Premium compact car; Built in Germany
  • 4-door sedan
  • longitudinal front-engine/rear-wheel drive
Good condition price range: $1,500 – $3,200*

1997 Cadillac Catera

1999 Cadillac Catera

1999 Cadillac Catera interior

2000 Cadillac Catera

2000 Cadillac Catera interior

  • Acceleration
  • Standard antilock braking
  • Standard traction control
  • Side airbags
  • Cargo room
  • Passenger room
  • Ride
  • Steering/handling
  • Control layout
  • Noise
  • Rear visibility

Quiet-running and solid-feeling overall, loaded with standard equipment, Catera also offers a relatively spacious interior and competent road manners. It ranks only average for ergonomics, visibility, and entry/exit. Still, Catera has been a fresh approach for Cadillac, which needed something special. This one is worth a look, especially since slow new-car sales often translate to lower used car prices. In short, good deals might be found.


Produced in Germany from an Opel design, Catera was intended as a different kind of Cadillac for the late 1990s. (Opel is a General Motors subsidiary.) Foreseeing that “near-luxury” compact/midsize sedans might be the fastest-growing segment of the market, Cadillac turned to GM’s German Opel subsidiary for a European-themed entrant into that race. Based on the Opel Omega, Catera was now Cadillac’s only rear-wheel-drive model, and also the only without a V8 engine. An Opel 3.0-liter V6, rated at 200 horsepower, worked with a 4-speed automatic transmission. Antilock brakes, dual front airbags, daytime running lights, and traction control were standard, but side airbags were unavailable. Standard equipment also included a dust and pollen filter, 16-inch alloy wheels, power windows with express up/down, fold-down rear seat, tilt steering wheel, electrochromatic mirror, power seats, programmable power locks, a theft-deterrent system, steering-wheel-mounted radio controls, and automatic climate control. Leather upholstery and a power sunroof were among the few options, along with front and rear-seat heaters, chrome wheels, and an 8-speaker Bose sound system. Near-luxury rivals included the front-drive Infiniti I30 and Lexus EX 300, as well as the rear-drive Mercedes-Benz C-Class and BMW 328i.

Yearly Updates

1998 Catera
A power rear-window sunshade joined the option list for 1998. At the same time, the extra-cost Bose audio system gained radio data system (RDS) capability. It was now able to display such broadcast information as station call letters and song titles, as well as to break into programming with emergency broadcast system alerts. Dealers could now install GM’s OnStar system, which linked the car via satellite and cellular telephone to a 24-hour GM center. Advisors at the center provide directions and travel advice, and can notify local authorities in an emergency.
1999 Catera
Catera became the first Cadillac to meet low-emissions vehicle (LEV) standards, but otherwise changes were few this year. Sport models now were equipped with side airbags.
2000 Catera
Styling was freshened for 2000, and Catera gained a revised interior as well as suspension modifications. Sport models came with a rear spoiler, high-intensity headlamps, and heated seats, as well as a matte chrome grille and new 17-inch tires in place of the customary 16-inchers. All Cateras now had side airbags, as well as new cupholders and upper child-seat anchors in the rear. The previous year’s firmer Sport suspension now went into base Cateras, while the Sport edition gained even tighter calibrations.
2001 Catera
For 2001, solid rear brake discs were replaced by vented ones.


longitudinal front-engine/rear-wheel drive

Only one powertrain has been available since the Catera’s inception: a 200-horsepower, 3.0-liter dual-overhead-cam V6 engine working with a 4-speed automatic transmission.

dohc V6
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 3.0/181
Engine HP 200
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 192
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
4-speed automatic



Road Test

Cadillac’s smallest model steps briskly away from a stop, for starters–though it’s a bit leisurely in the first moments. By applying the throttle liberally, you can also expect spirited acceleration at speed. Overall performance does not measure up to such stellar rivals as BMW’s 3-Series or the Audi A6. Still, the automatic transmission downshifts promptly and crisply to furnish adequate response–though it often must drop down two gears to yield sufficient passing power. We averaged 20 mpg with a new Catera, in a mix of city, suburban, and highway driving. Another example averaged 19.1 mpg.

