The ’05 Cadillac STS bridges an important period in the auto maker’s attempt to re-establish itself as a trend-setting luxury marque.

STS, scheduled to be unveiled this week at the New York auto show, is one of the last of the current Cadillacs to adopt the division’s diamond-edge exterior design – although STS’ styling is noticeably softer than its lineup mates. The sedan also is a late addition to the General Motors Corp.’s Sigma rear-wheel-drive platform, following the Cadillac CTS and SRX.

However, STS is the first RWD car in GM’s lineup to offer an all-wheel-drive system. It’s also the first GM vehicle equipped with Bluetooth wireless technology. Furthermore, Cadillac needs STS to maintain its momentum. The Escalade SUV, CTS midsize sedan and XLR roadster were blistering hot at launch. But the debut of the SRX cross/utility vehicle last year has been muddled with model availability issues and the earlier-than-expected introduction of incentives.

“Our long-term goal for Cadillac is to become the standard of the world once again,” says Mark LaNeve, Cadillac general manager. “In order to succeed globally, we have to build vehicles that outperform, have exceptional quality and reliability and stand out in the marketplace. The STS is one more step in that direction.”

The ’05 STS goes on sale later this year.

Cadillac forecasts sales will total 30,000 units in 2005. Deliveries will begin in the fourth quarter following an advertising launch during the Summer Olympics in August and the Ryder Cup golf tournament in September. Production is scheduled to get under way this summer at GM’s Lansing (MI) Grand River plant.

Pricing is undisclosed. But LaNeve hints the car will base around $45,000. “We’ve priced below BMW and Mercedes (brands) with other products and we’ll probably continue to slot below them,” he says.

Pricing for the ’04 Mercedes E-Class begins at $48,795. Other STS competitors include the BMW 5-Series and 7-Series, Audi A6 and Lexus GS and LS models. “It’s very important for Cadillac to have an image anchor that’s a strong entry into the luxury performance category because, right now, that category is primarily controlled by imports,” says Jay Spenchian, Cadillac marketing director.

STS offers two variable valve timing powerplants: the base 255-hp 3.6L V-6 engine and the optional 320-hp 4.6L V-8 Northstar engine. But consumers won’t have an engine choice initially – only the V-8 will be available during the first six to 12 months of STS sales, says Jim Taylor, vehicle line executive-prestige vehicles. “We’re still working on the (engine availability) cadence,” he says.

AWD is available only with the V-8. All models feature 5-speed automatic transmissions with the clutchless manual Driver Shift Control. The Hydra-Matic 5L40-E gearbox is mated with the V-6 and the Hyrda-Matic 5L50-E is paired with the V-8. STS sits on an aluminum-intensive independent Short-Long Arm front suspension and multilink rear suspension. The sedan also is equipped with GM’s Stabilitrak stability enhancement and Magnetic Ride Control active suspension systems.

STS is 196 ins. (497.8 cm) long, 72.6 ins. (184.4 cm) wide and 57.6 ins. (146.3 cm) high. The cabin is equipped with 15 Bose Corp. speakers and a 6-disc CD/DVD player. Other applications include heated and ventilated seats, heated steering wheel, an 8-in. (20.3 cm) touch screen for DVD and Bluetooth use, 4-color Head-Up Display, Adaptive Cruise Control, keyless entry and remote startup.

The interior features Eucalyptus wood, aluminum accents and Tuscany leather seats. STS’s exterior is dressed with vertically stacked headlamps that are slightly narrower and lower than other Cadillacs. A quieter side sheet metal crease is carried through the door handles while subtler hood lines fade into the surface.

Kip Wasenko, STS lead designer, says the sedan’s overall shape brings a faster profile than the CTS. “We continue to evolve (Cadillac’s) design,” he says. “We’ve really refined.”

bcorbett@primediabusiness.com