Cadillac has spent the past 15 years honing its expertise building sport sedans. And the latest one, available this September, not only looks both swanky and muscular but moves like nothing Cadillac has ever built before.
The brand has long been known for powerful V8s. And this one uses the same supercharged 6.2-liter engine as Chevrolet's top Corvette: the Z06. That means with 640 horsepower on tap, the Cadillac delivers way more power than its rivals. Cadillac says the CTS-V can leap to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds and reach a full 200 mph if given the space.
The beauty of this Cadillac is that it's not just a muscle machine. Inside it's as luxurious and well crafted as the best German sedans. The ride is just compliant enough to make it an easy everyday driver.
Unlike some high-performance luxury cars, Cadillac bakes most of the important equipment into the CTS-V standard so buyers won't have to spend a lot more to access the sedan's ultimate potential.
What Is It?
The Cadillac CTS-V is a high-performance midsize luxury sport sedan based on the basic chassis and body shell of the CTS sedan. And to battle the best sport sedans from Europe, Cadillac installed a brutally powerful supercharged 6.2-liter V8. The sophisticated engine generates 640 hp at 6,400 rpm and 630 pound-feet of torque at 3,600 rpm.
That's just 10 fewer horses than the fire-breathing Corvette Z06. Cadillac backs this mill with an eight-speed automatic that can be manually shifted by steering-wheel-mounted paddles. Yes, the aforementioned Corvette makes a manual transmission available, but Cadillac representatives say so few would choose the option on the CTS-V that it didn't make sense.
Before that horsepower reaches the ground, it is distributed to the tires by an electronically controlled limited-slip differential. Onboard computer systems can read road and vehicle conditions and decide to send more power to a specific tire to either help balance handling, increase traction — or both. Speaking of traction, while some of Cadillac's rivals offer all-wheel drive in this ultra-performance class, it's not offered here. So if all-season travel in foul weather is a requirement, the company does spec a specific snow tire for the CTS-V.
Cadillac has made many significant upgrades and improvements to the bones of the CTS to ready it for the demands of track driving. The basic CTS structure has been made 25 percent stiffer with additional steel braces in crucial areas. There's a firmer suspension with less body roll and adjustable Magnetic Ride Control shock absorbers. The shock damping is 40 percent quicker-acting than the system on the last CTS-V.
Helping to achieve a stunning 1.0g of cornering grip are larger 19-inch forged aluminum wheels. The front wheels wear 265/35ZR19 tires and the 10-inch rear wheels house massive 295/30ZR19 rubber. To help slow the sedan down, Cadillac tapped Brembo to develop giant 15.3-inch front and 14.3-inch rear disc brakes. That's supercar-size stopping ability.
Buyers of modern high-performance sport sedans expect the ability to customize the feel of their cars, so Cadillac has four driving modes: Snow, Tour, Sport and Track. Each click of the button specifies unique calibrations for the transmission, suspension, steering and stability control to offer an increasingly involving driving experience.
And yet, unlike Cadillac's rivals, there is no custom "individual" mode in this system. On other sport sedans, these modes allow the driver to, for example, pair certain features together like sporty steering and transmission calibrations with a softer suspension setting. It's a feature we think belongs on a car in this class.
What Body Styles and Trim Levels Are Available?
The previous-generation CTS-V was available as a sedan, coupe and even a station wagon. But this all-new Cadillac CTS-V is only available as a four-door sedan, just as the original was back in 2004.
The CTS-V is designed to battle expensive European high-performance sedans. So by starting at $84,990, the American undercuts its rivals by around $10,000. One of the benefits of selecting the top performance model in the CTS range is that safety features like lane departure warning and lane-keeping assist are standard, as are some handy tech features like automatic parking assist, which can park the car with the driver only selecting the gear and applying the throttle and brake.
Another great standard feature for urban dwellers is the curb-view camera system, which shows the driver a bird's-eye view when approaching a parking spot. It's good for preserving the expensive carbon fiber below the bumper. However, it's easy to ratchet up the base price by adding a pile of stand-alone options.
What Performance Options Are Available?
This is, of course, a performance car, so there are some options that really improve the experience behind the wheel. For $5,500, the Cadillac can be optioned with a carbon-fiber package, which includes book-matched carbon pieces around the exterior of the car designed to increase its downforce on the track.
A performance data recorder ($1,300) is a particularly cool option that allows owners to record lap times (including speed data) with a front-camera HD video of the track. The $2,300 Recaro performance seats provide more lateral support for aggressive driving. One of the least expensive options is also one of our favorites. For $300, there's a suedelike microfiber steering wheel and shift knob.
Other options include specially painted brake calipers ($595) and wheels ($900) as well as two unique exterior paint colors (tricoat white or red) for $500.
With every option checked, the CTS-V, at $99,830, just undercuts the six-figure milestone.
What's It Like To Drive Aggressively?
The CTS-V is an absolute blast to drive. In many ways, this is the closest you can get to a four-door Corvette. The big V8 has so much power and torque on tap that flooring the throttle means it will keep pace with some very speedy company.
Cadillac says it will run through the quarter-mile in the mid-11-second range at more than 125 mph. Believe it or not, that's as quick as the $245,000 Ferrari 458 Italia. And unleashing all that speed on a racetrack is a breathtaking experience.
