These are strange days for the American auto industry. Maybe that’s why I felt like an ER doc heading to the emergency room this morning. But I wasn’t speeding to a hospital. Dragged out of bed at an ungodly hour, I was off to the Monticello Motor Club, one of those new subscription-racetrack-cum-country-clubs springing up for millionaire supercar owners, this one 100 miles northwest of New York City.
Cadillac was fixing to let a passel of journalists hammer its new CTS-V-the Standard of the World’s redesigned pinnacle of performance and, drumroll please, the fastest production Cadillac ever-on this freshly paved but as yet unfinished track. Just over four miles in length, the Monticello course features an amusing assortment of straightaways, dips, bends, and art-directed elevation changes, any one of which might assist your basic overachieving, undergifted investment banker as he, er, fully depreciates his Lambo. Let the games begin.
Meanwhile, call it melodramatic, but I couldn’t help imagining that the procedure we were about to undertake with the CTS-V was going to teach us something meaningful about the health of ailing General Motors, a topic that has become something of a national obsession in recent months.
Nurse: scalpel, please. On a closed circuit, we automotive journalists are to real race car drivers as we are to real doctors, i.e., unrelated. We do not play one on television. But we visited the patient and conducted an extensive examination. So, let us move directly to our diagnosis.
The CTS-V is not the main thing the world needs now. It’s not a mass-market item, and it’s not what is going to save GM years of hardship as it scrambles to seriously rescale its product line for a much-changed domestic landscape. Although it tries its hardest, with two overdriven gears in both manual and automatic editions, this new Cadillac does not get good gas mileage. At $60,000, it is an exceptional value for what it is, yet it likely won’t touch the life of the common man, unless it’s running him over.
But wait. The CTS-V is, in its own inimitable and very respectable way, a stirring and timely reminder that GM knows how to build very special automobiles. Relevance may seem low because of fuel price woes, but it needn’t be high for the CTS-V to be a beacon for the brand; it is easily the most compelling driver’s sedan any GM division has offered in decades, one that doesn’t feel cheap or take a willing back seat to overseas contenders on any score.
It is the pride of Lansing, Michigan (where it’s built), and, in our considered medical opinion, proof positive that the organization that made it has a lively pulse. It is, in fact, a performance masterpiece, very much something to aspire to, inside and outside GM. If you can afford to buy it, you can afford to feed it.
To detail our findings, the CTS-V is fab on the highway, fab on the track. And did we mention it is also the fastest production Cadillac ever, running on to a maximum speed of 191 mph (175 mph if you opt for the six-speed automatic over the Tremec six-speed manual)? Those numbers are hard not to love. Ditto the manual gearbox that, notwithstanding super-heavy-duty innards, shifts with satisfying ease.
Early this morning, we’d shuttled a convoy of CTS-Vs up from White Plains, New York, to the track, so I knew beforehand that it was good, although not so soon as I knew it was stupid fast. Track time would merely confirm the eternal truth: corporate frailty and other barbs just don’t come to mind when you’ve planted your right foot and all hell is breaking loose in the forward-momentum department. How could the men and women responsible for this be anything other than geniuses, their stewardship of the brand other than inspired, when you’re experiencing firsthand the godlike implications of the CTS-V‘s 556 supercharged hp and prodigious 551 lb-ft of torque, with brakes and handling to match?
The titanic torque figure eclipses the 465 lb-ft that Mercedes-Benz claims for its $86,875 E63 AMG, while fairly whomping the ten-cylinder, $88,925 and its 383 lb-ft. Numeric victory in the upper statistical reaches of super-sedan territory doesn’t count for everything, but it surely won’t hurt when this new, second-generation car becomes the first CTS-V to be sold in Europe, Russia, Japan, and elsewhere.
Thankfully, composure in the face of its horsepower surfeit is one thing that makes the CTS-V such a viable competitor in the rarefied world it roams. Its independent suspension and taut chassis show us what Cadillac is capable of generally, while reminding us specifically of the magic of Magnetic Ride Control.
In its latest evolution, this undersung system utilizes magneto-rheological fluid to adjust individual dampers at all four corners based on constant evaluation of road conditions. In practice, Magnetic Ride Control is one of the most useful modern chassis technologies, offering almost otherworldly body control during spirited driving, not a trait for which American sedans are famous.
Another key attribute worth mentioning: the uniform quality of the materials inside the car. It wouldn’t be a modern car if it wasn’t cost-cut, but smart carmakers play the game where you can’t see it. And we can’t see it. So the CTS-V interior doesn’t disappoint. Fourteen-way leather Recaros-with microfiber inserts designed to look like suede but immune to moisture and easy to clean-look and feel great; they’d be an option worth springing for. The hand-sewn leather dash top and door panels look crisp, elegant, and suitably expensive.
It’s hard to mistake a CTS-V, with its di-hedral mesh grille and revised front and rear fascias. The hood has been tweaked to allow additional clearance for the supercharger-and-intercooler package plus a substantial aluminum brace running between the front suspension towers. The overall look is suitably mean, meaner than the already overt hostility of your garden-variety CTS, with extralarge nineteen-inch Michelin Pilot Sports, a full nine inches wide in front and half an inch larger in the rear, to further amplify the aggression. Brembo brakes with six-pot calipers up front (four at the rear), painted yellow, along with ventilated discs the size of pizzas can be seen through the spokes of the aluminum wheels. (Optional competition-focused, red-painted Brembos also are available, although not strictly necessary.)
