If you follow the great automotive TV show from the BBC, Top Gear, then you know Jeremy Clarkson.
You also know that he has rarely, if ever, had a good word about any car from this side of the pond. Which is what makes this so unusual…
He actually wrote quite a nice review of the new CTS-V, noting it as superior to the BMW M5 and to Mercedes’ AMG products…saying that “you’d be mad to buy anything else”.
The Stig’s car has blown up. It’s not surprising really, given the way he drives, but whatever, he now needs a new one. His requirements are very simple: it must have a “loose back end”, several hundred horsepower, almost no suspension, extraordinary acceleration, a vivid top speed and a traction control system that can be turned off, completely and for ever.
Lewis Hamilton’s tail-happy McLaren would be ideal except for one minor, but important, detail.
The Stig also insists that his new car must be capable of at least 35 miles to the gallon.
Yes, even Top Gear’s peculiar racing driver, a man who eats raw mince and fills his spare time by chasing sheep, has noticed that the economy has gone wrong and that he must have an everyday car that is economical.
You may think he has a point. Buying fuel is surely the most painful experience known to man, partly because petrol pumps deliver it so unbearably slowly, and garages are such unpleasant places, with their horrible pies and silly country and western CDs on special offer, and partly because the cost is just so enormous.
It costs nearly £100 to fill my car, and 210 miles later I have to spend another £100 to fill it up again. And for why? It’s not like spending £100 on a delicious supper, which would be memorable and pleasant. We only use fuel to get us to work, which is boring, or to the shops at weekends, which is hateful.
Fuel is like washing-up liquid: something you must have in your daily life but that is extremely boring. And that’s why all of us want to go as far as possible between fill-ups. And that’s why most people think it makes sense to make fuel economy a central pillar of their new car-buying decision.
Don’t be so sure. The figures put out by governments and car manufacturers are theoretical, which is a Greek way of saying “wrong”.
You are therefore basing your buying decision on nothing but hot air and probabilities. And this can lead to much disappointment.
Making the situation worse are the bores you bump into occasionally at the local Harvester. They always tell you that they manage to get 80mpg from their old Vectra. This is not true. They are making it up in a desperate bid to appear clever — which they aren’t, or they wouldn’t have a Vectra.
Whenever someone, and they always have a branded bomber jacket, says they achieve more than 70mpg from a family saloon, stick your fingers in your ears and hum. Because all they are doing is trying to make themselves feel better about the awful hand God has dealt them.
Sadly, however, people believe preposterous mpg figures like this are possible. And that the official government figures are accurate too. Only the other day, I received a letter from a Mr Disgruntled of Kent, who had bought a Mercedes Smart car, expecting to drive for several years between trips to the pumps. And then found to his horror that it was doing only twentysomething miles to the gallon.
He has taken his car back to the garage, which says there is nothing wrong with it. But the garage is wrong too. There is, I’m afraid. It’s called “the person behind the wheel”.
Unlike Bomber Jacket Man’s Vectra, a Smart car is capable of 70mpg but only if you drive it with extreme care. And plainly, Mr Disgruntled, you are not doing this.
It’s not easy, and it’s not pleasant, indulging in what the Americans call “hypermiling”, but the effect on your wallet can be profound. If, for instance, you have a BMW 5-series and you get 25 to the gallon, I reckon you could pretty much double that. Without your journeys becoming appreciably longer.
It’s all to do with how you brake and how you accelerate. It’s about finesse, reading the road ahead, anticipating, treating the pedals and the steering wheel as though they are made from stained glass. It’s about the shoes you wear, and turning the air-conditioning off.
Maybe it would be a good idea to make all this a part of the driving test. At present you are told how to stop and how to reverse round a corner, but at no point will an instructor tell you to accelerate briskly, and to build up speed when going down a hill so you can ease off the throttle when going up the next one.
You may be tempted by all of this, but I’ll warn you. It is extremely boring and unbelievably tiring. Popping into town for a pint of milk can become more exhausting than trying to hop there on one leg. And for what? So that you achieve 50mpg, which is still 20 less than Bomber Jacket Man claims to get from his old Vectra without really trying.
It’s probably better then, if you want to save money — and we do — to choose a car, and then see if another manufacturer can sell you something similar for much less.
And that brings me, briefly, to the BMW M5. It’s a little bit complicated perhaps, with all its various settings, but provided you have the time to set it up properly, it goes, stops and steers with a panache and a zest that’s extremely rare among four-door saloons. Lovely, except it costs £65,890, and these days you could buy an island for less.
So now we arrive at the Cadillac CTS-V, which you can buy, in the UK, for about £47,000. That’s a saving of roughly £19,000. And that equates to approximately 3,800 gallons of fuel. You could drive an M5 as though it were made from bits of your children from now to the end of time and you’d never make up the difference.
So what, then, are the drawbacks to the Cadillac? Well, first of all, it’s a Cadillac, so everyone will think you are a Wilmslow pimp. And second, this hot version will be available with only left-hand drive.
Depreciation? Yes, a Cadillac will plummet as though it’s being fuelled by melted-down Bradford & Bingley executives. But the M5 is not exactly a 10-year government bond, is it?
So make no mistake: financially, the Cadillac smashes the M5, completely and utterly. And here’s the next part. Round the Nürburgring, it smashes it again. With an ordinary part-time racing driver at the wheel, an automatic version of the hottest ever Caddy went round in 7min 59sec — a record for any four-door saloon.
Part of the reason is its 6.2 litre supercharged V8, which develops a dizzying 556bhp. That’s 49 more than you get from an M5. The Cadillac is mind-bogglingly fast. The manual version I drove will hit 191mph. And it accelerates with a verve that truly leaves you breathless. It also makes an utterly irresistible growl. Like an AMG Mercedes but more refined. More muted.
And now you are expecting the “but”. But there isn’t one. Maybe the steering is a bit too light, but other than this it handles beautifully when you have the Ferrari-style magnetic dampers in “sport”, and rides soothingly when you switch the knob to “comfort”. This is unusual for an American car, which usually can do neither thing properly.
Even more surprising is the interior. Trimmed by the people who do the Bugatti Veyron, it is — and you won’t believe this — a nice place to be. The seats are by Recaro, the leather is hand-stitched and the graphics don’t appear to have come from Amstrad circa 1984. You would swear you were sitting in something European.
Of course, you’d expect the illusion to be gone when you look at the exterior. It isn’t. There are no badges written in the typeface used on northern wedding invitations. There’s no onyx. Maybe the chicken-wire radiator grille is a bit sudden, but then again, have you seen the front of a Bentley recently? No. I’m sorry but it’s a good-looking car, this.
As you may have gathered, then, I like it. I believe that ultimately an M5 would be more satisfying, a touch more crisp. But if you had an M5 you’d have to drive it carefully, to save fuel. With the Cadillac, you can blast through the recession at 191mph, knowing you made the savings when you bought it.
You’d be mad to buy anything else