Cadillac CTS-V Review & Road Test

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Cadillac CTS-V Review

American Muscle Car in a Ralph Lauren Sports Jacket

Monticello, NY—My first encounter with the second-generation Cadillac CTS-V was a bit underwhelming. The occasion was a Car of the Year competition two years ago and the then-brand new saloon was in tough competition against the BMW M3, Jaguar XF Supercharged, Lexus IS-F, Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG and Nissan GT-R. (That was one of the great ones for new sports cars!)

During part of the evaluation, each car was thrashed around a handling circuit an airport runway. Now, make no mistake—the competition that day was fierce. But the course, with its serpentine turns, very sharp corners and relatively low speeds, did not suit the CTS-V at all. In fact, in a slalom-like section, the steering on the saloon was too slow to react; it actually felt like it was binding up as the car transitioned from extreme left to extreme right and then back again.

To make matters worse, the Cadillac was not running, as intended. Warning lights struck the instrument panel and the car’s vaunted 6.2-litre supercharged V8 felt down on power. The CTS-V is advertised as having a 0-100 km/h time of 3.9 seconds, but performance testing at the same competition revealed a saloon capable of only 4.9-second runs—a big difference. Posting such a mild performance and faced with serious competition, the Cadillac finished a lowly fifth out of the six contenders, bettering only the Jaguar in the process.

Fast forward one year and it was time for a return engagement with the CTS-V. On this occasion, it was a track session at the Monticello Motor Club in upstate New York, a private country club with the main attraction being a challenging, 20-turn ribbon of pavement. The track has an agreement with Cadillac, so a fleet of CTS-V saloons is available for club members to use.

The configuration of the full layout is incredibly challenging; there are turns of various degrees and angles and three long straight sections that are well-suited to 415-kW vehicles. It’s also worth noting that Monticello has nothing that resembles a slalom course, so it’s very much a track tailor-made for the characteristics of this particular saloon.

In this setting, the full impact of the CTS-V could be felt—its thunderous acceleration, its tremendous reserves of power, its grin-inducing ability to power slide around turns with reckless abandon. Not only does the Cadillac boast the aforementioned 415 kW of power, its gargantuan engine also cranks out 747 Nm of torque. (The engine, based on that of the Corvette C6 ZR1, employs a supercharger set to 0.6 bar of boost; this turbine is fed by air that is cooled by a water-to-air intercooler.)

Normally, this level of output in a rear-wheel drive saloon would spell trouble, but the Cadillac is very balanced and controllable, no doubt partially due to its limited-slip rear differential. Further levels of control arrive via the car’s magnetic ride control, with dampers that automatically adjust every millisecond, augmenting the handling of the independent suspension system.

The second-generation CTS-V is available with either a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission. In testing, the automatic is faster to 100 km/h, but proved largely unrefined when it came to being in the right gear at the right time, especially when negotiating turns. In terms of sheer fun, there’s no question that the manual is the superior choice; it’s a short-throw set-up that is perfectly suited to the nature of the car and the potential of the engine.

On the topic of the steering, the flowing nature of the track served to prove that the CTS-V might not be able to handle the tight stuff, but it can certainly deal with higher-speed corners. The steering is nicely weighted and direct and offers a decent amount of feedback. The driver is further supported by leather-and-suede seats, which are contoured, but not quite ready for extreme track action. The optional Recaro sport seats are recommended.

Speaking of being ready for the track, the Cadillac comes standard with Brembo brakes and 19-inch wheels, so the braking on traction issues are pretty much under control. In cranking out many laps of the Monticello circuit, the CTS-V was remarkably consistent in both. In fact, as the laps were counted off, the saloon was easily able to support faster driving and deeper braking as I become more accustomed to the circuit layout. Very impressive.

Inside the cabin, the Cadillac offers a nice mix of the luxury with a dose of sport mixed in. Whereas its main competitors from the German manufacturers feature largely business-like cabins, the CTS-V is cushier and offers a largely successful mix of leather and technology.

The driving position is similarly decent, although the ergonomics didn’t quite fit this driver as I found the manual shifter too close and/or the pedals too far away. (Not a huge deal as this is the same impression I get from BMWs with manual transmissions as well.)

On the comfort and luxury side, the Cadillac comes standard with adaptive xenon headlamps, a 40-GB hard drive, navigation system, Bose surround-sound audio system, USB/auxiliary audio jacks and rear park assist. The options list includes the aforementioned Recaro sport seats, a wood interior trim package and panoramic sunroof.

When the former largest automobile company in the world almost succumbed to financial difficulties in late 2008, a number of emergency cost-cutting measures were identified. One such measure was to shut down the High-Performance Vehicle Operations division, which enthusiasts worried would signal an end to cars like the CTS-V.

But the Cadillac CTS-V is very much alive and well. It’s the most exciting car ever produced by Cadillac and a genuine competitor for the heavy hitters coming out of Germany. The CTS-V is also the only true modern American muscle car in saloon form. Prices for the 2010 Cadillac CTS-V begin at a shade over US$60,000.