2016 Cadillac CTS-V: American Assault

Strong points
  • Aggressive, distinctive styling
  • Excellent racetrack performance, very good brakes
  • Priced lower than its European competitors
  • It will be the fastest car in your neighbourhood
Weak points
  • Poor rear visibility
  • CUE interface somewhat complex
  • No more coupe version
  • No all-wheel drive option
  • No more manual transmission
Full report

You have to wonder what the folks at Cadillac have against the Germans. Not the German people, but German automakers. The 2016 CTS-V is Cadillac’s second unadulterated assault on Bavarian high-performance sports sedans, following the launch of the 2016 Cadillac ATS-V earlier this year.

The CTS-V’s spec sheet alone should make BMW M5 and AMG E63 S owners quiver in their driving shoes. Its engine produces 640 horsepower and 630 lb.-ft. of torque. That’s 80 hp more than the M5, and 63 hp more than the E63 S. The car claims a top speed of 320 km/h. You read that right. The U.S. exchange rate on that is 200 mph. It is the fastest, most powerful car Cadillac has ever offered to the public in its 112-year history. 

We got a chance to drive it at the Road America racecourse in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, which is among the fastest racetracks in North America. There, we discovered that Cadillac has not oversold the car with its claims of high performance.

A tradition of performance

When Cadillac introduced the CTS-V in 2004 it took the company in an all-new direction. The car featured performance and handling never before seen by the American luxury car maker, and it began turning the heads of younger drivers. It has since amassed a legion of performance-oriented followers. 

This third-generation CTS-V continues that trend, and offers a level of performance that puts it in the upper echelon of luxury sports sedans. 

As mentioned earlier, its 6.2-litre supercharged LT4 V8 is the most powerful ever offered by Cadillac. The CTS-V can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds; because it is heavier, this time is only two-tenths quicker than the ATS-V. Despite all the power, the engine claims 14.1L/100 km combined. It can get as low as 11.1L/100 km thanks to a cylinder deactivation feature that allows it to run on four cylinders at light loads on the highway.

There is only one transmission available: The 8L90 eight speed automatic. It’s a fast-shifting automatic that can swap ratios in 100 to 200 milliseconds when using the paddle shifters in manual mode. It is the same transmission offered in the automatic ATS-V, but has been reprogrammed for the CTS-V. 

Built to drive, hard

Although the chassis is based on the CTS platform, it has received some extensive modifications that increase rigidity and improve handling. 

The front suspension has been upgraded with stronger ball joints and links, spring rates are stiffer, and the stabiliser bar is stiffer, improving roll stiffness by 20 percent. There are chassis reinforcing items like a strut tower brace, a V-brace in the engine compartment, a reinforced rocker bulkhead, a streamlined aluminum shear pane bolted to the frame beneath the engine, and upper tie-bar to bumper braces, that all contribute to a 25 percent increase in structural rigidity.

At the rear is an electronically controlled limited slip differential that transfers power to the wheel with less traction to improve cornering. Asymmetric half shafts eliminate wheel hop under hard acceleration. 

Brembo provides the brake components, with massive six-piston calipers and oversized 390-mm floating front discs and 365 mm solid rear discs. 

Cadillac emphasised the braking system, claiming it was designed to handle the rigours of track driving, as delivered; an owner need not spend extra to equip the CTS-V with “track” brakes, like the Germans need to do—it’s ready to hit the track as soon as it leaves the showroom.

The Magnetic Ride suspension is firm, and is adjustable via the four drive modes: Tour, Sport, Track and Snow. The drive modes also adjust throttle sensitivity, transmission shift points, power delivery, and exhaust sound. 

New inside and out

The V has a more aggressive fascia than the CTS, with twin grille openings to accommodate the engine and transmission radiators. The hood is vented and is made of lightweight carbon fibre. An optional carbon-fibre package includes a hood vent, spoiler, front splitter and read diffuser made from the lightweight material. Wheels are 19-inches, on which you will find Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires (265/35ZR19 in the front, 295/30ZR19 in the rear), which provide enough grip to generate almost 1 G of lateral force when turning.

The interior features a nice blend of luxury and performance.  Our test cars were equipped with optional 18-way Recaro seats, which are deeply sculpted and can be adjusted to hug you tightly and hold you in place for hard cornering. 

The CTS-V comes standard with a GPS-enabled Performance Data Recorder that captures both track data and high-definition on-board video. It is controlled via the CUE touchscreen, which offers tactile feedback when making on-screen selections. Unfortunately, at least for me, the CUE interface seems a bit finicky, sometimes requiring multiple attempts before a selection can be made.

Putting the pedal to the metal

The CTS-V uses a non-turbocharged V8, which means it should have an aurally seductive sound. It does sound sweet on start up, with a rich V8 drone, but it is surprisingly subdued at speed for such a high-performance engine. The German V8s are loud, almost to the point of being annoying to some (not to me!). At a distance and at speed, the Cadillac sounds more like a jet fighter than a NASCAR racer. 

The engine pulls with relentless, brute force. This was especially emphasised along Road America’s 1.3-kilometre straight, which includes a relatively steep uphill portion. The CTS-V forcefully clawed its way up the hill, recording 154 mph (248 km/h) on the Performance Data Recorder before I hit the big Brembos to slow for the 110-km/h, 90-degree Turn 1. 

As the folks from Cadillac claimed, the brakes were meant for this kind of abuse, and they managed repeated hard braking from very high speeds with only some minor pedal fade. The ATS-V I'd driven just a few weeks earlier had better brake feel, but it is also a lighter car than the CTS-V, which weighs in at 1,880 kg.

Despite its weight, it handled a very aggressive track pace with remarkable composure in Track mode, cornering and accelerating with vigour. Some understeer could be felt in the long, right-hand carousel, which arcs at a constant radius for more that 180 degrees. This understeer was very easy to manage by maintaining a steady throttle through the corner.

Turn in feedback isn't as communicative as in the smaller, more nimble ATS-V, but there is minimal body roll and no discernible flex in the chassis.

The final word

The 2016 Cadillac CTS-V proved to be faster and more nimble than it has a right to be. It handles like the best of its European rivals. On the road it is not as plush or quiet as its CTS sibling. The CTS, which I had the opportunity to drive on the day of my arrival, has a quieter interior, with less tire noise infiltrating the cabin.

If you want a plush, pampered ride, opt for the CTS. If you want to stimulate your senses—well jolt them actually, get the CTS-V. It’s about 80 percent as quiet and comfortable as the CTS, but with about 230 percent of the performance. 

And when it comes to its German competition, there’s no doubt the CTS-V will make them sweat. The interior isn’t as nicely detailed as some of its rivals, but the CTS-V is also the only car in its class to slip under the $100,000 price threshold, with an MSRP of $91,685. And that’s a lot of performance for the dollar.

It has raised the bar, at least in terms of outright performance, and it will continue to woo younger drivers (by Cadillac standards, anyway), and probably some who were primarily sold on European performance sedans. 

Cadillac has not oversold the 2016 CTS-V, though I suspect it will likely sell out quickly in the showroom. 

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