Reviewed from a lonesome stretch of asphalt in the middle of Nowhere, USA
I don't remember exactly how long I'd been on the road when it hit me, but somewhere between Wickenburg and Quartzite, I realized exactly what the Cadillac CTS-V was. I'd had the car for seven days already, and had been driving non-stop since it arrived. I'd been impressed with it, sure, but I hadn't really 'connected' with it, let alone begun to understand it.
As the sun slipped behind some distant peak, blasting down a desolate desert road, a wave of emotion hit me...but I'm getting ahead of myself. By now you're most likely familiar with the third-generation Cadillac CTS-V, but just in case you've only recently returned from years of service in the French Foreign Legion, here's a quick rundown of the vehicle's credentials. Under the hood lies the same LT4 6.2-liter supercharged V8 found in the C7 Corvette Z06. It squeezes out less juice in this application, but 640 horsepower and 630 lb-ft of torque is enough, trust me. The CTS-V also packs the same 8-speed automatic gearbox available on the Z06, the only difference being it's placed up front, instead of out back as it is in the Z06.
Further performance enhancing bits include Cadillac's brilliant Magnetic Ride Control suspension setup, launch control, electronic limited slip diff, massive Brembo performance discs, Brembo calipers, a ZF electronic steering rack tuned by the 'V' people, an incredibly efficient cooling system, and more driving modes than you will know what to do with. All that comes on the $83,995 base model CTS-V, but I wasn't handed the keys to a base model. The car I spent a week with had the $5,500 carbon fiber package which included a carbon fiber hood vent, spoiler, front splitter and rear diffuser. The stunning-from-any-angle, in any light Crystal White Tricoat paint is the easiest $500 decision you'll ever have to make, while the $595 Red Brembo brake calipers require a little more thought. Ditch that option, along with the $300 sueded microfiber steering wheel and shifter, and you've saved some money to put towards the $1,300 Performance Data Recorder, which you definitely need. Of course, if you can actually afford a CTS-V, you can probably afford to tick all the option boxes you wish to, so go ahead, drop $96,485 on the same spec I had. Inside you'll be treated to some of the best Recaros you'll ever park your butt in, even though the hardshell/sueded microfiber does negate ventilation. If there's one downside to that $2,300 option, the lack of cool air on your back when you're moving rapidly across the the desert would be it. Got all that?
I'd gone to visit family in Cave Creek, Arizona, because that's what you do when you have a car like the CTS-V. It's meant to be shared with people you love, and if getting to those people happens to mean driving six and half hours, so be it. The CTS-V is the right car for the bill. To those who grew up when Cadillac made gigantic land yachts, this should come as no surprise. The brand was iconically synonymous with cruising around America in style since the birth of the interstate system. But for those of us who grew up seeing Cadillac as the official car of silver-haired Sunday drivers, the concept that one would inspire you to take a road trip seems quite foreign indeed. And yet, that's exactly what happened after an afternoon spent pushing the car on the roads of Angeles National Forest.
Yes, what you see in the background of these photos is snow. Just prior to my time with the CTS-V a winter storm had blown through the mountains east of Los Angeles, and much to my surprise, it had left more than a dusting behind. It was only present at the highest elevations, and the roads were perfectly dry by the time I made it up there, so no knowledge of how the CTS-V does in winter conditions was gleaned. The sight of the car parked in front of a defunct ski area got me thinking about the many environments surrounding Southern Cal. The night before I'd shot the car on a road I'd only recently discovered that runs high above the Pacific Ocean, at times offering unobstructed views to both the north and south. Now here I was, less than 24 hours later snapping shots of it in front of snow only 80 miles to the east. I felt the need to complete the trifecta by putting the car in another environment—and the Sonoran desert was the obvious choice.
As I descended from the mountains I did my best to silence my creative side, and think critically about the CTS-V. How was it handling? Was the gearbox doing what I wanted it to? Did it scare me just enough to make it fun? Great, mostly, and damn right are the answers to those questions. Magnetic Ride Control is fantastic, even if it tends to offer a stiffer ride in comfort mode than some of the competition does in sport mode. The CTS-V is a super-sport sedan through and through, if you want to be coddled, get something else. The gearbox mostly did what I wanted it to, because there were a few occasions when I expected it to downshift when it didn't. The paddle shifters got me exactly what I wanted every single time, which was mostly a lovely BRAAAAP from the exhaust. Make no mistake, this 8-speed unit from ZF is great, but it fell short anticipating my needs, and once you've experienced a gearbox that can do that, everything else pales in comparison.
