Here's the thing most folks missed at this year's Detroit auto show: When Bob Lutz was standing on stage with the 2009 Cadillac CTS-V, he said it would be the quickest sedan in the world.
"You know," we immediately asked a GM contact, "An M5 will crank out a quarter-mile in like 12.7 seconds, right?"
"Yep," came the answer.
Even Lutz, with his notoriously loose lips, doesn't get up on stage in front of the world and beat his chest without some major-league assurances from the product guys. So we had to assume that there was some basis in reality for the claim — at least until we had a chance to test it.
Well, now we have. And guess what? It is the quickest production sedan we have ever tested, including a couple of hot cars that have arrived since Lutz's bit of bravado on the Cadillac stand in Detroit last January.
As it has since the model line's introduction in 2004, Cadillac pitches the CTS-V at the similar-size German sedans including the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes E-Class, and then prices it like a BMW 3 Series or Mercedes C-Class.
Such is the case with the 2009 Cadillac CTS-V. Cadillac names the M5 and E63 as its main targets, yet pricing should be closer to the M3 and C63. Figure somewhere around $65,000, although Cadillac won't announce a price until closer to the model's on-sale date this fall.
But none of this actually matters since the 556-horsepower supercharged-V8 CTS-V will out-power all four-door comers, size small, medium or large.
Equipped with the six-speed automatic, the CTS-V sprints to 60 mph in 4.3 seconds (4 seconds flat with1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip). And then it powers on to a quarter-mile time of 12.4 seconds at 115 mph.
The CTS-V equipped with the Tremec TR6060 six-speed manual that we also tested did the deeds just a tick slower at 4.6 seconds to 60 mph (4.3 seconds with 1 foot of rollout) and then completed the quarter-mile in 12.5 seconds at 115.3 mph.
Yes, that takes down the CLS63's quarter-mile performance of 12.8 seconds at 111.8 mph, while the mighty V10-powered M5 goes down, too, with its run at 12.7 seconds at 113 mph. The M3? Nope — not as quick. The Audi RS4? Nuh-uh. The Lexus IS-F? Please. What about the C63 — that little bugger with the big lump? Well, now, this one's close, and makes a pass in 12.5 seconds at 113.7 mph. That's close — real close. But the CTS-V is still a hair quicker.
And for all this, Cadillac claims it can make the car do 60 mph in 3.9 seconds and then clock the quarter-mile in 12.0 seconds at 118 mph.
Listen, though, some dude could have slapped a fat turbo on the first-generation CTS-V's naturally aspirated V8 and thrown some sticky tires on the rear and maybe gotten a fast run or two off before the car tore its own ass off. Well, actually with the old CTS-V's legendary axle hop, we wouldn't have gotten any clean runs....
Wait, what were we talking about? Oh, yeah, the 2009 Cadillac CTS-V launches from a standstill and accelerates so smoothly and easily that the car is sneaky fast. While we took a break from driving from suburban New York City to the private country-club racetrack in Monticello, New York, for some laps, a colleague of ours sidled up close and whispered, "Did that feel like 556 horsepower to you? I mean, it felt fast, but not that fast."
Like the previous generation of AMG-massaged Mercedes cars, the perception of speed in the CTS-V is divorced from reality. Under hard acceleration, there isn't a blaring or shrieking exhaust note. Instead there is a barely perceptible whine from the supercharger (although the whine is more noticeable to bystanders). There are no power-induced histrionics from the rear suspension. At launch, you simply decide how much of those pricey Michelin PS2 summer tires you'd like to exfoliate and hit it. And then you're off. No big deal. No violence. Didn't feel that fast. But then you look at the speedometer and...Heavens to Betsy!
This is true of launching both the automatic and the manual, because these transmissions are as impressive as the engine. The automatic shifts firmly, but not like the kidney jabs BMW's SMG-equipped M5 is always delivering. And it's frankly quicker to let the transmission's brain (in Sport mode) command the shift points. There's no time to be had in using the shift buttons on the steering wheel.
Meanwhile, the manual transmission — a version of the same transmission found in the Camaro, Corvette, Challenger, Viper, etc. — has a nice firm action. The dual-plate clutch, similar to the one used in the Corvette ZR1, feels solid, intuitive and seems overall quite light in feel for the level of power going through it.
A smooth, powerful motor and solid, quick-shifting transmissions certainly get the bulk of the credit for the impressive performance. But the asymmetrical half-shafts (one is larger in diameter) help quell the rear suspension's tendency toward hop during a fast launch. In fact, it is as hard to generate axle hop on this version of the CTS-V as it was easy to generate it on the previous generation.
Hot Rods and Sports Cars
It shouldn't come as much of a surprise that the 2009 Cadillac CTS-V is quick, though. GM has developed its engine in tandem with the Corvette ZR1's lump of high explosives. No, the Cadillac does not have a track-worthy dry-sump oiling system, because, well it's not really intended to be a track car (despite its sub-8-minute lap of the Nürburgring Nordschleife). Compared to the ZR1's supercharger, the CTS-V carries a smaller version of the Eaton TVS supercharger (1.9-liter displacement) and a single bricklike intercooler. Still, it's a hell of a piece, even though it's strapped to the CTS-V's portly 4,300 pounds.
