Cadillac CTS-V — Hopefully, not the end of the line for great Detroit Iron

By Lary Coppola
With the Obama administration’s focus on fuel-efficient electric and hybrid vehicles, and now with veto power over General Motors’ (GM) complete product line, you have to wonder if Detroit will ever be allowed to build a car as awesome as the Cadillac CTS-V again — and even how much longer this version will be built, now that GM’s performance group has been disbanded under an Obama directive. So enjoy it while you can, because the CTS-V is high-performance Detroit Iron at its absolute and luxurious best. In short, it’s the fastest four-door sedan on the planet.

Introduced at Detroit’s North American International Auto show in January 2008, it’s based on the second-generation Cadillac CTS sedan, which debuted in the fall of 2007 to universal acclaim. The ultra-high-performance CTS-V is a luxury sedan with high-dollar, high-performance imports such as BMW’s M series, Lexus’s F series, and the Mercedes-Benz AMG line directly in its competitive crosshairs.

The mandate for the CTS-V was very straightforward: Capture the serious performance of an elite sports car, and combine it with the elegance and poise of a prestigious luxury sedan. The Cadillac CTS-V delivers on all fronts.

Those attending the Detroit show also witnessed the unveiling of a 2+2 CTS Coupe concept car, which industry insiders were betting would reach production as a 2010 model. However, with Obama now calling the shots, all bets are off.

Walkaround: The CTS’s signature chiseled look, with its distinctive sharp lines still prevails, but has been softened somewhat. The large, in-your-face, heavy wire mesh front grille is adorned with an oversized Cadillac crest, and an angular, plow-style air dam underneath. The raised hood features a prominent dome over the supercharged engine. When coupled with a wider track it not only enhances stability and handling, but gives the CTS-V an even more aggressive look. The standard spoke rims are 19 inches, with chromed side front fender vents sit beneath sporty looking, functional fender flares that allow engine heat to escape.

The rear end has been restyled with better-proportioned, improved taillights. Personally, I love the aggressive look, although folks who prefer subtleness may not.

Interior: The interior is much quieter and has been radically upgraded. Pure American luxury challenges the austereness of European rivals. Gone is the first generation’s cheesy rubberized finish on the dash and other surfaces, in favor of stitched leather.

The CTS-V is optioned with heavily bolstered Recaro sport seats that adjust 14 ways, with pneumatic bolster controls in the seat cushion and backrest. The seats, shifter and steering wheel are upholstered with a microfiber material that creates the soft, luxurious look and feel of suede without the wear or cleaning issues. The trim is glossy, jet-black Obsidian that would make Steinway proud.

From the tilt-telescopic steering wheel with sound and climate controls, to the chrome trim on almost everything, you know this is Detroit iron. But the cockpit feels European — only with more comfort. Although the wheelbase remains the same, the new CTS-V is slightly longer, making it roomier in the rear-seat area, so four 6-footers fit comfortably.

The trunk is large, with a low, wide opening and pass-through. The rear seatbacks also flip forward and sit virtually flat to enlarge the cargo area.

The CTS-V comes very well-equipped (after all, it is a Cadillac) and our test model only had three option packages for a total add-on cost of $5,745. However, since mileage is 12/City and 18/Highway, it was also subject to $2,600 Gas-Guzzler tax. While premium fuel is recommended, it is not required.

Our test CTS-V did have the Recaro high-performance seats and metal-trimmed pedals, which added $3,400; a navigation system with real-time XM Nav Traffic (requires a separate subscription) for $2,145; and $300 for the aforementioned V-specific suede trim.

Standard is a kickass 10-speaker 5.1 Bose Surround Sound system, with an AM/FM/CD/DVD/mp3 player, a 40GB hard drive with USB port, XM satellite radio, bluetooth, heated/cooled seats, power tilt/telescopic wheel, rear park assist, and power everything.

Cadillac is now offering wireless Internet access by Autonet Mobile on the CTS, with full Internet access in and around the car via a laptop or WiFi device. Cadillac’s 3G WiFi turns the car into a WiFi hotspot that works with any operating system, can support several devices at once, and maintains Internet connections while the car is in motion.

Designed for use by passengers, the system requires no special software and achieves speeds up to 800Kbps. The dealer-installed option retails for $499, with a monthly service subscription of $29.

Full front-seat and side-curtain airbags are standard.

Under The Hood: This is where the fun begins. The CTS-V boasts a supercharged 6.2-liter, cam-in-block V8 borrowed from the Chevy Corvette. It puts 556 horses to the highway, with 551 Lb. Ft. of torque at 3,800 rpm, and a hefty 415 at 6,100 rpm. The most powerful engine Cadillac has offered in its 106-year history features variable valve timing with a direct-injection system that both increases horsepower and lowers cold-start emissions. More significantly, it delivers at least 99 more horses than any CTS-V competitor, including the Audi RS4, BMW M3, Lexus IS F and Mercedes C63 AMG.

Our test model was equipped with the 6-speed automatic with the manual-shift feature and (finally!) paddle shifters on the wheel. A 6-speed manual is standard.

While the standard V6 CTS offers an optional $1,900 all-wheel-drive (AWD) system, the CTS-V is only available in rear-wheel drive.

Behind The Wheel: The acceleration those 556 supercharged horses deliver is simply unbelievable, coupled with steering that’s quick, positive, and offers the proper degree of power assist. The anti-lock brakes have solid pedal feel with impressive stopping distances.

GM’s Magnetic Ride Control (MRC) adaptive suspension system — also used on the Corvette and some Ferraris — utilizes electronically controlled magnets to adjust the stiffness of the shock absorbers, and is reputed to be the quickest reacting automatic suspension in the world. It allows both sharp handling and a supple ride, coupled with summer-season performance tires developed by Michelin expressly for the CTS-V.

I drove the CTS-V to a meeting at Semiahmoo Resort near the Canadian border, and back, plus my usual local driving, so I got plenty of seat time in it. On the freeway, I found keeping it under its “sweet spot” — which is in the 85+ mph range — to be pretty difficult. In short, it’s awesome in every respect and fun to drive to boot.

Whines: There was surprisingly more road noise than I believe a car of this quality — especially a Cadillac — should have. The pass-through opening between the trunk and rear-seat area could be wider.

Bottom Line: GM has aimed the Lansing, Michigan-built CTS-V right at the very best BMW, Mercedes, Lexus and Infiniti have to offer — and it hits the bull’s-eye. Our test vehicle stickered at $67,140 — a bargain in this market segment. While that price may give pause to buyers who still doubt Detroit dependability, the Cadillac CTS-V is a solid, fun to drive, true high-performance sports sedan equal to its foreign competition in every respect — except where it really excels — American-style luxury. Hopefully, Obama will spare it from extinction.