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Never mind the tail fins on your grandpa's Eldorado, the armor-plated limo that hauls the President or the chrome-encrusted Escalades worshipped by rap artists in waiting. They're yesterday's Cadillacs.

Today's Cadillac is an STS-V with a supercharger under the hood, white smoke curling off of over-torqued rear tires and Bimmers on its hit list.

The alpha male of today's Cadillac lineup is an STS sedan upgraded to V status with 469 supercharged horses corralled under a swollen hood, and a full kit of visual and mechanical modifications.

It's the fastest production Caddie ever. Bearing a base price of $76,370, it's also the most expensive in recent history -- at least until the Chevy Corvette-based XLR-V hits the street in a few weeks with a similar engine and a price just over $100,000.

Exterior

The STS-V is armed for road battle with a crouched stance, chain mail grille; large, lower air intake; high-rise rear spoiler and purposeful wheels and tires. Brembo brakes decorated with V-series identification are clearly visible through the 18-inch front and 19-inch rear 10-spoke aluminum wheels.

Ducts built into the front air dam ram cooling air to the arresting gear that has its work cut out stopping 4,350 pounds of high-speed Cadillac. The STS-V's flanks are barren except for color-coded identification badges and 12 chrome letters -- spelling "Supercharged" -- aimed at striking fear in the souls of lesser-endowed adversaries.

Interior

Cadillac has seriously raised the level of luxury inside the STS by teaming with one of the world's most highly regarded interior trim specialist for the STS-V. Draexlmaier, a German firm with manufacturing facilities in South Carolina and long-standing relationships with Mercedes-Benz and Maybach, is responsible for the beautiful French-stitched leather instrument panel, center console and door trim.

Tastefully etched aluminum inserts and variegated burl-wood panels also accent the STS-V's interior. Seats borrowed from regular STS models are retrimmed with leather and synthetic-suede upholstery. The perforated suede inserts' friction helps restrain occupants during extreme cornering. Standard electronic gear includes DVD navigation, XM satellite radio, OnStar communications and an 11-speaker Bose audio system.

Performance

That crick in the neck you feel every time you dip into the STS-V's throttle is the result of nearly 400 pound-feet of torque available between 2,200 and 6,000 rpm. Equipped with a blower, an intercooler and major structural upgrades, the 4.4-liter Northstar V8 feels like one of the monster motors that powered hulking Duesenbergs in the 1930s. Disable traction control, and tire smoke is yours for the asking.

Except for a soft supercharger whine during flat-out runs, Cadillac's prime mover is a silent servant that delivers speed on cue. Sprinting to 60 miles per hour in 5.3 seconds, the STS-V is not quite as quick as its smaller hooligan brother, the CTS-V, nor as fast as the BMW M5 and Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG, which Cadillac targets as the enemy.

But don't sweat the stats. The STS-V is better equipped and less dear than the bluebloods, and it's perfectly capable of cruising contentedly all day at twice the legal limit. If there's a hole in traffic, this interceptor will fill it. As is the case with the German sedans, a speed limiter shuts down the fun at 155 mph.

Unlike past American super sedans, the STS-V doesn't cringe in the corners as it was developed on the challenging Nordschleife (Nurburgring) racing circuit in Germany. It's steering is properly weighted and happy to convey timely reports from the pavement. Body motions are held in check by suspension gear tuned for the task.

The Pirelli run-flat radials are noisy over textured pavement but never stoop to harshness over bumps. Braking performance is exemplary -- holding strong, even after hard driving, rather than "fading" from repeated intense use so that the pedal becomes mushy and stopping distances increase. Unfortunately, the brake pedal is loath to share subtle details with the driver.

There are a few other glitches. The seat cushions are too squishy to provide optimum support during aggressive driving. In contrast to the Bauhaus mood established by the dash and door trim, the STS-V's front buckets hark back to Cadillac's fat-cat days.

GM's new six-speed automatic transmission is slow-witted at times. Shift manually and you crash into the rev limiter too frequently. Nail the throttle in the fully automatic mode, and your speed sags momentarily before the transmission serves up a lower gear.

The minor flaws expose Cadillac's rookie status in the super high-performance game. GM is justifiably proud of advancing the STS to new heights, but taking on BMW and Mercedes-Benz is a tougher task than eclipsing Chrysler and Lincoln, or Lexus and Infiniti.

Is the STS-V for you?

Buy this Vehicle if: You love speed, comfort and underdogs; you bought GM stock at $38; you need space for four, maybe five adults and a decent trunk; you like rear-wheel drive dynamics and the satisfaction of owning the most powerful vehicle (at the moment) in Cadillac's line-up.

Keep Looking if: One more speeding ticket will revoke your driving privileges; you're a stickler for the details and nuance that companies like BMW and Mercedes-Benz have spent decades perfecting, but that Cadillac has only recently perked up to; you need space for five large adults, in which case the Cadillac DTS is a better choice; you're not a power monger and would be satisfied with the regular STS.



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