WILL grafting the looks of America’s finest models on to a European-sized saloon prove sufficient to wrest sales from Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz in Britain’s ultra-competitive corporate car market?
That’s the question posed by the BLS, the Saab 9-3 and Vauxhall Vectra-based contender in the premium upper-medium sector.
Sadly, the answer has to be no. Effective as it is as an alternative in the segment, GM’s Cadillac-badged, Swedish-built luxury model can only ever figure as a runner-up to Europe’s trio of premium brands.
In terms of front-end cost, performance and capability, the smallest car to sport Cadillac’s distinctive V-shaped chrome radiator grille has plenty of appeal – particularly if you enjoy the second glances often won by the model’s sharp and angular styling.
But residual values just don’t cut the mustard. CAP estimates our BLS will retain just 26% of its cost new after three years/60,000 miles – well short of, say, a BMW 320d on 42%. This means the business case for the BLS fails to stack up. If you can’t secure great residuals at the outset, and don’t have the brand presence too, then what hope have you against the big guns?
But that’s not to say the BLS is a bad car. After 5,000 miles, I’ve come to appreciate its easy-to-drive qualities. The dashboard layout lacks the precision look of its rivals, but it scores highly in functionality.
Comfort is at the heart of GM Europe’s interpretation of top-line American motoring, and over a 2,500-mile holiday trip across France and Spain, the BLS ticked all the boxes as relaxing transport eminently suited to long-haul use.
Fuel economy from the excellent turbodiesel engine was impressive, too, with an average of 48mpg even though high temperatures meant the air conditioning system was continually operating at full blast.
However, my time behind the wheel has served only to highlight the qualities offered by the more modest models from the GM stable.
Featuring the same running gear, the 9-3 and Vectra ranges deliver similar consumer benefits, use the same technology and also have high-quality finishes.
With their more sober packaging, it could be argued that they offer even higher value than the Cadillac, even though they are marketed as business and family transport and not status symbols. And they also come with the backing of a much wider dealer network.
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: 47.0
CAP Monitor RV: £5,600/26%
Contract hire rate: £487
Total expenditure: Nil
Figures based on three years/60,000 miles