Something doesn't compute. What's a racy-looking coupe with a six-speed manual transmission and 556-horsepower doing with a Cadillac badge on it?
Showing that General Motors' premium division has the stuff to play with the big boys, that's what.
When the rest of GM was in the doldrums, the Cadillac division was already in the early stages of product renaissance. It had a bunch of new vehicles in various stages of development and a steady stream of new product about to come to market.
But, like the parent company, Cadillac needed a boost – something to show the world it was far from gone and about to shed its stodgy image. That's why the "V" was born.
Germany's premium automakers have been engaged in a horsepower war for the past decade, resulting in a series of seriously fast and expensive passengers cars tuned on and for race tracks.
These special cars are equipped with unique and extremely powerful engines, suspensions tuned for track more than freeway, and brakes capable of hauling them down from stupid speeds all day long. At Audi they wear the RS badge, at BMW the "M" symbol, and at Mercedes, AMG.
Cadillac entered that fray with the CTS-V. That single letter – V – was initially applied to a four-door sedan, the first generation CTS.
Developed off the European Sigma platform, the CTS was a compact, rear-drive four door with a V-6 engine. The V version had a honking big American V-8 stuffed under the hood and suitable steering, suspension and brakes.
A cadre of GM engineers and racers, many of whom were also involved in preparing and racing Corvettes successfully at the 24 hours of LeMans, took up residence near the famous Nurburgring race track in Germany.
They spent many months and thousands of kilometres at silly speeds developing the second generation of the CTS-V. When they were done a production CTS-V sedan, on factory tires, driven by a GM engineer recorded the first-ever sub-eight-second lap of the Nurburgring Nordschleife track.
Based on the second generation Sigma II platform the new CTS-V was introduced as a 2009 model. The following year a wagon version became available and now, for 2011, we get the coupe.
In either normal or V form, the wagon and coupe are stunning examples of the new Cadillac – clear breaks from the norm. The styling is like no other and during my period with the V Coupe, hardly a day or outing went by without someone halting or doing a double take.
Compared to the normal CTS sedan the V coupe has an in-your-face grille with shiny mesh in the larger openings necessary to feed the intercooler and a bulge in the hood that makes room for the supercharger. The seriously-raked roofline and hidden door handles are the biggest departure while the raised rump and monstrous pair of centre-mounted pipes at the rear make it clear this is not your Cadillac of old.
Touch the starter button and your ears get the same message.
The CTS-V is powered – or more appropriately POWERED – by a supercharged, intercooled 6.2-litre aluminum V-8. Originally developed for the uber-Corvette – the Z06 – the LSA, as it is known at Cadillac, is a slightly detuned-version of the LS9 version in the Corvette.
If you are into numbers, here are some big ones and some little ones: The engine produces 556 horsepower and 551 lb-ft of torque. During testing at AJAC’s Canadian Car Of The Year program, the CTS-V Coupe accelerated from 0 to 100 km/h, in 4.9 seconds and from 80 – 120 km/h in 3.6. It stopped from 100 km/h in a measly 38.2 metres.
My test vehicle had a Tremac six-speed manual transmission paired with a twin-disc clutch and dual-mass flywheel. The short-throw shifter allowed effortless changes and the progressive clutch and abundance of torque meant getting underway equally so. A six-speed automatic is also available.
Getting into the throttle at any point results in explosive acceleration, limited by grip. It would be virtually impossible, if not dangerous, to use full-throttle in first and most of second gear on dry clean surfaces without the intervention of electronic traction control.
Turn it off and you’d better be ready to apply a whole lot of corrective steering as you head for the nearest tire store to replace those vanquished rear tires. Suffice to say, hills and passing are not an issue.
Neither is fuel fuel economy to the person who buys one of these. At least, it better not be. I’m sure you can accomplish some respectable numbers if you behave and manage to avoid exercising your right foot. I didn’t and averaged 18.7 litres/100 km for a 350-km mixture of city and highway driving.
Transport Canada says it is theoretically possible to get 10.5 litres/100 on the highway and 14.9 in the city.
Suspension is independent at each corner with control arms up front and multiple-links at the rear. Very special shock absorbers, developed by then-GM subsidiary Delphi and now used by Ferrari among others, use powerful electro-magnets, tiny metal particles suspended in oil, and high-speed sensors to read road conditions and change damping every millisecond.
The result is a surprisingly composed ride with remarkable handling. Steering inputs result in instantaneous and linear results. The chassis is stiff and with that much sticky rubber on the road and those trick dampers at work, this is a Cadillac that thinks it is a sports car – a very capable sports car.
Powerful six-piston Brembo brakes clamp giant 380-mm ventilated rotors up front while four pistons calipers and 370-mm vented discs are employed at the rear – serious stuff!
Sticky and big describe the rubber charged with providing the grip to match all this capability. The nine-inch wide, 19-inch diameter front wheels are wrapped in 255/40 ZR rated Michelin Pilot Sport PS2 high performance rubber while at the other end, even larger 9.5-inch wide wheels get 285/35 tires.
The interior is a pleasant blend of modern and traditional. Lots of soft-touch surfaces and first-rate fit and finish. The wide front doors allow reasonable access to the front seats but the rear is best left for occasional use – by a briefcase. Not only is there a lack of head and legroom, getting in or out is an exercise that qualifies as a workout.
The CTS-V sits atop the Cadillac hierarchy and is appropriately equipped and priced. The base is $71,250 to which was added $3,910 for Recaro "performance seats", $805 for a sunroof and $345 for a "sueded" steering wheel on my tester.
I’d skip the sunroof – it seriously detracts from headroom – and those wickedly expensive seats are ultra-supportive but not for the wide of girth, making both entry and fastening the belts a chore. The suede wheel is pretty neat, though.
To my mind, the base price pretty much covers it all, as it includes a 10-speaker Bose surround-sound system with satellite radio and 40-gig hard drive, dual-zone automatic climate control, navigation system with rear-view camera, wireless connectivity, xenon headlights, heated and cooled leather seats, power tilt and telescope steering wheel, individually-programmable seats, mirrors, HVAC, audio and instrument display settings, universal home remote and power windows, locks, trunk, etc.
All that at less than $75K makes it a steal compared to the German competition mentioned above, a savings of at least $25,000, or enough to buy a decent second car!