Thumbs Up: As close to a four door ZR-1 Corvette as you can get. At half the price.
Thumbs Down: Outside of Montana or on a racetrack, there is nowhere in America you can routinely explore the limits of this car.
Buy This Car If: You want to enjoy hand-of-God acceleration with three friends.
My father was a Cadillac man. Growing up, his taste ran to the full sized Sedan Deville, and he always found a good deal on a used model. I dreaded having to borrow his Caddy when my own car was in the shop, since the old Sedan Devilles handled like an ocean liner. Pushing a barge. In ten foot seas. Sure they were comfortable and relatively quick in a straight line (for the ‘80s, at least), but they were also the size of a small house. For a kid more into corners than outright speed, there was nothing at all entertaining about driving the old man’s Caddy.
Maybe I’m older and wiser, or maybe the 2011 Cadillac CTS-V is that good, but it certainly put any preconceived notions about the new generation of Cadillac automobiles out of my head. Did I like the CTS-V? Hell yes. Would I own one if I had the $60k price of admission? Most likely yes, since there isn’t anything else that costs so little and works so well. It’s hard to imagine that a car with a sticker price above $60k would be a bargain, but start comparison shopping an you’ll see what I mean. A Porsche Panamera Turbo will set you back $132,600, and really doesn’t do anything better than the CTS-V. A BMW M5 starts at about $86,000 and can’t catch the CTS-V in a straight line or on a racetrack. An E63 AMG Mercedes will run you a minimum of $86,000 and can’t match the Caddy in any performance category. See? I told you the CTS-V was a bargain.
The second generation Cadillac CTS-V sedan debuted in 2009. The big news was that the motor now featured forced induction via an Eaton Twin Vortices supercharger, boosting horsepower from 400 in the 2008 CTS-V to 556 in the 2009 CTS-V. Torque increased significantly as well, jumping from 395 foot pounds in the 2008 model to 551 in the 2009. The chassis was all new in 2009, and all CTS sedans now utilize the Sigma II platform. Suspension was changed to a control arm front assembly and a multi-link rear; borrowing from Corvette ZR-1 technology, GM used their superb Magnetic Ride Control system in the new CTS-V. Magnetic Ride Control increases shock damping as needed, based on signals sent every millisecond. Brake diameter was increased to 15 inches in the front (from 14” in the earlier model) and 14.7 inches in the rear (from 14”). Combined, the new CTS-V is a well engineered, stunningly quick but well behaved sedan.
Let’s start with the motor. The LSA V-8 used in the Cadillac displaces 6.2 liters and cranks out an unbelievable amount of power. If you drop the hammer, in any gear at any speed, acceleration is instantaneous and quite impressive. It feels like the hand of God is pushing you through time and space, and I always ran out of road before I ran out of throttle. GM claims 3.9 seconds to 60 miles per hour (backed up by Road and Track), but I don’t believe them. In my unscientific, uncalibrated timing runs, zero to sixty seemed to take about 3.5, maybe 3.6 seconds. Despite the CTS-V’s take-no-prisoners attitude under full throttle, it’s surprisingly docile in day to day driving. I drove the sedan in the rain on several occasions, and the car never felt nervous on wet pavement as long as I was sensible with the throttle. Turn off the traction control and stomp the gas, on the other hand, and you will get a quick introduction to oversteer.
My tester came with the six speed Hydra-Matic transmission, which can be driven as an automatic or manually shifted on the console or paddles located behind the steering wheel. With that much power on tap, I can honestly say that I didn’t miss a manual gearbox. If I were shopping for a CTS-V, though, the Tremec six speed manual would be the only choice for me. I can’t imagine trying to run a track day with an automatic transmission, and I would most certainly track a CTS-V.
