(First posted 5/17/2017. Read Part 1 here.)
In the noughties, I discovered the wonders of the internet. No longer did I have to rely on physical magazines to access car information. This further opened up the world of American cars to me as US publications had always been rare here. To my delight, the noughties proved to be a decade rich with wild and wacky American cars.
Seriously, let’s stop and reflect on the first decade of the new century for a minute. The retro design movement was in full swing, having been started by the Plymouth Prowler. Chrysler followed up on that with the enormously popular Chrysler PT Cruiser and, several years later, the exciting return of the Dodge Challenger. Ford reintroduced the Thunderbird as a throwback convertible. GM, under the guidance of Bob Lutz, embarked on a decade of both improved mainstream products and unexpected niche models from its sprawling menagerie of brands. There was the convertible pickup Chevrolet SSR and cute HHR wagon. The Chevy Camaro returned after being endlessly teased.
Perhaps the most surprising and delightful niche product spearheaded by Lutz were the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky (#12). The Kappa platform twins injected some much needed excitement into the Pontiac and Saturn brands. The Solstice showed Lutz had a vision for Pontiac as a niche performance brand, selling only cars like the Solstice and the excellent, imported G8 (which, being Australian, doesn’t qualify for this series). Sadly, reluctant management and desperate dealers saw Pontiac continue to peddle flimsy rebadges like the G3, and both Pontiac and the Kappa platform died with GM’s bankruptcy. While never superior to the Mazda MX-5 they targeted, these were stylish, competitive roadsters. Surely we can never have too many of those around.
A weaker offering from Pontiac was the Grand Prix GXP (#13). The GM Performance Division was tasked with keeping the aging W-bodies interesting, something they achieved with a new, optional 5.3 V8 engine. The GXP received the most attention with unique suspension tuning and performance equipment. Critics were relatively complimentary of this bizarre, performance-oriented melding of a 303-horsepower V8 to an old FWD platform and this incongruous match-up always intrigued me. Of course, the replacement G8 – from my homeland – was a far superior car.
Another neglected GM platform was the FWD G-Body, which underpinned GM’s full-size sedans. By the time the G-Body Buick Lucerne arrived in 2006, the premium full-size segment had moved on. Rivals could get more power and better fuel economy from their V6 engines and six-speed automatic transmissions. Despite this, the Lucerne CXS and Super V8s (#14) appealed to me for a few reasons. They were the first of many Buicks that would interest me after the untimely demise of Oldsmobile. They were basically rebodied Sevilles, even receiving the ’03 STS’ Magnetic Ride Control, and they looked handsome inside and out.
When I was around 5, I sat in a Holden VR Caprice at an auto show. As I sunk into the cushy leather seats, an appreciation formed for luxuriously-appointed, full-size sedans. However, when I began driving, I realized the importance of responsiveness and dynamics. I’m really not a Brougham man. I want ride and handling. The flawed Lucerne V8 offered both, to some degree, and plenty of room. As for its platform-mate, the Cadillac DTS? I’m not a fan.
The Lucerne may have been nice but it was outshone not only by its direct rivals, but also by a cheaper Chevrolet. The 2008 Malibu (#15) was not only cheaper, it had a nicer interior, was faster (in V6 guise), more economical, had better handling, and even looked more dapper. It wasn’t just a nice car that was well-received by critics. It heralded a new era for the Big 3 of global platform-sharing and relatively short model cycles. It showed the domestics could produce a stylish, mainstream car, competitive in size, price, ride, handling, economy and build quality, after years of cost-cutting and stagnant products. No excuses or qualifiers needed.
The 2002 Ford Thunderbird was nice but it looked to the past. Its platform-mate, the Lincoln LS (#16), looked to the future. Namely, a future where then-Ford-owned Jaguar and Lincoln shared platforms, and a future where Lincoln battled the Germans. It was the wildest idea Ford ever had with its domestic luxury brand, with which it had always been exceedingly pragmatic. All of a sudden, they had a sport sedan with rear-wheel-drive, 50/50 weight distribution, a SelectShift tiptronic auto, and even an optional manual transmission. Unfortunately, the LS was burdened with reliability issues, a bland interior, and a non-descript, if well-proportioned, body. Ford’s precarious financial situation precipitated a change back to their old model of luxing up Ford platforms, leaving the LS an exotic orphan.
