The Never-Sold-In-America Cadillac BLS Gingerly Holds Your Hand And Welcomes You To An Alternate Universe

Cadillac Bls Topshot 2

When you think of a Cadillac, you likely picture one of three things: a preposterously excessive land yacht of 20 hectares with the ride quality of a waterbed, a Tahoe with a fancy interior and a grille the size of Australia, or a supercharged sports sedan with three pedals and drive to the back. The Cadillac BLS was none of those things, but only just makes it that much more interesting.

It’s quite easy to think of the Cadillac BLS as the missing link between the controversial Cadillac-badged 1980s Chevy Cavalier called the Cimarron and the more modern Cadillac ATS. After all, this compact luxury sedan made between 2006 and 2010 pairs a small footprint with Cadillac’s Art and Science design language in one mildly discomforting package. That’s not to say that the BLS is ugly, it’s just a bit uncanny. If you’re North American, the Cadillac BLS is almost but not quite familiar. All the aesthetic ingredients of a Cadillac are here, but something just feels off, like it’s some sort of imitation. Take a closer look and you’ll realize that the BLS looks weird because it’s based on the Saab 9-3; in fact, it was built alongside the 9-3 in Sweden from 2005 to 2009.

Cadillac Bls Rear 2
Photo credit: GM

Suddenly, all the strange proportions start to make sense. The weird cutline where the window trim meets the rear quarter window disguises carryover 9-3 glass, while the stretching and shrinking of Cadillac’s design language ensures the greenhouse and hard inner structure is carried over. Hey, not having to re-engineer a whole platform variant for crash tests saves money, and the BLS was never going to sell in huge numbers anyway. So, we have a Swedish-American hybrid on our hands, but that’s just the beginning. The BLS gets even more worldwide depending on spec. If a BLS customer opted for a diesel engine as was popular in Europe during the aughts, they’d find a 1.9-liter Fiat lump under the hood. To finish off this car’s international tour, production of the BLS took place in Kalilingrad, Russia between 2009 and 2010. Was Bob Lutz throwing darts at a map or what?

Cadillac Bls 3
Photo credit: GM

Alright, so we have a slightly unusual badge-engineered Cadillac with multiple countries contributing to its origin. Honestly, this isn’t a bad thing by any means. The second-generation SRX crossover shared a platform with the Chevrolet Equinox, an available engine with the Saab 9-5, was made in Mexico, and wasn’t exactly a bad car, so let’s give the BLS a fair shake here. Sure, the styling may look a bit weird, but it’s weird in a cute and shrunken way, like an unusually tiny pumpkin. Moreover, it was available with the properly potent 2.8-liter turbocharged V6 from the 9-3 Aero. Hey, 247 horsepower (250 PS) and 258 lb-ft (350 Nm) of torque was nothing to sneeze at in the mid-2000s.

Cadillac Bls Rear
Photo credit: GM

If there’s any sore spot to the Cadillac BLS, it’s the interior. Unfortunately, Cadillac wasn’t exactly known for artfully-designed interiors in the 2000s, and it really shows in the BLS. The interior of the Saab 9-3 on which the BLS is based has some neat design touches but isn’t anything really worth writing home about. The driver-focused dashboard is mildly interesting and the air vents are quite nifty, but there isn’t the same grand sense of interior styling you get in a comparable BMW 3-Series or Audi A4.

Cadillac Bls Interior
Photo credit: GM

Mind you, the 9-3’s dashboard looks like a renaissance sculpture compared to the BLS’s cockpit. Despite sharing door cards and lower dashboard panels with the 9-3, the BLS’s interior designers managed to wipe every ounce of intrigue from Saab’s cockpit until the dashboard was as nondescript as a brown paper bag. There’s a dash or two of chrome, a shitty-looking clock, and that’s about it. No key in the console, no nifty button banks, no strange air vents. Just a plethora of bland, blocky plastic, mashed-together trim pieces, GM’s corporate head unit, and some mildly vulgar wood trim. I guess that’s the price to pay for usable cupholders, huh?

Cadillac Bls Interior 2
Photo credit: GM

Honestly, other than the styling, the upper dashboard, and the location of the ignition, Cadillac didn’t change a whole lot when making the BLS. The engine cover and first aid kit got crest and wreath logos, the headrests were new and less Swedish, the background lighting for the gauges was changed from green to white, the seats received some extra stitching, and that’s about it as far as appearance goes. Believe it or not, I reckon it worked. The average consumer would have no idea about the BLS’s Swedish underpinnings unless they came from a Saab, and the BLS’s exterior detailwork is leagues more refined than that of the first-generation CTS. Fair play.

Cadillac Bls 2
Photo credit: GM

Speaking of refinement, Cadillac decided to bring a microdose of American comfort to the European marketplace with softer springs than on a 9-3, and a position in the marketplace as a softer alternative to a Mercedes-Benz C-Class. A bit at odds with Cadillac’s American messaging around newfound cornering confidence. As Brett Fraser wrote in Evo Magazine,

“Your desire to chuck the Caddy down an inviting road is further eroded by woolly steering, fluffy brakes, front-wheel-drive tug and wriggle during hard acceleration, and a degree of body roll endemic to any car that places its dynamic emphasis on ride quality.”

Alright, so the BLS isn’t a backroad enthusiast’s friend, but not all cars are designed to be dance partners. After all, most journeys are spent slogging down highways, and a Cadillac should slog down highways like a proper luxury car. As John McIlroy wrote in Autocar,

“The BLS is an accomplished motorway cruiser, with very little engine noise at cruising speed. The ride is a little fidgety and there’s a reasonable amount of road noise, but there are far worse places in which to tackle a long journey.”

