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That’s “V” as in velocity, or so said General Motors “car czar” Bob Lutz, as he unveiled a prototype of the Cadillac CTSv at last spring’s New York Auto Show.
The CTS has already done a good job for the U.S. automaker. Along with the big Escalade SUV, it’s got people talking about the brand again, and after a long, downward spiral, Cadillac sales are suddenly running hot on the heels of luxury segment leaders BMW, Mercedes and Lexus.
The edgy look of the CTS, a design theme dubbed “Art & Science,” was self-consciously controversial. You either love it or go shopping somewhere else. But critics also faulted the base car for its performance. Its 3.2-liter V-6 is acceptable, but certainly won’t launch you to the head of the pack when the light turns green. A new 3.6-liter V-6 appears in ’04 with Caddy’s automatic transmission, and will be offered with a new six-speed stick a year later. But even with an extra 35 hp, that package is no world beater. With the CTSv, Cadillac finally has something to offer those who take performance seriously.
Once it rolls onto the street, you discover a very different beast. The V delivers 400 horsepower and a tire-spinning 395 pound-feet of torque — an amazing 82 percent increase over the original 3.2-liter V-6.
The CTS is based off the Sigma architecture, a platform shared by a variety of other Caddy products, including the new SRX crossover and the next-generation STS sedan. Even in base trim, it’s a surprisingly stiff and robust chassis, and that’s underscored by the modifications Caddy engineers made — or more precisely, how few were made — to handle the added power. The only structural change up front is the cross-brace connecting the two front shock towers. The hydroformed rail in the rear cradle was thickened, as well.
There’s a new induction system designed to maximize engine breathing. And a new, dual exhaust system designed to reduce back pressure. Happily, the combination generates a deeply resonant engine note that will bring a smile to anyone who recalls the golden age of American muscle cars.
A quick walk-around reveals a variety of visual cues. Two will immediately reveal that this is no ordinary CTS. There’s the V-Series badge to the left side of the trunk, and the bright chrome mesh that replaces the base car’s egg-crate grille. The front fascia’s have been dropped, making room for the larger engine intake ports, as well as brake cooling ducts below the front fog lamps. A key goal was to make the CTSv stop as fast as it starts. To that purpose, there are four-piston, 355 mm front Brembo brakes, and 365 mm rears.
To complete the package, the retuned CTSv suspension includes 27 percent stiffer springs. And the standard, all-season tires have been replaced by high-performance Goodyear Eagle F1 245/45 run-flats. There’s no spare shipped with the car.
All told, the CTSv weighs in at 3833 pounds, compared with the base car’s 3600 lb. Considering all the changes, it’s less than one might have expected, and you certainly don’t feel it on the road.
To get a sense of what the V is like to drive, TCC traveled to Road America, the twisting, four-mile track north of Milwaukee. An alternating series of straights, kinks and curves, Road America requires plenty of horsepower and an equal amount of stopping power.
Firing up the engine, the LS-6 responds with a satisfying burble. Dropping the clutch, we leave a long patch out of the pits, with a satisfying chirp as we shift into second — just in time for a sharp right-hand turn. The Brembos easily scrub off speed, and though the added weight of the CTSv shifts the car’s balance a bit forward, there’s no sense of understeer.
It’s easy to let the tail slide out a bit as we dive into the track’s challenging carousel, feathering the throttle to maintain a smooth line. It’s easy to forget a downshift. The engine has so much torque you’re almost always in the power band. On track, the CTSv is a definite confidence builder. Each lap seems to go a bit faster as we push a bit nearer the car’s 163-mph top speed on the straights. Oh, and for the record, Caddy is claiming a 0-60 time of 4.6 seconds.
The CTS already offers a trick electronic stability control system. With the V, you get a special “Competition Mode” that, in the words of development engineer Ken Morris, “only comes in when you’re completely out of shape.”
Now, the reality is that few folks will ever log track time in the new V. For them, the real test will come at the stoplight, or while trying to merge onto a crowded interstate.
There’s no question, you accept some sacrifices with a car like this. The stiffer springs and suspension bushings will deliver a notably harsher ride, something any potential buyer needs to keep in mind if they live in the potholed Midwest. But driving on the back roads of rural Wisconsin, we find the package nowhere near the unacceptable level. The CTSv project team has recognized reality and has delivered a car that’s just as much fun to drive on the street as it is on track. Part of the fun is watching the reaction when other folks hear that menacing engine burble.
At $49,995, the CTSv carries a nearly $20,000 premium over the base car. That’s in line, though, with what European performance models, like the BMW Ms and Mercedes AMGs, tack on. Caddy also throws in a navigation system, power lumbar controls, and a power passenger seat. The seats themselves are a bit different, with grippy suede inserts designed to keep you from sliding around when you charge a corner.
Unfortunately, even with all these changes, the car’s interior just doesn’t have the refined look and feel of its import competition. It’s still got a bit too much K-Mart-class plastic and is, without question, the weakest point on both the CTS and now, the CTSv. We’ll have to wait until 2005 for a major upgrade to the car’s cabin.
Despite its shortcomings, it’s hard not to be impressed with the CTSv. The car delivers incredible power and a platform that can handle it. Detroit automakers like to talk about “American luxury,” hoping to provide a raison d’etre in a market increasingly dominated by imports. This is the first car to truly define what American luxury with a performance bent is all about. It’s too early for Cadillac to flash a V for victory, but with this high-performance sedan, the automaker has taken a giant step closer to being a truly world-class contender.
Base price: $49,995
Engine: 5.7-liter V-8, 400 hp/395 lb-ft
Transmission: Tremec T56 six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Length by width by height: 191.5 x 70.6 x 57.3 in
Wheelbase: 113.4 in
Curb weight: 3833 lb
EPA City/Hwy: 17/26 mpg (est.)
Safety equipment: Dual front airbags, side airbags for front seat, seat belt pretensioners, anti-lock brakes, traction control, electronic stability control with Competition Mode
Major standard equipment: Dual-zone climate control, power driver and front passenger seats, steering wheel-mounted audio and cruise controls, multi-function CD/AM/FM audio system, fog lamps
Warranty: Four years/50,000 miles Bumper-to-Bumper and Roadside Assistance, 6 years/60,000 miles rust-through