Cadillac BLS 1.9D

The new Cadillac is just a dressed-up Saab, says a disappointed Michael Booth

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Would suit The right honourable man-toad for Hull East
Price £21,473
Maximum speed 131mph, 0-60mph in 9.5 seconds
Combined fuel economy 44.7mpg
Further information: 0845 833 0776

How far should one change in order to please others? This must be a question David Cameron and his advisers ask themselves every hoodie-hugging, Tebbit-teasing day. Are the makers of Marmite honestly satisfied now their once-noble product sells in a squeezy tube and has thus been irreparably compromised in the pursuit of convenience? Paul McCartney must surely regret dying his hair the colour of an Aberdeen Angus Steak House banquette because Heather didn't want him to embarrass her in front of her mates. And I've never truly forgiven my wife for making me sell all of my Suzi Quatro memorabilia as a condition of our engagement.

I wonder how Cadillac will feel about the new BLS in a few years' time. Certainly, they will be satisfied because they have built what is probably the best-quality American car since the days of the Duesenberg and Tucker. Cadillac's parent company, General Motors, set out to design and build a car that would appeal to European middle management. It had to be relatively compact and frugal, have Rizla-thin shut lines and a robust yet lavish enough interior to at least tempt a BMW 3 Series owner. A radical image overhaul was required as well.

Once upon a time, Cadillac's PR people would have seen it as a coup to have a Stetson-wearing Deputy Prime Minister photographed behind the wheel of one of their cars, for example. But the BLS had to appeal to the Next-suited habitués of the Norwich Union HQ car park, rather than sequinned stars of Nashville's Grand Ole Opry. So, the BLS is a perfectly decent saloon, rendered even more sensible, in the case of the one I borrowed, thanks to its excellent Fiat-built diesel engine.

But you know there has to be a "but". Like those other 20th-century relics Jim Davidson and Lego, General Motors is experiencing a little financial difficulty right now. In fact, GM's bank statement probably makes me look well off, and I can't even afford to refill my collection of Pez dispensers. And I've only got three. So, to save money while simultaneously launching its most serious challenge in Europe ever, GM decided to take another of its products - the Saab 9-3 - jazz it up a little, and knock a few hundred quid off the price. Look closely and you will see the BLS has the same side windows, roofline and windscreen as the 9-3. It also has the same engine as the 9-3. You even start it with the same key and steer it with the same wheel which, for the first time in a Cadillac, is on the right. And it's built in Sweden.

If there was ever a country that was more antithetical to the notion of a Cadillac than Sweden, it is probably Finland, but Sweden is a pretty good second choice. In Sweden, they wear sensible shoes, eat crackers and worry about the effects of acid rain on Latvia. It's true, King Gustaf XVI drives a Ferrari, but he has to apologise for this at the opening of parliament every year. (And the fact that they've had 16 kings called Gustaf probably tells you all you need to know about the conservative nature of Swedes.)

What, then, makes this a Cadillac? As far as I can make out, it's the badge. And they're probably thinking of changing that too. I'd stick with the Saab if I were you.

Michael Booth's ' Just As Well I'm Leaving' is out now in paperback (Vintage)

It's a classic: Elvis's Cadillacs

Elvis owned dozens of Cadillacs during his life. His first was a 1954 model, painted pink and white. According to the Elvis's Cadillacs website ( http://members.tripod.com/~cool59/elvis.htm), it caught fire on the road between Hope and Texarkana.

Judging by what happened to many of Elvis's other Cadillacs, the first got off lightly. His next one was used to transport live poultry; another ended up rotting in a field in Alabama; and Elvis's 1960 Fleetwood limo - the one with a gold-plated interior and paint made from pearl, diamond dust and Oriental fish scales - is now in a museum in Nashville. And then there was the 1968 Eldorado Coupé which he shot because it wouldn't start one morning. He later gave it to his wife Priscilla's stepfather. Presumably, he couldn't stand the man.

Even Elvis's last ever journey, on August 18, 1977 to his resting place in the garden at Graceland, was in a Cadillac - a white Miller-Meteor Landau hearse, followed by 16 other Cadillacs.

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