Steering is precise (though lacking in feel) and the sedan feels alert during changes of direction, cornering with modest body lean and good balance. At times, it can act slightly ponderous in directional changes, and high-speed stability fails to impress. Absorbing bumps with minimal disturbance, the taut suspension resists wallowing and floating, for a firm and stable ride. Braking power is strong, with good pedal modulation. The car exhibits little nosedive in sudden stops. At freeway speeds, wind rush around the side windows is louder than it should be. Even more annoying, the tires thump loudly over bumps and tar strips.

Space is comfortable for four adults, on softer seats than in a typical European automobile. Because the driveline hump intrudes on the back seat’s center position, fitting a fifth occupant inside is no pleasure. Wide door openings contribute to easy entry/exit. Primary instruments and controls are logically positioned, though power-window switches are on the center console. Cruise control buttons, placed on the end of the turn-signal stalk, are tiny and difficult to use. A couple of gauges are to the right of the steering wheel, not in the direct line of sight for some drivers. Large rear headrests and a narrow back window limit the driver’s rearward view. Split folding rear seats increase the versatility of the Catera’s roomy trunk, which is wide and long. A handy pass-through to the interior allows carrying long items, such as skis.

Construction materials are good in quality, if somewhat austere–apart from the bits of wood on doors and console. Fit and finish on test Cateras have been about average for the car’s class.


Model Tested: 2001 Cadillac Catera base

Ratings values are on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being the best. With the exception of Value, these numbers reflect how the vehicle compares against the universe of vehicles, not just against rivals in its class.


Acceleration - 5
Fuel Economy - 5
Ride Quality - 6
Steering/Handling - 6
Quietness - 6


Controls/Materials - 6
Room/Comfort Front - 6
Room/Comfort Rear - 5
Cargo Room - 4


Value - 3

Total: 52


4-door sedan
Wheelbase (in.) Length (in.) Width (in.) Height (in.) Weight (lbs)
107.4 194.0 70.3 56.3
Cargo Volume (cu/ft) Payload Capacity (cu/ft) Fuel Capacity (gal.) Seating Capacity
14.5 18.0 5
Headroom Legroom
Front Rear Front Rear
38.7 38.4 42.2 37.5
Safety Ratings

Model Tested: 1999 Catera 4-door sedan


(5 is the highest rating)

Front Impact Test

Driver Injury - N/A
Front Passenger Injury - N/A

Side Impact Test

Driver Injury - N/A
Rear Passenger Injury - N/A


(A score of 100 is average. Lower is better)

Collision 109
Injury 63
Theft 75

Trouble Spots

Brake noise
Description: The rear brakes make a squeal when backing up and redesigned calipers cure the problem. (1997)
Climate control
Description: The climate-control display goes blank or goes off for several seconds. (1997-98)
Dashboard lights
Description: The antilock-brake light and traction-control light activate because of a wiring problem. (1997)
Dashboard lights
Description: Due to a problem with sensor or wiring, engine temperature gauge may falsely indicate overheating. (1997-00)
Oil leak
Description: Oil leaks from timing cover due to leak at oil pump gasket and/or oil galley plug behind cover. (1997)
Tire wear
Description: Original alignment settings have been blamed for premature tire wear and the car drifting or leading, especially to the right. (1997)
Tire wear
Description: Premature tire wear and alignment problems can be corrected by revised alignment specifications. (1997-98)

Recall History

Equipment Lists

Equipment lists are only viewable on larger screen sizes.


Used-car pricing varies widely depending on local market conditions. Therefore, we recommend visiting websites that list used cars for sale to get a better idea of what a specific model is selling for in your area.