We’ve already seen various American models brought over to Europe, such as the CTS executive saloon and the SRX luxury SUV, and some have even been converted to right-hand drive.
It has been a piecemeal approach up to now, although things are about to change with the launch of the BLS – a saloon designed to rival the likes of the Audi A4, BMW 3-series and Mercedes-Benz’s C-class.
It has been designed in Europe, it’s built in Europe, is available with right-hand drive and, even more importantly, is offered with a diesel engine to tempt company car drivers across to the brand.
The BLS is built at the Trollhattan factory in Sweden, the same place where the Saab 9-3 is built. This is no coincidence, though: the BLS is essentially a reskinned 9-3, which is no bad thing.
This sharing of expertise across General Motors has allowed Cadillac to bring a credible offering to the UK without the expense of designing a new car from the ground up.
Like all recent Cadillacs, the BLS shares the same design language, called Art and Science. Inspired by the dramatic Stealth fighter, it features strong vertical lines in the front and rear light clusters and the firm’s trademark egg crate front grille.
Inside, there are a few more clues as to this car’s origins, such as the steering wheel, some switches and instrument cluster, all lifted from the 9-3. But Cadillac has made a real effort on the interior, with a sleek centre console housing the majority of intrument functions. It looks classy and feels well made.
The models at the launch all featured a full leather interior, with hide extending to the door linings, too.
UK specifications have still to be decided, but in Europe there will be three trims – Business, Elegance and Sport Luxury. Only Sport Luxury is confirmed for the UK, and it will come loaded with equipment including full leather trim, 18-inch alloy wheels, xenon lights, sports suspension and electrically-adjustable front seats.
What is confirmed for the UK are the four engine options, all donated from Saab. The aforementioned diesel, the 1.9-litre common rail turbodiesel with 150bhp, is the same unit found under the bonnets of various Saabs and Vauxhalls.
There are also three turbo petrols – a pair of 2.0-litre units offering 175bhp or 210bhp and the 2.8-litre V6 shared with the Vectra VXR which delivers 255bhp.
All engines are available with a choice of five or six-speed manual or five or six-speed automatic transmissions.
The UK will be the car’s biggest market, accounting for around 2,000 sales this year. Of those, 60% will be diesels and the corporate market is expected to account for 70% of total registrations.
Gerard Jansen, chief operating officer of Cadillac and Corvette Europe, said: ‘The BLS is an important car for us and the diesel is crucial.
‘It will allow us to boost sales volumes, although we will still be a niche player.’
Behind the wheel
SETTLE in behind the wheel of the BLS and the immediate impression is of how much better this car is than any other Cadillac.
The design and quality of the interior is very good. We’ve already touched upon some of the Saab influences, but enough work has been done on the interior design to differentiate the BLS and 9-3.
Our first drive was in the turbodiesel, which will be the most important model in the range. Start it up and the unit settles into a muted idle and once on the move the impressive level of noise supression continues. At motorway speeds the engine noise is very low, and there isn’t much noise coming from the tyres or wind, either.
We tried the engine allied to the six-speed manual gearbox. This has a slightly notchy feel, just like the 9-3, but the ratios are well spaced to make the most of the diesel’s low rev torque. Strangely, despite being the same engine and weighing the same as the 9-3, the BLS doesn’t have that instant surge of power when you press the accelerator.
However, in real-world conditions is still has more than enough oomph for overtaking.
The ride and handling are in a different league to any other American saloon, with a surefooted feel and a sporty edge to the handling. Only the overlight steering lets things down.
Our second drive in the 2.8 V6 with an automatic gearbox proved that it’s a credible motorway cruiser. There’s plenty of power and the gearbox shifts well, but it isn’t notably better than the diesel, and is also much more expensive.
GIVEN its underpinnings, perhaps it’s no surprise that the BLS is miles better than any other Cadillac. This is an American car which steers, stops, rides and handles in a way no other model could. It will be interesting to see if the badge can tempt drivers away from their prestige German saloons.
|Model:||1.9 TiD||2.0T 175||2.0T 210||2.8 V6 T|
|Max power (bhp/rpm):||150/4,000||175/5,500||210/5,500||255/5,500|
|Max torque (lb-ft/rpm):||236/2,000||195/2,500||221/2,500||258/1,800|
|Max speed (mph):||130 (130)||137 (137)||146 (143)||155 (152)|
|0-62mph (secs):||9.5 (11.0)||8.5 (9.7)||7.7 (8.8)||6.7 (7.5)|
|Fuel consumption (mpg):||46.3 (39.2)||37.2 (31.4)||33.2 (31.0)||27.7 (26.2)|
|CO2 emissions (g/km):||159 (est)||195 (est)||199 (est)||239 (est)|
(Figures in brackets for auto models)