With the CTS, Cadillac began its vigorous assault on the buyers of premium sport sedans. Folks at Cadillac grew tired of watching the enthusiasts bolt for Mercedes-Benz, Audi, and BMW on the German side and Lexus and Infiniti on the Japanese side (not to mention the British and Swedes). When the CTS debuted, with its exciting, even polarizing, styling a few years ago, the excitement began to build.
With the CTS-V, Cadillac aims at the hottest versions of the aforementioned sports/luxury rides. With that attack, Cadillac's strengths and weaknesses come to the fore.
The car's biggest strength is surely its engine. The CTS-V gets an even 400 horsepower and 395 lb.-ft. of torque out of a 6.0 liter V8. Not only does that pull the CTS-V from zero to 60 in a brisk 4.6 seconds, but it sounds great doing it. The low rumble around town grows mightier during the occasional opportunities to press the right side pedal. Every onramp and lightly patrolled straightaway brought out the CTS-V's powers. Of course, I earned just 13 miles per gallon during my week; the EPA claims it got 16 City, 25 Highway, but they were obviously not pushing the car anywhere near its potential. Cadillac publishes a top speed of 163 miles per hour, although I didn't see more than half of that myself.
GM's engineers tested the CTS at Nürburgring, the famous German racetrack. For the rest of us, the CTS-V has a firm, stable feeling on the road. The Stabilitrak stability control system keeps the car going where the driver intends by automatically braking individual wheels when its system of sensors detects the need. Stabilitrak is integrated with the car's traction control and antilock braking systems. And those brakes are mighty four-piston Brembo discs with 14-inch vented rotors.
Styling is another strength. The CTS-V stands out from the crowd with its radically carved and sliced look. When it first appeared, it was a bit of a shocker, and the stylists at GM diluted Cadillac's design palette down for the more mainstream and larger STS and DTS (formerly Seville and De Ville, respectively). I admire Cadillac's nerve and guts with the new style, and it surely places the CTS into the range of choices for Baby Boomer drivers rather than the Greatest Generation.
I took possession of my Infrared colored CTS-V with anticipation. I had never sampled the 2005 model, so I was eager to try out the 2006. During my week in the Cadillac, I found two issues with the car that I hope will be remedied in the future.
The first problem is the interior. I applaud Cadillac for forgoing the pebbly fake leather look so familiar to owners of any GM product. Cadillac went for a crosshatch texture that looks appealing and substantial. The shield-shaped steering wheel center wears its brushed metal look well, although it contrasted with the metallic look of the door handles and pulls. The dashboard is adventurously styled, and the door panels jut downward with considerable machismo.
Besides the minor annoyance of feeble reading lamps and a prominent seam on the leather shift knob, the real weak spot inside the CTS-V is the plastics quality. Somehow, it still feels like a Chevy in there, and the Standard of the World deserves better. I think that GM can't match Lexus or Audi interiors because of decisions made in the Accounting department, not in the styling studio.
The second problem is with the transmission. The Tremec T56 6-speed manual started skipping second and third gears and pushing me from first gear straight into fourth. At first, I thought there was something wrong with the mechanism, but I learned that this was intentional behavior. This "skip shift" was designed to increase the fuel mileage numbers so the car wouldn't be burdened with a gas guzzler tax. And, honestly, with all that power and torque, first-to-fourth was no trouble for the car. But, it was a lot of trouble for this driver. If I were cross-shopping the cars mentioned at the top of this story, I would never be excluded from the gear of my choice in any of them.
I spoke with a very knowledgeable product communications manager from GM's Vehicle Engineering Center. He told me that if I simply accelerated more vigorously, the car would let me use the missing gears. As we were riding in a Corvette at the time, with the same transmission, I tried it and he's right. But-if the annoying gearbox encourages more vigorous, fuel-consuming behavior from the driver, isn't it meeting the letter, but not the spirit, of the EPA mileage standards?
The CTS-V lists at $50,675, plus a $720 destination charge. My fully-equipped tester had only the premium paint ($995!) on top of that. Fifty grand seems to be the entry price for cars in the luxury performance segment, and the CTS-V has nearly everything it needs to compete successfully.