One of the perks of being an automotive journalist is that you get to drive a lot of different cars, under a lot of different circumstances. In most cases, manufacturers want to put their best foot forward, and they certainly don’t want you to spend a day hot lapping a world class racetrack in the summer sun. Too many things can go wrong, ranging from driver mistakes through component failure, since driving a car at speed, on a track, is perhaps the most abusive thing you can do to it. Cadillac, on the other hand, has so much confidence in their CTS-V Coupe that they invited a few dozen of us media types to Palm Beach International Raceway, to spend the day driving the CTS-V Coupe as fast as we wanted to.
As if that wasn’t self-assured enough, the cars we drove had been thoroughly flogged by the public (including yours truly) for the previous three days. All were checked for tire and brake wear before the track pros took us out for a few laps to show us the line at PBIR. In the morning session, a chicane was used to break up the back straight, not necessarily a bad thing when you’re giving journalists a car with 565 horsepower on a track that has a back straight over 3,200 feet long. By the afternoon, the full track was open and we were allowed to run the back straight at full throttle.
I’ll get to the lapping part in a minute, but first it’s important to know how seriously Cadillac is taking their U.S. business. Dealers, for example, are being trained in customer service by the Ritz-Carlton staff, perceived to be the best in the world at what they do. The redesign of the SRX crossover has moved it into the number two position in the segment in just a few months, and in a brief six weeks the CTS Coupe has moved into the number two position in its segment. There’s a certain energy among Cadillac employees as well; it’s clear that they have an enormous amount of pride in their brand, and that’s communicated in everything they do. In short, this isn’t the Cadillac of old, and products like the Cimarron or the Catera are now exorcised demons from a forgotten past.
When Cadillac designed the second generation CTS-V series (which includes the sedan, wagon and coupe), it was clear that “good enough” wasn’t going to drive sales in the segment. Every detail, from the steel used in the Sigma II platform, to the Magnetic Ride suspension, Brembo brakes and supercharged V8 engine was carefully chosen to highlight performance, but not at the expense of drivability. Like the best automobiles from Germany, the CTS-V is capable of both astonishing velocity and sublime comfort. You really can have you cake, and eat it, too.
So how does the CTS-V work on a racetrack? Very well, and it’s amazingly forgiving for a car that pushes nearly 600 horsepower and weighs in at just over 3,900 pounds. The Stabilitrak stability control system can be set to four different modes, which allows the CTS-V Coupe to be as docile as you need it to be, depending on conditions. On the track, with the Stabilitrak in Competition mode, it allows just enough oversteer to promote a smile in high speed corners. Modulating the back end with your right foot is a thoroughly enjoyable experience, and I was truly surprised at how neutral the CTS-V Coupe felt in corners. With the suspension in Sport mode, turn in is quick, and there’s quite a bit of feedback from the front wheels. Steering feel is superb, and the CTS-V Coupe actually feels like a much lighter car than it really is.
Stopping nearly two tons of high velocity automobile is the job of the Brembo brakes, unique to the CTS-V series. Brembo uses six piston, monobloc aluminum calipers in front and four piston, monobloc aluminum calipers in rear. The front rotors are an innovative design that combines a cast iron rotor with an aluminum hub for reduced weight. As you’d expect, braking feel is superb, and even extended lapping in summer temperatures wasn’t enough to produce noticeable brake fade on the cars I drove.
So what does a lap of PBIR in a six speed CTS-V Coupe feel like? Exiting the pits, I take the first corner in third gear, and I’m hard on the gas as I exit the cones. The second corner requires just a bit of braking as I turn in, but then I’m hard on the gas and into fourth gear as I approach turn three. Turn three is a decreasing radius left hander, so I brake and grab third gear for the corner. I enter slow, and stay to the outside until I see the cone marking the apex. I tighten my line as gently as I can, then feed on the power past the cone and into turn four. Turn four is tricky; it’s really a constant radius, but it feels like a decreasing radius, so I stay to the outside and wait to squeeze on the gas until I see the exit to the short straight. A quick shift into fourth gets me some speed, but then I’m braking and blipping the throttle as I grab third and set up for turn five. Turns six and seven are short and form an “S” as you head into the back straight; you want to get turn seven right, as it lets you carry as much speed as possible into the back straight. Leaving seven, I’m in third gear and hard on the gas through turn eight and onto the back straight. Now it’s hammer down, and keep an eye on the tach; just before redline I grab fourth, then fifth. The braking cones are coming up at an alarming rate, and a glance at the speedometer shows I’m doing 133 miles per hour. I could keep my foot in it a bit longer, but I’m lapping for fun, not times. I lift and brake hard at the first marker, scrubbing off speed quickly and working my way down into third gear for turn nine, a decreasing radius right hander that dumps me back on pit road.
What does all this ultimately mean? The CTS-V Coupe is surprisingly easy to hustle around a track, and it gives the driver great feedback, superb braking and rocket-like thrust on acceleration. It’s a very confidence-inspiring car, and could be used for track days by novice drivers and serious enthusiasts alike. It also works well on the street, since the Stabilitrak system prevents any surprises even in slippery conditions (equipped with the right tires, of course). This is just my opinion, but I also think the coupe is a stunning design that will age particularly well; time will tell if I’m right on this or not.
I’d like to thank Cadillac, Brembo, and Michelin for putting on a truly memorable event, and I congratulate them on a job well done with the CTS-V lineup. I’d also like to thank the staff at Palm Beach International Raceway, and strongly encourage you to look into driving opportunities at the facility if you live in the Southeast. The track is challenging without being intimidating, and the new facility is superior in every regard to the former Moroso Motorsports Park. It’s a good thing I don’t live closer, or I’d be spending a disproportionate amount of time and money trying to perfect my line through turn four.