Cadillac BLS: The next chapter in Cadillac's worldwide dream launches

ON SALE: Now (not in North America)
BASE PRICE: $34,000 (est.)
POWERTRAIN: 2.8-liter, 255-hp, 258-lb-ft turbocharged V6; fwd, six-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT: 3600 lbs
0 TO 62 MPH: 7.5 seconds (mfr.)

2005 was Cadillac's best year in Europe, with sales up 73 percent. Cadillac sold just 2145 CLS, STS, SRX and XLR models, but still, that's something to crow about.

The BLS—B Luxury Sedan to most, “Bob Lutz Special” to others—has received lots of guff since its debut at the end of 2004. Back then it was open season on the “Saabaru” 9-2X, and the Saab 9-3-based BLS initially struck us similarly. Luckily, we can now report this time GM got it pretty dang right.

Yes, the BLS is mostly like the 9-3 sport sedan underneath. And the steering wheel and handbrake are exactly as in the Saab. But 85 percent of the BLS exterior and 80 percent of its interior are re-created. The tires are different, for a softer ride, and the suspension is slightly softer.

The BLS is a legitimate European sports sedan with proper ride and handling that helps bridge the difference between U.S. tastes and European needs. Besides changes to the damper rates, the engine mounts and bushings are less dense, and the insulation from road and wind noise exceeds the 9-3.

Front-drive steering that remains very light even at high speeds is a Saab trait. In snow, ice and mud, or at low speeds, the Cadillac's feathery steering is perfect. At high speeds, it is less than optimal.

GM's BLS team assures us the car's steering feel occupied the most time of anything in the planning stages. The result is a notable difference in the weight of the steering action. Ideally the BLS would have gotten variable speed-sensitive steering, as its German rivals have, but this was beyond the budget. The BLS's steering and handling are a bit more grounded than on the 9-3.

There are three 9-3 engines of interest to us: two 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbos, one making 175 hp, the other 210 hp; and a 2.8-liter, 255-hp V6 turbo from Holden. Both the six-speed automatic and six-speed manual transmissions from the 9-3 are available for European BLS buyers. The BLS estate will arrive by mid-2007.

We drove the BLS with V6 and Sentronic automatic, and on the tough roads of southern France we bonded with this car. It's not the same feeling we have for its German rivals, but we're impressed both Cadillac and Saab exceeded our best expectations.

And we like GM's realistic plan for the BLS: Prices are up to 10 percent below the similarly equipped Audi A4, BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class, and advantageous leasing terms are available.

By 2010 Europe should account for 7500 of the projected 10,000 BLS units built per year. North America could get the BLS, but only if the dollar-to-euro exchange rate improves. A BLS-V is under discussion, and both rear-wheel and all-wheel drive are on the horizon if all goes well.

We foresee little to prevent that.

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