Thumbs Up: The world’s biggest bargain in a luxury supercar.
Thumbs Down: Rear seats for insurance purposes only.
Buy This Car If: You want the best looking CTS-V, and don’t haul many passengers.
Every time I drive a Cadillac CTS-V, I come away amazed at how good these cars are. The 2011 Cadillac CTS-V Coupe is no exception, and the car offers a blend of style, luxury, performance and handling that few cars on the planet can match. Certainly no cars in the under-$70,000 price range can come close to the CTS-V Coupe’s 556 horsepower, luxury interior, impressive ride quality and amazing handling. Even if you’re not a Cadillac fan, or a domestic car fan, find an excuse to get your hands on a CTS-V; it will completely change the way you look at Cadillac (and quite possibly American cars).
Introduced in 2010, the CTS-V Coupe is arguably the best-looking car in the CTS-V lineup, and quite possibly in GM’s entire catalog. Cadillac’s marketing says the shape was inspired by an “archer drawing his bow,” and if you can see that you’ve got a better imagination than I do. Proportionally, the car is just right in terms of styling, but the high beltline and low roofline does make entry and exit more challenging than the CTS-V Sedan. As you’d expect, the plunging roofline limits rear headroom, and even passengers of average height won’t be happy in the back for long.
The CTS-V features a slightly wider track (about 2.5 inches) than the sedan, which makes it just a bit more capable in the corners than its four-door equivalent. The wider track is also the CTS-V Coupe’s downfall, since the body shape has more drag at high speeds than the sedan. It’s a purely academic argument, since the CTS-V Coupe will still hit a top speed of 189 miles per hour when equipped with the six speed manual. Does it really matter if the sedan will go a few miles per hour faster?
As good as the CTS-V Coupe looks on the outside, the inside is even better, at least for the driver and front seat passenger. Cadillac managed to blend just the right amount of luxury into a cockpit targeted towards performance. Take the front Recaro seats, for example: they’re all-day-long comfortable, yet do a superb job of keeping you in place on a racetrack, The ample bolstering is never intrusive, and over time the seats fit the driver like a custom-tailored suit. I’m not a huge fan of the “saffron” colored seat inserts, but that’s easy enough to correct by ordering a model with black seats. As you’d expect from a car of the CTS-V Coupe’s luxury status, the front seats are both heated and cooled for all-weather comfort.
The back seats are somewhat less than functional, at least for adults of average height. The narrow entry and obtrusive front seat belt make entry and exit difficult, and the rear seat’s sloping back makes exiting when parked uphill a particular challenge. There’s very little headroom, and even those under six feet tall will find their heads making contact with the headliner. It’s best to look at the CTS-V’s rear seat as for occasional, emergency use only, and it’s worth pointing out that a Corvette has no rear seat at all.
The CTS-V’s dash is a pleasant blend of shapes and textures, Dash top is a leather-look, soft-touch vinyl with contrasting stitching, and there’s just enough chrome to add elegance without being over-the-top. Ditto for the wood trim, done in a color that Cadillac calls “Midnight Sapele;” I’m generally not a fan of wood inside a car (especially burl walnut, which has been done to death), but the Midnight Sapele trim in the CTS-V genuinely adds to the interior’s appearance. The sueded steering wheel, a $300 option, should be on the “must order” list. It’s ideally shaped, just the right thickness and perfectly suited to high performance driving.
The same can be said for the CTS-V’s instruments, which include a tachometer, speedometer, driver information display, fuel gauge, boost gauge and water temperature gauge. The driver information display can be set to a timer function (ideal for clocking lap times), or it can show the driver the transmission temperature or oil pressure, both critical values for high-speed driving. There’s even a lateral-G display, but if you’re focused on finding the fastest line through a corner, you won’t have time to look at how many Gs you’re pulling. Both tachometer and speedometer include a sweeping red LED display; some find this to be nothing more than a gimmick, but I beg to differ; on a race track, the LEDs help you acquire the instrument needle positions much quicker. It’s that performance-focused attention to detail that really separates the CTS-V models from the rest of the herd.
Under the hood is GM’s LSA V-8, derived from the LS-9 engine used in the Corvette ZR-1. In CTS-V duty, the supercharged 6.2-liter engine makes 556 horsepower and 551 foot pounds of torque, which is enough to get the Coupe from zero to sixty in right around four seconds flat. The amount of thrust available is both impressive and memorable, but the CTS-V is never challenging to drive. Thanks to modern amenities like traction control and stability control, the CTS-V can be as docile as you need it to be, as long as you don’t mat the accelerator. If you guessed that the CTS-V Coupe can be a thirsty beast, you’d be correct: it gets slapped with a gas guzzler tax of $1,300, and the EPA rates it at 14 mpg city and 19 mpg highway. In around-town driving, with generous use of the accelerator, I saw an indicated 13.4 mpg.
On the road, or on the racetrack, the CTS-V continues to impress. For daily driving, the “Tour” suspension mode yields a comfortable ride with just enough firmness to remind you that this is not your father’s Cadillac. Should the road get twisty, the CTS-V’s superb Magnetic Ride Control suspension will stiffen up as needed, based on readings from lateral G-load sensors. Select the “Sport” suspension mode, and the CTS-V is transformed into an entirely different, track-centric animal. Even in Sport, the ride isn’t harsh, but most will find the setting too stiff for every-day driving. If you still think that all cockpit-adjustable suspensions are nothing but hype, consider this: the Delphi-developed magnetorheological system used in the Cadillac CTS-V is also used in the Chevrolet Corvette, the Audi R8 and the Ferrari 458 Italia.
On the track, the CTS-V drives significantly lighter than it really is. Steering is perfectly weighted and provides a surprisingly direct feel for the driver. Turn-in is crisp, and initial understeer can easily be balanced with just a bit of throttle. The StabiliTrak system allows for a bit of tail-out cornering even in the default mode, but dialing up the “Competitive Driving Mode” gives the driver just the right amount of save-your-bacon stability control for track driving. Get proficient with the car, and the StabiliTrak system can be completely disabled (although I’d recommend doing so only on a racetrack, and only after you’ve had significant seat time in the CTS-V).
The brakes are worthy of their own mention. Designed exclusively for the CTS-V by Brembo, the front brakes feature 15-inch rotors and six-piston calipers, while the rear brakes use 14.7-inch rotors and four-piston calipers. Even on the racetrack, running the car hard in summer heat, resistance to fade from the CTS-V’s brakes was impressive. If there’s a better braking system on a modern automobile, I’ve yet to experience it.
My 2011 Cadillac CTS-V Coupe tester had a base price of $63,040, including a destination charge of $875. Options on my tester included the $3,400 Recaro Seats, the $800 Satin Graphite Wheels, the $600 Midnight Sapele Wood Package, the $300 Suede Steering Wheel and the mandatory $1,300 Gas Guzzler Tax, for a total sticker price of $69,440. It’s hard to find a direct parallel to the CTS-V Coupe, but consider that a Maserati Gran Turismo S Coupe starts at $122,500 before you start adding options. Mercedes-Benz’s CLS63 AMG has an opening price of $99,050, and even last year’s BMW M6 Coupe started at $102,350. The Cadillac CTS-V Coupe may not match the refinement of these cars, but it certainly betters them in performance at a fraction of the price. In my eyes, that makes the CTS-V Coupe the performance bargain of the century.