Last post on Nov 25, 2013 at 11:27 AM
You are in the Sedans
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Lexus GS 430, Acura RL, BMW 5 Series, Volvo S80, Audi A6, Infiniti M35, Infiniti M45, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Cadillac STS, Sedan
#2987 of 10348 Car and Driver - Road and Track "Editor for a Day"
Jul 11, 2005 (7:06 am)
Saturday my wife and I were the "invited guests" of C&D and R&T magazine to a two and a half hour closed course comparison test drive.
First head to head comparo: 2005 Cadillac STS V6 vs. BMW 530i (both automatics.)
Second comparo: 2005 Cadillac CTS 255 HP V6 vs. Lexus ES330 (ditto autos only.)
Acceleration, braking, handing tests in a parking lot, closed course. Each driver was allowed 2 full runs in each car. A "race car driver" was in the front passenger seat and you were given a "demo ride" in each car by the pro.
A clip board and a form to evaluate the cars also went along with the deal. Everything was "staged" -- arrival, sign in, sign waiver, introductory lecture, one car of each kind to inspect for fit and finish, etc (the inspection cars were not driven so that the hood and trunk and all four doors could remain open for all of us "editors" to poke around without having the cars taken away from us while we were looking at the back seat, trunk room or playing with the switchgear.)
Three drivers per car, plus the instructor. Same routine for all four cars.
Comparisons were based on price points: the STS and the 530i were approximately $50,000. The CTS and the ES330 were in the high $30,000's.
My wife and I (and our newfound friend co-driver, Gene) all took this very seriously and wrote all our notes down -- Gene and I ranked the cars 1,2,3,4. Even though the rankings were supposed to be within price class, we listed the cars in that fashion. We were allowed to ask any questions we wanted of the pro drivers (who seemed to be contract drivers to C&D and R&T.)
The BMW was so bad, I could not figure it out. Hanging from the back of the tent was a sign that listed the car's attributes: engine stats, tire/wheel stats, price, weight, dimensions, etc. The BMW and the Cadillacs all claimed to be 255HP machines. The BMW was a dog, a bone and frankly anemic. The brake pedal travel was excessive before you hit the sponge that passed for brakes. With four people in the BMW it felt, I was certain, like a 525, rather than a 530.
I looked at each tire/wheel and wrote each size of the tires down on my clipboard test notes. The tires did not match the sign. I asked if the 530 (which had a 5 speed auto) was a 225 or 255 HP version. I was told it was a 225. I asked if the Cadillac STS had the sport package on it -- the answer was yes, but the BMW was standard in every way "that's because this was a price comparo, not a feature to feature comparo." The Cadillac was about $2K more than the BMW, for the record.
The BMW's rear suspension bottomed in the handling test.
Much the same thing over on the CTS vs ES330 test. The ES330 was very nice, when it was not moving. And, it did ride well, it was plush that is -- it took the bump section better (smoother and quieter, only in the definition of better) than the other cars. But the poor FWD sofa like ES330 was not a car I could imagine owning.
So, all is done -- it is a good 2.5 hours later and my test report scores (subjective and objective) are all noted. The CTS was number one, and overall, I would have to say it was tied with the STS (since the CTS engine had to lug around a lot less weight in the CTS than in the STS.) Both Cadillacs had sport suspensions (but NOT magna ride); the BMW did not have Servotronic steering and it felt sluggish and stiff at low speed and overboosted as the engine revs climbed.
The Lexus was a "5" on a scale of 1 to 4, it was that bad. The BMW did have a nicer interior than the STS but if you like the CTS interior (I run hot and cold on it, I described the CTS interior as an STS interior with a goiter), it was pretty close to the BMW. Fit and finish was probably best on the ES330 followed by the BMW and the Cadillacs brought up the rear.
Overall, all things considered, the Cadillacs were tied for first place, the BMW was, despite all my negatives, second place and the Lexus was a distant third place, so distant I always rated it fourth place even though with the Cadillacs tying for first place there only were 3 places.
Opened my eyes.
All is over, "please go to the exit interview tent for some parting gifts."
We entered the tent -- it was a Cadillac showroom in the middle of the parking lot. Our gifts, a very nice fabric brief case with the Cadillac crest embroidered on it, a Cadillac ball cap and a fabric Car and Driver portfolio and an Identification Card, "Honorary GM Employee ID."
