PLANS to drive General Motors into the exclusive European premium car club ended in grief when the Cadillac Seville STS flopped in UK showrooms.
Five years on, the US giant’s best brand from over there is back over here to take another tilt at the most lucrative sector of the market – but this time it is being positioned in a much different way.
Instead of being lined up against the BMW 7-series and Mercedes-Benz S-class, America’s finest is now pitching in with the smaller 3-series, C-class and Audi A4 – the dominant trio in mid-size business motoring.
In the BLS, its first Europe-only product, Cadillac is launching a more realistic proposition for the registrations needed for the success GM feels it deserves.
Significantly, the car costs a third less than its ill-fated predecessor – but for all that, it has a big job to do if it is to prosper in a sales area that has so far remained barred to the likes of Renault, Peugeot and Citroën – more familiar contenders which are also much closer to home.
So does it have what it takes to make its mark in business motoring? To help us find out, a BLS has joined our long-term test fleet – and despite being in entry-level SE trim it seems to be a plush affair, complete with soft upholstery and even a smattering of wood trim.
Though not as brash as the Chrysler 300C, this US design still sports an in-your-face appearance guaranteed to win second glances in the company car park.
That’s either good or bad, depending on personal taste, but first impressions from behind the steering wheel underline the fact that the rest of the car emanates from Europe and has little or nothing to do with Detroit.
Based on the running gear which supports the Vauxhall Vectra and Saab 9-3, the BLS has a front strut and rear multi-link suspension layout which provides nicely balanced handling as well as a supple, compliant ride over most surfaces.
Built before UK specifications were finalised, our car has some non-standard items, such as front foglamps and larger wheels than the usual 16-inch variety. But cruise control, dual-zone climate control and a seven-speaker, MP3- compatible sound system do come in the standard package to give the mini-Caddy some of the ambience associated with the nameplate.
It might be the smallest car to wear a Cadillac badge, but the BLS has ample room for four adults and a huge luggage compartment suggests it is well up to the demands of business travel. That’s certainly the case as far as the engine is concerned: there’s plenty of power on tap and the car cruises with aplomb in its tall sixth gear.
The only trouble is that the noise made by the 1.9-litre turbo-diesel engine on idle just after a cold start doesn’t sound at all like you’d expect from a Cadillac.
Equipment and options
Total options: £975
Price (OTR): £21,473
Price as tested: £22,448
Price: £21,437 (£22,448 as tested)
CO2 emissions (g/km): 164)
Company car tax bill (2006) 40% tax-payer: £213 per month)
Insurance group: 14)
Combined mpg: 46.3)
Test mpg: 47.1)
CAP Monitor RV: £5,600/26%)
Contract hire rate: £487)
Expenditure to date: Nil)
Figures based on three years/60,000 miles
The manufacturer’s view
‘CADILLAC is positioning the European designed, engineered and built BLS as an attractive and credible choice for those motorists seeking an alternative to the more familiar German marques in the premium upper-medium sector. This well-equipped car is available in three trim levels and with a choice of one turbodiesel and three turbocharged petrol engines with either manual or automatic transmissions.’ Gerard Jansen, chief operating officer, Cadillac & Corvette Europe