Well, the Cadillac BLS may not have been an exciting car, but it seems to have been a comfortable product of badge engineering. Unfortunately, a worked-over Saab with Cadillac emblems is exactly what Europeans didn’t want. As reported by Edmunds, Cadillac only sold 7,356 units of the BLS from launch in Spring 2006 through 2008. However, just because the BLS didn’t do well in the marketplace, it was still a solid shot by Cadillac at compact luxury car redemption.

Cadillac Bls Wagon
Photo credit: GM

While the infamous Cimarron was panned for its cheap construction and obvious Chevrolet Cavalier roots, the Cadillac BLS started with a much better base, distinguished itself well from its platform mate, and ended up seeming like a reasonably agreeable car. More importantly, it represented a whole bunch of important milestones for Cadillac. The first factory-produced Cadillac wagon, the first turbocharged production Cadillac, the second shot at diesel-powered Cadillacs. These days, people love the CTS-V wagon, turbocharging is a mainstay of the Cadillac range, and the diesel-powered Escalade is really quite swell. So here’s to the Cadillac BLS, an alright car that paved the way for some pretty good Cadillacs.

Lead photo credit: GM

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36 Responses

  1. I’m reminded a bit of the relationship between the Dodge Charger and the second-generation Dodge Avenger. They share a lot of design cues and bear a strong family resemblance. Of course, they’re totally different cars when you look under the sheet metal. Also of note is the fact that the BLS used a much, much better platform than the Avenger.

    It’s too bad it didn’t make it to our shores. A smaller Cadillac would be a great option these days.

  2. I assume there’s an alternate universe where, after the relative success of the FWD ’92 Seville, GM sent a box of wreath badges to Trollhattan rather than Russelsheim to get us the Catera, and the BLS was the Art + Science second generation.

  3. No wonder they didn’t sell well, there was almost no dealer selling them, no advertising. I think most people do not even remember it even existed. And when you think that Saab was starting to get confidential and the Vectra was on the downrise. People here prefered classic German sedan or a 407/Laguna/C5.

  4. Maybe it is just the stock new car photos creating bias, but this has aged better than the first-gen CTS. This is more like a 4/5th scale STS.

    But as I said, these days when I think of a first-gen CTS, I see some abused car with hazed over headlights and probably wearing no-name Walmart tires.

    1. The Mk1 CTS was kind of a plastic fantastic thing, a lot of cheap materials that aged badly, they were starting to look clapped out at the 7 year mark, even if the mechanicals were sound, the cosmetic stuff just didn’t seem to hold up

    1. If you want a conversion to American units, imagine a square that just barely encloses the star-shaped base of the Statue of Liberty. That’s a hectare. Now imagine nineteen more of them. Done!

  5. That analog clock in between the central air vents is pretty neat.

    Also, what a contorted way to stuff a (then) FCA engine into a GM car. Does this have something to do with the Saab-Lancia partnership that gave us the wonderful Saab 600? Guessing that deal was made with Fiat, mid-80s Lancia wouldn’t have had the independence to greenlight on a joint venture.

    1. It didn’t have anything to do with the old Saab/Lancia partnership. GM’s European operations cooperated a lot with Fiat in the 00’s, including diesel engines.

      It went both ways though. There are GM bits in many Fiat products of the era too.

  6. I have been a Cadillac person for the last 25+ years (currently 2019 CT6 twin-turbo 3 liter) and would jump at a chance to own one of these either used or as a product re-release, preferably the latter. Nice lines and as another noted looks like a 4/5th’s STS. My previous Cadillac was an STS and I can definitely see the similarity. Also, quit harping on the interior. Just because it comes from multiple sources doesn’t mean it is bad, just not what some might have anticipated.

  7. I think part of the trouble is, if any Europeans have any positive associations of the Cadillac brand at all, it’s in relation to those tailfinned land yachts, and selling them a store brand smellalike imitation of a small European premium sedan just didn’t fit the Cadillac brand image or provide a compelling reason to choose it over the competitors it was trying to copy

  8. I always appreciated the Saab 9-3ng interior more than OP, but the Cadillac one is truly awful. When the 9-3 and CTS were new I tested both and the 9-3 did literally everything better; a really fine car.

    But more to point, the most frustrating part of this whole story IMO is that Saab had to use their own budget to design this thing that only Bob Lutz wanted. Saab was the “perennial money loser” for GM but also designed their best products (that GM then chose to ignore). Even the Cadillac SRX that was shared with Saab was mostly Saab designed under the skin.

  9. It might be an urban legend but I understand that in 2008-ish heaps of unsold UK market BLS models were returned to a Vauxhall site in the Luton area where they sat for ages. They were then bought in batches by cab operators who would traditionally have run Vauxhall products but the Cadillacs must’ve been cheap enough to make them switch.
    I only know this through reading anecdotes in UK car mags over the years from motoring writers observing that there were loads of BLS cabs at Lutin station, or mentioning that the were taken from Luton station to a Vauxhall office in a BLS.

    1. Man can you imagine being told you got “upgraded” to a Cadillac at the rental counter in Belgium.

      If you were not American, the only reference you have to a Cadillac is some gigantic, finny, chromed land whale from the 50’s/60’s.

      I could just imagine the arguments and grief customers gave the poor guy behind the counter. Thinking they are getting some 7mpg barge that takes up two parking spaces lol

        1. I was in the Navy for 20 years and was always amazed at the guys who traveled halfway around the world and make a point of going directly to McDonald’s as soon as they made port. It always seemed to defeat the whole purpose of joining the Navy and seeing the world.

          I usually ate the local food, reasoning that it was OK if the locals were eating it. I never got sick once. I did visit McDonald’s in Hong Kong and in Perth, Australia, but those were rare occasions. Also, McDonald’s was nearly as ubiquitous in Hong Kong and Perth as it is in the U.S., so it actually qualified as local food.

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