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The 'V' Is For Victory
A driver's dream, the Cadillac CTS-V sport sedan beats BMW at its own game.
Los Angeles Times

April 7, 2004

ONLY about 15% of Americans know how to drive a manual transmission. This is not surprising. Most Americans couldn't find France on a map and couldn't name the chief justice of the United States if William H. Rehnquist bit them on the face.

As a consequence of this mechanical illiteracy, 85% of Americans won't be able to enjoy the new, hair-igniting Cadillac CTS-V, the GM division's first foray into the factory "tuner" market and one of the most amazing performance sedans ever to light up a cop's radar gun.

So much for ignorance being bliss.

This car blows me away, and not simply because it's fast. (That word should properly appear in 72-point type.) Ever since Cadillac started producing its faceted, power crystal cars, like the XLR roadster (2002), they have lacked a certain density, as if the company couldn't quite muster the critical pressures necessary to create self-sustaining fusion. The XLR, though an admirable piece of image engineering, simply doesn't have the holistic refinement of its main rival, the Mercedes-Benz SL500.

The CTS-V, on the other hand, puts it all together in a splendid singularity: warrior-prince aesthetics, escape-velocity speed, neck-wrenching cornering and a superbly tuned chassis that does for bad roads what Bose noise-canceling headsets do to buzzy airplane cabins.

Rare are the cars that pair such excellent ride compliance with performance handling, but the CTS-V is a driver's dream. In steady-state cornering it has more grip than a tree frog, pulling in excess of 0.90 g of centrifugal force (1 g is the force of gravity) on its 9.5-inch-wide tires. The chassis' pitch-and-roll characteristics are tight and snubbed down. Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld is more flexible. The steering system is reactive and linear, providing high-resolution feedback from the road to the wheel. No fussy variable-electrical-dynamic linkages. Just steering.

With its big V8 engine situated well back in the engine bay, the CTS-V is also well balanced, front to rear. The car's composure, its even temper at the limits of tire adhesion, is fantastic, especially considering its 3,850-pound curb weight.

There's a three-letter abbreviation for this kind of handling in a sport sedan: B-M-W. Although a lot of companies, and certainly GM, have talked a lot of smack about how their handling is as good as a BMW, this is the first car that well and truly betters the Bavarians at their own specialized game.

The CTS-V is the product of Cadillac's new performance-tuning V-series operation, comparable to BMW's M division or Mercedes-Benz's AMG (even the Cadillac "V" logo is cool, with international-style racing pennants streaking back from a wind-bent V). This car begins life as a Cadillac CTS that then gets a bollocks transplant in the form of the same 400-horsepower V8 found under the hood of the new Corvette.
This pushrod actuated, overhead-valve 5.7-liter engine is to everyday driving what plastic explosive is to lock-picking. Easygoing enough in stop-and-go traffic, the Corvette's motor will on demand deliver leaping, lunging acceleration that will stuff you into the leather seats like Tony Soprano stuffs bodies in trunks. When this motor is fully on the cam, it produces 390 pound-feet of torque at 4,800 revolutions per minute and a wonderfully feral exhaust sound that says nothing so much as "stay off the moors."

Cadillac reports a zero-to-60 mph time of 4.6 seconds, considerably quicker than the Mercedes C32 AMG (5.4 seconds) or Jaguar S-type R (5.3). And from there the car's velocity is limited only by the driver's ability to post bail. Top speed registers about 165 mph on the chrome bezel, 180-mph speedometer.

You might think that, what with gas prices rivaling Chanel No. 5's, Cadillac's timing in rolling out a performance division is a bit off, like Flo Ziegfeld's Follies of 1931 or the Remington Typewriter catalog of 1985. However, with help from the CTS-V's six-speed Tremec manual transmission, the car returns unusually good gas mileage for so powerful a car. The sixth-gear overdrive ratio allows the engine to loaf along at highway speeds, where the Environmental Protection Agency estimates it will get 25 miles per gallon.

In the heat of hairpin battle, the stubby shifter nicks through the shift gate with a stout mechanical feel, and clutch-pedal pressure and uptake are just right. Only reverse gear seems a bit balky.

According to GM, the performance schooling of the CTS-V took place at the Nurburgring Nordschleife -- the monstrous, 13.5-mile race course in Germany -- under the tutelage of driver-engineer John Heinricy. At his direction, the spring-and-shock package was upgraded, and larger anti-roll bars were installed front and rear along with larger, 18-inch wheels and tires backed up with oversized ventilated Brembo brakes. In the engine bay is a strut-tower brace as elegant as the huntress Diana's bow.

Any factory operation can tune a car by ordering performance parts from its Tier 1 suppliers. Heinricy and staff clearly put a lot of effort into harmonizing all these parts and imbuing the car with deep structure, giving it an intelligent integrity.

At the risk of using a tainted phrase, I'd like to say: Mission accomplished.

Gear-head fingerprints are all over this car: Consider the built-in "lateral g-meter," a digital readout from the car's stability control accelerometers, which tell the driver how hard the last corner has just been taken. Or do you fancy the driver-adjustable stability system? It offers three thresholds of computer intervention -- including "competitive driving mode" -- letting drivers dictate how much sliding, wheel-spinning and general bad behavior the computer will allow before it steps in.

I, for one, would be happy if the tuner crowd would keep their mitts off. This car looks great just the way it is, with its stainless-steel fencing mask grille, ground-skimming aero package and big wheels. Heinricy and company carefully calibrated the chassis settings to complement the Goodyear Eagle F1 tires. The minute you stick 20-inch dubs on a car like this you ruin the well-sorted handling. You will know the poseurs by their spinners.

Still, there is work to do. I have no affection for the bondage-like black-rubber interior of the CTS-V. It's like wearing a neoprene tuxedo. The best part of the XLR roadster is its steel-and-wood ambience, so I know Cadillac has the palette to do it. I say revise the interior as soon as possible.

The CTS-V comes as a one-option package (a sunroof is available for $1,200) and at $49,995 the car is well equipped with Bose stereo, XM satellite radio, DVD-based navigation system, power-leather-heated everything and a generous and comfortable cabin to keep it all in. An automatic transmission is not available, which will scare off leg-weary L.A. commuters.

Too bad. Give Cadillac a gear-shift lever and a place to stand, and it will rock your world.

Times automotive critic Dan Neil can be reached at mailto:[email protected]


2005 Cadillac CTS-V

Base price: $49,300

As tested: $49,995 ($695 destination charge)

Powertrain: 5.7-liter OHV V8, six-speed Tremec manual transmission, limited-slip differential, rear-wheel drive

Horsepower: 400 @ 6,000 rpm

Torque: 390 pound-feet @ 4,800 rpm

Acceleration: Zero to 60 mph in 4.6 seconds

Top speed: 165 mph

EPA mileage: 16 mpg city, 25 highway

922 Posts
hey you beat me too it. After they passed this article around to all of us TL's for our team meetings, I though this is a cool article, I should go post it at GMI.
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