A Euro contender or an American loser?

Would suit: Trailer trash types with airs
Price: from £24,850
Maximum speed: 140mph, 0-62mph in 8.4 seconds (with 2.8-litre V6)
Combined fuel: economy 24.2mpg
Further information: 0845 833 0776

It's a measure of just how pitiful American cars are that Cadillac's new CTS saloon improves on the standard in just about every way, yet it still struggles to do anything better than a five-year-old BMW. The CTS represents the premium American motoring brand's most serious attempt to break into the European market - well, at least it's the most serious since their last one with the Seville a few years back. Unfortunately, that was an execrable piece of machinery - heavy, crudely styled and cumbersome - and sales figures hardly broke into three figures in the UK.

Like I said, in comparison, the CTS is a sensation. It fits on British roads, for a start, and Cadillac has clearly made an effort with the styling, drawing on themes from its angular Evoq Roadster show car of 1999 (maybe this is how the Ford Cortina might have developed in a Sierra-free parallel universe). I have a feeling the designers were attempting to ape BMW's current shock-and-awe approach to automotive design but, tellingly, the only head I saw turn during my time with the car was that of Chris Eubank as he drove slowly past on Brighton seafront at the wheel of his ridiculous Hummer. Obviously a Cadillac is his kind of car.

More importantly, the new rear-wheel-drive Caddy "handles", as they say on Top Gear. General Motors has made much of the CTS's intensive development programme at the Nürburgring and the result is that there is a much more "European" feel to the way the chassis and suspension bears up on corners. In other words, even though there is still some initial roll, it feels more tight, taut, composed. The brakes are fine too, and the steering feels reasonably connected. Unlike the rather nautical, front-wheel-drive Seville, CTS passengers won't find themselves rummaging around in the glove box for a sexton and some Dramamine on winding B-roads.

These days, manufacturers of cars of this ilk (the CTS is targeting the BMW 5 Series, Jaguar S-Type and Audi A6) feel obliged to fit various gimmicky gear-change options - sequential, paddle shift, seven-speed automatics, all that - but the Caddy comes with just a simple, old-fashioned automatic box. You stick it in drive, put your favourite Billy Ray Cyrus CD on, adjust your Aviators and away you go. And away it does go, at a fair lick, particularly if you are at the wheel of the Corvette-engined CTS-V version.

But let's not forget that this car is still made by the same nation that built the Space Shuttle, whose only purpose these days is apparently to be periodically jettisoned into space in order to break down and be repaired before returning. So the interior, again a big improvement, isn't as good as, say, a Hyundai Sonata. Air vents from an old Saab (a GM stablemate) put in an appearance, the door panels are a mess and - oh, the horror - it has a half-timbered steering wheel, which has to be one of the most heinous car interior-design crimes. It shares the Shuttle's thirst for fuel, too.

So the CTS is a straight-talking, "take me as I am" kind of a car; you'll either like it or you won't and, to my surprise, I rather did, particularly its price. That said, though it is a cruel fate for an otherwise decent car to be besmirched by a future clientele, there remains the nagging prospect that, in a few years' time, British CTSs will be driven by men in shell suits with tattoos on their neck on expeditions to their local Argos. s

It's a classic: Cadillac Coupe de Ville

Very occasionally a car comes along that has the presence, charisma and iconic force to become a signifier of a particular moment in popular culture. The E-Type Jaguar achieved this in the 1960s, and the Ferrari Testarossa did the same in the 1980s, but before them there was the extravagant Coupe de Ville, a wild rocket-powered barge with absurd dorsal fins and more jewellery than Liberace.

It wasn't rocket powered, of course, relying instead on a monstrous 6.4-litre V8 engine - and it needed all its 345hp to haul that chrome around.

It was made from 1953 to 1970 but the 1959 model is usually considered the ultimate incarnation, with its amazing fins, lavish upholstery and space-age dashboard. Thereafter, the styling became more subdued, but pillarless-saloon and convertible versions kept it high on the stars' must-have lists. These days, sadly, Caddys are far more subdued - can you imagine a pink CTS?

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