Cadillac, like many other luxury brands, is going electric. The Lyriq SUV will debut first in 2023, and nearly every vehicle thereafter will have some form of battery power underhood. Understandably, that's a gut punch for people who pour gasoline in their cereal every morning and munch down on spark plugs for lunch and dinner. But at least Cadillac is sending out its V-Series cars with a bang, relatively speaking.
The 2022 Cadillac CT4-V Blackwing is the fastest, most powerful subcompact car the company has ever built. This isn't the fire-breathing CT5-V Blackwing (more on that next week), but the pint-sized sedan does dig deep into Cadillac's performance roots with a twin-turbocharged V6, a blistering 60 time, and the ability to lap tracks like Virginia International Raceway – where we tested it – in record time.
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Subtlety Over Shoutiness
But you might not know how technically capable this car is simply by looking at it. There are no "Blackwing" badges anywhere on the sheet metal of the CT4-V, disappointingly – not a single nod to this car's more potent persona. Cadillac tweaked the grille and touched up the bumpers, and the automaker forces you to shell out $4,350 for a carbon fiber package that adds a front splitter, side skirts, and a rear spoiler. Beyond neat visuals, at least the carbon fiber pack tacks on 169 pounds of downforce at 180 miles per hour – the most of any Cadillac ever.
The standard wheels are a rather boring set of 18-inch two-tone rims, and even the optional satin-finished shoes aren't all that exciting for an extra $600. The snowflake-patterned bronze rims are the best of the bunch, with a unique high-spoke design and a sublime finish, but they'll cost you $1,500 extra. The eye-searing Blaze Orange metallic paint pictured here is an additional $625 as well.
Inside, the same basic elements of the base CT4-V carry over, with some new carbon fiber dotting the dash and door panels, optional $300 microfiber material on the steering wheel and shift knob, and a neat 3D-printed metal accent atop the shifter itself. On top of that, the Blackwing's new microfiber bucket seats are super comfy, with better back and butt support than the base V's leather chairs, and adjustable bolsters that contour to your body like a well-fitting glove. You can even get optional red seat belts.
Most of Blackwing's magic is under the hood. Cadillac ditched the base model’s four-cylinder truck-derived engine (thankfully) for a twin-turbocharged 3.6-liter V6 that produces 472 horsepower and 445 pound-feet. That number represents a huge improvement over the CT4-V’s 325 hp and 380 lb-ft.
Much like the rest of the CT4, technically this "new" engine is a carryover from the ATS-V. But with more power, a quicker 60 time of 3.9 seconds with the automatic (4.1 seconds with the manual), and a top speed of 189 miles per hour, the CT4-V Blackwing hustles down the front straight of VIR with ferocity.
Max twist arrives at 3,500 rpm and horsepower hits at 5,750, which is actually a tad peakier than what the lesser CT4-V offers (1,500 rpm / 5,600 rpm), and down still on the Audi RS3 (2,250 / 5,600 rpm) and Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 (2,250 / 4,750 rpm). And there is some obvious lag when you lay into the throttle. But once the turbos spool up and the 10-speed automatic cogs into gear, this car hustles.
Slapping the paddle shifters activates the 10-speed automatic's brutally quick shifts. This gearbox shows confidence on the track, yet feels anonymous when cruising through some of the sleepy towns of rural northern North Carolina later in the same day (in both good and bad ways). But you'd be crazy not to opt for the standard six-speed manual, especially since it's more than $3,000 cheaper.
The six-speed snickers satisfyingly into place with every throw. You might find yourself shifting maniacally, as we did, just to hear and feel the satisfying "clunk" of the transmission locking into gear – from fifth to fourth to third for no reason at all. And that unnecessary shifting is easy thanks to the standard rev-matching system, which does all the heel-toeing for you.
Slapping the paddle shifters activates the 10-speed automatic's brutally quick shifts.
But even better than rev-match is Cadillac's funky no-lift shift technology, which is exactly what it sounds like. Keep your foot on the gas, depress the clutch, and slam the shifter into the desired gear with no repercussions. It takes some rewiring of your brain to not lift off the gas at every shift, but once you figure it out, it's a wildly satisfying experience, especially when upshifting into fifth at 120 miles per hour.