If I had fond feelings already towards Cadillac due to the ’92 and ’98 Seville, the Art & Science cars turned me into a bona fide fan. While Lincoln cautiously dipped into the world of German sport sedans, Cadillac dove in. Here in Australia, we had been shoving V8s and manual transmissions into sensibly-sized sedans for years but the U.S. demurred, preferring coupes. That changed with the first CTS-V (#17). Its razor-edged styling looked best in V trim and its 400-horsepower 6.0 V8 and 6-speed manual were nothing to sneeze at, even if the car was a little rough around the edges. Cadillac made a big splash in the RWD sport sedan world with the first CTS and demanded attention and reconsideration overnight.
The first truly impressive premium crossover in my eyes was the inaugural BMW X5. It was quite remarkable, really: a proper, performance-oriented RWD platform and an interior and exterior that was as close to a BMW sedan as an SUV could get. The Cadillac SRX (#18) followed this model, earning critical acclaim despite an initially sub-par interior. The SRX actually bested the X5 in one regard by offering a third row of seating. For whatever reason, the SRX never sold as well as expected and so its replacement pursued the more milquetoast Lexus RX instead, switching to front-wheel-drive and losing both its optional V8 and my interest. Sales skyrocketed.
You already know how I feel about the Cadillac STS and STS-V (#19). I loved its distinctively Cadillac/Art & Science styling. I loved Cadillac’s return to rear-wheel-drive. I loved the improved Northstar V8. If the Seville made me appreciate Cadillac, the STS made me love GM’s luxury brand. Alas, it’s hard for non-German offerings to succeed in the mid-sized luxury sector. Just ask Lexus and Infiniti. Cadillac’s lazy 2008 refresh didn’t help, nor did the arrival of the second-generation CTS and CTS-V (#20).
The second-generation finally brought a truly competitive interior, shading the STS, and the new V was even more bonkers with a 556-horsepower supercharged V8. The new base 3.0 V6, introduced in 2010, was the CTS’ only major weakness with its so-so fuel economy and paucity of torque. Fortunately, Cadillac had a turbo four on the way. I was very disappointed when GM announced at the eleventh hour that Cadillac would not be returning to Australia, even as a ship sailed here loaded with CTS sedans.
The arrival of the future classic CTS-V wagon in 2010 allowed me to have a quick answer ready when I was asked the usual, “What’s your dream car?” It was even available with a stick! To trenchant opposition from many of you, I called the CTS and CTS-V wagons the most beautiful wagons ever made.
What is this, “27 Favorite American Cars” or “27 Favorite Cadillacs”?! The final car of this instalment is the Cadillac XLR (#21). Cadillac has since softened its Art & Science design language but these early designs were delightfully polarizing. To some, the XLR may be ugly. To me, these are absolutely stunning luxury roadsters. A polished version of the C5 Corvette with a Northstar V8 and a folding metal hardtop, the XLR was Cadillac’s first entry into the luxury roadster market since the Allanté. Critics found it competitive with the Mercedes SL but it lasted only a single generation.
My family’s cars, growing up, had been General Motors products from Australia and Europe. The noughties showed me GM also produced a wide range of appealing products in North America. In the final instalment, I’ll share with you some Ford and Chrysler products first introduced in the noughties – and some more recent products from other brands – that keep me thoroughly enthralled in the American automotive industry.
Future Curbside Classic: 2004-2009 Cadillac XLR – The Allanté, Part II
Future CC: The Smooth, Quiet Road to Nowhere, Parts 1 & 2 – Cadillac STS, Buick Lucerne
Curbside Classic: 2003 Lincoln LS V8 – Reach Higher
COAL: 2009 Cadillac SRX – The Whole Is Slightly Less Than The Sum Of Its Parts
The Lucerne was basically a Cadillac Deville (aka DTS), not a Seville. The Solstice and Sky were kind of heavy because their bodies were fairly stiff. I don’t know how the body structure compares with the Mazda though. I had the RWD SRX like you pictured except in white.
Ok, finally we have one we can agree on. For a while I’d considered getting a Lincoln LS because you could get a 5 speed manual transmission, but now they’re getting a little long in the tooth.
