Expert Reviews

First Drive: 2016 Cadillac CTS-V

It's the thunderous applause after a Pavarotti encore. It's the foot-stomps and hand-claps from the chorus of 'We Will Rock You.' It's a Delta V rocket slipping the surly bounds of Earth's gravity embrace.

A frontal assault on the laws of physics.

It's the sound of the 2016 Cadillac CTS-V's 640-hp supercharged V8 with the throttle pinned to the floor and the exhaust baffles blown wide open as I charge down the front straight at Road America at 243 km/h, a frontal assault on the laws of physics that's interrupted only by the pressing need to turn right, RIGHT NOW, lest I become one with the pastoral Wisconsin landscape that lurks just past the guardrails defining the circuit's borders. No problem – the sedan's six-piston front brakes are more than willing to transmute speed into heat at a rate that would please even the most demented high performance alchemist, arresting the Cadillac's forward momentum just enough for me to lift off the pedal and point its snout in the proper direction for tackling the next bend in the asphalt.

The supercharger whines, oxygen and gasoline molecules being furiously pulled apart and then incinerated within the confines of the 6.2L aluminum block sitting underneath the CTS-V's long, shark-like snout. A bark from the rapid-shifting autobox announces I'm now in third gear, with five more to go, as the Cadillac's digital speedometer begins its second climb towards triple-digits mere heartbeats after negotiating a series of turns that would trip up 90 percent of luxury cruisers currently on the market. It's not even 10 am, but the CTS-V will be doing this all day, and loving every minute of it.

More, More, More

I must admit, I'm surprised by the all-new Cadillac CTS-V's on-track attitude. I arrived at the storied motorsports facility just outside of Elkhart Lake in the bosom of America's dairy country expecting to do battle with the longer, larger, and more muscled edition of what has become the automaker's tire-smoking middle finger to the Teutonic element that goes head-to-head with Cadillac for sport sedan supremacy. Instead, I discovered that despite its over-the-top drivetrain and less-than-modest proportions, the CTS-V is far more interested in collaborating with me from apex to apex than butting heads in braking zones.

The 2016 model's spec sheet is enough to put a tremor in even the most experienced driver's hands as they clutch the car's Alcantara-wrapped steering wheel. In addition to the previously mentioned 640 horsepower, the Cadillac CTS-V's 6.2L LT4 cranks out 630 lb-ft of torque, numbers that are fabulously close to the Corvette Z06 with which it shares its lump, and which represent a substantial increase over the previous generation's 556 ponies. An equally monumental shift in the Cadillac's character can be found on the centre console where an eight-speed automatic becomes the only transmission you can order with the car, ending a full decade run of third-pedal availability with the model (with the shift-it-yourself mantle now assumed by the more modestly-proportioned ATS-V). 

Dial V At Any Time For Immediate Assistance

Of course, Cadillac doesn't expect you to go it alone out there with such a potent weapon sitting underneath your right foot. In addition to reducing the weight of the redesigned CTS-V by close to 150 kilos, thus improving its willingness to change direction at speed, the company's engineers have also installed the latest and greatest performance technologies that bridge the gap between driver ability and a fast lap time. Gone are the days when the most ferocious Cadillac money could buy presented a clear and present danger to anyone unwilling to approach its limits with respect, as the new model replaces the early car's rawness with a surprisingly amiable personality that simply wants to 'go fast, bro.'

Sure, you could completely turn off the car's five-stage Performance Traction Management system and fly without a net, but why would you want to when even the third-most-aggressive setting allows you to hang the CTS-V's tail out during a constant-radius turn without so much as a chiming tongue-lashing from Cadillac's safety nannies. Doing away with PTM's 'Track' mode would also nix the sedan's launch control feature, which allows you to leap to 100 km/h from a standing start in a mere 3.7 seconds.

Aiding and abetting, as local law enforcement would term it, are an electronic limited-slip differential that works its own traction magic, as well as Cadillac's by-now famous magnetically adaptive suspension system. The latter feature has the uncanny effect of pointing a shrink-ray at the CTS-V, making me feel like I was piloting a seven-tenths scale model of the car. It's also worth mentioning that unlike the (expensive) optional carbon ceramic stoppers available from the usual cast of characters, the Cadillac CTS-V's brakes offer easy modulation and excellent feedback at any operating temperature.

Special Inside And Out

Despite its fierce body work and equally aggressive performance envelope, the Cadillac ATS-V lost marks with me earlier this year for a cabin that didn't elevate itself above that of the standard version of the car – especially in the gauge department. The 2016 Cadillac CTS-V doesn't make the same mistake. A fully customizable, and unique-to-the-V Series LCD driver display panel offers a full range of vehicle data readouts, digital representations of analog dials, and exciting graphics erase any thought that this is any kind of standard four-door luxury apparatus. Optional Recaro race seats with more adjustability than a Gumby doll can also be added to the car, and of course, the usual raft of premium features and next-level advanced safety equipment is also in the cards for the Cadillac.

That last point is an important one, because when it’s time to drive home from the track on Sunday night, if you closed your eyes you'd be hard-pressed to identify the Cadillac as a cruise missile in disguise. With the suspension set to Tour, the car's exhaust note is muted and respectful, the ride prizes compliance over corsa, and the interior's near-silence approaches library levels. This was underscored for me when the LT4's cooling system kicked itself into overdrive while I was standing beside the front fender, the fans screaming through the Cadillac's hood vents with the piercing quality of an air raid siren. I retreated to the front seat and closed the door, whereupon the noise ceased - making me wonder how many times that day the same sequence of events had taken place in the engine bay, completely off my luxury-cocooned radar.

Kicking Down The Door

Cadillac's biggest problem on the luxury marketplace isn't product, it's perception. The 2016 Cadillac CTS-V is, from any quantitative measure, the best sport sedan that the brand has ever produced. However, with a sticker price in the $90K range, it flies under the radar of wealthy autoscenti not used to shopping below the six-figure mark. It's hard to imagine a reality where a generously sized, 640-hp car that can top 320 km/h at the top end is in any way invisible to the very customers it aims to charm, but there's very little about high-end auto sales that adheres to any discernible logic.

It would be unreasonable to ask Cadillac's engineers to come up with a better car than the new CTS-V. From the driver's seat – and even just standing alongside it and soaking up its extroverted, yet classy visual composition – it's also difficult to come up with a list of names in its segment that I'd rather have in my driveway. Here's hoping that the third-generation of the V Series model that heralded Cadillac's 21st century rebirth will roar too loudly for well-heeled customers to ignore.