When introduced a few years ago, the CTS, the opening salvo in Cadillac’s image makeover, presaged a new look and performance standard intended to revive the carmaker’s former glory. Out went front-wheel drive and nondescript styling; in came rear-wheel drive and sharply creased design that defied indifference—either you loved it or you despised it. Also gone were names such as Eldorado, discarded in favor of vague nomenclature that includes XLR and SRX. (Cadillac was influenced in this decision by its European competitors, none of which traffics in anything but alphanumeric designations.) Cadillac is deadly serious about taking on Germany’s premium marques and has fittingly tapped the resources of the newly formed GM Performance Division to challenge BMW’s M, Audi’s S, and Mercedes-Benz’s AMG. In Cadillac’s case, the magic letter is V.
The outrageous CTS-V, developed at Germany’s Nürburgring, is the division’s first in-house hot rod; Cadillac emphasizes that not a single engineering, design, or assembly function is outsourced. The V team began by dropping a variant of the Corvette’s 5.7-liter LS6 motor into the CTS engine bay (the Northstar would not fit) and mating it to a 6-speed manual Tremec T56 transmission. The engine produces 400 hp—a full 180 more than in the base CTS—and 395 ft lbs of torque. Cadillac says that the CTS-V will make the zero-to-60 dash in 4.6 seconds and go on to a top speed of 163 mph. Speaking as someone who has driven the car on the road and at Wisconsin’s Road America track, I would say those figures seem credible. This is one fast sedan. And while this is the sort of performance you expect from a BMW, it is a very strange feeling to attack curves aggressively at a racetrack and realize that you are doing it in a Cadillac, one that can be driven straight off of a dealer’s lot.
Shift action from the 6-speed transmission is direct if somewhat notchy, and the steering has point-and-shoot accuracy without being overly sensitive. Handling remains neutral with mild understeer, while ride quality is firm but not harsh. The massive Brembo brakes are never overtaxed. Although well-mannered around town, the CTS-V possesses an omnipresent restlessness—the car’s capabilities do not go into sleep mode when not in use, but rather beg to be exploited. This urgency is not a bad thing, mind you, unless your local law enforcement officers are intent on issuing speeding tickets.
Subtle interior modifications include a gauge cluster providing exhaustive data on command, and suede inserts in the seats to keep driver and passengers in situ through the twisties. Cadillac also kept external cues minimal. The most obvious design elements include a chromed mesh grille reminiscent of a Bentley, unique rocker panels and fascias, 18-inch wheels, and discreetly placed V badges. The only option is a sunroof, and the $50,000 car is available in only two colors: black or silver.
The bottom line is, if you are shopping for an M, S, or AMG, you might want to consider the V.