By Alex Taylor III
March 10, 2009

Is it sapele pommele or pommele sapele? And what is it, exactly?

The list of options for the Cadillac CTS AWD includes “sapele pommele wood. That doesn’t exactly roll off your tongue the way “zebrano wood” used to when Cadillac offered it a few years ago, but it does offer lots of opportunities for one-upmanship.

“My new CTS was tested at the Nurburgring and it has sapele pommele wood, a highly figured brown wood from Africa, on the dashboard.” How can you top that?

Caution is advised when flaunting the names of obscure African woods. According to some references, the proper name reverses the two words, as in “pommele sapele.” But I digress.

The Cadillac CTS is routinely cited by General Motors as one of the three or four best cars it makes and is thus one of the prime reasons why the company should be fed enough government loans to keep it afloat. Independent evaluators generally concur. Consumer Reports’ car guys declare it “as capable as its German rivals.”

After several days of testing, I found no reason to disagree. Except for the styling, which is a little out there for my taste, the CTS is a competitive product in a very competitive segment, going up against such stalwarts as the BMW 3-series and the Audi A4.

What Cadillac brings to the party is more interior space, American muscle (a 3.6 liter, 304-horsepower V-6 in my test car) and an attractive price. Base sticker price for the tester was $40,100, though options like the performance package, performance luxury package and a dual opening sun roof kicked it up to $50,995.  All wheel drive costs a mere $900, adds less than 100 pounds in weight and barely impacts fuel economy.  For drivers in harsh climates, that sounds like a no-brainer to me.

Where I felt let down was first in the power delivery – it was not quite seamless, even though the 0-60 miles-per-hour time is quoted at 5.9 seconds. I expected to feel more oomph. Despite dual exhausts, the Cadillac didn’t make the right noises, either. I could have enjoyed more auditory entertainment. And either the all-wheel drive or the 18-inch all-season tires had a hard time handling Massachusetts mud. A dirt road expedition to the southwestern corner of the state found me slithering sideways a couple of times.  Testing on other surfaces, though, might lead to different results.

Like everything else these days, CTS sales are way off, but it remains the second most popular passenger car GM makes (after the Pontiac G6) that doesn’t wear the Chevrolet bow tie. I’m looking forward to my next drive in a CTS: the high performance V model with a 556-hp, supercharged V-8.

I hope  a couple of CTS-Vs are moved into  the Washington, D.C. press fleet. They would really blow the socks off the boys from Treasury before they sit down to decide whether GM deserves more government help – or should be allowed to slide into bankruptcy.

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