Careening downhill with the gas matted, we bend the 2014 Cadillac CTS Vsport toward a tight right-hander that looms large ahead. We quickly transition to full brakes, converting the twin-turbo V6's speed into heat before easing off and steadying the throttle.
Dial in a bit more steering lock, not too much because this is a late apex. Wait, wait, wait to grab the last bit of berm but don't unwind the wheel yet. Feed in some more throttle, touch the next curb on the right and now aim for the left edge of the approaching rise, and if you've done it right the chassis unloads over the crest just as it hits the apex.
This is the Milford Road Course, informally known as the Lutz Ring, at GM's proving grounds in Michigan, and it's one of the most demanding circuits we've ever driven. Every turn is specifically crafted to test the car in several ways simultaneously. Long, oil sump-straining, sustained-g corners. Turning while braking. Accelerating over crests. Bumpstop-crushing compressions. It's on this track that engineers have honed the new CTS in an unabashed attempt to take the BMW 5 Series head on.
5 Series in Its Sights
In the past the CTS was a 'tweener, larger than a BMW 3 Series but smaller than the larger 5 Series. With the entry-level ATS now in Cadillac's portfolio, GM engineers had the freedom to size and position the 2014 Cadillac CTS more squarely against the 5 Series. Thus the 2014 CTS is larger than the outgoing generation, stretching 4.2 inches longer and riding on a 1.2-inch-longer wheelbase. It's longer, in fact, than both the 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class, with a wheelbase that's right between the two.
Whereas the current 5 Series is derived from its larger 7 Series brother, the 2014 CTS is built on the lighter ATS platform. The result is that the 5 Series is porkier than it should be, and the CTS is more efficient with its mass. It's hard to describe the 3,971-pound CTS Vsport as a light car (it's 300 pounds heavier than the base CTS) but it still undercuts the fat 550i by more than 400 pounds.
You might not recognize the Vsport name as it's new to the CTS model lineup. Fret not, as the Vsport is not intended to be a replacement for the CTS-V. Specifically, it slots between the base V6 CTS variant and the inevitable CTS-V, and has the BMW 550i in its sights, not the M5.
Two Turbos and Eight Speeds
The Vsport's 3.6-liter V6 has had its lungs pumped up with 12 psi of boost by a pair of turbos tucked beneath its cylinder heads. Although sharing its architecture with the normally aspirated version that's found a home in many a GM car over the years, the engine has been comprehensively beefed up for boosted duty.
Direct injection and a short-path liquid-to-air intercooler underpin its 420 horsepower and 430 pound-feet of torque, and it's backed by an all-new paddle-shiftable eight-speed autobox. No manual gearbox is available.
While the Vsport's power eclipses the current 2013 BMW 550i's 400 hp, the refreshed 2014 550i boasts 445 hp. We've only tested the 550i in 400-hp guise, so that's the yardstick for now.
At GM's Milford Proving Ground we strapped our Vbox into the Vsport and tested its chops on the vast black lake. The conclusion from this exercise is that the 2014 Cadillac CTS Vsport will be a thorn in the side of the big 5 Series. Not only did the Cadillac cling to the skid pad at an eye-opening 0.95g, it tore out a 69.8-mph slalom performance. Braking, too, was impressive, as the Cad reached a drama-free halt from 60 mph in just 103 feet.
There are some differences in the composition of the tarmac here compared to our usual testing venue in Southern California, and our experience with both sites suggests the black lake is somewhat grippier. Nevertheless, these results from the Vsport humiliate the last 550i we tested by a wide margin.
The Vsport's standard summer tires contribute to this prowess. Run-flat Pirelli P Zero Neros measuring 245/40 in front and 275/35 out back have been snapped onto the Vsport's 18-by-8.5-inch wheels (18 by 9.5 inches in the back). By contrast, BMW upcharges you for summer tires on the 550i, and it suffers the consequences in terms of capability on the base all-season tires. Score one for the home team.
Good tires alone do not a sport sedan make, and the CTS Vsport's chassis brims with sophistication to fully exploit them. Its torque-biasing electronically controlled differential is largely similar to that found on the C7 Corvette, and all Vsports are fitted with GM's latest generation of magnetorheological (MR) dampers.
Power to Weight
Paired to its 20-hp edge over the 400-hp 2013 550i, the Cadillac's weight advantage suggests another ass-whipping is in store for the BMW when it comes to acceleration. It wasn't to be. The Vsport's 5.1-second sprint to 60 (4.8 seconds with one foot of rollout as on a drag strip) pips the BMW by only a tenth.
Oddly, the Vsport's quarter-mile sprint of 13.3 seconds at 106.3 mph couldn't match the 2013 550i, as the Cadillac trailed by a tenth of a second and 2 mph by the time it cleared the stripe. Trap speed is all about horsepower, so something doesn't add up. It could be that German horses are simply stronger. Wouldn't be the first time we've noticed this.
Putting the Pieces Together
The Vsport is certainly rapid, the speed on the MRC stacking up continuously in big chunks with each quick gearchange from the new automatic. The engine's muted purr and flat torque delivery make for deceptively quick progress. This is refined potency, rather than the all-out sturm und drang of the CTS-V. Meanwhile, the Vsport's chassis exhibits poise and alertness, and drives smaller than it is.
This apparent feat of shrinking is the sign of a capable car, one that's willing to change direction but isn't nervous, and provides reliable intel on the status of grip at both ends of the car through the helm and the seat of your pants.
For sure, the car is doing some of the work for us. The MRC is not an easy circuit to memorize and will not suffer shunts kindly, so we left the CTS's driving mode in the Track setting. This loosens up the stability control and tightens the MR dampers, steering and gearchange schedule to better suit track use, natch, while still providing a safety net if things go wrong. The differential is also busy shuttling torque to influence the car's attitude, and while you can feel the systems at work, they certainly don't neuter the drive.
In fact, the Vsport is one of those cases where the wizardry onboard is an aid rather than a hindrance. The MR dampers keep the car beautifully flat even in hard corners, while still maintaining a resiliency that allows it to soak up berms without becoming unsettled. It follows its intended path with precision, thanks to the fancy diff and electric-assist steering that is at once precise and intuitive.
Among the better-executed interpretations of Cadillac's modern design language to date, the Vsport's sheet metal blends substance with grace. A long cowl-to-front-axle relationship emphasizes the new CTS's rear-drive layout (squint and you might see an E-Class in its proportions). The cabin's theme is similar to that of the ATS, though every surface feels richer and there's noticeably more space. The instrument cluster is reconfigurable, too, similar to that found in the C7 Corvette.
The 2014 Cadillac CTS Vsport is taut, crisp and looks the part of a $60,000 car. OK, $59,995 with destination. Spring for the Premium trim level and the Vsport's base price rises to a few shekels shy of $70 grand. This makes the Vsport even dearer than the existing CTS-V, and Cadillac expects some 15 percent of new CTS sales to be Vsport models.
Yet the Vsport is bang-on the price of a 550i and is a more convincing alternative to it than is the CTS-V. Our initial impression is that the Vsport's chassis is up to the task of outshining the 550i, while still allowing room in the CTS range for a truly menacing CTS-V variant. A 'tweener no more; a 'tweener once again.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.