What has been less sure is the Cadillac's zigging ability, but here it has proven to be a world beater as well. Thanks to Magnetic Ride Control shocks, the CTS-V has a wide spectrum of ride and handling capabilities. These quick-acting shocks can be set to Tour or Sport and have the capability to adjust almost instantaneously to changing demands. The system is not new; Cadillac has been using them since the SRX crossover introduced them. But the system has recently been significantly upgraded to be more heat-resistant (a plus for track days) and quicker-reacting (thanks both to refined shock fluid and system software updates) iteration of the technology.
They work. The CTS-V's body is well controlled, yet the ride does not transmit the impact harshness common to performance cars with tires that have stiff, narrow sidewalls. And goodness, the CTS-V absolutely flies through our slalom course at 71.1 mph.
The only sedan we can think of that can do it faster is the BMW M3, and the sport sedan icon does it less than 1 mph faster than a freakin' Cadillac. And the M3 is shorter by 11 inches and narrower by 1 inch (size matters in the slalom). Of the other similar luxury sport sedans, only the Lexus IS-F and Audi RS4 are close to the CTS-V with performances of 70.2 mph and 70.5 mph, respectively. The harsh-riding Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG gets through at 68.6 mph.
Anything else the CTS-V's size gets stomped. The M5 went through once at 69.2 mph and once at 68.4 mph. And the CLS63 trundles through at 64.4 mph.
Mind you, it wasn't always pretty ushering the Caddy around the cones. This is a heavyweight piece of machinery. It is not what you would call flingable, if that is even a word. But the suspension is well-tuned (we found Tour mode was the quicker way through the cones, as Sport made the rear end too lively) and the Michelins are sticky-delicious.
Stick With Me Now
The Caddy sucked the skid pad with an average of 0.92g of maximum lateral acceleration. The only other two sport sedans that can match or better it are the M3 sedan and the IS-F, and it is probably not a coincidence that both of those cars wear Michelin Pilot Sport PS2 tires. Both these cars register 0.93g, while the Mercedes AMG sedans do about 0.88-0.89g. We've never seen an M5 do better than 0.84g. The RS4 could manage 0.90g when shod with PS2s and less when it was on different tires.
Those Michelins, which the company estimates will last owners 18,000-20,000 miles in "normal street driving," help generate pretty staggering braking distances, too. The car we brake-tested wore an optional "track" brake package, identifiable by the red calipers and non-slotted brake rotors. The combination of the tires and the brake package helped bring the 2009 Cadillac CTS-V to rest from 60 mph in 109 feet.
Only the M3 sedan can beat the Cadillac in this regard with its truly remarkable effort of 104 feet. Next best in the group for which we've listed other test data is the IS-F at 112 feet, and the longest is the CLS63 at 118 feet. For perspective, a Porsche 911 Carrera S — one of the world's best-stopping vehicles — will come to a halt from 60 mph in 103 feet.
Cadillac says the standard brakes — with six-piston Brembo calipers up front and four-piston units in back — should stop the CTS-V in about the same distance, but won't have quite the heat resistance that the track brakes do (which is the point of special brake packages, really). Indeed, the distances we measured actually shrank after repeated stops.
Matters of Style and Substance
To our eyes, the 2009 Cadillac CTS-V is one of the best-looking sport sedans going. It's better-looking than the weird-to-the-bone M5. It's less garish than the C63. And the IS-F — don't get us started. The CLS, RS4 and M3 are fine-looking automobiles, in our book.
But the CTS-V, with its bulging hood, flared front fenders and hungry-looking brake ducts, looks tough without crossing the boy-racer threshold. It looks uniquely American without being retro; uniquely Cadillac without being a parody of itself; uniquely, um, unique.
The interior execution of the V-spec CTS is pretty close to the well-received cabin of the standard CTS — although with more shiny black trim. Also, the gauges have little red LED segments along the perimeter (Cadillac calls them "tracers") that light up sequentially as the tachometer or speedometer needle sweeps past. All of the tach tracers blink as the needle approaches redline as a sort-of shift light.
It is our firm belief that when an automaker offers synthetic suede interior pieces, you should purchase them. Cadillac offers the stuff on the fat steering wheel rim and the shift knob. They're grippy and soft. What else could you want?
You must order the optional Recaro seats, partly because they are good but also because the standard seats are really not good. They remind us of Corvette seats, which our wheel man for the instrumented testing described as, "like sitting on Rosie O'Donnell's lap." Indeed, they are mushy, and the seat bottoms are also too short and they lack thigh bolsters. Get the Recaros, which incidentally have more adjustable bladders than Rosie, too.
What's all this cost? Cadillac isn't talking. But the last version started at a bit over $50,000. A well-equipped M3 runs more than $60,000, as do a C63 and a Lexus IS-F. The M5 is not far under $100,000. We're going to guess at about $65,000 to start.
So, what are we going to complain about? Wearing the wreath and crest makes us feel old? A perceived lack of pedigree? The interior quality?
Nope. With the 2009 Cadillac CTS-V, Cadillac has built what is easily the best American sedan for driving enthusiasts. And it's among the best in any regard for anything. All those years we had to endure Cadillac using the term "world-class" in its publicity without earning the credentials, and now Cadillac has finally done it.
When we saw GM's Bob Lutz at our office shortly after the Detroit show, he boasted about the CTS-V, "It'll put the M5 on the trailer." And while that's a bit of an overstatement, he isn't too far from the mark. The CTS-V does beat the target M5 both at the test track, and in terms of pure driving pleasure, on the street.
It's that good.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.