The Luxury of Speed
2014 Cadillac CTS-V
Let’s postulate three requirements for the rear-wheel drive car of your dreams. First, you want it to have outstanding performance and handling. Second, you want it to cosset you in luxury, with every imaginable convenience available at your fingertips. Third, and finally, it must be an American car. Not too long ago, the proper response to these requirements would be “Choose any two.” The car that satisfied all three requirements was, quite frankly, imaginary. And, honestly, the car that satisfied the first two requirements was German.
Then, General Motors decided to change that, and give us the Cadillac CTS-V. The idea was that they’d ditch the floaty suspension and massive weight, and, perhaps, appeal to customers other than the geriatric crowd. So, they built a prototype and flew off to Germany to flog it around the Nürburgring. Many times. When they matched the Dodge Viper SRT10’s time of 7:59 per lap, they figured they had a car that was fast enough to satisfy most enthusiasts. So, it is good as a fast car. But is it a good car as a, you know, car?
The CTS-V is offered in sedan, coupe, and wagon body styles. A lot of enthusiasts love wagons. I have no clue why. Most people want the sedan or coupe, so let’s concentrate on those two.
How it looks
Cadillac has moved towards a much more aggressive, angular style for the exterior features of their cars, and the CTS-V has angularity in spades, especially in the coupe body style. The CTS-V is a clash of acute angles, like an explosion in geometry class. There’s also quite a bit of chrome. More, frankly, than I’m entirely comfortable with. The rear is also a bit odd, especially in the coupe, where the lid of the trunk comes up to about the level of my nipples. So, from the outside, it looks odd. But, surprisingly, not unattractive. All of those angles and high roof and trunk lines make the CTS-V sedan look decidedly muscular. They make the CTS-V coupe look insane.
While both body styles do a very good job of incorporating the heritage elements of Cadillac’s past, the sedan looks more like what you’d expect from a modern Cadillac. Sitting in the sedan, you can see yourself pulling into a golf course and getting a bag of clubs out of the trunk. In the coupe, you can see yourself driving to a warehouse, and putting a body into the trunk. Completely different vibes.
There’s much more unity of purpose between the two body styles on the inside, however. In both cases, the center screen rises majestically out of the dash when you turn the engine on. You have the full plethora of radio, satellite, or digitally stored music. Wired and wireless connectivity to electronic devices is available. So is sat-nav. If there is any in-car entertainment technology available, the CTS-V has it, and allows you to control it all from the leather-wrapped, fully adjustable steering wheel.
Except that the steering wheel isn’t always leather-wrapped. In the sedan I drove, the wheel was, in fact, leather-covered, but the coupe’s wheel was covered by suede-like Alcantara. This is the worst option possible for steering wheel. Your nasty, nasty hands will smear their hideous oils all over it. I imagine that within months you would coat the wheel with a gummy sludge of your own filth. Getting an Alcantara—or even real suede—steering wheel is one of the worst ideas in the history of the world. It’s worse than getting involved in a land war in Asia. I mean, how would you ever clean it? You’d have to completely replace the steering wheel within a year, or get uncomfortably used to squeezing your hands around glops of your own oily filth every time you drove it.
Anyway, the seats are properly leather-covered, and very nice indeed. You can adjust everything about them, including the bottom angle, seat back, bolsters, and lumbar support. You can, quite literally, program the CTS-V’s seat to fit you like a glove. Honestly, it’s the best seating system I’ve ever sat in.
There are an awful lot of controls—mainly buttons—in the interior, but they’ve been designed to be easily readable and usable by the driver. With all the stuff available for you to do, it could get very confusing, but Cadillac has put in hard buttons for you to call up most functions on the center screen with a single click.
The thing is, though, that while you’ve got great seats and all the techy gadgets, and a well thought-out design, you can still see the dead hand of GM accountants ruining…everything. For instance, the coupe had obviously plastic trim pieces everywhere. They were gray, with black crosshatching, designed, I suppose, to look like carbon fiber from a distance. The buttons on the center console of the CTS-V are standard, GM-issue “fake metal” plastic. In both the coupe and sedan, the dash is covered by a more or less soft-touch material with fake stitching. It looks like leather, but is foam rubber.
Keep in mind that this is a car with a starting MSRP of $65,000. Both models I drove were in the $72,000 range, optioned out. I am wont to rave at how good Dodge and Ford have made the interiors of their regular cars, and they are very good…for $20,000 cars. But, seeing the same interior in a car that costs more than three times as much is simply enraging. I would start a revolution to overthrow the government if it meant eventually having the power to force GM to start making proper interiors.
The touch-screen system in the center console is horrible, too. Doing the simplest thing requires drilling down through an interminable series of choices and submenus. If it didn’t make you crash your car from being too distracted to watch the road, you’d be tempted to do it on purpose out of sheer frustration.
In the sedan, there’s plenty of room front and back for five people. Nobody’s heads or knees will get any uncomfortable bumps on them. The coupe is not really designed for people in back. It’s roomy enough, I suppose, but, of course, getting in and out of the back is a pain.
One oddity I’ve noticed is that the CTS-V does not have the HUD system that GM puts in the Corvette, Camaro, and several other models. You’d think it’d be standard on the Caddy, and it’s not.
