Despite recent products to the contrary, when much of America thinks "Cadillac," a lot of people still recall the land yachts of the '70s and '80s. Hoods and decks marginally shorter than your average aircraft carrier, and Sedan de Villes and Fleetwoods serving as hearses or transportation for those awaiting a ride in one. But something happened to Cadillac a few years back. After several failed attempts to compete with the Germans (Seville STS, Allante and Catera), General Motors began crafting a strategy to take on the luxury marques abroad. At the forefront of that movement is the Cadillac CTS and the pinnacle of their efforts is this, the CTS-V. To paraphrase and co-opt the grizzled Oldsmobile tag-line: "The 2009 CTS-V is not your grandfather's Cadillac." Not by a long shot.
Photos Copyright ©2009 Sam Abuelsamid / Max Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.
While the Cadillacs of yore were only marginally removed from their seagoing counterparts – both from a dynamic and steerage standpoint – the CTS-V stands in stark contrast. In standard guise, the CTS is bold and handsome, utterly modern and instantly recognizable. This is even more so in V trim.
To qualify as a V-Series model, the CTS had to have both the moves and the looks to accompany the badge. So Cadillac's Clay Dean-led design team incorporated the same mesh grille seen on earlier Vs, along with a deep front fascia that diverts air around the car rather than under it. This adds to the visual appeal as well as enhancing stability at elevated speeds.
Extensions along the flanks and rear bodywork visually lower the CTS-V and carry the bottom edge of the front air dam to the back. The only other exterior change is the hood bulge required to clear the marvelous LSA V8. Like the LS9 in the Corvette ZR1, the LSA is a supercharged 6.2-liter V8. And like its big brother, it proves that a simple, compact pushrod V8 can do amazing things in the 21st century.
This Caddy thunders down the road with 556 horsepower and 551 lb-ft of torque, with most of that twist available around 1,500 rpm. Compared to the CTS-V's most obvious competitors – the BMW M5 and Mercedes-Benz AMG E63 – that low-down grunt is a selling point. And while the Bimmer's rev-happy V10 is fun on the track, it loses its luster when commuting to the office. And though it's true that the E63 offers substantially more grunt than the M5 (465 lb-ft at 5,200 rpm versus 383 lb-ft at 6,100 rpm), it's still outmatched in both output and responsiveness by the CTS-V. The Cadillac, like its two-door Corvette sibling, can be driven around town in a thoroughly relaxed fashion. And with a choice of either a six-speed automatic with sport and manual shift modes or a row-your-own Tremec with the same number of cogs, the CTS-V pleases with what's under the hood and what's nestled in your palm.
But in order for a car to be competitive in this high-dollar, high-horsepower segment, the CTS-V needs more than great mechanicals. The office space needs to be up to snuff, with top-notch materials, peerless build quality and down-to-business functionality. Like its entry-level counterpart, the CTS-V scores well on all counts. The dashboard and doors are trimmed in the same cut-and-sew leather as the standard CTS, but the V benefits from carbon fiber trim across the dash and doors, along with a center stack and console finished in a high gloss piano black.
More important than interior trimmings are the front seats. Thankfully, Cadillac saw fit to offer the CTS-V with a proper pair of thrones. Optional 14-way adjustable Recaros are available at a price ($3,400), and they're worth every penny. The side bolsters can be adjusted to fit the driver's torso to a "T", allowing the person manning the helm to comfortably take advantage of the V's thoroughly revised suspension. And if that price still seems too steep, it's made slightly more bearable with the inclusion of Alcantara trim coating the center of the seats, shift knob and steering wheel.
Once your butt is situated in the grippy Recaro, it's time to fire up the engine and unleash the beast. Of course, this being a Cadillac and not a Corvette, it doesn't make as much noise as its Bowtie'd counterpart. In fact, the CTS-V sounds downright subdued – but there's no mistaking it for a Lexus. Like other great V8s, its slightly lumpy at idle, but given that the engine is the heart of the CTS-V, it's more like a pulse and less like a '60s muscle car on the verge of vapor lock.
With our tester's 6L90 automatic transmission in Drive, a gentle squeeze of the throttle sets the CTS-V smoothly into motion. Given the V's capabilities, you'd expect the sedan to feel high-strung and truculent at slow speeds. It's anything but. Measured application of the throttle results in perfectly linear acceleration – and when you finally hammer the go-pedal, all that twist plants your backside into the seat unlike any other sedan on the market. Push the LSA harder and the exhaust note becomes even more aggressive, although it never grates. It simply responds, "Sure, I'm more powerful than some supercars, but I'm also a grown up."
When the roads finally begin to bend, the CTS-V is more than ready to take up the task. The Delphi-sourced magnetic adaptive damping system allows for a wide range of suspension rates, eliciting fast responses by using shocks filled with magneto-rheological fluid (an oil impregnated with iron particles) that changes viscosity when an electric current is applied. The result is a fluid – not floaty – ride that handles the most pockmarked roads with aplomb. As speeds and lateral forces build, the dampers automatically tighten up and the MR button on the center stack firms things up even further.
Like the adaptive damping, the CTS-V shares the ZR1's Brembo calipers, with six-piston units up front and four-pots in the rear. Fortunately (for cost) or unfortunately (for performance), the V has to make do with vented iron rotors instead of the exotic carbon ceramic units on the 'Vette. But it doesn't matter. The brakes work beautifully, with a firm pedal feel, linear responses and fade-free performance. The stiff, one-piece calipers provide perfectly precise modulation, making deceleration as easy and impressive as acceleration.
The automatic transmission's shifting duties can be handled in one of two ways: either pushing the shift lever to the right and tapping fore and aft, or tickling the switches on the back of the steering wheel's spokes. Although the switches work as advertised, their placement leaves something to be desired, as your hands have to be perfectly placed at 9 and 3 o'clock to operate them, making gear selection in fast corners slightly difficult.
Shifting niggles aside, the CTS-V is – without a doubt – one of the finest cars on the road today and one of the best vehicles ever built by General Motors. It packs the performance to run with the fastest super sedans from Germany and looks that are both modern and uniquely Cadillac. For those who like the idea of ZR1 performance, but need something with room for four and a usable trunk, the CTS-V is the chariot you've been waiting for. And to make the deal even sweeter, you get all this for a price substantially lower than the competition.
The CTS-V's cost of entry is $58,575 and comes standard with the Brembo brakes and MR dampers. The Thunder Gray ChromaFlair paint, Recaros, and premium audio with navigation brought our tester to $68,540, including delivery, with the $900 Ultra-view sunroof being the only major option missing from the checklist. Even by ticking off every possible factory option, the maximum tab comes in just over $71,000 – nearly $14,000 less than the starting price of a BMW M5. If only GM could've launched the new CTS-V sooner, it would truly be a celebration of what the company is capable of.
Photos Copyright ©2009 Sam Abuelsamid / Max Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.