As for the rest of them, you can have them…
I came within about 5 feet of buying an LS back in 2006.After looking at several competitors, I’d test driven a 2003 LS V8 and it won me over. The price was within my budget, but barely, so I went to look at a 2000 LS that was something like $5k cheaper (and a better color also). A little annoying that the V8 was automatic-only, but I did really like the car. And I was replacing my dearly departed Mark VIII, so going from one Lincoln into another made sense.
That 5 feet thing? That’s how far away the 2003 Marauder parked in the next space was sitting.
Cadillac xlr is gorgeous. Sure… Its not as good as an sl55… But its kinda rare. I like rare.
A sweet guy in the campus I adored for a while, he drove away in a Pontiac solstice near the end of the semester, making me fancy about him for the rest of the day, even I couldn’t help mentioning him to my academic advisor that afternoon.
I think that car increases the attraction of the driver in a romantic way, much so compared to his own Grand Cherokee with half a dozen dents and rust hanging from the toe hitch. Then it turns out the car belongs to his dad
Now lie back on zee Curbside Couch and tell zee doktor all about zis. Does every story have a car?
Many years ago the psychiatrist from insurance company complained my symptoms contained too many cars.
My wife says exactly the same thing! And that advice is free.
No always welcome, but free.
How does you feel about your Mother Road? (c:
I regret that I cannot share in your obvious enthusiasm for the GM stuff of that era. Likewise, that Lincoln LS. I was intrigued by it when it came out but it was part of an oddball platform that became orphaned after a short while. And I don’t believe that either it or its Jaguar twin ever racked up stellar reliability stats.
As I think about it, there were not many cars from this era that got me all that excited.
The grass is always greener on the other side of the ocean 🙂
I’m glad you at least have had an opportunity (or several if I am not mistaken) to see, hear, touch, and drive many of these.
The ones that didn’t end up selling generally had issues that were not pointed out by the gushing journalists of the day and/or are not really apparent unless time is spent with them in person. The ones that did (a couple such as the Malibu) were very competitive and likely might have done even better had they not been saddled with the badges that they were. “Malibu” for example is a name that was pretty much dead to the coasts after years (decades?) of absolute crap, only now, several generations later, is the Malibu name generally respected. Of course, now sedans in general are out of favor.
That’s the irony of the Malibu’s situation. GM has spent the last 15 or so years trying to get that nameplate back to respectability and everyone and their brother wants a CUV.
Saturn Sky, yes. Looked better to me than the Pontiac. Biggest problem with them was that when you put the top down, it took two or three slams to close the decklid over them.
Other than the 2006-11 DTS and 2008-14 CTS, I have never been a fan of Cadillac’s art and science designs. For me they’re just too angular and box like…they remind me too much of all the “new” cars I saw in the 80s when growing up…each car looked like the next one because every last one of them were a bunch of shapeless square boxes on wheels (which I never liked to begin with).
And with the 2000-05 DTS, what is up with the goofy headlights and dorky looking front clip? Definitely not a fan of it here! On the bright side, I think the CTS released for 2008 is easily one of the best (if not the best) looking Cadillac models of late. About thing I don’t like about current Cadillac offerings is how the headlights go way back into the fenders…it’s a stupid looking design element I just can’t stand.
The ’00-05 DeVille was no beauty but the DTS was a bit of a mess. In their attempt to add more modern styling cues to the car, it actually made it look more old-fashioned (in my eyes), especially the rear. The revisions also exaggerate the front overhang.
I also loathe the DTS because the Lucerne was hardly a class-leader and the DTS was on the same platform, with a very similar interior, same features and yet much more expensive. Cadillac should have (and could have) done better, as I discussed here:
A DTS makes a decent used buy today but you would have had to have been an extreme FWD Cadillac loyalist (or livery car driver) to shell out that amount of cash new. Those were decent bones in 2000, not so much in 2006. I still would have taken one over a Town Car though.
That 2008 CTS! Then, the CTS Wagon! The original SRX!
When my parents immigrated to the US in the 1950’s, my father saved his nickels and bought a used 1953 Cadillac Sedan DeVille. He loved/hated that car, as it had a lot of electrical issues, but it drove so well. He later switched to Fords, as he drove Ford trucks for work.
I’m also a big fan of Art & Science; I think because the styling reminds me greatly of the 1977 B-bodies. I was in high school when those cars were released, even among teenagers they made a big impression. The current generation of Cadillacs look like they could have been styled by Chuck Jordan and released for 1987 instead of 2007 or 2017.