Who knew that, when Ed Cole and his team of Chevrolet engineers hatched the small-block V-8 in 1955, they’d launched the gift that would keep on giving? Surely almost all those who birthed this compact V-8 have long since rumbled off this mortal coil, but fifty-three years and some 90 million units later, the fruits of their labor constitute the heart of GM’s performance attack, with the fabled engine entering a second “century” of service eight years ago.
Once, sacrosanct tradition held that Cadillacs received powerplants designed in-house, engines rich in cylinders, exclusivity, and engineering. Not so the CTS-V. But although its supercharged V-8 comes from the central corporate parts bin, it need offer no apologies, being willing, robust, and vaguely thrifty under light throttle (GM expects an EPA rating of 18 or 19 mpg on the highway, but lay off that supercharger, Faisal, or you’re headed below the teens.)
This time out, the 6.2-liter, mostly aluminum variant of the sainted small-block is called the LSA. Closely related to the current LS9 permutation found in the Corvette ZR1, the LSA does not use a dry sump, with a conventional oil pan in place of the LS9’s remote reservoir. The Cadillac can’t generate the lateral g’s the Vette can and doesn’t need the guaranteed oil feed, says GM. Whatever. It is a relatively silent stormer, thanks in part to Eaton’s less screamy new TVS supercharger. Forced induction lends a brutal, world-class turn of speed, helping thrust the CTS-V to a 12-second, 116-plus-mph quarter mile, per our tests. But don’t let all that speed lead you to suppose that’s all there is to this bruiser.
Examining the CTS-V‘s chart, we see how well-rounded it really is. It’s not just really, really fast. Rather, its not insubstantial 4200-plus pounds are balanced and composed. Of course, all that power is of no use if it can’t be put down. And to show us how nicely it goes down, GM’s John Heinricy was on hand at Monticello to demonstrate. He was almost as convincing as he was in a recently videotaped run in a CTS-V at the Nürburgring-you can see it for yourself at www.automobilemag.com.
Records are made to be broken, but there was something extra plucky about Cadillac taking an early-production CTS-V to Germany’s most storied racetrack this past May. With wheelman extraordinaire Heinricy at the helm, Cadillac proceeded to set the unofficial record time for production sedans around the Nordschleife, turning a 7:59.32 lap in its first go-round of the 14.2-mile northern loop in a factory-fresh CTS-V sporting a six-speed automatic and street tires. Presumably, the Bose digital audio system with 40-gigabyte hard drive and navigation system was switched off.
Executive CVs don’t get much cooler than Heinricy’s. The GM Performance Division executive is an engineer, a Corvette racer, and the third-winningest guy in SCCA Runoff history. He’d performed much development work at the Nürburgring and knew the track well. Hey, he probably switched the ride to sport mode, too! Point is, the achievement was massive and says as much about him as the car. Together, they took it to the Germans where they live-and won. Too cool.
For some years, Cadillac has been fielding (or attempting to field) a linear, three-punch lineup, along the lines of the Mercedes-Benz C-, E-, and S-classes or BMW‘s 3-, 5-, and 7-series. But they’ve missed the goalposts by a country kilometer. Cadillac wasn’t really thinking German when it first came up with the idea of turning German, so existing products didn’t align with the tightly defined segments of the burgher market. While killing off its old nameplates, Cadillac then forgot that it would need to invest heavily in new ones if it was to offer the best at all three size/price points. The CTS is the only thing that got close.
For all we know, the ultimate driving machine for picking up bagels and lox in West Palm might be something boatlike and front-wheel-drive like the DTS, Cadillac’s nominal top-of-the-line. The STS never really cut it as the Mama Bear competitor for the 5-series, since the CTS pretty much did everything the STS did against the 5-series, but for less money. Which, of course, made the CTS bigger than the Baby Bear BMW 3-series it was supposed to track. Maybe Cadillac shouldn’t have gone down this road.
Bringing us to our prescription. Cadillac must recognize that the CTS is the de facto top of its new heap, with the CTS-V as a very special flagship. The CTS coupe and wagon coming next year are steps in the right direction, as is the expected upcoming sub-CTS rear-wheel-drive sedan. One day, Cadillac can build bespoke limousines and bigger, more luxurious cars above the CTS-V. But for now, it needs to reimagine a new lineup below it. And then take two aspirin and call me in the morning.
Base Price $60,000 (est.)
Engine Supercharged and intercooled OHV V-8
Displacement 6.2 liters (376 cu in)
Horsepower 556 hp @ 6100 rpm
Torque 551 lb-ft @ 3800 rpm
Transmission types 6-speed manual or automatic
Steering Power-assisted rack-and-pinion
Suspension, front and rear Control arms, coil springs brakes Vented discs, ABS
Tires Michelin Pilot Sport PS2
Tire size f, r 255/40YR-19, 285/35YR-19
L x W x H 191.6 x 72.5 x 58.0 in
Wheelbase 113.4 in
Track f/r 61.8/62.0 in
Weight 4292/4281 lb (manual/automatic)
Mileage 12/18 mpg (est.)
- 0–60 MPH
- 4.5 sec
- 4.4 sec
- 0–100 MPH
- 0–150 MPH
- 12.8 sec @
- 12.7 sec @
- 117 mph
- 116 mph
- 70–0 MPH BRAKING
- 159 ft
- 162 ft
- SPEED IN GEARS
- 1) 37 mph
- 1) 48 mph
- 2) 63
- 2) 72
- 3) 99
- 4) 129
- 5) 161
- 6) 175
- CORNERING (L/R)
- 0.97/0.95 g
- 0.97/0.95 g