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Review: 2011 Cadillac CTS-V Coupe

Middling Cabin, Magnificent Handling, Marvelous Car

2011 Cadillac CTS-V Coupe – Click above for high-res image gallery

Cadillac has never made anything like the CTS-V Coupe, a $63,000 monster that's half hedonist and half hot-rod. Not only that, Cadillac's never fought in this part of the market before. The brand had monster engines back in its early days, but they were always pulling monster barges that wallowed as much as, well, barges. Here we have a coupe promising to cut up the roads like one of those German knives, but we've heard that refrain so many times before. This time, however, it might be true.

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2011 Cadillac CTS-V Coupe
2011 Cadillac CTS-V Coupe
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Photos copyright ©2011 Drew Phillips / AOL

If this were 10 years ago, we'd be calling this the Cadillac Eldorado something-or-other. But it isn't and the Eldorado might as well be a Franklin Mint pewter collectable by now. And huzzah for that. The grand tourer with the mythic name was probably the most consistent bright spot in the Cadillac line, but nevertheless, the final version had come down quite a bit from its life at the big-bore top. Thirty years ago it was Boss Hog with steer horns for hood ornaments and celebrities in convertibles that stretched back into yesterday. By 2002 the Eldorado ETC was prescription medication for Mary Kay saleswomen and real estate agents who had discount cards for Denny's.

The following year the CTS was released, a shovel that the brand would use to pick up the pieces of its history. With the CTS-V Coupe, though, Cadillac has built a crowbar with the sole aim of prying open your minds.

It starts up front: a power bulge set among creases carved by a stiletto and angling downward into the slash of stacked headlights. The jutting, angled shield of a grille points down at the central thrust of a bumper that spears its way into the future and finishes with a lipped skirt that drops so low to the ground it might as well say, "There's nothing to see here."

It's as muscled as it is angled, all the way back to the windshield. The impression is that of the upper half of a Mr. Olympia, triceps and deltoids and trapezoids stacked atop one another, but each one as independent as it is ridiculously defined.

Move around to the side and there's welcome respite from the anger leading the way. Once the eye falls away from the bulge and side vent, the expanse is featureless, save for some chrome and a crease rising up to the rear. The visuals don't pop again until you get to the flipping-the-bird spoiler-cum-taillight hanging off the rear deck.

It's the rear that has come in for the most scrutiny, for obvious reasons. The handsome proportions that run all the way to the ends of the doors go all hyena on us at the rear quarter panels, so instead of Mr. Olympia we get terrific strength up top and then "Oh... what happened here?" The highly raked rear glass means the shoulder rises that much higher, and with two inches lopped off the rear compared to the sedan, it also rises more quickly. That's left a blank expanse of metal above the rear wheels that instantly registers as girth. We think if there were another crease, perhaps curved above the rear wheel like an arch, it would help avert a seemingly unavoidable conclusion: "That's a big butt."

Not that there'll be much chance to get a side-on view, mainly due to two things: the magnetoreological suspension that allows you to take full advantage of 556 horsepower and 551 pound-feet from the 6.2-liter LSA V8. Perhaps better than a technical description of how good the handling is, we'll tell you this: We drove 600 miles round trip to a place with hills and esses, our only desire being to flex all those fast-twitch muscles. And it was worth every mile and drop of gas.

See, Cadillac didn't just make a big, fast coupe, and they didn't even make a sporting coupe – they made a proper, bona fide, sports coupe. The only reason we don't call it a sports car is because it weighs nearly two tons and makes a deep, overt nod toward luxury, the same reasons, in fact, that we don't call a Bentley Continental GT a sports car.

General Motors' ionized handling innovations have been well tested and sorted in gunners like the Corvette, and even with the extra weight they lose nothing in the performance here. Let your eyes lead the way and turn the Alcantara-shod steering wheel to follow. That's how every turn is handled, an additional testament to steering that is plenty precise enough to be turned and set, not sawed at, at the same time as it still feels like a Cadillac around town.

The Michelin Pilot Sport 2s on 19-inch wheels have also proved their grip on numerous ten-tenths sports cars, and aren't any worse off for supporting the Cadillac's weight. We got the feeling we'd burn through them in short order, but with great grip – and great urges to mash the throttle – comes great tire wear. They do, though, also come with noticeable tire noise if the road surface is less than porcelain.