I’m also a big fan of the Saturn Sky and Pontiac Solstice. I don’t fit in a Miata comfortably, which sucks, because I would love to try a Fiat 124. When I was close to 300 lbs., I could fit in a Solstice. Besides, my Northeast Ohio homeboy Chuck Mallett modified these Kappa roadsters with Corvette engines. Those cars have to be the amyl nitrate of vehicles…
I’d take any of those cars in the last pic…
The retro cars were the only designs that did it for me in the aughts. So much of car design shook down to sedans as the only bodystyle, while 90s jellybean aero permanently rooted itself, but with some disjointed angles awquardly tossed in and headlight shapes suddenly went bizarre, wrapping well over the fenders and hoods to make them stand out slightly better. Which worked briefly until everyone else followed. Pretty much all of these examples are reasons I lost interest in “new” cars at the time.
I liked the CTS when it debuted but as art and science proliferated the entire Cadillac lineup(which is/was far too big) it became clear that I’m going to be seeing rehashes of this basic design for the foreseeable future, just in different sizes. Sort of the American equivelant of Pininfarina’s practice of creating one design every 20 years and simply applying it to every car they make no matter the brand.
The Lincoln LS was seriously wasted talent. The chassis, like the MN12 a decade earlier, was more advanced than anything else Ford had. It was completely let down by troublesome engines and drive trains and the fact that it looked like a tracing paper copy of a BMW 5 series, but positioned in a brand that had literally the least pretense to be a BMW fighter, past/present/future and the aeformentioned interior was truly the dullest design I’ve ever seen in a car that expensive.
Sounds like you were Bob Lutz’s ideal customer. On the internet, you could self-pleasure to all the cool stuff he was creating, without any risk you would buy any one of these things. Bob Lutz won all the internets. GM still went bankrupt.
(Ok, the 08 Malibu was a good car, and GM’s best effort in that segment since 1982. In typical GM fashion, the next generation was a turd.)
It really bothers me that the ’13 Malibu gets lumped with the turd label. It wasn’t. It had a bit of a tight backseat, that’s about all that was wrong with it. But of course, The Truth About Cars and other blogs need to have a whipping boy. Look at how the ’11 Avenger and 200 were still panned despite being massively improved, and the Malibu was even better than them. It drove well, the interior felt very high-quality, fuel economy and performance were class-competitive. It didn’t look as nice but, hey, looks are subjective.
I wrote about it here:
If anything, it felt like maybe the automotive media had expected the Malibu to leap to the top of the class and be a better car in every metric than the Accord. It wasn’t but to call it a turd is a sad mischaracterization.
Sales dipped slightly so GM rushed probably its quickest mid-cycle enhancement ever, but it’s actually worth noting Malibu sales didn’t even dip that much. Which is especially surprising considering there was a new, massively improved Impala on the scene.
Also your remarks about Lutz and his fanboys are off-base. GM went bankrupt effectively as a result of considerable debt and legacy costs. Lutz’s efforts as head of product development arguably helped the company. Look at the use of global platforms and picking from the global portfolio instead of the waste and inefficiency of parallel model ranges. The SSR and Kappa twins were halo models, sure, and you can argue against the effectiveness of halo models. But look at the global Delta and Epsilon platforms. Cadillacs that better suited export markets, although bankruptcy and the GFC messed up those plans (like a new diesel engine for the European market CTS). Other niche models used existing platforms, like the HHR that did a good trade.
Did GM still have a way to go in quality and reliability? Yes. But GM under Lutz and Wagoner was trying to survive after years of mismanagement and taking some good steps in terms of product. I wouldn’t have bought a ’98 Malibu new but I would’ve definitely looked at an ’08. And that’s a mainstream product offering, not some fanciful niche model.
Yes, I agree GM was fundamentally doomed before Lutz even arrived, and he largely fixed the product issues that GM was suffering under. I was just poking some fun at his propensity to build hero cars that ultimately never really did much for GM. Apologies for pointing my ire in your direction.
The Pontiac Solstice, probably the biggest disappointment of any car I’ve owned.
