Washington, D.C.—Picture this. A twin-turbo V-8–powered Cadillac CT6-V roars onto California’s Streets of Willow raceway amidst the likes of the latest Porsche 911, all-new Toyota Supra, and the massively hyped, mid-engine C8 Corvette. Having just driven the 550-hp CT6-V on a stretch of curvy, hilly two-lanes north of the Capital Beltway in the wilds of Maryland, I’m confident it would make its way around the 13-turn, 1.6-mile Willow circuit with the kind of fiery composure that would earn it a 2020 Automobile All-Star award.
Finally, another American car that would help provide an antidote to editor-in-chief Mike Floyd’s lament that too few domestic-branded cars and SUVs are interesting enough to even earn an invite to our annual #noboringcars runoff.
But sadly, almost as soon as it got here on the wings of Cadillac’s all-new, “Blackwing” 4.2-liter twin-turbo V-8, the CT6-V—and all CT6 models for that matter, save a China-only plug-in-hybrid version—is already on the way out of production. Though we’re hoping to have it on hand for this year’s All-Stars competition, barring a minor miracle, this will be the only model year for the CT6-V, and from what we’ve experienced of it thus far, that’s a cryin’ shame.
Cadillac unveiled the CT6-V at the 2019 Detroit auto show, and what happened next could only take place in the immediacy of the internet age. Since the Detroit/Hamtramck plant where the CT6 is built was declared “unallocated” a couple of months before it was unveiled, it was a lame duck before its online order banks even opened. As word spread that the CT6-V was likely to be a one-off, prospective buyers were at their keyboards, poised and ready: The initial 275-unit allocation sold out in two hours.
The good news is that with six engine builders hand-assembling the Blackwing at GM’s Bowling Green, Kentucky, Performance Build Center, Cadillac extended the model-year-2019 run to a total of approximately 600 units for the U.S. and Canada. That includes CT6 Platinum models, which come standard with a 500-hp version of the Blackwing, though Cadillac says about 75 percent of that additional allotment will go to the CT6-V, so its run will total roughly 725 cars.
The Blackwing—an all-new engine not based on any existing GM V-8—is a “Hot V” design, which means its high-output turbos are located in the valley between the cylinder banks. It has a 9.8:1 compression ratio and a new high-feature engine control unit (dubbed E68) that manages engine operations including individual fuel and spark management and 8-to-4 cylinder shutoff. The V’s version of the Blackwing is distinguished from the Platinum’s by a higher state of tune, good enough for a 0.6-second advantage when accelerating from zero to 60 mph.
All CT6 models including the CT6-V are built on Cadillac’s mixed-material Omega platform, and when it goes away, that will leave only the latest version of the Alpha platform to underpin its rear-wheel-drive car lineup. But according to marque president Steve Carlisle, Omega’s aluminum-and-steel architecture technology will live on in future electric-powered vehicles, including probably the luxury crossover model Cadillac teased last January.
The CT6-V’s ride and handling mix is augmented by Magnetic Ride Control, active rear steering, and specific shock and spring tuning, plus Brembo brakes and bespoke 20-inch summer rubber on a sort of dark-nickel split five-spoke wheel as opposed to the Platinum V-8’s 19-inch (20-inch optional) all-season tires that wrap bright multi-spoke wheels.
Once underway, the Cadillac CT6-V isn’t merely subtle. It’s sublime. With noise cancellation and engine sound enhancements built in, it starts up like a luxury car, not a sport sedan. The Blackwing’s quiet purr makes a classic Mercury Marine-esque burble as the CT6-V gathers speed like a well-balanced sports car. No kick in the backside, no violent squat, just an old-fashioned high-compression V-8 sound intruding into the otherwise exceedingly quiet cabin. CT6 chief engineer Rob Kotarak calls it “isolated precision,” and while that bit of market-speak might not be completely off the mark, there’s nothing isolated about the car’s feedback. Hard-throttle launches are lively without feeling jarring, and with AWD the summer 20s are easier to make shriek around corners than in a straight line. Despite typical luxury-car reliance on electronic hardware and software, the CT6-V benefits from a heap of directness.
Saw on the wheel, and the CT6-V’s steering favors precision and quickness without unnecessary weightiness, deftly obeying light hands shuffling through turns while remaining at nine and three o’clock. Around Maryland’s sweepers, the CT6-V suspension complies whether in Comfort or Sport, settings that most obviously affect the 10-speed transmission’s shift points more than anything. The Magnetic Ride Control magnetorheological dampers are constantly readjusting for the road surface, but like its steering, the ride and handling will make you think of BMW’s glory years of well-balanced cars. Although the CT6-V is nearly the same size as a 7 Series or S-class, it drives smaller than it is, more like a 5 Series. It achieves this without beating you up if you forget to switch off Sport when you drive back into Washington and on its insufficiently funded streets. Here, the Cadillac CT6 line feels very much at home as a sedan perfect for shuttling potentates, an American alternative to Europe’s pseudo limos.
Though Cadillac’s Level 2-plus semi-autonomous Super Cruise system isn’t available on the CT6-V (it is on the Platinum), the car has a complete array of other state-of-the-art driver assistance technologies, including forward collision alert, forward automatic braking, automatic emergency braking, advanced adoptive cruise control, rear pedestrian alert, high-definition rear vision and rearview cameras, front pedestrian braking, a surround-vision recorder, a head-up display, and night vision. A large sunroof, massage seats, quad-zone climate control, and rear-seat infotainment, as well as wireless charging, navigation with apps and a rotary controller, and Bose Panaray hi-fi audio also are standard.
Visually, the CT6-V distinguishes itself from the Platinum with a unique black mesh grille, a carbon-fiber rear lip spoiler (in place of a body-color piece), subtle lower-body ground effects, and the V badging. It’s refreshingly low-key in a time when Mercedes-AMG S-classes look like they’re auditioning for the Men in Black movie franchise.
Its only glaring shortcoming is the problem that has plagued the CT6 since its launch. The interior is still a step or two down from those found in the Mercedes, BMW, and Audi competition. Even after the CT6’s recent facelift, there are too many hard touch points and parts-bin switchgear, and the materials feel a step below those of Cadillac’s new XT6 crossover SUV.
Cadillac’s drive program included time for a quick spin in the CT6 Platinum, too; the one we drove rang in at $97,490 including the $700 20-inch wheels, its only option. If you must have Super Cruise, you won’t be disappointed with that car’s road manners. You’ll feel the 50-horse deficit mostly in the middle and upper ranges, where the Platinum’s Blackwing is merely powerful, not sensational. Mostly, driving the two CT6 V-8 models back to back served as a reminder of how good this car is.
While there’s a faint hope that the upcoming GM/UAW contract talks will somehow save the Detroit/Hamtramck plant, odds are that the 2016–2020 Cadillac CT6 will face inevitable comparisons with the 1984–1988 Pontiac Fiero, as a car GM vastly improved just before killing it.
It’s too bad, too, because the CT6 has been a very good car from the beginning that has suffered slow sales because of a decades-long luxury consumer bias for the German competition and its middling-quality interior. One thing’s for sure though, we’ll be more than happy have the CT6-V along for this year’s All-Stars competition, come what may.
2019 Cadillac CT6-V Specifications
|PRICE||$88,790 (base)/$95,815 (as-tested)|
|ENGINE||4.2L DOHC 48-valve twin-turbocharged V-8; 550 hp @ 5,000 rpm, 640 ft-lb @ 3,400 rpm|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD sedan|
|L x W x H||204.0 x 74.0 x 58.0 in|
|0–60 MPH||3.8 sec|
|TOP SPEED||150 mph|