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Cadillac CTS-V Lab At Palm Beach International Raceway

Posted in Cadillac, Car Buying, Cars, driving, General, GM, Track Events by Kurt Ernst | September 21st, 2010 | Leave a Reply |

2011 Cadillac CTS-V Coupe

If you’ve read my review of the 2010 Cadillac CTS-V, it’s pretty clear that I loved the car. My only complaint was that I didn’t have an opportunity to drive it on a racetrack, and no sane individual is willing to explore the handling limits of a 565 horsepower sedan on public roads. I had to sum it up by saying the CTS-V was a “stunningly quick but well-behaved sedan”.

At the press introduction for the CTS-V Coupe, Cadillac announced a series of public test days, called the CTS-V Lab. Based upon market research, select members of the general public would receive an invitation to attend a track day session to drive the CTS-V Coupe at the limit. Journalists, we were told, would get a similar opportunity on a different day.

2010 Cadillac CTS-V Coupe

Your mission? Drive this car, as fast as the instructor tells you to.

Imagine my surprise when I received an invite to both sessions. Any guilt I may have had at “double dipping” was quickly offset by the opportunity to drive two track days instead of one; without a moment’s hesitation I jumped at the chance and signed up for both the public and the press test days.

Cadillac knows it needs to attract a different demographic if they’re to be successful with the CTS-V line, and their market research was evident by the vehicles in the parking lot. As you’d expect, there were quite a few BMWs, Porsches and Mercedes, and even an Aston Martin DB9 in the session I attended. Some of us were driving more mundane rides, but one thing was clear – GM was under-represented by the cars in the parking lot. Chatting with a few attendees on the way into the presentation, there was a certain cynicism among them. Did Cadillac really think they could build a car that was the performance and handling equal of the Germans? Going into the session, consensus would have been, “no”.

After presentations from a variety of Cadillac and GM staffers (including John Heinricy, the “godfather of the CTS-V” and the man who drove the 7:59 lap on the Nürburgring), we were given a safety briefing by a senior Skip Barber instructor. We were told to have fun, but respect the capabilities of the car and the concrete walls of the racetrack. We were also told to listen to the instructor who’d be driving along with us, as their job was to keep drivers of various abilities safe. As a former instructor myself, I didn’t envy them at all.

2011 Cadillac CTS-V Wagon

CTS-V Wagon was on display, but wasn't available to drive.

Module one was a drag race and braking exercise with the CTS Coupe in “regular flavor”, with the 304 horsepower, 3.6 liter V6. On a short course (probably 1/8 mile), you lined up against another CTS-V Coupe, launched and raced to a braking chute where you stomped the brakes as hard as you could. Next, you progressed to an avoidance maneuver at instructor designated speeds, before flooring the brake pedal in another panic stop. The exercise was repeated three times, giving drivers a chance to get used to the feel of the car. Even without the Brembo brakes of the CTS-V, stopping distances were impressive, and there was no brake fade or loss of pedal feel throughout the exercise. Handling of the base coupe was surprisingly neutral, and Stabilitrack kept the rear in check even when the driver dialed in a sudden directional change. I’d stop short of calling the CTS Coupe a sports car, but it’s a very capable and sporty coupe, well worth the $38,165 price of admission.

Module two transitioned us to the CTS-V sedan. This time we launched the car from a stop, repeated the heavy braking exercise, then worked into a slalom course. The first run was at a relatively low speed, with the suspension in “Touring” mode. Successive runs were done with the suspension in “Sport” mode, and I’ll say this – the Magnetic Ride Control Suspension developed by GM is an engineering wonder. Think of it as using infinitely adjustable shock absorbers; you just need to tell the car if you want a comfortable ride (Touring mode) or if you prefer maximum handling (Sport mode). The Magnetic Ride Control then monitors your driving and adjusts shock stiffness (using a magnetic fluid and an electromagnetic charge) in milliseconds. There was a significant difference between Touring mode, which had noticeable body roll but neutral and predictable handling, and Sport mode, which virtually eliminated body roll. I was impressed by the suspension in street driving, but I was amazed by the suspension on the racetrack.

Module three put us into the CTS-V Coupe, and turned us loose on a half-track course of PBIR. With the guidance of an on-board instructor (and cones marking braking points, turn in, apex and corner exits), were allowed three laps at whatever speed we were comfortable driving. With a chicane in place on the back straight and a reduced track length, maximum velocity was probably around 100 mph. Still, it was enough to feel how hard the Coupe pulled to redline, as well as how good the Brembo brakes and Magnetic Ride Control suspension worked on the track.

Each track exercise was either preceded or followed by a classroom session with a Skip Barber instructor. I found the sessions informative and well presented, and I have to give Cadillac an enthusiastic thumbs up on the quality of their program. Track time and Skip Barber instruction is hard to beat, especially when it’s free of charge.

There was a noticeably different attitude from the attendees by the end of the day. Every single person who drove the CTS-V came away impressed, and I’d bet that more than a few would consider a CTS-V as their next ride. Cadillac has been so successful with the CTS-V that it’s outsold the BMW M5 and the Mercedes Benz E63 AMG combined, and the CTS Coupe is now second in it’s segment, outsold only by the BMW 3 Series Coupe. Impressive stats, especially since the CTS Coupe has only been on the market for about six weeks.

If I had the bank, I’d certainly consider a CTS-V; in fact, if I have any wealthy fans who want to surprise me for Christmas, I’ll take a White Diamond Tricoat Sedan with the Dark Graphite Wheels, the Recaro seats and the suede steering wheel, please. To make things easier for you, here’s a picture below.

2010 Cadillac CTS-V Sedan

So what about the press track day? I’ll write that up for tomorrow and may even give you some in-car camera footage. Just to keep you interested, I’ll tell you this: my maximum velocity at the end of the PBIR back straight was 133 miles per hour, and that wasn’t pushing the car to the limit. If you can think of something that’s more entertaining while wearing clothes, I’d love to hear about it.

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