The addition of standard Magnetic Ride Control with the already good Alpha platform (from the Camaro) makes the CT4-V Blackwing a dynamic dynamo. This car slithers through VIR's road course with fluid movements and great rotation. The steering is much heavier, too, than the base CT4-V, but still uber responsive, which allows us to fling the Blackwing into tricky turns with relative ease. There is an inkling of understeer around VIR's tougher turns, like that annoying rear double apex, but nothing offensively bad.
Fiddling with the Performance Traction Management system ( PTM) affords the driver access to five different traction modes, including two dedicated track modes that essentially turn off traction control entirely. Admittedly, we spent most of our time driving in the mid-level Sport PTM mode, which did result in a touch of slipperiness, but the Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires (255/35 front and 275/35 rear) and electronic limited-slip differential kept the car well in check.
Beyond that, new-to-CT4 six-piston front brakes with 15.0-inch rotors and four-piston rear brakes with 13.4-inch rotors bring the Blackwing back down from speed easily. And as well as those huge new brakes stop the car, they don't feel grabby; even on the track, the bigger rotors are easy to modulate. All in all, the CT4-V Blackwing feels hugely improved over the base V Series model on the track.
But as technically impressive as the Blackwing is on VIR – and the numbers support it – some of the gripes we had with the base CT4-V carry over to the road. The steering still drives us crazy in any setting outside of Track. It's twitchy and vague, and it has an unusual spring-like quality that yanks the wheel back to center. Cadillac engineers tell us that the rack is totally rebuilt on the Blackwing compared to the CT4-V, but it feels like much of the same.
A too-soft suspension joins that indistinct steering (again, in any drive mode other than Track), the automatic transmission can feel confused at low speeds, and the exhaust note – while it pops and backfires on the track – sounds lawnmower-ish when cruising around town. The CT4 Blackwing simply lacks the raw emotion we expect from a Cadillac V model, especially one with this much power and a manual transmission.
Gallery: 2022 Cadillac CT4-V Blackwing: First Drive
If you're looking for the most engagement, keep this car in its most aggressive mode at all times. The Track setting adds more heft to the steering, much-needed tautness to the suspension, and improvements in throttle response that alleviate some of our issues with the laggy 10-speed. Also, opt for the manual as it's the superior transmission of the two.
The slick six-speed is smooth, refined, and easy to row thanks to rev-match and no-lift shift. Power application with the manual model feels more linear too; there's no delay waiting for the 10-speed to cog down a gear or two when laying into the throttle. And the steering even feels more analog – although that might be a mental thing because nothing changes mechanically in the steering from automatic to manual. Either way, the manual CT4-V Blackwing is definitely the more tactile and fun of the two.
The CT4 Blackwing simply lacks the raw emotion we expect from a Cadillac V model...
The Fast Track
The Cadillac CT4-V Blackwing starts at $59,990 with the standard six-speed manual or $63,165 with the automatic. Neither of those prices includes the $995 destination fee. Compared to the outgoing Audi RS3 ($56,200) or the Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 ($55,350), the Caddy is technically the priciest option of the bunch – and it gets even pricier with options. A fully loaded example will set you back $87,775 – an ungodly sum for a compact car even with this much power.
The CT4-V Blackwing is also the least fuel-efficient among its peers. Its 19 miles per gallon combined is significantly down compared to the 23 combined that both the Audi and Mercedes return. To Cadillac’s credit, both of those models are way down on power and use a four-cylinder engine. But when premium fuel is a prerequisite for all of these cars, the one that drinks it fastest may give you pause.
So while the CT4-V Blackwing is certainly far from perfect, what you get at that cost is a small car that is hugely capable on the track. The CT4-V Blackwing's twin-turbocharged engine has tons of grunt, the Alpha platform with Magnetic Ride Control is sublime, and the six-speed manual with rev-match and no-lift shift makes the do-it-yourself gearbox a no brainer. Whether or not you'll fall in love with the CT4-V Blackwing on backroads, there's no doubt that this car will be the fastest subcompact at your next track day.
2022 Cadillac CT4-V Blackwing