Last week we LUSTed after the VW Phaeton, a hot sleeper packing a W12 engine and loads of gadgets. Today we’re taking a look at a slightly different idea: a pumped up sedan fielded by Uncle Sam to do battle with the Germans … the Cadillac CTS-V. Was it a four-door Corvette or a Catera redux? Click through to find out!
The Car: Cadillac CTS-V (First Generation)
The Cadillac CTS-V is in many ways such a revolutionary Cadillac that it is difficult to imagine how it came to be in the first place. GM’s long obsession with wringing the passion out of their top luxury brand had culminated in the 1980s with their execrable Cimmaron, possibly the most poorly received piece of badge-engineered crap since the Edsel’s genital-shaped grille hit the market in the 1950s. Transverse V8 engines have no place in the front of vehicles, and buyers who cared about this important fact shunned Cadillac dealerships. That is, except for the Metamucil set, who loved the cushiness and power, and really didn’t give a flying Matlock what sort of engine was placed where. And don’t even mention the Catera or the Allante …
And then Cadillac reskinned the Corvette as the XLR, and all bets were off. Cadillac wasn’t half-assing it this time; they wanted a real performance credential to put on the mantle next to their luxo-barge award (which, interestingly enough, is shaped like a Barcalounger ). The new styling language was called “Art and Science,” and plenty of more eloquent writers than I have exhausted all of the “origami” and “creased” analogies, so let’s just say that the new designs were aggressive and hard, and also completely different than the old soft, rounded, suppository-shaped Cadillacs of the mid- to late-1990s. While the Deville soldiered on as the STS, retaining FWD form, the Seville replacement debuted on rear-wheel drive architecture – the GM Sigma platform. There were additional signs that this changeover was for real … for one, the CTS offered the first manual transmission for Cadillac since the aforementioned Cimmaron. Despite being conceived to replace the Catera (and retain the Catera name), GM thankfully changed course, and the C-Series Touring Sedan was born. This was all well and good, as the standard 3.2L V6 made reasonably decent power (220 horses) and proved a decent volume seller.
Then the eggheads from the General Motors Performance Division got their grubby mitts on the CTS, and decided to inject it with a new serum: V-Series. Like Bruce Banner in a fit of rage, the CTS-V bulged forth with 5.7 liter V8 power. The Corvette Z06-derived LS6 produced 400 horsepower in the CTS-V, nearly double what the standard six-cylinder car put out. They also tuned the suspension on the Nurburgring, beefed up the drivetrain componentry to handle the additional torque, and provided the CTS-V with an aggressive mesh grille and larger wheels. 0 to 60 came in 5 seconds flat as the CTS-V rocketed to a 163 MPH top speed like some sort of stealth cruise missile. All-in-all, it performed the part, all while looking like a hired assassin in a crisply creased suit.
Of course, just like an assassin, you’ve hired it to get the job done, and failure in this age of highly reliable vehicles is just inexcusable. The CTS-V has suffered from a host of well-publicized quality control problems. There was the one owner whose excited, fan-boy-style video blogs about taking delivery of his long awaited CTS-V turned into a sour grapes rant as his vehicle flipped into safety mode on the highway, hobbling the car to a slow computer-governed speed (click here to watch a video by that guy). There was the Road & Track road test where the CTS-V’s rear differential committed ritual suicide upon being asked to do routine acceleration testing. Rattles, creaks, groans, and other sounds of under-development distress plagued the first generation of the car, leading to much consternation among owners.
So where does this leave us?
Don’t get us wrong: we love the idea of the CTS-V. We love that Cadillac’s challenge to BMW’s M-division and Mercedes’s AMG cars was, on paper at least, a totally worth opponent. What turns our LUST meter off is the execution. Cadillac had a halo car in the XLR, but this was the halo car you could you could actually put in your driveway. And it simply was undercooked. In addition, like many performance cars that real people can actually afford, many will undoubtedly fall into the “let’s do a burnout and then slam into a curb and waste the suspension!” crowd. Finding a good used one is going to prove difficult, especially since the problems the CTS-V had from the factory aren’t likely to be helped by years worth of hard-driving. We have a feeling most of these will end up in 10 years on craigslist, with an ad saying “just needs some TLC (salvage title, some fire damage, some meth residue) MAKE AN OFFER!!!!!”
Think otherwise? Chime in below in the comments and let me know where you stand.