Now, this does not change the facts -- as they could be presented under the circumstances: the Cadillacs WERE superior. But I suspect they were ringers -- sport set up vs standard. Tire sizes that belied the the posted size. Perhaps a "dumbed down" BMW. The Cadillac STS had sat nav and was ever so nice. The seats in the BMW were better, but of course the BMW had a black interior which is THE MOST DREADFUL interior look for this car -- can you say cheeeeeeep? But, despite the BMW apparently deliberately being put in its worst possible light (interior wise), the BMW interior was STILL nicer than the STS's. In many ways, so was the Lexus Interior.
Now, I drove my new A6 3.2 (also 255HP) to this event. When I got into my car and drove off, I couldn't help but try the same test loop in my car as I had just done in the other cars. The CTS still struck me as having the most power of the 5 cars (now including my 1,500 mile on the clock A6 3.2), but just by the hair on my chinny chin chin. Otherwise, the A6 3.2, up against either the 530 or the STS would have been a no contest. I may understand why the Audi was not included, or perhaps it just was that the BMW could be a 225HP version (and a 2005) and could be snuck in (perhaps?) along side a 255HP Cadillac.
I had fun, the parting gifts were pretty nice -- but I feel so USED! It would have been OK if there had been a BMW, Cadillac AND Lexus showroom after the "test drives." But this, after the fact, was clearly a Cadillac sponsored event.
Funny, I thought it was a coincidence when my new co driver, Gene, came to the same conclusions regarding the cars -- and the three of us, Gene, my wife and I, all EXPECTED the BMW to be the hands down fave -- na baby na.
I have nothing against such events. Heck I have been to two Porsche test drive events and one Chrysler-Jeep event. And, in these events there were (sometimes) camparo cars for "evaluation." Generally though, I expect a Jeep event to prove Jeeps are "better" off road than, X5's or whatever.
I had no idea, until after the fact, that this was apparently a Cadillac deal.
Should you get such an invitation, please take it -- it is fun, entertaining and even a little educational. It is, however, not even close to being "unbiased."
Jul 11, 2005 (7:13 am)
thanks for the writeup. I'm definitely glad I ignored my invite. My wife was surprised I wasn't interested, but my point was that I didn't feel like driving 2 hours to where it was being held in Philly to drive a few cars that I could just go to the local dealership and try out if I so desired. Now after hearing how its set up, I'm even more sure I made the right decision.
Glad you had fun, though.
#2989 of 10348 Interesting...
Jul 11, 2005 (8:25 am)
Mainly because the performance stats for teh 2005 530i would not seem to indicate sluggishness. It's no rocket, but not slow either. I've never driven it though so I really don't know. I would imagine the new engine would make a difference, but that's odd about the suspension. I realize it wasn't a sport suspension, but I've never heard complaints about how the 530 handles before. Hell, maybe they crippled the poor car just to make the Caddie do better! I do know that the 545 is anything but sluggish and with the sort suspension it handles like it's on rails. It really does sound more like you drove the 525. You don't think they'd actually rebadge the car do you?
#2990 of 10348 re: Car and Driver - Road and Track "Editor for a Day"
Jul 11, 2005 (8:48 am)
I asked if the 530 (which had a 5 speed auto) was a 225 or 255 HP version. I was told it was a 225.
FYI: The 2006 BMW 530i is 255 HP and is a six speed. I've driven the 2006 525i, and it is a tad slow off the line (kind of felt like an Audi) but it has plenty of power otherwise and handles great. I didn't feel the braking was too soft.
I'll be driving a 530i in a week or so... hopefully the take off will be a bit better.
Sounds like it was just a Cadillac demo day and they castrated/mis represented the other cars to make Cadillac look better. I'm a little surprised that C&D would host something so biased.
Jul 11, 2005 (9:41 am)
I'm not surprised. Car and Driver accepts Cadillac advertising, don't they?
#2992 of 10348 I knew what I knew and I wanted to see if they would answer. . .
Jul 11, 2005 (9:45 am)
. . .the pro drivers were programmed to answer but not volunteer.
