Our hats are off to GM and Cadillac. To the best of our knowledge, no other car company has been so successful at rebuilding its brand identity so quickly and with as much success as Cadillac has. Gone are the pasty-white old timers from Boca Raton with chest-high Sans-a-Belt plaid pants and white golf shoes dominating focus group studies. They’ve been replaced by sharp new hipsters who enjoy the driving experience, and have visions of beating the likes of BMW and Mercedes-Benz at their own game, on their own turf.
By now it’s no secret that the Cadillac CTS-V spent its fair share of time at Germany’s infamous Nurburgring (or simply “the Ring”) test track, undergoing rigorous chassis development and tuning. The Ring is responsible for so many of the great European driving machines that we Americans so readily lust after. So it’s no surprise that Cadillac scheduled development time at the Ring – they had big fish in their sights, and after driving the CTS-V, we can say they caught them, dead to rights.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Before any testing or refining could take place, Cadillac had to build a suitable platform, fit it with the appropriate parts and wrap it in something appealing. The engineers chose GM’s Sigma chassis as the foundation for its building block, primarily for its inherent rigidity and rear drive configuration. The Sigma chassis is shared with two other Cadillac marques: The SRX and the soon to be released Cadillac Seville.
Suspension was the next order of business, and for road holding duties Caddy fit springs that are 27% more stiff than stock, along with larger, more robust shock absorbers. The control arms are cast from aluminum, and stuffed with stiffer bushings that mate to reinforced, hydroformed front and rear cradles. Larger-diameter anti-roll bars round out the package and ensure the body doesn’t wallow when the cornering gets tricky and abrupt.
GM’s StabiliTrak yaw control system and traction control help to keep things in check, but both can be disabled with the flick of their respective switches. On the track, we took advantage of the “Competitive Driving” function that disables StabiliTrak until it’s absolutely needed to save the day. We only managed to activate it once, in a ridiculous hairpin just before the front stretch at Pocono Raceway’s road course. A g-meter is built-in to the “Driver Information Center” so that you can compare notes with your friends after a particularly hot and heavy track session. The Driver Information Center also displays such useful information as individual tire pressures for all four wheels, oil temperature, coolant temperature, transmission temperature and fuel economy related info.
And despite all of the incredible engineering that went into the chassis, the suspension and the electronic controls, it’s what’s under the hood that will excite most CTS-V drivers while striking fear in the hearts of other drivers: Corvette’s Z06 LS6 small block engine.
Why the Z06 motor? Why not a hot-rodded Northstar V8? The answer is simple – Cadillac knew that it was going to need some serious horsepower if it wanted to compete with the likes of the AMGs and M-cars from Germany. The track-proven, 400-horsepower Z06 motor would surely be up to the task by delivering gobs of torque and plenty of power in a package that easily fit the Sigma chassis.
The 5.7-liter LS6 aluminum block, push-rod activated V8 features hollow intake valve stems, sodium-filled exhaust valves, forged aluminum pistons, a composite intake manifold and a slew of other technological goodies. Even in Cadillac trim, which includes revised exhaust manifolds and a revised accessory drive system, the LS6 develops a full 400 horsepower and 395 pound-feet of torque. All of that power is put to good use as it propels the CTS-V from a standstill to sixty miles per hour in just 5.0 seconds. We saw the quarter-mile race past us in just 13.6 seconds at almost 109 miles per hour. For you non-drag racers, that trap speed is downright impressive and means that the CTS-V is making a ton of power from idle to redline.
A six-speed transmission handles gear changing duties, and the Tremec-sourced T56 unit does so with aplomb. Shifts are smooth and precise, and unlike the Z06 Corvette, there is no hint of gear noise, thanks largely to Caddy’s deployment of a dual-mass flywheel. Our only wish was that the shifter had slightly shorter throws, but it’s a small gripe. We only noticed a problem when on the track – on the road, the shifter worked famously.
As surprising and pleasing as the engine is, the brakes are even more impressive. Wearing front rotors that measure 13-some inches in diameter and rear rotors that measure 14.25″, the CTS-V has no problem delivering fade-free stops from triple-digit speeds. Four piston Brembo calipers grip each rotor, and are largely responsible for 60 to 0 stop distances that rival those of Porsche, as we recorded stop distances of just 115 feet from sixty.
All of this wonderful running gear is wrapped in a wedgy body that is unmistakeable. Wearing a high beltline and carrying sharp angles, the CTS is as good looking as it performs. The CTS-V benefits further from a racy stainless-steel mesh grill that includes brake cooling ducts located just under the front bumper.
Stepping into the CTS-V conjures familiar feelings. The doors close with a vault-like “whoomp,” and the thickly padded three spoke steering wheel says that this car means business. Settling into the pseudo-suede inset seats and acclimating yourself to the controls takes just a second – everything is where it should be, and the seats are firm and supportive.
A twist of the key brings the LS6 to life and treats your ears to a delight that is pure American muscle car. The engine responds immediately to throttle inputs, and the clutch is weighted well. Oddly, the emergency brake is floor mounted… that’ll make for some tricky maneuvers.
Let the clutch out and the motor’s torque takes over. We’re confident you could start this car from a dead stop in fifth gear, but we didn’t try it. There’s no need to feather the clutch or match revs – just dump the clutch and mash the gas, and you’ll be pinned to the seat, grinning ear to ear. Grab second gear at full throttle and the tires will let out a howl. Repeat for third gear, then grab a big bag of brakes, as you’ll be in triple digit speed land. The acceleration, as powerful as it is, remains smooth and controlled, and reminds us of the BMW M5.
But the real fun awaits in the first set of corners. Turn-in is crisp and sharp, and the 18″ Goodyear run-flats provide plenty of lateral grip while delivering a healthy dose of feedback to the driver. The body remains flat, even when performing test runs through the slalom. There’s a slight taste of understeer, but it’s easily corrected with a little additional input from the throttle. The chassis does a great job of communicating what’s happening while isolating its passengers from road abnormalities., and once again, we’re reminded of the BMW M5 – the handling is that good.
Our CTS-V was fitted with the only option available: a sunroof, and as such, its price tag was $51,195. While that may seem like a lot of money, it’s at least $20,000 less than a BMW M5, and is on par with the BMW M3. And it’s just as much fun to drive as either of the M-cars from BMW. We also liked the CTS-V as much as (if not more than) the AMG C32 and E55 from Mercedes-Benz. That’s quite an achievement for a car company that was once the primary choice of shuffleboard tournament players everywhere.