Pros: Spacious interior; track-tuned handling; incredible acceleration
Cons: Rear visibility is limited; fit and finish don't quite stack up to the competition
What's New: Two-piece front brake rotors; available red-painted brake calipers
Europeans have long recognized American automakers' ability to build cars with huge horsepower and blistering acceleration. But they often joked that when it came to carving up twisting mountain roads, the Americans pack up and go home. In recent years, however, domestic automakers have honed the handling of their best sports cars, and the 2013 Cadillac CTS-V may be the best iteration yet of Americans' ability to keep up with the best sports sedans in the world.
When Cadillac updated its CTS-V in 2008, the company famously developed the car on European turf. The Nürburgring, home of one of the toughest endurance races in the world, was the proving ground that let Cadillac's engineers tweak the V to compete with the best. If a car can handle the 147 corners it takes to complete a lap of the 14.17-mile track, they figured, it can handle anything else you throw at it.
In fact, Cadillac made such a good car that it lapped the track in seven minutes and 59 seconds, making it the fastest production sedan on factory tires ever to lap the track, beating out German rivals like BMW and Audi.
The best ending to this story is that anyone can buy a CTS-V. Well, anyone with $64,515, anyway. And while there's no arguing that the car is quick, how does it work in the day-to-day routine?
Comfort & Utility
The biggest concern with these near racing cars for the road is comfort. While roadholding is the preferred characteristic on the track, it typically means too harsh a ride for daily realities like potholes and speed bumps. So our main concern was how well the CTS-V could handle those, especially since our test took place in pothole-ridden Chicago.
The V is surprisingly good. Its magnetic suspension system uses shock absorbers filled with metal filings suspended in oil. Around the casing are electromagnets that can be activated by a button in the cockpit, changing the way the shocks react to bumps and dips in the road. The effect is profound. In normal Touring mode, the ride is extremely supple without feeling numb.
The interior of the CTS-V looks handsome, but just as we questioned the ride quality in everyday use, we wondered if the optional, track-ready Recaro seats would be too unforgiving for the daily commute. But thanks to power adjustability, the Recaros are extremely comfortable, even on long journeys. And once dialed in exactly right, the side bolsters provide the necessary snugness to keep the driver planted in more spirited driving. Comparatively, the standard seats can be a little stiff and lacking in support.
Unlike with some other high-powered machines, utility isn't sacrificed at all by stepping up to this souped-up version of the CTS. What's more, the V comes in all three available CTS body styles - sedan, coupe and wagon. With a maximum of 58 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats folded, the CTS-V wagon has space for just about anything you can throw at it. The only limitation is the sloping roof, which eats into room for tall objects. Similarly, the sedan has a spacious trunk, but its small aperture prevents you from easily stowing larger objects.
One of the selling points of the CTS-V line is its interior technology, which becomes apparent immediately after starting the car. That's when the standard navigation screen rises from its resting place in the dash. The touchscreen interface is intuitive if a little sluggish. The system offers connectivity for an iPod along with satellite radio and GM's OnStar concierge service. With XM radio service enabled, the navigation also gives you real-time traffic reports to help you alter your route to get around jams ahead. Bluetooth is included, but only for handsfree calling. The CTS-V lacks the Bluetooth music-streaming capability offered by competitors.
The Bose 5.1 surround sound audio system is absolutely fantastic. Default settings are a little heavy on the bass, but an easy adjustment reins in the excessive thump. The system can even adjust speaker delivery based on how many passengers are in the car. A backup camera is standard - a nice feature since the car's thick C-pillars tend to block rear visibility.
Performance & Fuel Economy
The centerpiece of the CTS-V is the General Motors LSA engine, the powerplant now also fitted to the enormously powerful Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 and a variant of the motor found in the awesome Corvette ZR1. The supercharged V8 is a monster, sending 556 horsepower through the rear wheels and producing a massive 551 lb-ft torque to easily push the V's 4,200-pound weight. The power is intoxicating. And with all that torque, passing maneuvers are dead simple, even without a downshift.
With a standard six-speed manual transmission, the CTS-V sedan is EPA-rated at 14 mpg city and 19 mpg highway. Opt for the six-speed automatic and economy drops to 12 mpg city and 18 mpg highway.
Like the CTS on which it's based, the CTS-V received five-star ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in every test other than rollover protection, where it scored four stars. It earned top marks in all tests performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, resulting in a Top Safety Pick designation.
Standard safety features include active front head restraints, front and side impact airbags and front and rear head curtain airbags.
Take the 2013 Cadillac CTS-V out of Touring mode and select the Sport setting and the car really comes alive. With the suspension stiffened up and the steering weighted a bit heavier, every bump and crease in the road is fed back to the driver. The adaptive suspensions minute adjustments allow the vehicle to maximize traction. Despite its weight, handling remains neutral even in tight corners.
But when high levels of performance are unnecessary, switching back to Touring mode makes the V as docile as any regular CTS. It's truly a sleeping giant that can be as restrained or as raucous as you'd like.
Other Cars to Consider
Lexus IS-F: The Lexus is $3,000 cheaper, but we much prefer the CTS-Vs driving experience, which keeps the driver better connected with what's going on at asphalt level. The IS-F's computer controlled systems are impressive, but they distance the driver from the experience.
BMW M3: Yes, the CTS-V was the fastest production sedan to go round the 'Ring, yet we suspect it was a lot more work to keep under control than the M3. The M3 feels much more neutral and easier to take right up to its limit. However, it is a lot harsher on the road than the CTS.
Jaguar XFR: The XFR also comes with a supercharged V8, but the Jag has "only" 510 horsepower on tap. However, you get a lot more equipment as standard -as you should, considering its much higher starting price of $83,200.
Frankly, this Caddy should cost more. The one limitation is that the CTS-V doesn't come in a lot of trim levels, so you have fewer choices versus some more expensive European brands. We do recommend you stick with the standard six-speed manual and opt for the Recaro seats.