The CTS-V comes with GM’s ZF Servotronic 2 power steering and the aforementioned Magnetic Ride Control suspension. Together, they worked very well, with plenty of feedback through the steering wheel. Steering effort, while not high, reminds you that you’re driving a heavy sport sedan. The suspension was surprisingly comfortable in “Tour” mode, and only became harsh on rough pavement in “Sport” mode. If you’re hauling passengers, you’re probably going to have it in Tour mode, so even your mother in law won’t complain about a harsh ride. I can’t vouch for the 1,000 times per second suspension adjustment, but I can tell you with absolute certainty that the suspension did get noticeably stiffer when pushed hard in corners. I’m not generally a big fan of high tech gizmos in sports cars, but the Magnetic Ride Control suspension flat out works.
My tester came equipped with the $3,400 Recaro seat package and the $300 sueded steering wheel. If you’re buying a CTS, just check both of these option boxes. Seriously, don’t even think about the price, since the seats are almost infinitely adjustable and equally well suited to highway cruising (more lumbar, less hip and side bolster) and track day driving (hip and side bolsters to max). As you’d expect, the seats are heated and have a fan cooling system to increase comfort on hot days. The sueded steering wheel gives excellent control, even while driving hard in hot weather; pony up for the $300 upgrade or spend the rest of your time behind the wheel wishing you had.
Instruments are analog and easy to read. Both tach and speedometer feature an LED graph that shows where the tach or speedometer needle is currently sitting. You’ll think it’s a gimick at first, until you realize that it really does help you acquire the information faster. It makes me wonder why more sports cars don’t use a similar system. The car’s vehicle information display is located at the bottom of the speedometer and gives the driver a choice of viewing trip information (including a stopwatch for timing laps) or vehicle data (including a lateral g force scale). The ten speaker Bose 5.1 Digital Surround stereo is excellent, and the now-standard nav system is easy to use and conveniently located atop the dash. I’ve always favored nav systems that allow the driver to keep his eyes on the road, and the Cadillac system is well suited to spirited driving.
Overall the interior is a decent blend of sport and luxury. The textured and stitched dash isn’t really leather, but it looks good. The Midnight Sapele Wood Trim in my tester (a $600 option) looked upscale without being pretentious, as did the blend of black chrome and satin aluminum trim used throughout the interior. If I had any gripes about the interior at all, it would be the door pull handles, which felt (and sounded) like they were straight off a Chevy Cobalt. GM beancounters, there are places you can save a few dollars, but the inside of a Cadillac CTS-V shouldn’t be one of them.
I’m a big fan of the CTS-V’s French-Curve-Be-Damned outside sytling for two reasons: first, it ties back to Cadillac’s efforts to build a LeMans Prototype racecar, before the project was killed in 2002. I may be the only gear head who still remembers the effort, but I certainly appreciate the styling cues (headlights, front splitter) borrowed by the CTS-V. The other reason I like the exterior styling is that it doesn’t look like anything else on the road. There is zero chance you’ll mistake a CTS-V for a Lexus, or a Mercedes, or a BMW. In this day and age of bland but safe styling, props to Cadillac for being a leader and not a follower.
The Cadillac CTS-V sedan starts at $60,720. My tester came equipped with the Recaro seat package ($3,400), Midnight Sapele Wood Trim ($600) and the Sueded Steering Wheel ($300). It’s EPA rating of 12 mpg city, 18 mpg highway saddles it with a gas guzzler tax of $2,500, and I can vouch for the accuracy of the EPA numbers. In a mix of spirited city and highway driving, I saw a combined average of 15.2 mpg.
In World War II, Q Ships were heavily armed vessels designed to look like innocent freighters. Their mission was to lure in the enemy for an “easy” kill, them open up and blast the hell out of them. The CTS-V may be the ultimate automotive Q Ship; it doesn’t look particularly menacing, and you’re probably not going to notice the massive exhausts poking through the rear fascia. Try and pass one (on a racetrack of course) or blow one off from a traffic light (I meant Christmas Tree, at a drag strip) and you’re likely to get a lesson in Cadillac taillight styling. That’s the way it used to be, when Cadillac was the standard bearer for automotive engineering excellence. If you ask me, the CTS-V goes a long way toward putting them back where they belong.