In a category where Germany has always won, America is finally, solidly, in gold-medal contention.
The performance-sedan category has always been lead by Audi and Mercedes and usually is won by BMW. Specifically, the M5 was always king of the class in power, performance, handling and refinement.
Not necessarily anymore.
While the first-generation CTS-V was unfinished in a few critical engineering and luxury areas: the shifter felt loose, the rear axle hopped up and down on hard launches and the differentials sometimes fried. Driving it, the whole thing just felt a little disconnected, as if all the parts weren't completely bolted, welded or glued to all the other parts. At least when you compared all the parts with those that made up the BMW M5, Audi S6 and Mercedes E63 AMG.
With the new 2009 CTS-V, Cadillac enginers used enough bolts, welds and glue. And an awful lot of horsepower. The supercharged, intercooled LSA V-8 makes 556 hp. Let that number sink in for a minute. That's more than any Cadillac ever made, more than the base Corvette, more than the Z06 Corvette and is topped in the entire GM line only by the mighty and all-powerful new ZR1, which cranks out 638 horses.
Torque, too, is astounding at 551 lb-ft to the rear wheels, assuring that you could, in an emergency, tow your entire apartment building with it.
It does all that without making window-rattling noises, too. Engineers are proud of the four-rotor Eaton supercharger's quiet operation, just one of the many refinements that balance power and luxury so well in this car.
"One thing that we tried to do was to make it sophisticated, not a hot rod that'll beat you up every day," said vehicle line executive Randy Schwarz.
So this is not anything at all like the American muscle cars of yore, which had ungainly strong engines shoehorned into chassis that could barely contain their enthusiasm. No, this Caddy can turn and stop, too.
The most impressive refinement in "CTS-V The Sequel" is the rear axle. The first CTS-V produced a lot of axle tramp, certainly more than anything we had tested since the Caprice LTZ more than 15 years earlier. This one uses different-length halfshafts to eliminate the harmonic frequencies that made the back end jump up and down at launch in the old model. The limited-slip diff itself is made out of cast iron for durability.
While the suspension is GM's tried-and-true independent SLA at all four corners with stabilizer bars at both ends, the CTS-V gets an improved version of Magnetic Ride Control. Improvements to the fluid in the shocks on this model make them react even quicker than before to demands of the road. MRC changes the electric current running through the iron-rich fluid to make it either harder or easier to pass through the internal channels.
Cadillac also is proud of alliances with Brembo and Michelin, both of which engineered components specifically for this car. The brakes are four-wheel vented discs, 380mm front and 373 rear. Michelin spent 20 months and plenty of finite element analysis developing the Pilot Sport PS2s rolling underneath: 255/40 front and 285/35 rear. Both are Z-rated summer treads. The 200-mph tires are not only plenty grippy even for track use but are comfortable for long highway slogs, too, though top speed of the CTS-V is "only" 193 mph. And the tires should last up to 20,000 miles in everyday use, too, Michelin said.
We put them to everyday use but for just one day, half of which was on regular highways in New York state and the other half of which was on a track.
First the highway driving. Sometimes, a way to tell a comfortable highway hauler is whether you notice it at all. We spent a couple of hours in relatively slow traffic going up the Hudson River Valley, yapping away with a former colleague, and didn't really think of the CTS-V as a high-performance car. It was quiet, the engine was tractable and the transmission--ours was the six-speed Hydra-matic 6L90--shifted without hesitation and without a single clunk. If all you did was drive it around regular surface streets you might think, "nice car."
That wasn't all we did. After a stop at Orange County Choppers for . . . uh, who knows why, we arrived at Monticello Motor Club, maybe to get both ends of the socioeconomic aspirational spectrum, who knows? In any case, we preferred the latter. Monticello is a private motorsports country club with a 22-turn road course four miles long with 150 feet of elevation changes.
There were four CTS-Vs on hand to choose from. We started out with a Tremec TR6060 six-speed manual. In general, we like manual transmissions for the greater involvement they offer between car and driver. Cadillac calls the new shifter a short-throw, and it definitely is an improvement over the manual of the first CTS-V.
The MRC has two settings, Tour and Sport. We chose Sport and switched the traction and stability control off.
Earlier in the day, when the traffic on New York's state highway system had occasionally allowed it, we tromped on the throttle and were amazed at just how big a number 556 is. For instance, it halted all conversation inside the vehicle and squashed us back into the seat. Now on the track, it was even better.
With a curb weight of 4,200 pounds, the weight-to-power ratio is 7.55:1, or 7.55 pounds for each horsepower to haul around, among the best in the world for production sedans. The M5, in case you were wondering, is 8:1.
The Michelins held on tight for all three of our allotted laps, never letting go, never slipping. (Maybe we should have pushed harder, but there's a fine line between fame and infamy.) Likewise, the Brembos were never challenged, showing neither fade nor smoke all day.
The MRC did a good job of cranking the car down in turns and keeping the nose from leaping up on launches and when exiting corners. It was a fast, stable and safe performer. Maybe a little more feeling through the wheel would have been nice, but this is leagues ahead of the first generation.
Our next laps were in an automatic, again with traction and stability off but using the wheel-mounted paddle shifters to go up and down among the six speeds. This was our second-favorite method after the manual. A nice, big number on the instrument panel reminded us what gear we were in, though we occasionally bumped against the 6,300-rpm redline anyway.
GM engineering executive and racing great John Heinricy suggested putting the transmission in Sport mode and letting it do all the shifting. This was the method he used when he lapped the Nordschliefe recently in 7:59.32, the fastest ever (as far as anyone can tell) for a production sedan. Who were we to argue with Heinricy, a guy who uses drivers skinnier than us to clean the spokes on his race wheels.
So we tried that setup, too. Heinricy said the transmission would figure out pretty quickly that you were serious about lapping and would downshift for you as you entered a turn. This was true to an extent, but it always seemed to downshift later than we would have preferred, tweaking the car just a bit where we would have preferred to be putting down smooth, even power. We probably weren't going fast enough. We never are.
Ultimately, we liked the manual transmission with everything shut off, same as with any performance car.
So, is this better than an M5? We didn't have an M5 there that day, so we can't say. But we'd sure like to get an M5, RS6, E63 AMG and a CTS-V together and find out.
Pricing was not available as of press time, but expect it to be--just our guess here--a little more than 60k. Deliveries should start in a few weeks.