REVIEW DATE: 04 Sep 2006
A Diesel Cadillac Might Sound Faintly Ridiculous But The Reality Is Anything But. Andy Enright Takes A Look At The BLS 1.9 TD.
The concept of a diesel Cadillac is a tough one for me to get my head around. There is a precedent, however. Right in the dog days of the oil crisis back in 1979, a Seville with a 5.7-litre LF9 diesel engine was launched. This was a rather clumsy conversion of the petrol Oldsmobile V8 that was remembered as one of the worst engines ever installed in a vehicle. Suddenly the BLS diesel doesn't have a lot to live up to.
It's worth pausing for a moment just to let us see a) how far Cadillac has come and b) to allow me to have a good chuckle at the expense of Americans. With its output of just 120bhp, the LF9 lump was, unsurprisingly, a little on the slow side. Developing just over 21bhp per litre, this V8 would trundle to 60mph from rest in 15.7 seconds with that all-important quarter mile taking a lengthy 20.8 seconds at 69 mph. It also gained an appalling record for durability - the bolts in the cylinder heads stretching and the head gaskets blowing with almost metronomic reliability. A booming aftermarket trade soon sprouted up transplanting petrol engines back into these cars.
The latest Cadillac oil burner doesn't permit such cheap shots. Although it's so heavily based on the Saab 9-3 that some wags have mused that BLS stands for 'Bit Like Saab', this model is a very accomplished performer. Not just good for a Cadillac, good period. It has quite a few factors working in its favour. First off, it's based on very solid underpinnings. The Epsilon Platform, as GM calls this chassis, delivers a sharp handling and sweet riding family of cars and the BLS is no exception. Then there's the appeal. Many customers looking for something different would quite appreciate the style of a Caddy, the build integrity of a Saab and the running costs of something like a Vectra.
"The Cadillac BLS 1.9TD is a credible option when compared to some rather tired alternatives"
The engine has a very convoluted history behind it. Initially developed as a joint effort between Saab and Fiat, it has seen service in both these companys' wares and is manufactured at the FMA plant in Italy. The 150bhp 16-valve engine is the fruit of four years hard development work and it's one of the finest engines in its class, outpunching the entry-level diesels found in the Audi A4 (115bhp), BMW 3 Series (122bhp), and Mercedes C-Class (122bhp). With prices starting at £21,473, the Cadillac significantly undercuts many of these 'premium' offerings. While watching the BLS 1.9TD's rump disappearing into the distance, drivers of the above vehicles can console themselves with their badge equity.
Mated to a six-speed manual gearbox as standard, with the option of a six-speed auto, there's plenty of scope for plugging the car straight into the meat of the torque curve. With at least 90% of peak torque available in a broad load running from 1,750 to 3,250rpm, you'll be guaranteed respectable progress. After all, peak torque for the 16v engine is 320Nm, which is more than you get from the unit renowned as the class benchmark, BMW's 2.0-litre diesel.
General Motors has worked closely with turbocharger manufacturer Garrett to optimise the performance of this low inertia turbocharger and the result is very close to that target for all decent turbocharged cars, namely to feel like a normally-aspirated bigger capacity engine. The variable geometry vanes in the turbo unit allow the pitch of the blades to be electronically adjusted for strong low-end torque and then tuned to offer a smooth transition into the turbo's power phase. Although it's not quite as good as Audi's 2.0T engine in this regard, it's certainly close and is one of the better turbo diesels in this sector.
It's respectably quick too, punting the Caddy to 60mph in just 9.5 seconds, but the in-gear acceleration times that really indicate a diesel engine's torque response have been slashed dramatically. With a top speed of 131mph, this diesel is certainly no sluggard but it still retains some traditional diesel characteristics in its 46.3mpg combined fuel figure or 39.2mpg if you opt for the six-speed auto.
You won't want to be choking on your own expulsions and the powertrain includes the most advanced diesel particulate filter on the market, enabling Euro IV emissions compliance - an essential requirement for many company car drivers. Unlike other particulate traps, it is maintenance-free and self-cleaning, requiring no additives or periodic replacement. In order to clean the filter and to keep the exhaust flow as free as possible, deposits are periodically burnt off by short pulses of over-fuelling. These briefly raise exhaust temperatures to the required level of 600º C. The process is automatically initiated when back pressure in the exhaust system reaches a certain level and is completely undetectable by the driver. The self-cleaning process takes place whenever necessary, irrespective of throttle load or engine temperature.
The exterior styling is distinctive with a wedge-shaped profile and a look that isn't going to be confused with any other marque on the road. The huge vertically-stacked headlights and tail lights are interesting design touches and there are V-shaped motifs within the grille and the number plate surrounds. The crease along the car's hipline looks sharp enough to slice prime rib and the interior is certainly a cut above the usual American fare. There's often a disappointing sensation of getting into a cheap hire car at LAX whenever we sit in an American import but the BLS offers a clean if not adventurously-styled fascia.
It takes a real step change in the way we think about buying new cars to countenance buying a Cadillac and for many buyers, that's still a step too far. This diesel model serves to lessen the gulf between showroom fantasy and the reality of a Caddy on your drive. The BLS 1.9TD is a credible, affordable and practical proposition. The best part about this diesel BLS is - and whisper it - it's not even available in the US. Things may often be bigger but they're not always better on the other side of the pond.
|OVERALL||7.4 OUT OF 10|
|Space / Versatility||8|