Look, Mom, a coolant temperature gauge It's not much bigger than before, but a wider stance gives this CTS far better proportions than the previous model. By Ed Hellwig, Senior Editor Date posted: 01-08-2007 We gave the original Cadillac CTS some slack after its debut at the Detroit auto show in 2002. Driving it didn't reveal it as much of a sport sedan and the interior was a disaster, but its exterior was the most original design to come out of Detroit in years. It actually looked like Cadillac was trying again. With the second-generation 2008 Cadillac CTS debuting at this year's Detroit auto show, GM is aiming to compete in the entry-level sport sedan segment instead of merely existing in it. The midsize sedan has not only been cleaned up and smoothed out, GM added some real power under the hood and the kind of interior the Caddy should have had in the first place. One displacement, two levels of power Although it rides on the same chassis as before, a more powerful 3.6-liter V6 should make the CTS a more entertaining drive. Unlike the 2007 CTS, the "I'm in it for the looks" base model with the 2.8-liter V6 has been banished to fuel-conscious export markets, so all 2008 models in the U.S. get a proper 3.6-liter V6. The standard version is the same 258-horsepower motor used last year, although now you'll be able to pair it with a six-speed automatic. The standard transmission is still a six-speed manual and it gets a new short-throw shifter for '08. Real news comes in the way of a high-output version of the same 3.6-liter V6. It uses direct injection to help deliver 300 hp and 270 pound-feet of torque. Those may be V8-like numbers, but given that four of its competitors already offer at least 300 horses, the CTS is just keeping up. Both transmissions will be offered with the high-output engine, along with another new option for 2008 — all-wheel drive. Borrowed from the SRX crossover that shares its platform, the all-wheel-drive system in the CTS uses an active transfer case to send power to the front wheels when the rear wheels lose their grip. It won't help with the handling like Acura's Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive, but it helps the CTS stack up better against its peers. Rear-wheel drive will be standard. Wider is better With a 1.8-inch-wider track in front, the CTS doesn't look as top-heavy as before. Although the new CTS rides on the same basic chassis as before, it borrows a page from the Pontiac playbook by adding 1.8 inches of track width in front and 2 inches in back. The wheelbase remains the same while the car's length and height are both up an inch and a half. The overall suspension design is unchanged, with aluminum upper and lower control arms up front, a multilink setup in back and coil-over shocks at each corner. A modified version of the strut tower brace from the CTS-V is now standard on all models. Cadillac says the brakes and steering system are all-new, but its reluctance to elaborate leads us to believe they aren't much different from the current setups. Seventeen-inch aluminum wheels with all-season 235/55 tires are standard. An optional sport suspension adds 18-inch wheels with 235/50 Michelin Pilot Sport 2 tires with either V or Y speed ratings. Edgy and elegant Better materials and a more intriguing design give the interior of the CTS the kind of look and feel you would expect in a $30-40K sedan. Instead of abandoning the controversial but eye-catching design of the original CTS, Cadillac softened the edges a little and refined the details. The design of the grille was pulled straight from Cadillac's Sixteen concept car, while the wider body allows the side windows to angle in more. It's called "tumblehome" in designerspeak and it's one of the numerous areas that product chief Bob Lutz emphasized as he pushed through GM's latest new-car designs. Another of his areas of interest is a tight body-to-wheel relationship, and according to Cadillac this new CTS improves on that, too. A richer, higher-quality interior was yet another priority on Cadillac's list of improvements for the '08 CTS. Starting from scratch, the designers gave this CTS a completely different look and feel compared to the current model. The large analog gauges are not only easier to read than before, they look a little more serious this time around. Case in point: The original CTS didn't even have a temperature gauge. The '08 model not only has one, it actually has numbers on it. Nice. There's a noticeable upgrade in the materials used in the CTS cabin as well. Cadillac says the surfaces for the upper dashboard and door panels are now hand-cut and sewn, which allows for tighter fits and the use of French stitching. We don't know what makes Franco stitching so special, but the seams in the CTS do look pretty good. More attention to detail can be seen in the soft, white LEDs that light up the door pulls and footwells, a feature Audi uses to great effect in the A8. It's about time This is the CTS we all hoped for when the model debuted five years ago. It has a high-tech engine with as much power as anything in the class, a choice of top spec transmissions and a cabin that doesn't embarrass the rest of the package. With competitors like the Acura TL, BMW 3 Series and Infiniti G35, the 2008 Cadillac CTS needs all the help it can get, but when it goes on sale this fall it will no longer have to rely on its looks alone to compete.