THE CONTENDER AND THE CREATORS
This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!
Published on Sun, Oct 21, 2007
By: The LACar Editorial Staff
AND THE CREATORS
Good Vibrations Liz points to the right side of the dashboard: "Because of this, we had three re-designs. It was sticking out too much." Liz is Elizabeth Pilibosian, Vehicle Chief Engineer of Luxury Rear Wheel Drive Vehicles at General Motors, and my co-pilot during the first segment of the early morning drive. "This" is a small black plastic plate less than an inch long and perhaps one-half inch wide barely visible in the shade of the left A pillar. It has 'airbag' written on it. She catches my incredulous glance: "And we also had to change the needles on the sewing machines, because the stitching pattern was too rough."
In front of the leather-covered wheel with an array of electronic controls is a sensuous dashboard of dark material. It is not leather, but one would be hard pressed to call it plastic, especially that ubiquitous GM-standard issue cladding which over the years found its way in so many of its vehicles. This material is soft to the touch, intriguing and almost invites one to caress it. A contrasting filament stitch travels all along the front connecting the separating line over the instrument console. Right below, a fine layer of deeply polished wood sits atop a cream-beige interior cover. The visual effect is stunning. The twisty road is no obstacle for P235/50ZR18 Y-rated Michelin high-performance tires, and I am driving fast. After all, this is an all new 2008 Cadillac CTS with its FE-3 performance package. That means that I have under my control a 3.6L V-6 direct-injection engine, and 304 horses with 273 lb/ft of torque. Liz always enjoyed building things. She was fifteen when, upon her father's inquiry, she decided to become an engineer. While studying hard, and later perfecting her craft, she could not envision that, one day, her assignment would involve being strapped in a passenger seat of the product she so lovingly created, and driven around California at a ridiculous pace. Fortunately what she, and her colleagues created, is a luxury sedan that absolutely devours the road - the curves, twists, bumps and all. The CTS handles like a purebred European luxury sedan, and the drive reminds me of the trips through the mountain roads of Switzerland.
Despite the high speed, the CTS is always predictable. The steering is razor sharp, and I know at every curve how much of the envelope performance is left. That my driving is not even close to the edge becomes clear when we are overtaken by a black CTS. The fans of the movie "Spaceballs" remember when Rick Moranis (aka the Black Helmet) orders his spaceship accelerated from a light speed, through ridiculous speed, to ludicrous speed. The black CTS disappearing in the narrow curves ahead is about at the ludicrous speed level. Liz and I look at each other, wondering who has the nerve to go this fast. As we come out of the forest into the low-lying sun, Liz points out that the design team added one millimeter padding to the sun visors, to make them more appealing to the touch. Three redesigns over small plastic pieces, changing needles to have better stitching patterns, a concern about the sun visors? In a General Motors' car? What's going on here?
Performance There is so much passion for automotive engineering coursing through the veins of Rob Kotarak, Vehicle Performance Manager on the new CTS, that his blood should carry an SAE designation in addition to the type. Robert spent his career with General Motors, and was selected as one of the members of the team to work on the new CTS. Listening to his passionate explanation of the chassis and suspension improvements on the new CTS, one realizes that the winds of change at General Motors that brought about the new CTS are light years away from the old school. There was an old saying that the designers, when finished with their work, threw the results over the wall to engineering which did its part, and threw the results over the wall to manufacturing, and so on. This CTS is such a clear result of collaborative effort that the car would not know where to turn on the old GM lot. We travel in the base CTS model, designated FE-1. The independent front suspension was refined by using aluminum for the upper and lower control arms. This reduced unsprung mass, and as a result handling is more nimble. Less unsprung mass equals better road-holding. Robert explains that front stabilizers are hollow to save weight. The front shocks are monotube Bilsteins with 350 psi pressure. Larger shock mounts provide highly responsive damping and eagerly absorb bumps on the twisty and not always smooth two-lane pavement. A reason behind developing three different-handling models, Robert tells me, was that Cadillac could not abandon its core customers who prefer softer handling luxury sedan. At the same time, GM wants to have a mid-size luxury sedan to compete with the German and the Japanese manufacturers, whose customers are accustomed to firmer handling. A Karl Rove-type approach to marketing - hold on to your Yankee base, and attack the opposition on their turf. A softer handling model is still eating the curves at a speed that would send most of its predecessors directly to the pasture below. Robert is pointing out that they changed steering to have more dead-on feel. Additional front suspension refinements include an increased roll-center height; caster increased by one degree, lower-friction ball joints and revised bushing rates. The translation: I am having a blast.
