First Drive: 2011 Cadillac CTS-V Coupe is angular, unhinged glory
We've already discussed the complete, audacious beauty that is the 2011 Cadillac CTS Coupe. Not only is it one of the most attractive designs to come out of General Motors in decades, but it's arguably one of the best-looking vehicles on the road today, proving that Cadillac (and GM, for that matter) is once again capable of delivering world-class designs.
Sexy? Yes. But can she cook?
We don't have many complaints about the 304-horsepower, direct-injection 3.6-liter V6 found under the hood of the standard Coupe. It certainly means well and does a good enough job of keeping the CTS experience entertaining, but we'd be liars if we didn't say we'd rather have a powerplant with a few more stones – 252 more, to be exact.
Enter the 2011 Cadillac CTS-V Coupe. It has a supercharged V8 that makes 556 horsepower. It comes with a six-speed manual transmission as standard equipment. It's under $65,000. Not only that, but the larger cojones found on the V sedan are translated into the coupe's styling, making for a car that's at once audacious and vicious, with a beating heart of total lunacy.
In the late 1990s, General Motors gave us the Opel-derived bar of soap known as the Cadillac Catera, telling us that it was "The Caddy That Zigs." But the Catera is long gone (good riddance) and we've found a candidate that's more worthy of carrying on that short-lived tagline. Take your blood pressure medicine, folks – the CTS-V Coupe is here. And it does a lot more than simply zig or zag – it utterly dominates the high-powered sports coupe segment.
Photos by Steven J. Ewing and Chris Shunk / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.
All of the design attributes we love in the CTS Coupe – the wedgy, slashtacular angles of the side profile, the seductively shapely hind quarters, the center-mount rear exhaust – are amply amplified on the V. The overall exterior dimensions are exactly the same as the base coupe, but the V-specific styling cues, namely the bulgier hood, sharper front grille, larger fog-light surrounds and the exposed dual pipes of the exhaust, define the strong character lines and overall shape. These steroid-enhanced visuals drive home the point that the CTS-V means serious business. It'll certainly draw a crowd, as we found out on several occasions during our test. In fact, one small town store owner closed up shop for ten minutes just so he and his staff could ogle the V out in the parking lot.
The sedan's 19-inch wheels wrapped in low-profile Michelin Pilot Sport PS2 tires (255/40-series up front, 285/35 out back) are carried over to the Coupe, and hidden behind those wheels are the same large brakes, measuring 15-inches up front and 14.7-inches in the rear. Still, the whole CTS-V package is arguably more attractive with the two rear doors lopped off. The shorter body and lower stance work well with the bolder design elements, and we'll once again reiterate how much we love the Corvette-style hidden pushbutton door handles – an expensive piece of technology that we're glad to see getting more use outside of the Chevrolet dealership. With a profile that's so strong, ordinary door handles couldn't do the Coupe justice.
But while the CTS Coupe's design is world class on the outside, it poses a few problems once you pass beyond those fancy door openers. Most noticeably, the raked rear window and chunky C-pillar make for obstructive blind spots, and even though Cadillac says that it's lowered the seat height by two inches to compensate for the squatter roofline, we're having a hard time believing what we're told, especially with the ultra-comfortable and supportive Recaro chairs up front. But holy jeez do we love these seats, and if you're shopping CTS-V Coupe, you'd be a total fool not to option up for them.
The rest of the V Coupe's interior is exactly the same as what you'll find in the standard CTS, which nowadays is simply competitive, at best. For a car that carries a price tag of over $60,000, you'd be right to expect higher-quality leather, plastic and wood, but this is still a chapter that GM tells us is being rewritten, and for the sake of long-term livability and sustainability, the ink can't dry quick enough.
It's easy to focus on the so-so quality of the CTS Coupe's interior when you're only dealing with the 304-horsepower V6, but when you have 556 raging stallions at your disposal, you realize that GM's R&D money went into the right place. All it takes is the sound of the V8 catching fire for you to think less and less about wanting more touchable surfaces aside of those found on the steering wheel, pedals and gear shifter. And speaking of that lever, if Cadillac is going to hand out CTS-Vs fitted with the Hydra-Matic 6L90 six-speed automatic transmission, the paddle-shifters need some serious rethinking. With your hands resting at the standard nine-and-three position, you need to really extend your fingers to properly click the cheap plastic nubs mounted on the back of the steering wheel. The easy solution? Get the Tremec TR6060 manual cogswapper (not that the auto is a slouch – just ask John Heinricy).
