From the November 2008 issue of Car and Driver.
You knew General Motors had finally gotten serious in 2004 when it offered a Cadillac that only came with a manual transmission.
In a move that probably cost the company quite a few sales to the gridlock-challenged and performance poseurs, the first-generation CTS- V (2004–07) came exclusively with a six-speed stick. Think about that for a minute. The last time a Caddy was offered without an automatic option was in 1942.
What had Cadillac wrought? In our initial road test [March 2004], we informally pitted that first-generation CTS- V against the contemporary BMW M3 and M5. Although that CTS-V lacked refinement and had its share of warts, we were suitably impressed with the GM luxury division’s first serious attempt at building a bona-fide Bavarian-style supersedan. A later comparison [“Executive Adrenalators,” November 2004] placed the CTS-V ahead of a Mercedes-Benz C55 AMG but behind an Audi S4.
Since that first CTS-V, Cadillac has rolled out other V-series products, and each one has solidified and legitimized the future of the very young performance brand. As the first of the V-series products to enter its second generation, the 2009 CTS-V is 4292 pounds of proof that the days of GM letting ordinary cars languish for years and discontinuing performance models just as they achieve a whiff of greatness seem to be in the past. The General now appears committed to evolving product, ameliorating flaws, and creating competitive vehicles.
Built upon an evolution of the same Sigma architecture as the original, the CTS-V rides on the same 113.4-inch wheelbase but is fractionally larger in track, width, and length. Despite a couple of weight-saving measures—an aluminum hood and forged aluminum wheels—curb weight is up by a considerable 385 pounds, to a grand total of 4292 for our giant-sunroof-equipped, fully loaded manual-transmission test vehicle. (Fun fact: That’s a mere 109 pounds lighter than the Toyota Highlander in this issue’s SUV comparo.) And yet, like the nearly 4000-pound Nissan GT-R, the Cadillac somehow suspends the laws of gravity.
HIGHS: Hard-charging V-8, track-ready out of the showroom, the way it scoffs at gravity, handsome inside and out, refined manners.
A big part of the Newtonian bitch slap is the 556-hp, supercharged 6.2-liter V-8. Dubbed LSA, the Caddy engine could be considered a slightly detuned version of the ZR1’s 638-hp LS9, but its titanium-free valvetrain and connecting rods and its conventional wet-sump oil system actually make it more akin to a supercharged version of the standard Corvette 6.2-liter.
Transmitting the power to the road is a Tremec TR6060 six-speed manual gearbox that exhibits crisp low-effort shifts and rights the wrongs of the previous generation’s shifter that had the grace of a shoulder popping in and out of its socket. The two-disc clutch offers excellent modulation and light effort that escaped the previous CTS-V. For those who’d rather let the car do the work, there is now an optional six-speed automatic with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
Another complaint we had about the first-generation V was axle hop, which is the tendency for the drive wheels to skip violently under hard acceleration. Richter-scale-grade shudders plagued the first CTS-V under the stress of wheelspin-filled launches. Now, asymmetrical driveshafts connected to a beefed-up differential and rear subframe allow for shudder-free wheelspin that no longer upsets seismometers when trying for impressive zero-to-60 times. Problem solved.
We couldn’t duplicate Cadillac’s claim of 3.9 seconds to 60 mph with our manual test car (we managed 4.3 seconds), but we did get all the way down to 4.0 seconds in just a couple of runs with a six-speed-automatic version, so it’s likely that the slushbox could fulfill the claim. The supercharged V-8 doesn’t feel brutally powerful in the manner of the blown Mercedes-AMG cars of the recent past. When accelerating from a standstill, power builds progressively rather than abruptly. Should you not want to dig up your back issues, we’ll remind you that the quickest M5 and Mercedes E63 we’ve tested took 4.2 seconds to sprint to 60; the most recent M3 sedan, 4.1 seconds.
LOWS: Abrupt rev limiter, slightly numb steering, substantial curb weight, shifter set too far back for some.
Should you have left something a quarter-mile behind, the Cadillac will take you back in 12.6 seconds, although you’ll be going 116 mph, which could complicate collecting whatever it was that you left. An M5 will get through a quarter-mile in 12.5 seconds at 118 mph; an E63 and an M3 sedan take 12.6 seconds, with the Benz posting a trap speed of 115 mph and the M3, 113 mph.
One place where the Caddy dominates is top speed. Cadillac doesn’t subscribe to the German gentleman’s agreement to limit cars to 155 mph, so the V-series will test your sphincter’s fortitude right up to 191 mph, according to Cadillac (automatic versions are electronically governed to 175 to limit transmission output-shaft speed).