In the time it took me to get home from the mountains, I'd laid out a plan to go to Arizona. I'd get up early the next morning, beat traffic leaving LA, rocket to Phoenix on I-10, and make it to Cave Creek in time for lunch. I called my family to let them know that I was in fact going to make it out, and upon learning what I was driving my dad had the following advice: "Watch out for da cops...ya don't need no more speeding tickets." He wasn't wrong. I mean nobody needs more speeding tickets, but I especially didn't, seeing as I'd recently gotten one in a Chevy Volt. But that's another story entirely.
I'm quite fortunate that this story doesn't involve speeding tickets, run-ins with the law, or mishaps of any kind really. The CTS-V performed flawlessly over the 1,300 miles I covered, and that's all that much more impressive when taking into consideration that the majority of those miles were racked up in blistering heat. The big knock against the LT4 motor is that it is susceptible to heat soak due to a conservatively tuned ECU. My predecessor here at BoldRide experienced the negative effects firsthand when he drove a CTS-V last fall, but I managed to go an entire week without a single issue. Am I as hard on cars as Mr. Jonathan Klein? Definitely not, but after talking to him extensively about the CTS-V, I know I repeatedly went faster for longer periods of time than he did. That counts for something, right? The absence of any kind of "party stories" doesn't mean that my time with the CTS-V was a bore. In fact, quite the opposite. Upon arriving in Cave Creek I had pushed the speedometer deep into the triple digits, confirmed that the Brembos are really good at bringing the 4,148-pound body back from the brink of jail time, and that the Recaros do not suck to sit in for nearly six hours if you're a medium-sized human like I am.
Over the next couple of days I spent my time shuttling my parents and grandmother where ever they needed to go. Every errand, every group activity, every dinner I mandated that we take the CTS-V. Having driven them around in a CTS 3.6 just a few months prior, the consensus was that while the CTS-V was undoubtedly "more badass," the regular CTS was more comfortable. Comparing the two in similar situations, it got me thinking; who will actually buy this car? Obviously Cadillac is catering to a younger demographic with cars like the ATS/ATS-V, and upcoming compact crossover. But when their flagship vehicle has a youthful spirit and nearly a $100k price tag, that doesn't leave much room in the market. I'd love to daily drive a CTS-V given the opportunity, but I'm a little short on funds at the moment. Sure, there are plenty of wealthy young people who could buy the CTS-V, but given the choice between a Caddy and a comparable BMW, Audi, or Mercedes, how many are actually going to choose the Caddy? It's a hard thought to shake driving through the garish suburbs north of Phoenix, passing McMansion, after McMansion, most with something German in the driveway. Did none of these people care about the CTS-V's seven heat exchangers, five Performance Traction Management modes, or power to weight ratio of 6.5 pounds per horsepower?! Obviously not. But it's a damn shame, really, because the performance of the CTS-V alone is worth obsessing over, let alone the pretty package it comes in. A CTS-V will never be an M5, or an E63 AMG, or an S6. Not because it's not as capable as those cars—because it is—but because it doesn't have the same heritage. Cadillac is our luxury brand, and although it may have German traits, the CTS-V remains a deeply American car, one that could not have existed before now. It's the right car coming at the right time, and if this is what Cadillac is going to be from now on, count me in.
So, about that wave of emotion I experienced at twilight while barreling down a very long straight road at ludicrous, but not plaid, speed. What triggered it specifically? I'm not exactly sure, probably a combination of the scenery, the music, and emotional fatigue. Since my grandfather passed a few years back, each trip to Arizona could very well be my last. My grandmother sold the house they'd lived in since I was 10, and moved into a rental nearby. It's not as if she wouldn't give me a heads up if she intended to leave Arizona and move back to Vermont full time, but life, being what it is, there's no guarantee that I'd be able to make it out there again before she did so. Thinking of the many amazing experiences I'd had in Arizona over the course of my life, and how much I wished I could have taken my grandfather for a ride in the CTS-V, I found myself fighting back tears. I turned off the radio, opened the windows and let the warm desert air in. I ran my hands over the steering wheel, tapped my fingernails against the paddle shifters, and took a few deep breaths. The sun had disappeared completely and the horizon was awash in its faint afterglow. I backed off the throttle, admired my surroundings, and just as quickly as the feelings of grief had surfaced, they retreated. Staring out over the pearly hood of the CTS-V, all I saw was open road bathed in crisp white light. "This is where the CTS-V belongs" I said to myself, "not New York City, not the Nurburgring, but here, on a lonesome stretch of asphalt in the middle of Nowhere, USA."
Specs Engine: 6.2L Supercharged V8 Horsepower: 640 @6400 rpm Torque: 630 lb-ft @3600 rpm Price: $83,995 (base) $96485 (as tested) Photo Credit: Visual Vocab