Cadillac's sports version of its CTS sedan might seem an incongruous mix – dropping a Corvette engine into a staid tourer is not typically the stuff teen-aged hot-rod dreams are made of. But abandon preconceptions, all ye who enter here: With a superbly balanced chassis and a comfortable and elegant-tech interior to match that tire-smoking powerplant, the CTS-V will make a believer out of you.
Now in its second generation, the CTS-V is an even more finely polished take on the wolf-in-sheep's-clothing story. The starting point is that jewel of an engine – a 556hp, 6.2-liter supercharged V8 based on the Corvette ZR1's LS9, that propels the CTS-V from zero to 60mph in just over 4sec, despite its 4,300-lb curb weight. That's serious acceleration, putting the $60,720 Caddy on a par with Mercedes-Benz's $85k E63 (also 6.2-liter V8-powered). You'll stop just as smartly, too, with the optional “Track” brake package generating a stopping distance of 109 feet from 60mph.
But raw power is just part of the story: The impressively rigid chassis is paired with electronically controlled suspension that offers a sweet balance and progressive feedback. Cadillac has clearly targeted driver's cars like the E63 and BMW's M5 as a performance benchmark, although its price point is more in line with those makes' less capacious M3 and C63. Whether members of the target demographic for those cars would be willing to consider a Cadillac is another question. But on performance, they should.
A tastefully enhanced exterior bolsters the car's world-class positioning. A nicely sculpted front fascia and spoiler, together with V-Series badging and chrome side vents, help distinguish the V from the standard sedan (although a plastic, rather than metal mesh grille is a bit disappointing). The standard 19-in. wheels also effectively showcase the heavy-duty Brembo brakes. Inside, the optional Recaro 14-point adjustable seats of our test car were superbly grippy and supportive for hard and long-distance driving – in marked contrast to the standard seats, by all accounts, so this is a box you'll want to tick. There are plenty of electronic enhancements to make your trip fly by, including a sweet Bose 5.1 surround-sound audio system with a CD/MP3 player, satellite radio, USB/auxiliary audio jacks and digital music storage. Cabin materials are also first rate, with dark wood accents elegantly setting off the synthetic suede inserts on the seats and shift knob.
As befits a car of this heft, there's plenty of comfort room for the rear passengers, too, and the 13.6 cubic feet of trunk space is more than you'll find in an M3 (although still 2.3 cubic feet down on the E63's storage). A trunk pass-through opening is standard.
But it's the drive that sets this Caddy apart. The CTS-V makes the most of that massive power and equally bodacious 551 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels. Our test car came with a six-speed automatic transmission augmented by steering-wheel-mounted buttons, rather than the standard six-speed manual; we found the buttons more awkward than F1-style paddles, and the transmission itself a bit slushy – certainly in comparison to Mercedes' brilliant 7-speed semi-auto. However, that didn't detract all that much from the crisp ride from the Magnetic Ride Control suspension, which utilizes a magnetically sensitive fluid in the dampers to firm or soften the suspension. It can be tuned to your preference of Tour or Sport modes, while the “Competitive Driving” mode of the StabiliTrack stability control system employs the strengths of the chassis and engine to great effect. Except on the windiest of roads, it's easy to forget that you've got two tons-plus of car around you. And, planting your foot on the straights and letting that monster V8 growl to life brings an exhilaration that never gets old.
Value is, of course, a judgment call, but the bang for the buck to be found here is undeniable. Beyond the basic hardware, standard features like the adaptive suspension with adjustable dampers, adaptive xenon headlights and rear parking assist turn what was already a comparative bargain into a clear winner. You'll not go wrong with an M3 or C63, but even if you don't think you'll need the extra room, you owe it yourself to give Cadillac's hot rod careful consideration.Andrew CraskSECOND OPINION
Andrew's opinion of the gearbox is spot on: using the button-shifts in a semi-auto should increase
the involvement between driver and car, not drive a wedge between them. The buttons are fiddly and the change is tardy. Thankfully, just using it as an automatic remains a pleasure, the unit shifting sweetly and instinctively “knowing” whether the driver wants to change down a cog or use the torque.
But it's the suspension that will shock both newcomers to the Cadillac brand and current Caddy owners who were worried that their favorite brand might have ruined its reputation for luxury. With the CTS-V, GM has matched Jaguar's XFR in making a car that can be a hard-as-nails uber-sedan or a comfortable cruiser. The big difference is that the Cadillac's boxier shape has created far more room for cabin occupants, at the expense of svelte styling.
Would I want one? Yup. GM has created a fantastic car in the CTS-V. But in a perfect world – or my version of it – this would have been a Pontiac Grand Prix or Le Mans.