I knew that the 255 HP 530i when equipped with an auto was both a dumb thing to do when it is about the last hold out with a stick AND it would be 6 forward speeds.
The fact that they answered truthfully was good -- but this thing would have been better compared with the ES330 if power was wanted.
The CTS with the sport set up but with auto was clearly in its sweet spot - 255 hp and about 500 pounds lighter than the STS.
The fact that the HEAVIER STS bettered the 530 (but the 530 CLAIMED to have less torque than the STS) of course it had WAY less torque since it was NOT the new 3.0 255HP motor.
I asked "does this BMW have Servotronic steering" the pro driver said, "it must have." But when he asked the other pro drivers they all said "nope, not on this one." The steering wheel feel at a dead stop was overly heavy. The Cadillac by comparison was just right.
This was set up, MAYBE, (probably) so that the Cadillac would impress you even if you were a BMW bigot.
I don't mind being in such a situation -- but to claim, initially, that this was a test report and later have it turn out to be obviously sponsored by Cadillac, was disappointing.
Maybe if the event would have said sponsored by Cadillac we wouldn't have taken up the challenge -- we didn't have anything else going on, and it was fun. I certainly would never do to a car I was test driving what I did to these vehicles, so in that respect it did allow you to wring out the cars.
So Cadillac is building some near world class cars --? Yes, but I already knew that. I also thought, already, that they weren't QUITE there yet. Close, but no cigar. The real test, I'd wager would have been comparably priced M35 Infiniti and the STS V6. I'd wager, no contest -- but heck, I felt that way about the A6 3.2 "informal" comparo I did whilst still on the parking lot test track.
My A6 3.2 bettered the STS -- !
#2993 of 10348 Re: I knew what I knew and I wanted to see if they would answer. . . [markcincinnati]
Jul 11, 2005 (10:03 am)
Of course it was a Caddy set up!!! Sounds like you had a great time.
Nevertheless, Consumer Reports gave very high marks for the CTS. They were very impressed with the car, so even if was a set up, apparently it's a great car. However, I want to see the CTS reliability record in a couple years.
#2994 of 10348 Re: I knew what I knew and I wanted to see if they would answer. . . [markcincinnati]
Jul 11, 2005 (12:03 pm)
Actually, the 530 is 6 speed with both manual and auto. The 0-60 time difference between the two is only .2 seconds (6.4 and 6.6 respectively). The manual, of course, is more fun, but performance-wise it obviously doesn't make a huge difference. I opted for auto in my 545 (gasp!) after having owned only one other auto car in my life. I traded a 330xi with stick for it. Can't say I miss it much given the traffic around Chicago and its suburbs. I know it's somewhat of a poor substitute, but the steptronic auto isn't bad. It lets you decide when to shift at least. Obviously there's no clutch though. It actually took me a while to get used to automatic, and I still rest my right hand on the shifter. It's just that having driven my 330 around here for a while, it was a real pain to push the clutch in and out about a million times in first gear in traffic!
#2996 of 10348 Re: My experience / decision [begbie]
Jul 11, 2005 (1:21 pm)
Funnily enough, I went through the same decision-making process that Begbie went through, and I chose the 530xi hands-down over the M35x. I posted this earlier, and my decision was based on the following factors:
- I want to get back to the joy of a manual shifter.
- The BMW exterior looks much cooler to me than the bulky looking M35x (although I definitely found the car to be way better looking in person than in the awful photos in the brochure and on the website). The 5 looks like it is moving even when it is standing still -- and I know lots of people who love the way my car looks (and yes, I know it is not the most popular of designs
- I felt cramped and claustrophobic in the M35 (surrounded by too much stuff), and the light interior wood looks very cheap.
- I HATED the control panel in the M that is canted towards the top of the car (the part below the navigation screen).
- Finally, walking up to the 5 gets my blood pumping and I am excited to get in the car and drive. Walking up to the M makes me feel blah and reminds me that I would be making a compromise. This is all emotion, so go figure!
Don't get me wrong -- the M is a great car too, but the 5 got my money! And I am a first time BMW buyer with no prior prejudices. If anything, I have a bias towards the quality and reliability of Japanese makers (owned a very reliable Toyota and a very problematic Volvo before this).
To each his own, as the adage goes.