2016 Cadillac CTS-V
6.2-liter supercharged V8 (640 horsepower @ 6,400rpm; 630 lbs-ft @ 3,600 rpm)
Eight-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
14 city / 21 highway / 17 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
16.5 (Observed, MPG)
Base price: $85,990*
As tested: $92,190*
* Prices include destination ($995) and gas guzzler tax ($1,000).
It’s been almost two decades since BMW unleashed the E39 M5 on the motoring public, and the sport sedan segment has chased its ghost ever since. Not long after the BMW was crowned mythic perfection, Cadillac made a substantial shift in its development focus to court younger, more performance-minded buyers.
Since then, Cadillac has generously pilfered the Corvette program parts bin to move the brand away from the retirement home and onto America’s non-existent Autobahn. In the meantime, BMW’s M Division has set its playbook on fire and begun heaping content onto its performance models.
When the second generation CTS-V broke the production sedan lap record at the Nurburgring in 2008, it became clear that the conversation was really starting to change.
The subsequent eight years find us in the middle of the second golden age of motoring, as shown by the revelation that this new 640 horsepower super sedan is somehow not the most powerful American four-door you can now buy off the showroom floor.
While there’s probably a very reasonable business case for omitting a manual gearbox from the options list for the new V-Series, it is nonetheless sorely missed. GM opted to develop their own eight-speed automatic for its current crop of applicable cars. While they tout that it shifts with the same level of urgency as Porsche’s PDK (as it’s calibrated in the Corvette Z06, anyway), I’ve yet to drive a GM vehicle equipped with this gearbox that’s as cooperative and shifts with the same level of urgency as the ZF eight-speed unit used in a multitude of vehicles across the industry, let alone Porsche’s dual-clutch unit.
That isn’t to say that it’s a terrible gearbox — it certainly isn’t — but in terms of driver engagement, it does leave something on the table.
The rest of the car does not though. Make no mistake, the CTS-V is an incredibly well sorted high performance machine that effectively showcases the engineering prowess that Cadillac now has at its disposal.
The Caddy’s 6.2-liter is yanked from the C7 Corvette Z06, here tuned to the aforementioned 640 horsepower and 630 pounds-feet of torque. While it doesn’t have the same level of absurdity as the supercharged mill in the Dodge Charger Hellcat — particularly in the realm of low-end torque — it’s still a legitimate missile, capable of getting the CTS to 60 mph from a standstill in 3.7 seconds. The Mopar gets the job done with brute force and bravado, but the CTS-V is far more composed and dignified about its prodigious thrust.
While the Germans have embraced turbocharging wholeheartedly, the CTS-V’s supercharged mill provides linear power delivery that turbos strive to replicate but rarely can. It comes at a cost though: the CTS-V that I took around Big Willow last year dialed back power during my first hot lap due to dangerously high engine temperatures. To be fair, the car was tracked with only short breaks between three-lap stints, but I was nowhere near running at 10/10ths even when the car was cooperating with me. I doubt anyone else I shared the car with that day was either. Achilles, how’s your heel?
Anecdotal evidence aside, I think it’s doubtful that most CTS-Vs built will see a ton of track time, and I’d wager that Cadillac was aware of that when developing the car. Accordingly, around town and on twisty back roads is where the CTS-V truly shines. The third generation Magnetic Ride Control dampers are better than ever, providing compliant ride quality in Tour driving mode without feeling floaty, and ratchet up the stiffness appropriately in Sport and Track modes. Unfortunately, the Caddy’s 4,100 pound girth is still evident in road undulations at high speed, even in the raciest of drive modes.
While it’s certainly no featherweight, it’s worth noting that the Cadillac is still several hundred pounds lighter than both the current M5 and the Mercedes-AMG E63 S, while also boasting more output than both. It also stops shocking well due to the beefy Brembo brake system, which can bring the car to a halt from 60 miles per hour in a mere 99 feet.
This, along with a staggered set of Michelin Pilot Super Sport summer tires and added structural reinforcement that makes the CTS-V 20-percent stiffer than the standard car, equates to an incredible performer considering its size.
CUE is still pretty annoying to use, though Cadillac’s technology suite — which now includes Apple Carplay to go along with its 4G LTE hotspot connectivity — make the CTS-V’s infotainment system one of the more earnest efforts on the market.
Truth be told, the pitfalls of CUE are largely avoidable both by physical buttons on the steering wheel and using the touch screen, though the frustrations will quickly return when you need to adjust anything HVAC related.
The CTS-V’s 12.3-inch configurable gauge cluster looks sharp and is easy to read, while the 8-inch touchscreen on the center stack is reasonably responsive, though not quite snappy. Either way, Cadillac gets bonus points for including navigation functionality and the Bose surround sound system as standard on the CTS-V.
The car certainly looks the business without being ostentatious about it, and I’d argue it’s nicer to look at than any of its rivals.
It’s a fine line to walk, but the V treatment suits the CTS well, as the vented carbon fiber hood, reworked air intakes and subtle rear diffuser serve both form and function without looking tacky or overwrought.
That said, the hood bulge, low hanging front fascia, quad exhaust tips, and big forged wheels make it clear that this is not your granddaddy’s DTS. While it may fly under the radar of the average motorist, interested parties will be able to tell what this is upon first glance.
While most of the surfaces you come in contact with feel appropriately premium, subtler elements like the shiny plastics used on the steering wheel and center stack bezel still feel low rent in a vehicle that’s over $90,000 as optioned.
Like the ATS-V, the CTS-V doesn’t stray far from the aesthetic of the standard model, though the optional Recaro buckets do bring with them a sense of occasion while maintaining grand touring levels of comfort.
In general, while the CTS-V remains a step or two behind the offerings from Mercedes-AMG and Audi in terms of overall interior swankiness, it’s also nothing to apologize for at this point. Considering that the CTS-V undercuts the price tag of everything else in its class by at least ten grand, some concessions in interior quality are forgivable.
Handsome looks, a charming personality, grand touring comfort for the entire family and engaging dynamics — the CTS-V ticks all the boxes and does so with aplomb. Sure, the Audi RS7 will be quicker off the line and the E63 S might be a bit more posh inside, but neither combines the seemingly disparate components of a super sports sedan as effectively as the CTS-V.
At this point, the target is no longer on BMW’s back. When it comes to luxury performance — at least where the latter is of greater importance — Cadillac is now the one to beat.
General Motors provided the car, insurance, and tank of fuel for this review.
[Images: © 2016 Bradley Iger/The Truth About Cars]