally, I heard Travis, who sits just a few desks away from me in the office, sigh. Must have been having a sad day. (Maybe he missed spin class?)
A couple of weeks later, Travis gave me a choice: a new Corvette for three days, or a new CTS for the full two weeks. I'm sure his smirk was unrelated. (He made it to spin class.)
I still hadn't driven a C7. (Still haven't!) But I know not to look a gift CTS in the grill.
"Oh, by the way," said Travis. "It's the Turbo 4."
Here's the first thing I did after picking up the CTS outside of Frankfurt: I backed it into a pole. Well, technically I drove for like 20 minutes to the hotel in Frankfurt, then backed it into a pole. In my defense, there were four poles in front of the hotel, three of which were painted with red-and-white stripes. The fourth—my pole—was unadorned. Also, even though the CTS was beeping and thumping my seat and generally freaking out, I thought maybe it had some sort of auto-stop feature and didn't need to worry about such trivialities as paying attention.
Honestly, you know what was the worst part? I wasn't worried about explaining my idiocy to GM. I was ashamed that I was going to be piloting our great nation's finest example of a luxury car with a dinged up exhaust tip. I'm never a more proud American than when I'm outside of America. Fortunately, it wasn't terribly noticeable—at least not more than driving a Cadillac in Europe in the first place.
A CTS in the States is, like, noticeable. At least if you're a car person. I genuinely like the last two generations, give or take, of Art & Science styling from Cadillac, and think they are among the only truly unique, purposeful designs extant in American motoring. I will usually give a CTS driver a little nod on New York streets, especially if they appear to actually be proud of their car. Most of the time they are baffled why I am acknowledging them.
In Europe, the CTS stands out, not just from its size, which is larger than almost everything else on the road, but from the marque. Younger Euro kids seemed to be a little baffled—maybe even a little angry!—but people my age (36) or older seemed to get a kick out of it. We got a lot of "Caddy! Nice."
If you're a Cadillac owner who has wanted people to come up and snap a picture of your sparkly, but otherwise demure black sedan, take it to Europe.
I won't bore you with flowery descriptions of the terrain, largely because I can't do it justice, but cutting through the Julian Alps while the storm clouds jumped between the peaks...spotting the church spires in every green valley in Slovenia...winding through limestone switchbacks down to Croatia's Dalmatian Coast...
I just felt lucky. I love cars. I love racing. I love design and engineering and the whole, greasy mess. But I think I love driving peacefully over new roads most of all.
The best thing I can say about CUE, Cadillac's nav and entertainment system, is that it's not appreciably worse than most other manufacturers' options. But the haptic feedback system is confusing—after two weeks in the car, I still wasn't always sure when I reached out to touch the slick, chrome buttons if they were going to respond properly or not—and the processors that power it are sufficient at best.
I've actually written about in-car entertainment systems for years. I've basically stopped writing about them, because I've grown weary writing "With just a little more work I hope that..." There's just no excuse that after almost a decade of UX experimentation around touch in smartphones and CPU advancement in mobile processors that in-car interfaces are still behind most $.99 smartphone apps. I get that it's a different, more stringently regulated working environment, but if we're going to trust automotive engineers to build self-driving cars that won't kill us, I'd think they could figure out how to make a map animate without lagging.
How amazing are modern dino engines? The second thing I did to the CTS, after banging it up, was to bounce the speedo off the governor on the German autobahn. It wasn't pinning my cheeks to the seats or anything, but it was quick, steady, and throaty, both on the top and the bottom of the range. It was very good. Not stunning. Not glorious. Just excellent. And in a big ol' American car!
You can see our total trip MPG in the picture, which ends up being around an Imperial 25MPG. With $100+ full-ups, that was a very welcome addition, and I never once thought I needed more power. I don't care if you want a V8—hell, if I actually bought a CTS, I'd probably get a V8—but it's so nice to be able to not just tolerate a more rational engine, but actually kind of dig it.
Here's the mnemonic my girlfriend Krystal and I made up: Kujo, a dog, looks like a lion—Peugeot. Two martinis with a twist—Citroen. Renault her biblically. (It's a vagina.) Skoda is the one with "Skoda" on it.
It felt weird to be confused by all the brands I thought I should know by heart, but there were just so many! And seeing them all on the road, in various states of repair, made the entire trip an exercise in car spotting, even if it they were just little guys like the well-proportioned Volkswagen Up!.
Also, drive down the German autobahn, and let your tears reach maximum velocity down your cheeks as you see all the beautiful high-end station wagons careening into middle distance.
The best moment: We had just driven into the old city in Korcula, an island off Croatia, where I'd gotten the CTS stuck in a dead end. After a thirty-point turn—the CTS has a middling turning radius for a car its size, but the street-width were simply ancient—I found myself head-on with another stuck car: a relatively new, 70-series Land Cruiser troopy in forest green. The driver expertly reversed down the road into the last open parking spot, letting us by. I rolled down the passenger window.
"You have my dream car, man. Very nice truck!" I said. He smiled, trying to understand why this dumb American was yelling at him, but he eventually figured out my English.
"Thank you! It is nice, yes. But so is a Cadillac."
In short, thanks, Travis! I agree that it's important for the Editorial Director of a company that includes one of the largest car websites on the web to have familiarity with the state of modern motoring—it's totally not just an abuse of power!—even if that means being the dopey boss who wrecks half the press fleet. And you were right: the Turbo 4 is a good engine!
We're going to New Hampshire in a couple of weeks. I'm thinking Panamera?