How it drives
Let’s not beat around the bush here. It’s pretty darned good. For a car that puts down 556 HP and 551 torques, it’s surprisingly drivable on a day to day basis. You’d think it’d constantly be moving sideways, shedding rubber smoke and wads of cash from the tires like a Mercedes C63 AMG Black, but it doesn’t. Puttering around town, it’s surprisingly well behaved. Even when you get pretty deep into the accelerator, the CTS-V purrs like a pussycat, and just goes faster. Somewhere, though, just before the pedal hits the floor, some electronic governor in the engine says, “Oh. You want to go fast.”
And you do.
The CTS-V bolts like a scalded stallion and you’re off to the races. If you’ve happened to have a manual transmission, or if you’ve switched the automatic transmission to manual mode—both are six-speeds—you’d better be prepared to shift, fast. The CTS-V will punch the redline in the kidneys in about 0.5 seconds at full steam. In fact, GM deliberately decided to forego an 8-speed automatic unit solely for the purpose of allowing you to do your sub-five-second 0-60 run without having to change gears.
Obviously, this decision hurts fuel economy a bit, giving you an 18 MPH highway rating. As if anyone who buys a car with a 6.2L Supercharged V8 gives a crap about fuel economy. The Dodge Charger SRT8, in contrast, gets 23 MPG. Like you care.
The CTS-V has GM’s magnetic ride control, about which, GM says, “The ultra-sophisticated shocks employ electronic sensors at all four wheels to continuously read the road and magneto-rheological technology (not mechanical valves) to precisely adjust damping in mere milliseconds, based on the surface.” If you’re like me, all that says to you is “Blah blah witches blah blah sorcery blah blah.” It’s not important to know how it works. It’s only important to know that it does. And, of course, that it’ll probably be jolly expensive to fix if anything goes awry.
In short, the CTS-V rides just like a Jaguar XF, which is to say, precisely like a car should. The stiff chassis keeps the ride firm and tight without being uncomfortable, allowing the suspension to soak up imperfections in the road. Body roll is exceptionally well controlled for a 4,300 lb. car, and the CTS-V is as eager to dive into corners as any BMW.
My only advice would be to never, ever turn off the traction control on a public road. If you tap the pedal to much coming out of a corner, you will unleash more than 500 lb.-ft. of torque. At that point the best thing that can happen is that you turn into a Japanese drift car going sideways at 60 MPH in a cloud of expensive tire smoke. The most likely thing that will happen is that you will hug a tree very suddenly.
The steering is moderately communicative for an electric setup. I’m going to just have to stop talking about that. Everything has electric steering nowadays, and as far as feel goes, it’s dead as fried chicken. The CTS-V is a point and shoot car, and you just trust in the traction control to prevent you from having to relate a hilarious ambulance ride story to Saint Peter. Fortunately, the traction control works, and it’s not too intrusive.
Hauling the CTS-V’s two tons to a stop is a job that’s handled admirably by the big Brembo brakes. There’s a reason why practically every high-performance car and motorcycle uses Brembo ABS brakes. They work and work well, without drama, bringing the CTS-V to halt in 104 ft. from 60 MPH. That kind of braking distance in a car that weighs substantially over two tons is fantastic. On public roads, you’ll never even think about brake fade.
Between the coupe and the sedan, the coupe is the obviously more hardcore driver’s car. It’s got a stiffer chassis and a firmer ride. Also, in the sedan, the supercharger’s whine is much more noticeable than it is in the coupe, which is odd, because the sedan seems to keep the cabin more isolated from the engine and road noise. I can’t explain it, it was just my experience driving the two.
What’s good about it
The engine and ride of the CTS-V are everything Cadillac advertises. Neither are truly sports cars—they’re really Grand Tourers—but both of them are very definitely driver-oriented cars. All the technology you could want for phone and music connectivity is there. Braking is superlative. Both the Sedan and Coupe are extraordinarily fun to drive. The traction control keeps the potential insanity of the 556 HP engine manageable in precisely the same way a Mercedes AMG vehicle is not.
What’s bad about it
The interior sports a number of unforgivably cheap components for a $70,000 car. Drivers of armored personnel carriers have a better view of the outside than the driver of the CTS-V coupe, because the tiny windows and huge C-pillar cut off your view too much. The touch-screen system is too confusing. There’s no HUD, which has been a standard GM option for over a decade. The supercharger whine in the CTS-V sedan is almost, but not quite, irritating.
Price aside, the CTS-V is, as far as I can tell, the best all-around enthusiast car that GM makes—at the moment. The Corvette is faster, but requires too many practicality compromises. The ZL1 Camaro is just as fast and fun to drive, but has a far nastier and louder interior. Though the price is a major sticking point for most people, the CTS-V ticks all the right boxes for an enthusiast’s car.
But, that may be about to change. Chevrolet is, even as I write this, shipping the first consignments of the new SS sedan to dealers. Essentially a rebadged, left-hand drive, Holden VF Commodore from Australia, the SS promises to have a much nicer interior than the usual US-made Chevy, and a 425 HP V8 under the hood, as well. If we assume—as we should—that the CTS-V’s extra 131 HP are essentially unusable on public roads, then next week, the best GM enthusiasts’ sedan that you can buy for the money may be the $42,000 Chevrolet SS sedan.
I can’t wait to see if that’s true.