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2011 Cadillac CTS V6 coupe: So good you won't miss a V8

Stunning styling, peppy engine and good handling add up to another winner from Detroit
by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT, Cadillac is continuing to push the styling and performance limits with its attracted, sophisticated 2011 CTS V6 coupe.

Not so long ago, most V6 engines were a dubious choice for frugal car and truck buyers. They helped keep the purchase price down by costing less than the options V8 engines, and also got somewhat better gas mileage, reducing operating costs over time. But they had significantly less power, diminishing the driving experience - especially up steep hills and when passing on freeways - and limiting towing capacity.

But in recent years virtually all manufacturers have introduced base V6 engines that overcome all these problems. Most of the current generation of V6 engines offer more than adequate power and post very respectable EPA mileage ratings. And for those vehicles that also offer option V8 engines, they still help keep the price down.

A good example is the 3.6-liter engine used in several General Motors vehicles. First introduced in the 2004 Cadillac CTS, it offered a respectable 258 horsepower and 252 foot-pounds of torque. A second, newer version pumps those figures up to 304 horsepower and 252 foot-pounds of torque.

Compare this to the largest engine Cadillac ever produced, the 500 cubic inch V8 that powered the Eldorado from 1974 to 1976. Even with more than twice the displacement of the 3.6-liter V6, it only generated 190 horsepower and 360 foot pounds of torque in its last year of production.

And the 3.6-liter engine shines even more when installed in the stunning 2011 CTS coupe, the first two-door Cadillac since the Eldorado was discontinued in 2002. Based on the current version of the acclaimed CTS sedan, the sharply-chiseled coupe is attractive from every angle. The CTS is credited with helping revive public interest in Cadillac. The look was a dramatic break from the past when it was first introduced in 2002. Since then the entire Cadillac line has adopted the its aggressively aerodynamic styling cues, including the midsize SRX crossover and larger Escalade sport utility vehicle.

The interior of the CTS coupe and sedan is equally contemporary. Materials include a tasteful mix of leather, high-quality plastic, chrome and polished wood. The waterfall dash flows into a center column that creates a cockpit feel for the driver and front seat passenger. Gauges are large and easy to read, while the entertainment, climate and navigation control buttons are stacked like a high-end stereo system.

But the innovations are more than skin deep. The suspension is the sportiest Cadillac has ever offered. In addition to the admirable V6 engines, the high performance CTS-V version comes with a world class 6.2-liter supercharged V8 that pumps out 556 horsepower and 551 foot-pounds of torque, vaulting it to the ranks of the world's best sport sedans. A sport wagon version is also available. And most models can also be bought with all-wheel-drive and either a six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic.

A CTS-V version of the coupe is reportedly in the works. But in a week of frequently spirited driving around the metropolitan area, we found the V6-powered version be a refined, well-balanced driving machine. The engine revs freely, launching it quickly off the line and allowing for easy freeway passing. The six-speed automatic in our test car complimented it perfectly, allowing either casual cruising or brisk performance. The suspension was firm but not harsh, allowing the CTS to be pushed swiftly along winding roads. The steering was light, making the car feel nimble. The overall feeling was one of precision and sophistication, something that only the most expensive cars used to achieve.

Although considered groundbreaking when it was first introduced, Cadillac is continuing to push the boundaries with its newest CTS model. Modernistic touches include streamline touch pad exterior door handles and interior push button door releases. For those worried about electrical gremlins, discrete interior manual override levers are included for both doors.

Starting at around $47,000, the CTS coupe is competitive against other high-end mid-size two-doors. The styling sets it apart from similar models from Audi, BMW and Mercedes. Anyone browsing among those manufacturers should check out Cadillac's newest offering. It may surprise you.

• Model: 2011 CTS coupe.

• Manufacturer: Cadillac.

• Class: Mid-size coupe.

• Layout: Front engine, rear-wheel-drive (as tested); front engine, all-wheel-drive.

• Style: Two door, five-passenger car.

• Engines: 3.6-liter V6 (304 hp, 273 ft-lbs).

• Transmissions: Six speed manual; six-speed automatic with steering wheel-mounted manual shifters (as tested).

• EPA estimated city/highway mileage: 18/27.

• Price: Beginning at approximately $47,000 ($51,030 as tested).