Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Refined sledgehammer. The Cadillac CTS-V coupe and sedan test drive review

Carmakers often try and tell you they have a sporty version of some mid-sized car, and for the most part, they’re just a tweaked version of a non-sporty car. There’s a compromise there, because that vehicle has to be all things to all people.

The CTS-V is an exception. First of all, a regular CTS is a world-beater in-and-of-itself. But when you add the massive suspension and brake tweaks, plus this engine, my God the engine, you’ll absolutely believe there were no compromises here.

Under the hood, you have a slightly detuned version of the awesome LS9 that can be found under the hood of the ZR1 Corvette. Detuned is a relative term, however, because the CTS-V still pumps out 556-hp and 551 lb-ft of torque from the supercharged V8.

Now, in many cars, that kind of power would outclass the car itself. Not so in the CTS-V. Compared to even the previous generation of this car, the new version is refined and sure-footed. No more obnoxious rear wheel hop. None of the crudeness comparable to a big-block ’70 Nova. So silky-smooth is this car in its delivery of performance that you’ll be out there performing feats of skill that would make you a super hero in some other car, and you might not even realize you’re doing it.

This almost otherworldly performance is achieved in a number of ways. GM’s Magnetic Ride Control shocks keep the ride supple until the action becomes intense. Huge Brembo disks all around provide the stopping power when intense becomes out-of-control. And GM’s Stabilitrack feature is adjustable for whatever kind of driving scenario you are expecting.

All these fancy gizmos and Nurburgring-tested performance are one thing, but honestly, there are other factors at work when choosing a $60,000 sedan. The answer to the question as to whether this thing will impress your neighbors and co-workers is a resounding “yes”. The CTS-V takes what was already a very attractive design in the regular CTS and gives it a wide, menacing stance that is hard to ignore. And the details, inside and out, are a feast for the senses. You get the impression that there weren’t many compromises here. The quality of the stitching and leather, the placement of hidden logos and details, all of the little things make this car stand out from the crowd.

I was able to test out the CTS-V sedan at a General Motors ride and drive in Arizona, and last week I got the chance to get behind the wheel of the new CTS-V coupe. I return to the blogosphere with a few driving impressions.

First off, these are not big cars inside. And I had a ’95 Cadillac Fleetwood, so I know from big. They’re a bit like a small room with big furniture—big seats, big console, big headrests, etc. It’s all really nice stuff in there, though. The suede cover on the steering wheel was so luxurious, I chose to leave my fine Italian leather driving gloves in my satchel.  And the navigation screen that electronically ascends from the middle of the instrument panel will surely impress your passengers. The seats are supportive; they may even be restrictive if you eat too many cheeseburgers. And there is lots of leather trim with sporty stitching on everything from the dash pad to the console lid cover.

If you are used to typical Cadillac ride and driving dynamics, you probably won’t care for the CTS-V. But if European cars like BMWs trip your trigger, you are going to be right at home here. Plus, you can get the CTS-V with either a six-speed manual transmission (like the sedan I sampled), or an automatic with paddle shifters (the Black-Diamond coupe I drove was so-equipped). I realize that some really good drivers can do some really exceptional things with paddle shifters, but I never have been able to warm up to them. I’m more inclined to let an automatic transmission do its job, or even better, row through the gears with a real stick.

I have read a lot of things about how hard it is to see out of the back of the coupe. It’s true that the window sills are very high, and much of the rearward visibility is reduced to a slit. But honestly, with the big side mirrors, and the fact that this car isn’t all that big to begin with, I didn’t feel like visibility was much of an issue. I guess it could take some getting used to, but it is far from a deal-breaker as far as I’m concerned.

At low speeds, you can hear the supercharger whine ever so slightly under the hood. As someone who is more used to V8 exhaust rumble out the back of a car, the symphony under the hood makes this one different and special.

These cars are fast, without a doubt. You can accidentally find yourself driving at ridiculous speeds before you realize what happened. That being said, for something with 556-hp, it doesn’t give you that butt-puckering explosion of power that you might expect. I used to have a 2001 Camaro SS, and I could literally make my passengers involuntarily say bad words if I decided to let it fly. And the Caddy is way more powerful than that Camaro was. I think the difference is that this car is supposed to feel more refined—it is a Cadillac after all. The same thing that appeals to a teenager is not going to impress people that buy an expensive car like this.

The CTS-V is a good answer for someone who wants the performance and cool factor of a Corvette, but needs a back seat. Coupe buyers obviously aren’t going to use the cramped rear quarters quite as often, whereas sedan purchasers may actually have a car seat back there.

If I won the lottery, would a CTS-V be on my short list of daily drivers? You better believe it. I caught a glimpse of myself in the rear view mirror, and I swear I was even better looking than normal. I could definitely use a little more of that.

The slideshow below has a variety of CTS-V coupe and sedan pictures. The prettier the photography, the more likely it was taken by someone in Cadillac’s marketing department. But there are a few pictures from my ride and drive and auto show experiences as well. They also make a station wagon version of this car … I’ll need to get behind the wheel of one of those babies next!


  1. Craig, the slideshow didn't work when I tried it at 938PM 9-28. Black screen.

  2. Sorry about that. It would help if I made the album public. Thanks for letting me know. Hopefully it'll work now.

  3. i'd buy one... but i can't. *sigh*