06/08/04 — CTS-V gives Cadillac a European fighter

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CTS-V gives Cadillac a European fighter

We had some driving to do, some business to take care of on a warm spring weekend. So we made good use of our test car.

It’s not that way every weekend.

On those weekends when there isn’t anything on the agenda we drive for fun. And we drive to put a vehicle through its paces on roads that bring out the best — and worst — in cars, trucks and sport utilities.

Cadillac CTS-V, 2005

We drive one of several test loops that we’ve mapped out ranging in distance from 30 miles to more than 75 miles.

Our loops include several curving rural roads. It makes comparison driving easier. We know what a Corvette will safely do through a series of back-road curves. We know what a BMW Z4 and a Infiniti G35 coupe will do through those same curves.

These rural roads, in a sparsely populated county where hogs and cows easily outnumber humans, have become our road test laboratory. The roads are generally free of interference, inhabited only occasionally by slow-moving pickups and a few tractors, and never by state police.

But every so often business or family matters intervene and we need to abandon the laboratory and use the test vehicle for a road trip, usually punctuated by interstates and four-lane highways, for hauling someone to a medical appointment or checking on someone at college.

And so it was the weekend we were in possession of Cadillac’s incredible performance car, the CTS-V. We longed for our test road, but the CTS-V, with the Corvette Z06 LS6 V-8 engine under the hood and a 6-speed manual transmission in hand, proved a smile-inducing companion for the more mundane four-lane highways and city streets.

The CTS-V is the fastest and most athletic Cadillac in history.

And it comes at a good time to compete against the European performance uppercrust including the AMG-tuned Mercedes cars and the M-class BMW sedans and coupes.

The rumbling 400-horsepower Corvette engine makes this mid-sized luxury car a thrilling experience. And a finely tuned suspension, the accurate-shifting 6-speed manual transmission, giant-sized Brembo brakes and high-speed Goodyear run-flat tires give this Caddy the price of admission to the premium sports sedan club heretofore exclusively populated by European sheetmetal.

Move over BMW M5 and make room for this American upstart.

The already-popular CTS, one of the first of Cadillac’s new edgy designs introduced in 2002 as a 2003 model, has come into its own this year with two new drivetrains and an upgraded interior.

It is based on the new rear-wheel drive Epsilon architecture and was initially tuned for the road at the famed Nurburgring track in Germany.

A new 3.6-liter V-6 generating 255 horsepower is a big improvement over the original engine, a 3.2-liter 220 horsepower V-6. The smaller engine is still available, but the new V-6 gives the CTS the urgency it needs to be a player in the entry-level luxury sports sedan ranks.

With the standard V-6 engines, the CTS is a taut, maneuverable, fun-to-drive machine that gives Cadillac a competitor in a tough segment that includes such stalwarts as the BMW 3-Series, Mercedes C-Class, Infiniti G35 and Lexus IS300.

But the big news is the V edition produced by General Motors’ performance division. And this puts the CTS in direct competition with the hottest of the Europeans.

The Corvette engine churns out 400 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque.

Cadillac says the V can rocket from 0 to 60 in 4.6 seconds. That’s Corvette fast.

An enlarged dual-exhaust system offers up a muscle-car rumble putting a giant explanation point on the sizzling performance. The power is directed through a standard Corvette Z06 6-speed manual transmission that offers accurate throws.

The only peeve we have is that the awful first-to-fourth feature — the same one found in Corvettes — that forces the transmission into fourth gear under low rpms is part of the package. It’s a gas mileage thing that can be overridden by pushing up the rpms before shifting into second.

Suspension upgrades make the CTS-V a handling demon. This American dream will eat up the curves for lunch and then with a loud belch ask what’s for dessert. Another plateful of curving roads, please.

Upgrades include stiffer front and rear springs, larger-diameter front shocks, and larger front and rear anti-roll bars.

A cross brace between the suspension towers has been added to improve steering response and accuracy.

Cadillac has engineered the V to give the driver as much assistance as his driving ability warrants. Stability control is adjustable in a “competitive driving” mode that means that the StabilitiTrak system kicks in at the last possible second and only when the car is almost hopelessly out of sorts.

For ultimate thrills, both the traction control and stability control systems can be shut off via a switch on the steering wheel.

We recommend all safety devices be turned on and functioning when putting the CTS through its paces.

Stopping quickly is a sure thing with huge four-piston Brembo brakes. They are capable of pulling the car down from 60 miles per hour to a stop in just 115 feet.

While the back-road twists and turns are weekend fun, we found that we could point and shoot the CTS-V on the interstate, setting our course accurately and effectively.

And while the CTS-V has a heavily tuned sports suspension, the ride is anything but a killer on the stripes and imperfections of the highway. The ride is certainly livable.

Unless you are another CTS owner, it might be hard to distinguish a V from a standard-issue CTS. The biggest giveaway is the two large stainless steel wire mesh grilles up front.

Twin chrome exhaust pipes identify the V from the rear along with a V logo on the deck lid.

New instrumentation sets the interior apart from a standard CTS. The three-spoke thick-rimmed steering wheel is trimmed in aluminum and the door handles and shift knob have a satan chrome finish.

The front seats are well bolster and designed to hold the driver in place when things get rocking and rolling. We found them very comfortable on our 150-mile journey.

For the price of admission, the V is loaded with amenities including satellite radio, DVD navigation, an ear-pleasing 7-speaker stereo system with CD player, leather seating with suede fabric inserts and power front seats with power lumbar.

A few minutes behind the wheel will convince the auto enthusiast that the price of admission, which may bring on sticker shock for some people, is not too steep.

The CTS-V lists for $49,995 including destination charge. No options are necessary.

What’s necessary is somewhere who simply loves to drive.

And the CTS-V doesn’t need a stablemate in the garage for the routine commute to work. It can handle that daily chore in a docile manner while awaiting the weekend to unleash its pent-up fury.

By Jim Meachen
Published in Car Reviews on June 8, 2004 11:10 AM