1990-1999 Cadillac

The Cadillac Catera
The 1997 Cadillac Catera was Cadillac's version of a European sports sedan.
The 1997 Cadillac Catera was Cadillac's version of a European sports sedan.

The Cadillac Catera was Cadillac's effort to satisfy America's taste for European sports sedans by importing from Europe an Opel built by General Motors' German division. It didn't work.

Cadillac had hoped its American-designed front-wheel-drive V-8 Cadillac Seville would be a sufficiently "Euro" Cadillac for American buyers. But the Cadillac Seville never seemed suave enough to snare savvy import buyers, or sufficiently splashy to sate traditional Cadillac customers.

The Cadillac Catera, a midsize sedan, came over for 1997 as the division's contender in the fast-growing "near luxury" class.

The 1997 Cadillac Catera was basically a "Cadillacized" version of the 1995-vintage Opel Omega from GM's German subsidiary. It was even built in Germany, allowing Cadillac to claim genuine European breeding.

And indeed, the Cadillac Catera seemed to have all the right stuff to be a bona fide sports sedan: trim size, a smooth 3.0-liter twincam V-6, all-independent suspension, tasteful design, and full-house equipment. It even had rear-wheel drive, plus as much Cadillac style as designers could ladle on to an existing design.

Trouble was, the Cadillac Catera was rather heavier than the rival BMW 3-Series and Mercedes C-Class, yet was relatively short on power. And it didn't offer a manual transmission as a "proper" Eurosedan should.

Although the 1999 Cadillac Catera Sport sported new features, sales were well below expectations.

Initial advertising was also off-target, featuring a cartoon duck and the slogan "Catera is the Cadillac that zigs." Critics quickly trashed the campaign as ineffective and, given Cadillac's aims, rather juvenile. Later ads downplayed the duck, and a model-year-1999 update ushered in a more-serious Cadillac Catera Sport model with larger wheels and tires, rear spoiler, firmer suspension and, belatedly, standard front side airbags.

Despite a couple of interim price cuts and attractive lease deals, the Cadillac Catera never really caught on. Sales peaked in 1998 at over 30,000, skidded below 15,000 the following model year, then limped along in the 12,000-16,000 area through end-of-the-line 2001.

On the horizon for 1998 was an "international" makeover for the Seville. How did it fare both in the States and across the pond? Find out on the next page.

For more information on Cadillac, see:

  • Cadillac: Learn the history of America's premier luxury car, from 1930s classics to today's newest Cadillac models.
  • Consumer Guide New Car Reviews and Prices: Road test results, photos, specifications, and prices for 2007 Cadillacs and hundreds of other new cars, trucks, minivans, and SUVs.
  • 1980-1989 Cadillac: America's top luxury brand was in crises in the 1980s. Learn about how it weathered the storm.
  • 2000-2008 Cadillac: Discover how bold design, big power, and an SUV fuel a Cadillac comeback.