After my wife’s death, I figured it was time to stop putting off that promise of finally owning a roadster which had been on the back burner since 1968. Test drove an ’05 Miata and a ’05 Solstice back to back and, to my surprise, liked the Solstice better. Traded in my ’87 Porsche 924S, a move I still regret.
The Solstice was a wonderful car for a day’s drive, something that’s an incredible back road bomber (my salesman came damn close to peeing himself on the test drive), but as a car to actually live with on a day to day basis it was so badly flawed that I’d sold it off within a year and a half. Little things like a top that took two people to get up and down quickly (one can do it, but you don’t want to if you’ve had to quickly pull over because you just hit a rain squall), you need to either put the top down or open the driver’s door if you want to back into a parking space, and the luggage capacity with the top down was one toothbrush.
With the top up, it was a washcloth and one toothbrush. The interior turned out to be uncomfortably cheap, something that only showed up about 100 miles down the road. Then there was the ignition key recall.
The Solstice is a fun car to rent for a day. Then you give it back and go back to something you can enjoy living with.
You want ride and handling, really, you need to shop at the PSA store nobody does them better.
I have seen plenty of the Pontiac Solstice around, but I can only remember seeing one Saturn Sky in my life. It was parked at my middle school parking lot. One of the teacher’s midlife crisis. As for the Solstice, I rarely see them driving around, but I see them in parking lots all the time.
I’ve gone up against a few of them, and each time the result has been the same; I’ve beaten them. They were never quick, heck, I was down 30 horsepower on the GXP and up 120 pounds and I could still clobber it. Take it from another young CC’er, you missed nothing.
The first time I saw a Solstice up close, I was blown away… it is so prettier than the Miata.
Many years latter I had the opportunity to drive one and I was very disappointed. The interior is sooo cheap. And the car is sooo slow.
“Noughties” – that’s a new word for me lol.
As you know through our discussions, I always respect your opinions on American cars that usually differ versus mine. Somewhat ironically, most of these cars did the exact opposite for me as they did for you, further diminishing my opinion of American cars and further reinforcing my notions that they are usually inferior (at least previous decade-speaking), and at the very least less appealing.
The Lincoln LS and Cadillac CTS-V are probably the only ones on this list that ever remotely appealed to me and gained any attention. The Lucerne I’ve always respected for what it was, and feel like it’s received more than its fair share of hate over the years for being, well, a Buick.
I’m sorry Will, I just can’t share the same enthusiasm for these Cadillacs that you can. My heart belongs to the old school barges, for as impractical and as retrograde as they are, there’s a certain charm to them that’s inescapable. Of course, I haven’t driven or ridden in any of these, so my feelings are solely based on the styling. But, I’ve never liked the Arts and Science theme, it’s just so angle dependent and color dependent that the designs don’t shine as brightly as they could’ve. The only cars that bear the styling that I like that bear the style are the DTS (Which has enough soft lines and curves to it that it contrasts with the sharp angles), the XLR (Who’s long, low, wide stance makes the angular themes work much better), and the Current Escalade (But that’s only if it’s in white and in ESV trim, any other way and it looks like a hearse designed by Snoop Dogg).
I think that the Sky is a very good looking design, probably the best design that Saturn ever put out, but I would have no interest in owning one. My dad was interested in one, but my Mom would’ve killed him if he bought himself a two seat roadster that couldn’t double as an emergency family car.
The Lincoln LS was honestly the wrong car for the wrong time. If Lincoln was really serious about a sports sedan, they should’ve done this sort of thing in the early to mid 90s when the market might’ve been more receptive. The fact that the LS gained the sorry reputation that it did certainly wasn’t helpful. Honestly, if it wasn’t for fleet Town Car sales and the Navigator, I think Lincoln would’ve gone under during Detroit’s bailout.
I don’t find any of those vehicles pictured appealing at all. Especially vehicles manufactured by Chrysler.
A neighbor four houses down from me has a silver Solstice, always parked on the street next to his ’94-’96 Town Car (makes for an amusing big-little comparison). I still admire that car every time I drive by. I know the interior was rather crap and I know it was never the dynamic equal of the Miata, but damn that’s a sexy car. A GXP would be such a fun weekend bomber…
“the SRX never sold as well as expected and so its replacement pursued the more milquetoast Lexus RX instead, switching to front-wheel-drive and losing both its optional V8 and my interest. Sales skyrocketed.”
