“There may be a little bit of a stigma as a luxury car, but I could certainly get past that based on the driving experience. And the fact that it is such a nice car lends itself to having that sleeper feel. It's such a well-balanced car in so many ways. It's got good brakes, the suspension is really nice, it cruises well. But on top of that, you've got an immaculate interior, it's very comfortable to drive and it fulfills your normal daily driver needs.”
It does that with a combination of luxury and performance matched by few cars today – usually those with slanted M badges or AMG badges as Hildebrand noted. The luxury appointments are hard to argue with and include most of the refinements found in other luxury cars, such as fine leather interiors, keyless entry and ignition, heated and ventilated seats, Bluetooth, navigation and a level of electronic wizardry only surpassed by a few Japanese and German manufacturers. It's all wrapped in a very distinctive, angular body that, looking a bit like the world's fastest computer cursor, will be mistaken for nothing else on the road.
But in between the front seats of this particular car sits a bit of old technology considered passé by many manufacturers and downright archaic by most U.S. drivers: a 6-speed manual transmission gearshift. Of course, a 6-speed electronically controlled automatic with paddle shifters is offered, but the mere existence of a manual option these days tingles the senses of serious drivers. You won't find one of those on any AMG or Lexus F-model.
It hints that the “V” on the trunklid and fenders truly signifies serious performance, as opposed to just being a powerful luxury car, and it's that performance that gets Hildebrand's not-so-inner racecar driver stoked. Aside from the 556hp produced by a 6.2-liter V8 with an Eaton dual-scroll supercharger on top, the CTS-V features a magneto-rheological controlled shocks with Tour and Sport modes, big Brembo brakes with 6-piston calipers up front and a limited-slip differential.
“It reacts quickly and you know exactly what it's going to do,” comments Hildebrand. “One thing that really stood out to me was the steering. It had a great feel to it. Just that in itself is kind of confidence-inspiring. I took it on some back roads in Northern California and it handles its weight very well. It shows that GM's doing an excellent job taking its cars over to Germany, to the Nurburgring, and really putting them through their paces to tune the suspension. You could tell right away that it was capable of taking a pretty serious amount of effort.”
Indeed. Hildebrand may not have found it while exploring the car, but the CTS-V carries a G-meter that records the maximum lateral acceleration. After he had it a few days, it read 1.2. That's a large number for a big, heavy car even if it does, as Hildebrand notes above, “handle its weight very well.” It's still a luxury car, and even the most basic of luxuries these days weigh cars down. This CTS-V tips the scale at more than 4,200lbs., though notably with a 51/49 weight distribution.
“In a lot of heavy cars, you really feel the weight and notice the pitch and roll of the car. There was definitely a little bit of that – it's unavoidable – but it didn't feel nearly as big as it is. It has a stiff but sort of hooked-up feel to it, and it would dig in and carve through a corner, rather than feeling that sort of floaty, lazy way in tight corners that a lot of sedans do.”
If Hildebrand has any quibbles about the car, it would be that, in the pursuit of comfort, there are almost too many adjustments in the cockpit. Plus it took him a bit of time before he really became one with the car. “With the coupe, you have the looks and the added rigidity, but it does create some blind spots. It took a few days to really settle into the car, to get to the point where I was comfortable in the seat and had the mirrors where they needed to be while still having good visibility.”
Other minor issues were stiff brakes (he prefers them that way but thinks others may feel differently) and the manual gearbox not shifting as precisely and directly as he'd like. “On the positive side, the ratios were quite good – it's got a fairly short stack of gears.”
Those, however, are small arguments with a car that Hildebrand feels hits the mark in every other way – hot rod, freeway cruiser, sports sedan. He says if Cadillac was aiming for the luxury performance sedan segment as dominated by the Germans, not only did the designers meet that goal, they exceeded it with the CTS-V.
“I suppose there might be some creature comforts that a BMW or Mercedes might have that this Cadillac doesn't, but to me that all gets in the way,” he says (and Cadillac's new CUE system coming on some 2012 models will add some techy touchscreen stuff). “This car has all you need, especially if you're a RACER reader! It might not have quite that German level of bells and whistles, but as far as I'm concerned – and ignoring its amazing horsepower-per-dollar ratio – I would choose this car 10 times out of 10.
“Cadillac is a classic brand and GM has managed to get the most out of the car. There's nothing cheap about the CTS-V; there's nothing that says this is your granddaddy's Cadillac. It's a whole new brand image, and they've done a heck of a job creating a car that can compete with the best luxury sport sedans out there.”
• For the full version of this feature article, plus much more, check out the January 2012 issue of RACER magazine, which is NOT available on newsstands. CLICK HERE to subscribe.