Review: 2018 Cadillac CTS-V
THE PROS & CONS
- What’s Good: Almost everything.
- What’s Bad: Almost nothing.
The letter V finally has meaning. There are a few of these letters in the car biz and, usually, it means good things can be expected. Things like speed, cornering prowess, and loud noises.
Letters like R and M have been around for a bit forming cult-like followings and large online communities spanning the globe. Then came F from Lexus and most recently N from Hyundai and I’m sure that’s not the last use of the alphabet we’ll see gracing the trunk lids of these enhanced automobiles.
Aside from the fact that these lettered cars usually cost much more than their plebian counterparts, they tell the world (at least the ones paying attention) that here’s a person who greatly values exuberant performance and the joy of driving but still wants to tackle that school run in the morning.
Many will argue that the BMW M5 has become a blueprint for today’s super sedan: preternatural performance, a plush cabin laden with tech, approachable but also ready to tear your face off at a moment’s notice.
The thing is, though, that the new M5 and the one right before it have grown in size and weight considerably, losing some of that razor sharpness and giggle-inducing hooliganism that made this nameplate so special in the first place. But that’s ok, it’s their formula and they can change it if they like.
It just opens the doors for the competition to step up to the plate and fill in the gaps. Competition like Cadillac and its V series line of performance sedans, that came into light back in 2004 with the first CTS-V that used the 400 hp engine from the C5 Corvette and mated it exclusively to a 6-speed manual (also from the Corvette). This was a direct response to Munich’s brute-in-a-suit and one that the Germans were probably not expecting. And it came from an unlikely source, an American company better known for building giant cars with soggy suspensions and velour-lined interiors for the country’s retirees.
Cadillac showed the world that it was serious about changing perceptions and getting rid of its stodgy image. The letter V would take them into a new era of performance, getting better with each iteration.
And that brings us to this third generation CTS-V that debuted in 2016 riding on GM’s fantastic Alpha platform that also underpins the ATS and the Chevrolet Camaro.
Sadly the manual transmission didn’t make the cut and this is the first time that you cannot spec one. Also sad is that the CTS-V will be discontinued after the 2019 model year, marking the end of the 4-door Corvette era (for now). Let’s take a moment of silence to reflect on this great loss.
Ok, moment over.
Sprayed in a striking Vector blue metallic, my CTS-V tester gave me wobbly knees as I walked up to it for the first time. Clean lines and a somewhat understated appearance form the perfect blend of aggressiveness and elegance. A long, domed hood, broken up by a functional louvered vent finished in carbon-fibre helps keep the engine bay cool and also directs incoming air up and over the car, reducing front-end lift.
Ready to guillotine your ankles, the large front splitter also finished in carbon along with a carbon diffuser and rear spoiler are part of an optional package that gives this car a visual wallop distancing it from a garden variety CTS.
Wider fenders and wheels give this Cadillac perfect stance. Hunkered down and ready for battle, the CTS-V looks like a convincing response to the dominant German blitzkrieg without ever getting behind the wheel. I got more thumbs ups and yelps of approval from passers-by in one day than I did in a full week with the M5.
But you cannot claim to be a world-class super sedan with all show and no go and Cadillac looks to the Corvette once again to deliver the firepower. And deliver it does by lifting the marvelous small-block LT4 straight out of the Z06.
This 6.2 L pushrod V8 heart spins a 1.7 L supercharger to produce a mammoth 640 hp and 630 lb-ft of torque fed through an 8-speed torque converter automatic and on to the rear wheels. Capable of liquefying the 295 section rear tires this monstrous motor is all-consuming, full of character, and just plain wonderful.
It doesn’t sound quite as good as it does in the Z06, but the deep baritone rumble and accompanying supercharger whine emanate through the cabin delivering lag free thrust at a moments notice. Even with all the stability and traction nannies on, those rear Michelins struggle for grip squirming under aggressive throttle application, a constant reminder of the nuclear forces at work under the hood. Yee-haw!
