The Attainable Exotic
Exotic car, super car, race car, sports car – all have specific meanings in autodom. Many bring with them expectations of performance and price, often with associated meanings that pertain to how difficult they are to live with as well as expense to acquire and maintain. The common makers that come to mind include Ferrari, Porsche, Lamborghini. However, there is a sub-genre of sedans and coupes from more mainstream luxury makes that take a somewhat pedestrian car and elevate it to something more. Done conservatively, you end up with something akin to the classic muscle car – a big engine stuffed into a a small package. Done with skill, you get something that transcends anything you might expect and becomes an exotic in sheep’s clothing. The CTS-V is one of the latter.
The CTS-V starts as an off-shoot of Cadillac’s mid-level CTS product family, but ends up both as an exotic that you could drive every day and the one true flagship product sold under the ‘wreath and crest’ today.
We were able to drive the CTS-V Sedan twice recently, once during the Rocky Mountain Driving Experience event (where manufacturers allowed journalists to ride and drive, some in controlled racing environs, several of their products) and then again for a weekend of dedicated testing…yes, I know, sucks to be us.
This was plenty of time to get a feel for the V as a version of the CTS as well as an indicator of what Cadillac is trying to accomplish with the family of products – especially since they have recently announced that everything they make will have either a V or a Platinum version.
First of all, is the biggest surprise of our time with the car…it should not be considered a CTS. I mean, it is obviously based on a CTS, but so much has been done to upgrade, reinforce, and overall make this a better car that it somehow transcends what you might expect from a high output version of the CTS. There are the obvious cues of unique facias, grill, hood, ground effects, unique Recaro seats, piano-black dash accents, and Alcantara covered steering wheel and shift lever (the 6-speed auto in our test car) – but, even taking into account these upgrades, this car is still somehow manages to be something more. It is almost as if there is a different car under all of the metal, leather, and plastic that was developed to be much more than a ‘mere’ CTS.
Even without tipping into the power, the V feels rock-solid and more connected and composed than you might expect. Where the CTS is good, and feels like you could drive it day-to-day for years without a care, the CTS-V exudes a level of solidity and confidence that takes it well beyond the car on which it is based. Solid structure is replaced by bank-vault levels of seeming indestructibility. Comfortable, but controlled ride is replaced by confidence that no road is going to catch you without capability to spare. And, obviously, adequate power is replaced with rocket-booster levels of thrust.
Unique 19″ wheels, wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport 2 tires (in 285mm width on the rear) might be expected to thump and crash over bumps – however, this is an example of where the magic of magneto-rheological shocks can really shine (unlike in the Escalade Platinum we drove a while back). Able to read and respond to the road over 1000 times per second, the suspension in ‘Tour’ mode rode more firmly than the CTS Sport Wagon we recently drove, but smoothly enough that you might even forget you’re driving a super sedan on most days. Unlike in the SRX, where the sport mode was indistinguishable from touring with regard to ride, the CTS-V lets you know, in no uncertain terms, that sport is for serious driving – so don’t engage it on anything but smoothly paved, ideally closed course, environments. It really is a change of character that is best reserved for helmeted combat than simply challenging a mere mountain road.
Brakes in the CTS-V are supplied by Brembo, but they never remind you of their uber-brake credentials – being quiet and progressive in normal driving and never grabby. During our time at RMDE, it was tossed around by some that they weren’t up to the challenges of heavy road-course use – but I’m sure Cadillac would point to their fastest lap in a production V-8 sedan honors at the Nurburgring as a legitimate counterpoint.
Exhaust is a big-bore, dual setup that allows just the right amount of V-8 rumble to escape so that no-one within earshot misses that this is something special. At start, they bark just enough warning of the car’s caged potential to both warn and assure you that you are in something special and then quiet down quickly to a pleasant burble. In normal driving, the noise level is certainly low enough to not drone during long trips.