Wile Ethelbert Any roadrunner knows he can always rely on superior speed to outmaneuver his nemesis -Wile Ethelbert Coyote aka Wile E. Coyote. The little guy sitting in the bushes on the road to Pinnacle Peak has the confidence, and the illustrious history of the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons, that he can outrun anything on the road. When he decides to make the dash, without the "beep-beep" signal, he could never dream that the next danger is coming in a form of a red CTS powered by a two-hundred-sixty-three-horsepower, 3.4 liter, V-6, its 253 lb.-ft of torque pushing the car at the rate of speed which exceeds anything in the ACME hardware catalog. Fortunately for the roadrunner, the red danger also comes equipped with a 12.4-inch front disk brakes with twin, 42mm pistons that can stop the CTS dead in its tracks. The astonished roadrunner ends up sprinting for a while in front of the car eventually to disappear on the right. Robert is laughing: "We nearly got him." Wile's note to self - get a Cadillac CTS. Base model will do for now. If the bird gets any smarter, check other options: that new 304-horses upgrade with dual overhead cam, aluminum engine block and cylinder heads, stainless steel variable pressure fuel rail, 11.3:1 compression ratio, electronic throttle control, and four valves per cylinder with four-cam phasing. This feature changes the timing of valve operation depending on conditions such as rpm and engine loads. By closing the exhaust valves late when needed, the engine can draw some exhaust gasses back into the combustion chamber. For simplicity of operation (need one hand to grab the roadrunner) choose a hydra-matic 6L50 six-speed automatic transmission. The operation is simple and intuitive. In the drive mode push the handle to the right and tap on the shifter and a heretofore fully automatic Cadillac will turn into a lively racer attaining a zero-to-sixty in 5.9 seconds, and top speed of 155 mph. That should get the guy. If not, the CTS also comes with an all-wheel drive, and for the precision of handling, the front to rear weight ratio is 53-47. By putting the battery into trunk, and using lighter materials up-front, the CTS team managed to build an automobile that is as close to ideal ratio as one would wish. Wile E. Coyote's final note to self: do they sell the 2008 CTS through the ACME catalog? Check.
Culture Club Were General Motors headquartered in Southern California, John Zinser's movie-actor looks would have probably landed him in Hollywood feature, thus representing a significant loss for automotive engineering. John, a Vehicle Line Director in the Global Luxury Rear Wheel Drive Vehicles, has spent significant time developing the fabled Northstar engine, and as a result was brought into the CTS program. In this instance, the team of engineers and designers on the new CTS program was created by selecting its members from a large pool of applicants, to insure a good group interaction. Liz, Robert and John all tell me that it was very important for GM to have team members be able to express criticism, exchange ideas, get into creative arguments, and be willing to adopt adverse points of view when it was clear that these would lead to better design and engineering solutions. Looking at the dramatic lines on the new CTS, as it sits on the verdant lawn of the Bernardus Lodge, the deep luster of its clearcoat enhanced by the fading light of the summer sun that has just disappeared behind the Santa Lucia Range, one can actually sense that collaborative effort. There are certain automobiles that showcase a harmony of proposals and ideas. The elements they show are subtle, almost imperceptible, and it is hard to describe them point by point, but an observer will instinctively recognize them when standing in front of one of these cars. As the dusk turns into darkness and envelops the Carmel Valley a staircase-like array of the bezels in the vertical headlamps illuminates the large, chrome dual-textured grille and a large Cadillac wreath above. Below, the lower air intake is flanked on both sides with brake duct intakes and fog lamps. In the rear of the car, Cadillac-trademark vertical tail lamps glow bright red. John invites us to get into the CTS. Compared to some German sedans the rear seat area is surprisingly spacious. The John points to a new "thin-seat" technology which provides comfort while providing room for those in the back. Even with the closed doors, the interior is bathed in a dramatic glow owing to white ambient LED light pipes recessed between the upper and lower instrument panel with subtle backlighting in the door pulls and footwells.
The navigation system rises from the center of the dashboard. In addition to all standard features, it has a three-dimension imaging of eight hundred major landmarks in the United States. And the standard XM Satellite Radio system will not only give real-time traffic conditions on a prescribed route but provide a weather forecast for an ending destination. Those enjoying iPod and MP3 have a USB jack located in the vehicle's center console and a 40 gigabyte hard drive. Imagine parents' delight on a longer trip when the progeny decides to put this disk memory to a full use and "accidentally" converts Haydn and Mozart to Hannah Montana. For me, however, the most impressive technology is its digital audio recording capability, which can record radio - AM/FM or XM - on an ongoing, 60-minute rolling basis. There is nothing more annoying than doing errands while listening to an interesting program, getting bits and pieces. In this car I can pause and rewind. My eyes are wandering from one detail to the next. A discrete LED beam from the roof provides faint light between the front seats around the shifter. This is usually a place where keys and other small objects mysteriously de-materialize after a night out, and a little illumination may just be the answer to that phenomenon. A busy day's evening stretches into a night, yet the conversation is still lively. Our hosts, Liz, Rob, John and others are brimming with pride. They worked long and hard on this project, and the result of their passion and professionalism is sitting on the lawn in front of us. In the automotive field there is no more awkward moment than conversing with creators of a car that "does not have it" for whatever reason (Pontiac Aztec comes to mind). On the other hand, it is such a pleasure showering praises on the people who made a truly exceptional product. The new CTS is firmly in the latter category.
The Contender and the Creators - Page 2