On the racetrack, the CTS-V, shod in its purpose-built Michelin PS2 rubber, displayed an acutely neutral manner and massive grip (0.93 g on the skidpad), which would change to understeer or oversteer depending on driver inputs. There are three settings for the stability-control system: on, off, and competition, which turns off the traction control and keeps the stability control switched on but dials back the point where the electronics intervene. Switch the stability control off or into competition mode, and the computer will dial in more steering effort. Although numbness remains in the otherwise precise steering, the heavier effort forces the driver to be a bit more deliberate.
Helping keep the Michelins in step are second-generation magnetorheological shocks that can alter their damping more quickly, keeping the tires reliably in contact with the tarmac. The shocks feature sport and tour settings that take orders from a dash-mounted button. In tour mode, the shocks can achieve the same stiffness as in sport mode, but sport mode brings full firmness faster.
Strong, fade-free brakes easily absorbed the drama that is 4292 pounds moving at triple-digit speeds, bringing the car to rest from 70 mph in 166 feet. Our test car featured the Track package, which includes two-piece, 14.6-inch front rotors that cool more effectively, and red six-piston calipers. The standard front brakes are the same size but are a single-piece slotted design with silver-colored six-piston calipers. The brakes bite with initial pedal travel and progressively and predictably haul the car toward ABS intervention.
Armed with enough coolers to rival a NASCAR infield—oil cooler, supercharger intercooler, transmission cooler, and an optional differential cooler—the CTS-V stayed unruffled and composed on the track and felt as if it would lap for days without complaint.
Our only track-related gripe centered on a rather abrupt rev limiter that cut in brutally and was slow to recover. Driver error is more to blame than the car itself, but the engine is so powerful right up to the 6200-rpm redline (power peaks at 6100 rpm) that it is easy to mistakenly run into the limiter. To prevent that, the V features “tracers” that illuminate as the needle sweeps through the dial. Approach the redline, and the small red lights flash to warn the driver to shift—see what we mean about driver error?
Much of the rest of the interior is identical to that of the standard-issue CTS, which is to say an enormous improvement over the previous CTS-V. A glossy black (some automakers call it “piano black,” Cadillac dubs it “Obsidian”) plastic panel runs down the middle of the center console in place of the non-V’s gray finish. Other changes include an optional microfiber-clad steering wheel and shifter that feel as right here as they do in a Porsche 911 GT3. For extra dough, there are actual Recaro seats that mimic the design of the standard CTS seat. The Recaro chair has glute-gripping microfiber running down the center and comes with adjustable upper and lower leather bolsters.
A tilting-and-telescoping steering wheel and 14-way adjustable seat make it easy to dial in the perfect position and felt tailor-made for your humble five-foot-eleven servant. But those who sit closer to the dashboard complained that the shifter was set too far rearward.
With the shocks in the tour setting, the CTS-V cruises in the same relaxed manner as the less-intense 304-hp CTS. Without question, the V-specific suspension is firm and quivers are occasionally sent through the structure, but the CTS-V is remarkably luxurious and will play traditional Cadillac when you want it to over all but the worst roads. We measured 71 decibels as the Caddy poured itself down the road at 70 mph. Under acceleration, the faint whisper of V-8 beats can be heard from behind the whine of the supercharger.
Official pricing has not yet been announced, but we estimate that this new CTS-V will command $59,000 for an optionless model. That’s about $5500 more than the previous CTS-V’s price, but there’s really no comparing the two. In one evolutionary step, Cadillac has addressed every weakness of the original, and in doing so has built a sports sedan that poses a threat to German competition costing far more. Jingoism, Cadillac style.
THE VERDICT: For its next trick, Cadillac delivers a no-excuses world-class car at a price that almost seems like a bargain.
With so many U.S. buyers retreating from fuel-thirsty rides, the timing for this über Caddy isn’t great. But the car certainly is. Power galore, as you’re undoubtedly aware of by now. What you may not be aware of is the agility, grace, and refinement that go with the supercharged punch. The CTS-V will hold its own against any Euro sports sedan on twisty roads, and it makes its moves without occupant discomfort. Cadillac once called itself an “American Standard for the World.” We think the slogan merits revival. —Tony Swan
When I looked at the scales and saw 4292 pounds, I thought the new CTS-V would be a handling disaster with teeming understeer and brakes that couldn’t withstand repeated stops. No way even the best engineers could tame that kind of weight. But more than 40 miles of track driving didn’t overtax the brakes, and the chassis poise rivals Olympic gold-medalist Shawn Johnson on a balance beam. This car reminds us that GM engineers can deliver a car as rewarding to drive as anything from Deutschland, if not more so. —K.C. Colwell
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