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Has GM build quality finally improved?

Welcome to Friday, and it’s mailbag time. The question this week – has GM build quality finally improved? Let’s see. Email me! Question Hi Mike, loved the Vette review. I’ve been following for awhile now, and my question is about GM. Do you think they are making the best cars out there? You’ve been ranking…

gm-quality-1

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Welcome to Friday, and it’s mailbag time. The question this week – has GM build quality finally improved? Let’s see.

Email me!

Question

Hi Mike, loved the Vette review. I’ve been following for awhile now, and my question is about GM. Do you think they are making the best cars out there? You’ve been ranking them pretty high consistently. Do you think Caddy is equal to Mercedes and BMW at this point? Would you ever buy a GM product?

– Lou

Answer

olds-acheiva
This is GM as I remember it. Photo: Wikipedia

Lou, I’ll start with a personal anecdote. My father was a staunch believer in Japanese cars (we had Maximas and Altimas growing up). When I was about 10 years old or so, my parents took me to Disney World and rented an Oldsmobile Achieva. My dad hopped in, and after five minutes of driving turned to my mom and said “This isn’t so bad. Maybe we can look at one for our next car.” He then proceeded to tap the dash as if to say “good car”.

The thing started buzzing and rattling down the road, and did so the rest of the week. Whether a coincidence or because of the tap, that Oldsmobile felt like it was held together with hopes and dreams.

Saturn-Ion
This is as bad as it got.

My prejudice comes from much more than that. Over the years, I’ve been exposed to many of GM’s products. Pontiac Gran Prix. C5 Corvettes. Silverados. Cavaliers. Hell, the worst car I ever drove was a Saturn Ion.

I’ve avoided them when it came time to purchase. But things have changed.

GM’s best cars are better

Hummer
GM’s best now boasts some features usually reserved for higher-end cars.

I’ve driven a regular C8 Corvette, a Z06, an Escalade, a Hummer EV, and a CT5-V Blackwing, which while being a small sample size, provides a glimpse into the top tier of GM’s product line. The powertrains are well sorted, ranging from a dual-clutch setup in the Vette, a manual in the Caddy, and an automatic in the Escalade. The Hummer might be an outlier, but even as an experiment, it works.

What’s really improved is the suspension technology. GM’s Magnetic Ride Control Technology works differently from what other makers use, and version 4.0 lives in V products. GM touts it as “the fastest-reacting suspension in the world”, which it may be, but I can tell you these cars ride better than their German equivalent. Even the Escalade encourages you to enjoy, even savor the drive, and that’s an elephant.

Corvette
This is the best it’s ever been.

Inside is the biggest tell. Climb aboard a C5, then a Cavalier of the same generation. What were they thinking? Everything is nearly identical despite the Vette’s price. Cadillac wasn’t much better in the early 2000s. Is the leather a little cheaper in a new Escalade than a GLE? Sure. But GM gets plenty right too – enough to make interior design and build quality a non-factor.

Halo hope

Corvette interior
The interior isn’t quire Mercedes, but it’s closer now than it’s ever been.

BMW, Mercedes and Jaguar don’t have to worry abut catering to a cheaper audience, but GM does. That’s partially why Cadillac remained while Oldsmobile and Pontiac died – cutting the pie too thinly.

But a fancy name and higher price doesn’t guarantee luxury. Ever sit in a Nissan GT-R? I wouldn’t call it Lexus level. Or Infiniti, for that matter. Has this halo effect made it down to Chevy’s lower-priced offerings? Yes and no. A $20,000 Trax is certainly better than a basic Chevy was 20 years ago. See for yourself:

2024-chevrolet-trax-activ-017-1
Photo: Chevrolet

If you want to spend just a few grand more, you get a digital dash, automatic climate control, and the same infotainment as a Vette or Caddy. I’m less sure about the driving experience, but you could buy two Traxes for one BMW X1.

Course, it’s not all rainbows and sunshine. A $75k Camaro, regardless of powertrain, looks rental spec inside. Call it a work in progress.

GM gives a damn

Escalade V
The Escalade V is actually enjoyable to drive, not like the lumbering elephants of yesterday.

Back to that Z06. Remember that GM gave it a totally bespoke engine derived from a real race car, along with making it wider and lighter – meaningful changes for performance that amount to more than simply upping the boost.

But they also sweat the details. Powertrain engineers placed 54 tiny rockets on engine castings and forgings as Easter eggs (remember its NASA origin). Meanwhile, BMW gives you a 50-year anniversary badge. The 3.0 CSL is a rolling chassis of mediocrity and laziness.

Corvette Z06

It’s elsewhere too. The Blackwing has a manual –  a good one – but the F90 M5 forgot to bring one, while the M3’s is an afterthought. And the Hummer is full of EV and science fiction fun that can’t help but make you smile. Change the off-road mode and an animation of a Hummer driving on the moon appears.

Can you even imagine this being done in a G-Wagon? There isn’t even a touch screen.

Would I ever buy a GM product?

I think so, but shedding that stigma of that Disney World Achieva isn’t easy. Would I pick a CT4-V over an M3? It’s tough – both have their merits.

But is Cadillac the equal of European brands? Yes, in both engineering and quality. Lou, if you’re in the luxury market, you owe it to yourself to at least explore the model you like with a test drive.

I bet you can even pat the dash.

Want your car reviewed?

If you live in the tri-state area and want me to check it out, send me an email! 

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