2009 Cadillac CTS-V: First Drive

September 1, 2008

Just one hot lap with Chris Berube, the lead development engineer of the CTS-V, and I was seeing Cadillac’s completely redesigned sport sedan in a new light. After taking a few laps of the road course at the brand-spanking new Monticello Motor Club, in Monticello, N.Y., and feeling like I’d started to become familiar with the relatively high-speed loop, I had Berube hop into the driver’s seat and show me how it’s really done. As I held on tight, he gracefully maintained much higher speeds than I had through each turn after turn, gently feathering the throttle to make the most of the stability control system’s Competitive Driving Mode, the tires emitting an almost constant, modest vocalization.

I wasn’t nearly as smooth, even after getting some tips, but the CTS-V made me look much better than I might have. Even when I was too eager on the throttle and the car started going sideways, with a slight adjustment of my right foot and the steering wheel the tail always tucked neatly into place. And despite my sometimes ill-timed braking coming out of the course’s 140+ mph straightaway, the powerful Brembo brakes (six-piston in front) hauled the CTS-V down to speed without hesitation or drama, while the suspension transferred the CTS-V’s 4300 pounds with such finesse, rewarding me with a feeling of poise even when my harried inputs were closer to those of a rally racer.

The way in which Berube, also a longtime weekend SCCA racer, flaunts the CTS-V’s not-so-ragged edges with confidence and ease highlights a level of pride and enthusiasm that has sometimes been lacking at the Big Three in the past—even in the teams that engineer high-performance variants. But the V-Series guys really seem to understand the market and the importance of hard-earned track credentials. In recent testing on Germany’s Nurburgring, race driver and GM executive John Heinricy brought a production-spec CTS-V to a lap time that’s claimed to be the fastest-ever for a production sedan.

That’s a claim that likely has Mercedes AMG and BMW M engineers scratching their heads in frustration. But what matters most to some buyers will be the bragging rights of performance numbers, and they’re impressive; company officials say that the official 0-60 time of just 3.9 seconds and the 12-second, 118-mph quarter-mile time are the same whether with the standard six-speed manual gearbox or available six-speed automatic. Top speed is 175 mph with the automatic and more than 191 mph with the manual.

Power is provided by a 6.2-liter superchaged V-8 engine—termed LSA to GM and enthusiasts—that is essentially the same one installed in the Corvette ZR1 but with a somewhat smaller, four-lobe supercharger and a few other changes that give it a more refined demeanor. Output, at 556 horsepower and 551 lb-ft of torque, is more than a lot of ‘poster cars.’ The manual transmission is a new Tremec TR6060, with a sweet, precise linkage that’s completely new and a twin-disc clutch that feels robust yet has a manageable, light pedal feel; automatic cars get a six-speed unit with a manual gate and tap-shifters just behind the steering wheel.

2009 Cadillac CTS-V

2009 Cadillac CTS-V

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Only on the track did we have the nerve to fully exercise the CTS-V, because the torque available throughout the rev band is downright intimidating, especially in the lower gears. Besides having higher output numbers than the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG, BMW M5, or Audi RS4, the CTS-V’s engine has a much fatter torque curve that smacks you back in your seat just above idle and builds steadily all the way to redline.

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