With its supercharged, 556-horsepower 6.2-liter V8 engine, the 2009 CTS-V is the most powerful Cadillac ever. Also the quickest and fastest, it has a claimed 0-60 mph time of 3.9 seconds and a 193 mph top speed. Yet on the road or track this thoroughly American sport sedan is most impressive for the refined driving experience it provides, where the original CTS-V always felt like the hot rod it was.
The original CTS launched as a 2003 model, and the first CTS-V was added to the lineup in 2004. Powered by a 400-horsepower 5.7-liter V8, the "V" was only available with a 6-speed manual gearbox. The CTS was fully redesigned for 2008, and the new CTS-V shares its platform and interior.
Exterior differences are subtle and few, with zero "boy racer" grafts. Its dual front grille with chrome mesh has double the surface of the V6-powered CTS, and a new aluminum hood needs only a discreet bulge to accommodate the slightly greater height of the supercharged V8 engine. The rocker panels are kicked out a touch, and a larger, upturned center-mounted stoplight at the edge of the trunk lid doubles as a spoiler, reducing lift at high speed.
The CTS-V runs on Michelin Pilot Sport PS2 tires but not the run-flat variety used on the Corvette ZR1. Their sizes are 255/40ZR-19 in front and a meaty 285/35ZR-19 in the rear. The Cadillac's wheelbase is 113.4 inches — nearly identical to BMW's 500-horsepower M5 (113.7 inches), and the cars are near matches in most dimensions. By comparison, the 400-horsepower BMW M3 has a 108.7-inch wheelbase and is smaller in every way.
Official pricing for the CTS-V will be announced closer to its market launch in October, but the target MSRP is $60,000, with a fully-optioned "V" priced in the mid-$60,000s. By comparison, the M5 checks in with an MSRP of $83,900, while the M3 lists for $53,800 — and both figures are quickly jacked onto a higher plane with a few options. With the CTS-V, you get a sport sedan that is about the same size as an M5, packs a greater punch and will sell for about the same money as the smaller and less powerful M3.
Under the Hood
The CTS-V's engine is a 6.2-liter, all-aluminum small-block V8 fitted with a smaller-displacement version (1.9 liters vs. 2.3 liters) of the Corvette ZR1's four-lobe, sixth-generation Eaton supercharger. It delivers 556 horsepower and 551 lb-ft of torque to either a 6-speed manual or a 6-speed automatic gearbox. The manual is coupled to a light, progressive dual-disc clutch similar to the ZR1's, and the automatic has steering-wheel-mounted paddles for the manual mode.
Cadillac says with either transmission the CTS-V will get to 60 mph in a scant 3.9 seconds, and cover the quarter mile in 12 seconds flat. The car's top speed is quoted at 175 mph for the automatic and about 193 mph with the manual gearbox.
This means the CTS-V's unofficial lap of 7:59:38 around the famed Nürburgring track in Germany could probably be improved upon. John Heinricy, veteran racer and director of high-performance engineering at Cadillac, set that sub-eight-minute lap with a production-ready CTS-V equipped with the automatic. Set in Sport mode, Heinricy didn't even bother using the shift paddles, since this setting already quickens upshifts.
The CTS-V's interior is dressed with attractive hand-stitched leather surfaces. These are produced by a small South Carolina-based supplier that also makes interior trim for high-end AMG specials from Mercedes-Benz. The only discordant notes are narrow trim strips (with sharp edges in some places), that meekly try to evoke carbon fiber but end up looking like plastic. Cadillac should simply emulate Porsche and offer the option of real carbon fiber or aluminum trim — the car fully deserves it.
Optional Recaro sport seats will likely be priced between $2,500 and $3,000, and they are worth the money. These perches are adjustable in 14 different ways, including lumbar support cushions in the backrest and side bolsters that can be inflated to the right firmness for ideal lateral support. The seat cushion can also be extended forward manually for better thigh support, which is lacking in the standard seats. On a track, hard braking will send you sliding forward in these, requiring bracing on the footrest. The better thigh support of the optional seats helps prevent this "submarining."
On the Road (and Track)
The new CTS-V is anything but crude and will take you to work, or to a track and back, in impressively quiet comfort — not bad for a sedan packing so much power. A significant chunk of this goodness can be attributed to the CTS-V's standard Magnetic Ride Control suspension. This setup uses shock absorbers that can change their damping characteristics in microseconds, thanks to magnets that act on a fluid filled with minute iron particles.
We took the automatic-gearbox version from White Plains, New York, to the new Monticello Motor Club and felt a very slight difference between the Tour and Sport mode of the suspension. With the latter, you feel and hear the Michelins riding over small cracks that disappear in Tour mode, but the ride never becomes harsh in any way. Steering is crisp and weighted just right, and there's only the slightest trace of supercharger whine when you gun it a bit.
The return drive was in a CTS-V equipped with the 6-speed manual, as well as the optional Recaro seats and suede-like microfiber trim on the steering wheel and shift lever. However pleasant the automatic, the manual version best exemplifies the new CTS-V's highly appealing blend of sporting demeanor and refinement.
Shift throws for the manual tranny are short and precise, and its action always succinct and light, whether driving casually down the road or downshifting two gears while braking hard into a corner. Pedals on manual cars are also optimized for 'heel-and-toe' maneuvers, and it shows. While accelerating, a slight gear whine reminds you of the manual car's nature and potential, likely from the heavy-duty limited-slip differential. It's not unpleasant, and will probably please enthusiasts.
The three cars we drove on the track were equipped with optional, track-ready, two-part rotors for their Brembo brakes and a fan-cooled rear differential. The brake calipers have six pistons in front and four at the rear. The automatic and manual-gearbox versions of the CTS-V are equally pleasant, rewarding and capable on the brand-new 22-turn, 3.9-mile Monticello layout.
The engine is a gem, with a muted growl and seamlessly abundant supply of torque at your right foot's command. The "V" turns into corners willingly, with a touch of understeer that easily disappears with a prod of the accelerator. Use more of it and you get controllable power oversteer on exit, if you wish.
The CTS-V is an even-tempered thoroughbred that never feels nervous or twitchy, and it let us work up to speed with confidence on an unfamiliar track. As I progressively went faster, the understeer, tire squeal, body roll and front dive under braking also grew. There should be a third setting for the CTS-V's excellent suspension: Track.
Right for You?
In spite of its spectacular performance and track-friendly handling, the new CTS-V impresses at least as much when driven at a serene pace on public roads. Comparisons with premium German iron are not far-fetched in the least. The CTS-V can outrun many big ones for the price of their smaller siblings, with unprecedented grace, integration and refinement for an American sedan. It is truly world class, and leagues better than its hot-rod forebear.
A professional auto journalist for more than 25 years and the founding editor of Sympatico / MSN Autos, Marc Lachapelle is a two-time winner of the Canadian Journalist of the Year award from the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada, an accomplished photographer and licensed racer.