When you do find sufficient traction this luxury sedan can bolt to 100 km/h in around 3.7 seconds, not letting up until it hits a top speed of 322 km/h. That’s more than the M5 or even Merc’s AMG E63 S.
Blessed with one of the best electric steering racks in the business and pin sharp responses, the goodness of the CTS-V continues beyond that elemental engine. Turn-in is immediate and lively. The entire car responds as a single cohesive unit, it feels light on its feet, playful, confident, and incredibly stiff. Cadillac claims that various structural reinforcements have made the CTS-V 20 percent stiffer than the normal ones.
An electronic locking diff puts the power down effectively but exiting a corner still requires restraint. Today’s all-wheel drive super sedans are extremely capable and allow you to take liberties knowing that there are four contact patches to save your butt if you screw up. The rear wheel drive CTS-V is as God intended and a hell of a lot more fun than pretty much anything else in its class. The perma-grin plastered on my face every single time I drove it made my cheeks hurt.
Performance traction management (Cadillac speak for its stability and traction systems) can be dialed down one level at a time, from a novice setting all the way up to a you’d-better-know-what-your-doing setting. Driving this Cadillac is about managing all that power, but this is where the fun comes in, as there are very few places where you can go full throttle for longer than a few seconds at a time. Even on a track.
The CTS-V is fitted with GM’s trick magnetic ride control dampers. Now in its third generation, they are capable of reading the road surface a thousand times per second responding 40 percent faster than before. This means perfectly controlled body motions, almost no roll, dive, or squat, and a ride that’s firm but remarkably comfortable. 390 mm 6-piston Brembo brakes up front and 365mm 4-piston stoppers in the rear haul this Cadillac down from any speed with alacrity.
All of these things would easily describe some two-seater exotic that sits on the floor and has a hard time making it over painted lines, but we’re not talking about one of those. This is a large roomy sedan with seating for five, a big trunk, and a WiFi hotspot. In fact, nearly every luxury option you could conceive of is in here.
My tester was fitted with optional Recaro Performance seats that were comfortable but felt a little too hardcore for everyday use. One of my biggest gripes with the CTS was the same one I had with the Camaro SS. The 8-speed automatic. It just didn’t shift as fast as I would have liked when using the paddles. There’s too much of a delay from when you pull one to when the next gear arrives and it takes away from the fun. Not a whole lot, but enough that I stopped using them after just a few pulls.
Letting the auto shift by itself was the better choice in nearly every situation. Paddles should respond instantaneously for them to be effective and worth using.
This is one of those cars that left a lasting impression on me. Even with most of the option boxes checked a CTS-V comes in under the starting price of a new M5, and it generates much more thrills. Yes, this is not a cheap car: it’s well into the six-figure range a price many would scoff at but compared to the competition it’s a deal.
Is the M5 ultimately faster? In a straight line, Sure. Thank its four driven wheels. In the corners, you’d need a track and a stig to really find out, but I suspect it would be much closer than you think.
This will be the last CTS-V, at least until Cadillac replaces it with the CT5. And with their new turbo V8 in the upcoming CT6-V, this might also be the last small block we see in a Cadillac. Say it isn’t so!
Right now we don’t really know for sure, but what I do know is the letter V is stronger now than it has ever been. Long live V!
2018 Cadillac CTS-V
BODY STYLE: 4 Door, 5-Passenger Mid-Size Luxury Sedan
CONFIGURATION: Front-engine, Rear Wheel Drive
ENGINE: 6.2 L supercharged V8 (LT4); Power: 640 hp @ 6400 rpm; Torque: 630 lb-ft @ 3600 rpm
TRANSMISSION : 8-speed automatic
FUEL ECONOMY: (Premium gasoline in L/100 km) 16.5 city; 11.1 highway; 14.0 combined
OBSERVED ECONOMY: 17.3 L/100 km (mostly city)
CARGO CAPACITY: 388 litres
PRICE: $93,385 (base); $111,670 (as-tested)
WEBSITE: Cadillac CTS-V
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