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Lift the powertrain from the shattering Corvette ZR1 and wedge it neatly into Cadillac's CTS, and what do you get? If you're like us, you get a huge, goofy grin and a stupendously quick, sharp version of the best small Caddy ever, in either coupe, sedan or wagon form.
Cadillac's "V" formula is like the M, AMG, S and RS treatment applied to other hot irons in the entry-luxury fire. With the 2012 CTS-V, whips up excitement against the likes of the Benz E63 AMG, BMW M5 and Audi S6, with a pricetag that's closer to the smaller C63, M3 and S4. For now, it's the leader of that pack, and a fitting benchmark for GM's luxury and performance brand, too.
Last year, Cadillac added coupe and wagon flavors to the CTS-V lineup, and any of them are standouts, in contrast to the flared-up aero shapes from Germany. The Caddy entries aren't smooth, but they're the most rakish, with a crisp take on the Art & Science theme that revived Cadillac styling a decade ago. The silhouettes cut a distinguishing shape full of sharp creases and folds, with details like faired-in headlamps, a wide eggcrate grille and vertical taillamps stamping the shapes on your brain. Of the three, the wagon stands out in relief--it's a shape Cadillac has never done before, and it pronounces itself even more clearly against the slick Euro wagons we don't even get in the U.S. market.
The CTS cabin carries over here, and consciously or not, it plays up a V-shaped theme, especially in the center console where Cadillac puts the normally wasted side pieces to use, for seat-heating and climate controls. It's a striking look but chucks some controls where they're not easy to find or use. The CTS cabin also has some glitzy trim that glints brightly under the LED accent lighting, playing up the over-the-top Americanisms that could send shrinking violets off to something a little more subdued.
In action, the CTS-V cars are flat-out brilliant. Their lusty supercharged 556-horsepower V-8 feels smooth and docile at city speeds, but stokes up a hellfire when unleashed. Some 0-60 mph times under 4.0 seconds have been measured, and the CTS-Vs will drop any of the competition in acceleration. There's only a six-speed, paddle-shifted automatic on order, and it has its foibles--not in shift quality, but in the fact that you must move the console lever to sport mode before using its paddles for shifting. Hello, firmware upgrade!
The brilliance continues with the CTS-V's exceptional ride quality--even more shocking, given that it rides on 19-inch wheels and delivers more than 1g of lateral grip. Combined credit goes to its sticky Michelin Pilot Sport 2 tires, and a suspension that uses shocks filled with magnetic fluid that react very quickly to road conditions.
Comfort is the big consideration in choosing any CTS-V over the other. At the top of the range is the wagon, which has rear doors with wider openings that make the rear seat usable, and a cargo area fitted with high-quality trim. Sedans are tight in back for adults, and coupes are simply not meant for more than two adult passengers. All CTS-Vs have cut-and-sewn leather trim and leather Recaro seats trimmed with grippy microfiber. Some of us love the seat comfort in front, while others complain about a high-center feel from the seat cushions, and the tight knee room in front conjured by the V-shaped console.
The CTS-V comes with a long list of standard features including HID adaptive headlamps; rear parking sensors; heated front seats; dual-zone climate control; and Bluetooth. An available navigation system has a retractable screen that rises and lowers from the top of the dash, displaying full information on a beautiful LCD screen or showing a strip of information even when it's lowered. Real-time traffic is available, and USB control of media players is standard. The most substantial change for 2012 is the addition of blind-spot monitors to the coupe, which needs them due to the large blind spots its striking design creates.