We spent a day with a CTS-V on the historic Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. The four-mile road course is a high-speed track. And in this Cadillac we stormed to more than 150 mph in sections. At that speed, the CTS-V was rock-steady and felt planted on the track. Of course, we had the driving mode for "Track" selected. That brings up a white background for the tach (also in Sport) in the gauge cluster.
The CTS-V comes with GM's Performance Traction Management system, which governs the stability and traction control system and lets the driver choose among five menus with decreasing levels of intervention from the car's performance safety systems. We selected Level 3, which retains some stability control involvement if the car really begins to slide.
The transmission's shifting in Track mode is aggressive, so it holds onto the gears longer before upshifting. That's handy as you brake hard into a sharp corner, so the right gear is selected at corner exit. If it's not, the shift paddles make quick work of that need. Drive the CTS-V hard as we did and the incredible power, grip and highly accurate steering make the experience wonderfully fun.
Is It Manageable in Normal Driving?
On the street, where most CTS-Vs will live, the sport sedan shows its softer side. Click "Tour" and the suspension becomes suppler and the exhaust quiets down. And when driven with a gentle right foot, the V8 can run on half its cylinders to save fuel. There's also a big 19-gallon fuel tank (2 gallons larger than the last CTS-V) so this should be an excellent road trip machine.
The roads around the track weren't particularly rough, so it's difficult to know just how the CTS-V will react to New York-, L.A.- or Detroit-class potholes. Those high performance tires can get loud — "thwacking" over rough concrete highways or rumble strips. But generally the ride was smooth and compliant.
Tour mode also relaxes the transmission, so it has a tendency to upshift to the most economical gear. If you need to make a quick pass, you'll wait a beat for the eight-speed to shift down one or more gears. But when it does, the thrust is awesome and violent. You'll also hear a glorious whine from the supercharger and that howling exhaust again — which uncorks above 3,000 rpm.
Click over to Sport and the suspension tightens, the steering becomes weightier, the transmission is livelier and the throatier exhaust note returns. Unless we were commuting and trying to save some fuel, that's the way we'd drive this Cadillac most of the time.
How Comfortable Is Its Interior?
Cadillac has markedly improved its interior design and materials in recent years. The previous CTS-V had a cabin that didn't feel quite as posh or luxurious as its rivals. Not so anymore. The mix of surfaces and textures is upscale and befitting a car in this price class.
Our test car was equipped with the optional Recaro seats and suedelike shifter and steering wheel; both options are money well spent. The Recaros can be adjusted almost infinitely to dial in just the right level of thigh and upper body lateral support.
All 2016 model-year CTS sedans benefit from a faster processor in Cadillac's CUE infotainment system. The company has simplified many commands with shortcuts, but often-used controls (like audio system volume) still aren't as efficient as they should be. Just give us a knob, please.
The rear seat is not quite as roomy as some in the class. The CTS-V has about the same legroom as its peers, but headroom is somewhat compromised. Even so, the rear seat will accommodate a 6-footer.
What Kind of Mileage Does It Deliver?
Cadillac didn't have the EPA-certified mpg figures available for the CTS-V as of press time. However, the company did say the V will be subject to the lowest-level gas-guzzler tax of $1,000 and that fuel economy ratings will be improved over the last CTS-V.
The pervious CTS-V with an automatic transmission returned a fairly dismal 14 mpg combined. For comparison, a current Corvette Z06 with the same powertrain returns 16 mpg combined. So one could expect that the combined fuel economy figure for the heavier 2016 Cadillac will likely fall in between these two vehicles.
What Are Its Closest Competitors?
The sport sedan that started it all — the BMW M5 — is one of the CTS-V's chief adversaries. The BMW's 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8 generates 560 hp and 500 lb-ft of torque and is paired to either a manual transmission or an automatic seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. The M5 is known for its engaging personality and communicative chassis, but it is an older car, last redesigned five model years ago. And for the power-hungry and price-conscious, the Cadillac is lighter, packs an extra 80 hp and costs around $10,000 less. That's a fairly strong argument in favor of the CTS-V.
The Mercedes-Benz E63 is a roomy and refined sedan with a sumptuous interior. It packs a 550-hp and 530 lb-ft wallop from its 5.5-liter twin-turbo V8. The optional S-model boosts power up to 577.
The Mercedes offers less power but is just about as quick as the Cadillac in a straight line thanks in part to the standard all-wheel-drive system. The Mercedes also comes as a wagon, so if all-weather security and cargo hauling are priorities, the Benz is a solid choice. Trouble is, it starts about $10,000 more than the Cadillac and can climb well north of $100,000 when fully optioned.
Why Should You Consider This Car?
If you aren't encumbered by decades of German badge loyalty and would be proud to own a 200-mph super sedan designed and built in America, then the Cadillac store is a great place to spend your money. In just about every performance parameter, the CTS-V either meets or exceeds its rivals, which certainly earns its owner some bragging rights.
Why Should You Think Twice About This Car?
Cadillac has done an excellent job engineering the CTS-V. It looks terrific, it's insanely fast and it's a great deal. The trouble is, the brand behind the metal lacks the prestige and curb appeal of the German luxury marques. If brand cachet is just as important to you as horsepower, perhaps it's best to wait until Cadillac catches up to the pack.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.