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Originally published Tuesday, March 26, 2013 at 3:03 PM

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Hot Wheels: Cadillac to challenge BMW with CTS

Cadillac wants the CTS to accelerate and handle better than a BMW. So it's losing a little weight.

AP Auto Writer

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NEW YORK —

Cadillac wants the CTS to accelerate and handle better than a BMW. So it's losing a little weight.

The 2014 version of the CTS midsize luxury sedan is aimed squarely at the BMW 5-Series. It weighs 200 pounds less than the BMW 528i and 250 pounds less than the current CTS.

Cadillac's best-selling sedan needs the makeover. Sales fell nearly 15 percent last year, and the CTS lost ground to the 5-Series and the Mercedes E-Class in the important midsize-luxury segment.

"Longer, lower and leaner," were the mandates for General Motors designers in redoing the CTS, which is being unveiled Tuesday evening ahead of the New York International Auto Show.

The CTS' weight loss secret? Aluminum. The car has new aluminum doors and also uses aluminum in the bumper beams and the front cradle, which is part of the structure. Making the car lighter will help it feel more nimble when drivers compare it to the BMW. The new CTS weighs in at 3,616 pounds.

The third-generation version keeps the angular look of the current model, but the creases are less severe. The interior gets a more upscale, hand-crafted look with richer colors than the current models. Some of the inside door and dash panels can be swapped out by dealers to change the look of the interior. Dave Leone, Cadillac's chief engineer, said the new panels are engineered so they won't come loose and rattle. Dashboards and doors are often sources of interior noises.

"It naturally wants to nest in there," he said.

There's also a new CTS performance model, the Vsport, with a twin-turbo V-6 engine that can go from zero to 60 mph in an estimated 4.6 seconds. That should also help the CTS go after BMW, said Leone.

"They do a good job of blending power, luxury and performance," he said. "We want to do that even stronger."

In recent years, BMW and Mercedes have squared off for the lead in U.S. luxury car sales. Mercedes won last year, followed by BMW. In the middle-luxury line, Mercedes sold more than 65,000 E-Class models, followed by the 5-Series at about 57,000. Cadillac sold just under 47,000 CTS models, according to Autodata Corp.

GM executives hope the new CTS can team with the XTS large sedan and the ATS small sports sedan to help the Cadillac brand grow in that highly profitable segment of the market. Despite the debuts of the XTS and ATS, Cadillac sales fell 1.7 percent last year. At the same time, BMW and Mercedes sales each grew 14 percent.

Here are some CTS highlights:

UNDER THE HOOD: Drivers have a choice of three engines. There's the current 3.6-liter V-6 with 321 horsepower. A 2-Liter turbocharged four-cylinder puts out 272 horsepower. The Vsport has a new 3.6-liter twin-turbo that puts out 420 horsepower. Two transmissions are available: a six-speed automatic and an eight-speed automatic made by Aisin, a Japanese parts supplier. The eight-speed gets better fuel economy and performance because its gearing allows the engine to work less at highway speeds. The eight-speed is only available with V-6 engines.

OUTSIDE: The new CTS is 4 inches longer than the old model and the wheelbase - the distance between the front and rear wheels - is an inch longer. The base of the windshield is also an inch lower. Some models have grille shutters that close to lock out air flow and improve aerodynamics on the highway. The new CTS keeps vertical LED lighting in the front and back.

FUEL ECONOMY: For the first time, a version of the CTS hits a GM-estimated 30 mpg on the highway, when equipped with the four-cylinder turbo. It also gets 19 mpg in the city with rear-wheel drive, according to GM. The non-turbo V-6 also gets 19 mpg in the city and 28 on the highway, while the turbo V-6 gets 17 in the city and 25 on the highway. All-wheel-drive versions get slightly worse mileage.

PRICE: Will be released closer to the car's arrival at dealers in the fall. Leone says it will be competitive with the 5-Series and E-Class. Current base price is just under $40,000 including shipping.

CHEERS: The interior is top-notch and really does look hand-crafted. Fuel economy gets better, especially with the 8-speed transmission or the four-cylinder turbo.

JEERS: The 2013 version of the CTS won Consumer Reports magazine's coveted "Recommended Buy" status on average or better reliability for V-6 models. GM will have to be careful to keep the reliability high with so many changes in the new model.

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