Fifteen-inch rotors up front could have been forged by the God of War, and will slow any advance with an alacrity that borders on the uncomfortable, should you choose. But if you're doing your job right it will rarely come to that. Put the car in Sport, keep the revs up and the engine doesn't have to do too much grunt work. A considered line through a snaking stretch will be rewarded with, "Were we really going that fast?" speeds and the constant need to remind yourself, "This is a Cadillac, right?" It's an unqualified hoot. And the last time we thought that about a Cadillac was in our grandfather's early '70's Eldorado convertible, but for very different reasons...

The only quibbles are found inside, and we will only harp on one of them. The interior materials, one of the quibbles, we'll let slide for now because we've already been told by Cadillac that in two years there'll be a revolution on the inside. It isn't bad, but it's luxurious for a car that costs half as much – the leather only looks like leather at night, never feels like leather, and the Recaros look like leather but feel like wood. It led to us thinking of the sun as "The ugly light." The wood is nice at all times of day, though, and the design is long-haul comfy. And at night the cabin is badass. With high beltlines and black everywhere, it's not like being in the Bat Cave, it's like being inside a real bat. With a radio.

However, the automatic transmission needs to be replaced as soon as possible. Though the beauty queen we've photographed for this review features the standard six-speed manual transmission, the car we actually lived with for a week came with the optional six-speed automatic. As we've come to accept modern Cadillacs with massive gumption, we understand why automatics are the preferred gearboxes. These cars are, after all, Cadillacs. But for heaven's sake equip it with an auto 'box that's as great as the rest of the package. In Sport mode you get the kind of pep you want attached to a 556-horsepower engine, but the frenetic overcomes the luxury and that's an unfair tradeoff. Even when you handle the shifting yourself there's a frustrating gap in the delivery, which is probably only noticeable because you're so excited about how the car feels and sounds and what you want it to do. But Cadillac created that excitement, and it's unconstitutional for them to cheat us out of it.

Even with that, we wouldn't say stay away from the auto. Buyers will probably spend most of their time cruising, and the slusher is perfectly capable during those leisurely runs. It's only that any buyer with sixty-five grand to spend on a CTS-V Coupe has probably been in other high-performance coupes and will know what he's missing. If your'e worried just stick with the standard six-speed.

But we get it: The brand's revolution isn't complete. Let's remember how far Cadillac has come, and not necessarily in a good way. The first Range Rover debuted In 1970 and cost about $4,000 at the time. It was for farmers and people who got dirty. Its cabin was covered in vinyl and rubber so folks could hose it down. That same year, a Fleetwood Sixty Special Brougham cost more than $7,000 and offered more than 16 different combinations of cloth and leather interior.

Come to 2011 and the most expensive Cadillac doesn't cost as much as a base Range Rover, and the car leading the crest-and-wreath charge isn't fighting in the top segment, but in the trenches with the 3 Series and 5 Series. If you had told an Eldorado owner in 1970 that one day his brand's best car would be duking it out with the great, great grandkid of the BMW 2002, he'd have laughed. And then shot you for being un-American.

But that's where we are, and automatic or not, we don't advise staying away from the CTS-V Coupe. In fact, get as close as you can to it, and then in it, and then drive off with all available haste. It's not only a fabulous sports tourer – certainly one of the best on the roads – but it is F-U-N. And it's not hard to figure out why. Blend massive power with glee-inducing handling, wrap it in a polarizing exterior design, throw in a cabin that needs a bit more love and sell it all for peanuts, and that, friends, is a Nissan GT-R with a Cadillac badge.

Yes, that's what we said. It might not be great at everything just yet (like leather and plastics), but it's certainly great enough. The next go-round could hit the luxury sports coupe bulls-eye and finally be a competitor for the Europeans without a single caveat. We've been hearing and disbelieving that for more years than we can remember, but no more. Cadillac, you have our attention.

2011 Cadillac CTS-V Coupe
2011 Cadillac CTS-V Coupe
View 33 Photos

Photos copyright ©2011 Drew Phillips / AOL

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