Let’s take a listen:
Wrapping up the entire package are just enough cosmetic alterations to give anyone who missed the V-8 burble some significant signs of what this car is all about. Covering the beast of an engine up front is a power-bulge hood that also frames the top of the V-series signature mesh grill-work. Down below is a much more aggressive front fascia that includes massive brake cooling ducts as well as additional flow of cooling air through the lower, also mesh filled, gaping maw. Flowing down both sides are lower ground effects that nicely tie front to back without looking like an escapee from the JC Whitney catalog. Around back you see a nicely integrated lower fascia with black-out panel that stops just short of attempting to look like a diffuser.But, there is one more styling tid-bit that shows a delightful amount of function, tastefully done. The signature third brake-light, if you take a second look, is sticking out and up more than in any other CTS. That is because in the V, it is doing double-duty as a rear spoiler and provides a useful reduction in rear lift without saddling the V with a wing that would be oh so tacky at this price point (starting at $62000)
Inside, you’ll find more reminders of the unique nature of the V. The aforementioned piano black replacing the standard car’s silver accents, the Alacantara-like trim on the wheel and shifter, and the aggressively bolstered Recaro sport seats. These seats have the normal power adjustments that you’d expect in a car at this price point, but also possess a pair of rockers to inflate/deflate the lower and side bolstering for a just-right fit. They are perfect for adjusting from day-to-day commuting to bonsai track work as while allowing a custom fit to varying body types.
The only down-side to the materials is, at least in our test car, that the piano black scratches easily. After a few thousand miles in journalist hands, many at High Plains Raceway, the trim was relatively scuffed.
Other unique touches include an arc of LED lighting that traces behind the tach and speedo needles to serve as another indicator/reminder of how deep into each range you might be. Also, there is a V-specific control in the center console to activate the sport suspension mode.
In our auto-equipped test car, the shifter also can be moved into a ‘manual/sport’ mode next to the detent for drive. This allows you to shift with what Cadillac has in place of real shift paddles – a pair of hidden buttons behind the spokes of the steering wheel. It would be preferable to get real paddles in a car with this much of a sporting mission, but at least it’s something more than having to use the main shift lever.
Let’s take a look at the gauges and trim:
All of this is ultimately just a package to house an absolute beast of an engine. The LSA V-8 is a 556hp supercharged monster. Based on the LS9 V-8 used in the Corvette ZR-1, the V loses a bit of top-end grunt to be easier to assemble and to have a slightly lower level of advanced/race specific technology. For instance, the LSA loses the LS9′s dry sump lube system. The Eaton supercharger on the LSA is 1.9l vs the 2.3 used by the LS9. The supercharger also maxes out at 9psi (vs the LS9′s 10.5). All of this is not to detract from the wonder of having 556hp at your beck and call…just noting where there are some differences driven by the V having a different mission than the uber-Vette.
It is after realizing the power on tap, that you start to really be impressed by the work done by Michellin with these tires. Without making a blatant attempt to do so, on dry pavement you will likely not have to worry about breaking the rear tires loose. Part of this is attributable to the fact that the 6-speed auto starts in 2nd gear from a stop unless you put it into the manual/sport mode or really tromp on the pedal. It can have the unintended effect of making you believe you are not getting as much power as advertised…push harder and you’ll find the extra ponies you think are missing.
Which leads us into our final recommendation…should you consider buying a CTS-V? That all depends on what you plan to do with it.
If you intend to drive it sedately most of the time and take it to track days to really find out what 556hp and driving the worlds fastest V-8 production sedan is all about – then by all means, pick one of these up.
If you like to entertain yourself on public roads (safely, of course) then you might want to look elsewhere. The time we had with this car, we were constantly stymied by traffic that always seemed in the way and awfully slow. You want to exercise the V-8 and have some fun, but the limits are so much beyond public roads – it just turns into an exercise in frustration.
So, in that way as well, the CTS-V is very much a member of the exotic car ranks – viciously fast but perhaps too much so to fully enjoy.