Well put! What car guys like isn’t always what sells…sad but true.
CC Effect: on Monday we went for a long urban walk with a visiting couple from out of town (not car people). We passed a black roadster parked curbside I overheard the two women commenting about it, and my wife asked me what it was. The other woman thought Alfa Romeo, my wife suggested Jaguar. When I told them it was a Pontiac they looked confused. It was a Solstice. There are a handful I see around our smallish town. All black, I think. A lot more common than the Saturn Sky.
That boat load of CTS Caddies was diverted to NZ where they sold well but not at the prosed 90k+ they went out the door at just under 50k plus on road costs then another boat load was found and diverted and sold here, and they are rarely seen on the streets a guy I worked a few milk seasons with has one he really likes it and it hasnt given any trouble, Ive bought twice from this era both times a Citroen both times a diesel and for ride and handling they are very hard to beat and certainly far superior to anything from Australia, while those cars are faster in a straight line they lose out in the dynamic department quite badly, but around here V6 and V8 Japanese sedans seem to rule they are cheap and still have that percieved reliability edge, I was tempted but what I really wanted finally appeared online twice one of them in Skyliner’s town which sold while I was onmy way to view and the other scared everyone off with the ad wording but has proved to be a beautiful car the only other viewer had looked on you tube at the car tests and you tube has the wrong model every single time thank gawd I want the hatchback model not the sedan.
I thought that the rear drive SRX was a knockout. The interior was a bit of a let down, though the idea of a NorthStar turning the rear wheels sounded exciting. I had a NorthStar in my ’94 STS and it was a real runner. I did have a few problems; like a few starters, ( difficult replacement since it’s under the intake manifold) water pump, ( easy, since it screws into top of the head) and the worst, rear seal oil leaks, (impossible). 300 hp was a lot of horsepower in the mid 90’s. The STX looks like it could be kind of a hot rod SUV, maybe even better than the original Aviator. It wasn’t a success when new, and demand for used ones is very low. I suppose I can be picky and find a nice one.
Just acquired a 2007 SRX about a month ago. The road up to my house is a goat track, and I needed ground clearance. It was the second-cheapest SUV I could find in the area. (First cheapest was a Saturn Vue, but it’s never a good idea to buy a dead car brand.) Personally, I like that Cadillac has left the land yacht business and is now trying to be the dollar store BMW.
As much as I wanted to like the Lucerne, it left me totally cold. The biggest letdown was actually driving the CXS models, which they did dump into rental fleets in decent numbers. I drove a number of them, some for pretty decent mileages, and that magnetic suspension just felt like a mess. I had read the reviews praising it (or at least its tech) and felt that even the concurrent Grand Prix, not to mention the Accord and Fusion, had better balances of handling and ride. It felt uncontrolled, starched when you didn’t want it and floaty when you didn’t want it, and loose. Since I had experienced the platform in Oldsmobile clothes and with a relatively well tuned conventional suspension, I knew it wasn’t the G Body itself. Yes, it was sportier than the floppy, Lesabre-level base suspension and base DTS suspension (I never spent any time in a DTS Performance with magnetic shocks), but to me the Lucerne CXS felt like it had 2 poorly tuned suspensions at the same time – economy car brittle yet land yacht floaty. In my next career, I had to quote a customer something like $12k to replace the leaking magnetic shocks on a DTS Performance, which led to him trading it on (of all things) a new Sonata Hybrid. The DTS was probably 10 years old at the time and worth roughly $5k.
I will give GM’s marketing firms at that time, which I think were different for each division, lots of credit. They might have been selling some extremely hit or miss cars, but Buick, Pontiac and Cadillac all had great ads with stirring visuals and fantastic music selection, and even Chevrolet had some great ads in its American Revolution campaign, light years ahead of the silliness of Olds’ Start Something and the stale Like a Rock dreck of just a couple of years prior.
I wanted a Solstice pretty badly, but sitting in one at a car show, the frame of the windshield was at eye level and nearly in my face. How did Lutz fit in one?
I wanted a second gen CTS very badly, as it’s GM’s best looking sedan in many decades, but the seats were uncomfortable. First gen seats were great, but not cooled, a necessity with leather. I was passed by two this morning. Cadillac did sell the CTS with cloth seats–in the Middle East.