The CTS-V Coupe's acceleration is simply staggering, and with your foot pressed to the floor, you'll hit 60 miles per hour just before "four Mississippi" escapes your lips. Asking the rear wheels to distribute 556 horsepower and 551 pound-feet of twist is a big task, and you can easily squeal the tires from every stop, even with traction control fully engaged. It's all in good fun, though as we like a car that bites back. The engine and exhaust noise emitted under hard acceleration further stimulates the thrill of full-throttle thrust, especially since there's a split second in which you only hear the roar of the 6.2-liter LSA V8 before the supercharger finishes spooling. Just as you start to take in the grumble from that fierce piece of all-American aluminum muscle, the supercharger's whine takes over; the two noises playing together in symphonic harmony.
Even though an autobox-equipped CTS-V Coupe weighs in at a relatively portly 4,237 pounds, the added 1.6 inches of width combined with the Magnetic Ride Control suspension setup make for sheer bliss when storming through corners. Putting both the suspension and transmission into Sport mode liven things up, with the MagneRide monitoring and adjusting damping rates every millisecond and the transmission altering the way it holds and dispatches cogs to keep you in the powerband as you enter, move through and exit a turn. There's always power on tap when you need it, and the CTS-V is not afraid to maintain a gear up to the redline when asked. The full 556 horses aren't available until 6,100 RPM, but having 551 lb-ft of torque at 3,800 RPM means you're riding smooth up and above 4K.
Steering inputs are immediately followed through at the front wheels with no noticeable vagueness, and the V Coupe's 54/46 front/rear weight distribution kills any sort of nose-heavy, understeer-prone tendencies. What's more, putting the Stabilitrak in competitive mode lets the rear end move a bit more freely while still keeping things in line. There's nearly no need to fully disengage the traction control during spirited drives on public roads, and we're totally okay with the fact that you have to hold the steering wheel-mounted traction control button for quite some time to completely turn off the nannies. Switch it off, though, and the CTS-V Coupe becomes a burnout machine capable of some serious antics. And if things do get ridiculously out of control, the six-piston front and four-piston rear Brembos provide ample and easily modulated stopping power – not to mention some serious brake dust after long stints of hard driving.
With the suspension set to Tour and the transmission left in its default setting, the CTS-V Coupe is as brilliant around town as it is out on the twisties. It's comfortable for long stretches of highway cruising and has enough damping power to soften broken stretches of pavement more than you'd expect from a car with such abbreviated sidewalls. When the need for power arises, the V willingly responds, but when it isn't tasked to be anything more than a muscle car wearing a tuxedo, it's graciously tamed.
Would we have one over the sedan? Hard to say. Ginsuing off the two rear doors, resculpting the body and only marginally improving the driving dynamics warrants nearly a $1,000 price increase over the four-door, but even so, at $62,990, the CTS-V Coupe is a serious bargain. An Audi S5 is cheaper and has a better interior, but the Cadillac can run circles around the Audi every day of the week and twice on Sunday. BMW M6? No thanks – it's remarkably more expensive and has too many digital safeguards in place before the V10's power can be unleashed. Ford's Shelby GT500 provides a compelling argument, but we'll pass on the comparatively pedestrian Mustang line when we can have something that's as precise, refined and, we'll say it again – sexy – as the Cadillac.
But the best part about the CTS-V Coupe is that, when it joins the sedan and upcoming Sport Wagon later this year – and we're on the edge of our Recaros for that last one – it will stand out as the most attractive vehicle in a full line of supercharged Caddies. We'd probably buy the wagon, but we'd kick ourselves every day for not getting the two-door. The sedan would save us the most money, but it's not nearly as functional or eye-catching as the load lugger, and it's bound to be more common. For the first time in quite a while, Cadillac has given us too many choices – not too few. But as conundrums go, this is one we can live with.
Photos by Steven J. Ewing and Chris Shunk / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.
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