Although an onslaught of German and Japanese rivals dented its reputation in the 1980s and 1990s, Cadillac has been on an upwardly mobile mission during the 21st century.
The technology flagship of General Motors, Cadillac is North America's second-oldest car manufacturer (behind Buick). Begun by Henry Leland in Michigan in 1902, Cadillac was named after the founder of Detroit itself.
Although Cadillac was world-renowned for its...
luxurious, high-tech designs from the get-go, it wasn't until the boisterous post-war period that the brand began to develop its showy side. GM styling chief Harley Earl introduced such features as soaring tailfins, extensive chrome trim and wrap-around windshields that soon marked a Cadillac as something truly special.
The brand prospered well into the 1980s, although its products began to wither as a generally ambivalent GM seemed content with mediocrity. Lexus and, subsequently, Mercedes-Benz stepped up their game and Cadillac was left behind.
However, the Cadillac CTS introduced for the 2003 model year heralded a new era for the brand. Although it too was flawed, the CTS represented a giant leap forward in terms of both design and drivability. The subsequent introduction of the fire-breathing Cadillac CTS-V has further cemented Cadillac as a builder of performance machines.
The brand seems to be moving in two directions to compete against both BMW and Lexus. Performance-minded models like the rear-wheel-drive CTS and ATS are clearly aimed at taking on German rivals, while more luxury-oriented models like its SRX crossover and XTS large sedan are designed to lure in more traditional buyers.
Although its "standard of the world" status might be debatable, there's no denying that Cadillac has regained its crown as the preeminent American luxury manufacturer.