For decades Cadillacs could rightly be considered amongst the best mass-produced cars you could get. At Le Mans in 1950, finishing ahead of a pair of Jaguar XK120s and some other fine machinery were Cadillac’s ‘Clumsy Pup’ (10th overall) and ‘Le Monstre’ (11th) and even in the mid-Sixties reviewers at the time reckoned Cadillac’s products stacked up well against their closest European equivalents.
That some of you may have sneered somewhat at the sight of the world ‘Cadillac’ in the title of this post does enough to show that the veneer and lustre that once accompanied the brand in Europe has been absent for some time. But what if we were to tell you that as far back as 2003 there were signs of a revival? And how about that in 2009 a CTS-V lapped the Nurburgring faster than any similarly-sized German saloon? Furthermore, what if we told you that from a driver’s perspective the 2016 Cadillac CTS-V might just be the best performance saloon on the planet? Perhaps, perhaps not. Certainly, if you’re determined to dismiss Cadillacs as ‘okay unless you want to go around corners’ then the uncomfortable truth is that you’re around 12 years behind the times.
When GRR visited the HSR Classic 24 Hours at Daytona we also saw an opportunity to sample the very latest iteration of the car aimed squarely (in America, at least) at the German triumvirate of Audi, BMW and Mercedes-AMG and their mid-sized, atomic-powered four-doors. GM kindly obliged and the silver machine you see here was waiting for us when we arrived in Orlando.
In the flesh it’s quite an aggressive and purposeful-looking piece of kit, although it stops short of any over-the-top styling cues which might offend those who traditionally prefer German alternatives (mind you, in recent years AMG-badged products haven’t been shy to make it clear from their appearance that they’re properly fast cars.) Climb inside and the senses quickly detect swathes of leather and alcantara. The Recaro-sourced seats are within touching distance of perfection and enjoy an enormous range of adjustment. It’s a nice place to be. Scratch-and-prod merchants will find use of less-than-premium materials, but it will take them longer than they’d expect to do so. Interiors haven’t been Cadillac’s strong point in recent years and detractors are swift to point out that if they paid (say) Mercedes-Benz the same amount of money then they’d be getting a better interior… and they’re right. The problem is that people curiously like to stop at that point. Surely though that’s only half a job? Surely it’s only fair to point out also that the similarly-priced Stuttgart car will have massively-inferior performance compared to the Cadillac..?
Speaking of performance, it will surprise even Cadillac’s most harsh critics not one bit that the CTS-V’s level of go is nothing short of shattering. Compared to the Merc E63 AMG the Caddy enjoys significantly greater performance. The 0-60 stampede comes up in 4.1 seconds as opposed to 3.6 (3.6!) and the E63 will go on to a maximum of 186mph if the Driver’s Pack option is ordered while the Detroit machine will apparently go on to realise the magic 200mph. As for the standing quarter mile, never mind the Merc’, the CTS-V will cover it in less time than a 2013 Ferrari California. Take your time to let that sink in. Take all the time you need …
The motor used is a derivative of the Corvette Z06’s aluminium LT4 V8. Minor tweaks reduce maximum power to 640bhp from the ‘Vette’s 650bhp, but that’s still an intimidating figure. The sound is divine, there’s little cabin intrusion from the supercharger’s whine, and apparently it even manages to steer clear of the gas-guzzler tax, which can’t be said of certain equivalents from Munich and Stuttgart. Mind you, we’ve known for a long time now that GM can put together some wicked engines.
Nowadays there’s an eight speed automatic transmission (sadly a manual is no longer available) and the car’s capable magnetorheologically-damped (we’re surprised they couldn’t come up with a more catchy name, too) suspension system has benefitted from another half-decade of development since it first appeared. The result is a car which corners with the poise and grip of a supercar, sure, but that’s only part of the story. The electric power steering is simply joyous. Driven by a belt as opposed to a system of gears there is a faint vague feeling at dead-ahead, but with any lock applied the quick-racked setup feels superb and tells your arms in no uncertain terms that they’re connected to a pair of wide front tyres which are gripping really, really hard. There will be a shortfall of ultimate feel with electrically-assisted systems for a while yet, but this along with the system in the latest Jaguars is about as good as you’re going to get right now. This machine can cover ground at a stupendous rate without approaching the limits of the driver, or itself.
The poise of this car borders on the extraordinary. Body control is nice and tight, but with little perceptible compromise in ride quality. There is a Performance Traction System on the CTS-V for the first time which has been available on Corvettes for a while now. It offers five settings – from wet to race – which allow the driver to progressively reduce the car’s ability to intervene with proceedings, with the power steering’s damping and self-centering capability being turned off altogether with the PTS in full race mode for ultimate feedback. However, for street duty we found that without doubt the best thing is to just leave it all alone. Seriously, don’t even faff about with the manual-shift paddles, or do faff about with them but do so in the firm knowledge that you won’t get to where you’re going any quicker. Even when conditions allow for some more spirited driving you’ll find the gearbox has the correct ratio selected to haul you out of a corner and back up to speed every time. On a circuit at full chat you’d probably find the manual shift paddles to be of benefit, but for brisk driving on public roads your input is not required.
What’s wrong with it? Well to be honest there are a few major areas that will rankle potential buyers. Firstly, it’s only available in left hand drive. This alone will prevent people from considering one in the UK, not that Cadillac will lose much sleep over that because the car is intended to fight a battle on the home front with the Germans. Secondly, although Cadillac has responded positively to criticisms of it’s CUE infotainment system (which includes the superb Performance Data Recorder) it will still disappoint Mercedes-Benz customers in particular, who get just about the best system available anywhere. The controls for the heating, ventilation and audio are a bit annoying, too. Knobs? Buttons? Nope. It’s all about gestures in the Caddy. To increase the radio’s volume for example, you slide your finger along a silver bar. Ditto everything else. It does work to be fair, or at least the Cadillac salesman in the dealership we dropped into made it work perfectly for him, but operating it consistently was for us a chore. Maybe it’s something you’d be operating perfectly after a week or so of seat time?
The sticker price of our car as tested (which was pretty much loaded-up with options) was $91,190. The base Mercedes-AMG E63 4-MATIC comes in at $102,625. All told, despite some minor drawbacks we absolutely loved the CTS-V for so many good reasons: It’s incredibly powerful at the same time as being docile and comfortable, it sounds superb, the ride and handling are – at the absolute minimum – the equal of anything from Germany, and with the Corvette-based motor is manages to scream at its contemporaries without the need for multi-valves and the associated shorter servicing intervals.
Above all of this though, like no car we’ve encountered yet the CTS-V couples the ability to waft four of you to an evening doo with the character to headbutt its way out of a Siberian gulag with both arms tied behind its back… blindfolded. Funnily enough, we did use the car one evening to drive none-other than the great Brian Redman and some friends to a charity dinner and it acquitted itself superbly as a quiet, comfortable people-wafter. And later, on the way back to the hotel we encountered another living legend – Jochen Mass – at a set of traffic lights in downtown Daytona. Next time you see Herr Mass (at the 74th Members’ Meeting in March, most likely), ask him how fast the CTS-V is… Just remember that the demonstration was at Mr Redman’s insistence!
So, love or hate the CTS-V (and everyone who’s driven it so far, loves it), the simple fact is that Cadillac – yes, Cadillac – just might be the builder of the fastest point-to-point four-door production car available to mankind. ‘Standard of the World’? In some very significant areas, yes it is.