- Scott Murdock
A Very Compelling Cadillac
Some of you are in the market for a sport sedan, and it’s a familiar predicament. You need something professional and understated, with room for family and colleagues alike. Since you read Everyday Driver, you also want something that can put a smile on your face and make you look back when you park it.
The primary suspects in the fast, full-sized, rear-wheel drive arena are the BMW M5 and the Mercedes E63 AMG. Both are serious performers dressed in business attire. There is also an outlier: the Cadillac CTS-V. Offered in three generations spanning from 2004 to 2019, used CTS-Vs can be found in sedan, coupe, and much-coveted wagon forms–and there are even manual transmissions to be found. The CTS-V seems to be more of a cult classic than its German counterparts, so what can you expect from this American alternative?
Please, Take a Seat
Design is subjective, but I give this interior credit for aging better than many. It’s also good quality at the prices used CTS-Vs are going for.
Evaluating a luxury performance car from 2013 is an exercise in perspective. Many of the car’s drawbacks have actually faded, and we’re free to experience it outside of spec sheets and side-by-side comparisons. In 2013, it was a significant oversight to offer a $63,000 car without Bluetooth connectivity. Today, I don’t mind because everything from seven years ago seems obsolete and you can get into a clean CTS-V for less than half the original MSRP. If you care about that kind of thing, you’re better off installing an aftermarket head unit, anyway. There is no carbon fiber (real or fake) trying to pretend it belongs in a nearly 4,000-pound car. Seats offer the comfort expected of a Cadillac with just enough bolstering and alcantara to suggest sporting intentions. The analog dash is clean and uncluttered, and soft touch and leather keep the experience feeling high-end.
A turn of the key reveals that this is not like the other cars in Cadillac’s range. The throttle is easily managed, but hints that the last 95% of pedal travel is something to behold. Steering is artificially heavy. I suppose that’s better than most GM steering columns of the era, but don’t expect any feedback. In touring mode, the suspension feels floaty and soft. Sport mode tightens the chassis up significantly without being too harsh for everyday use. Magnetic ride control does a great job of transforming the car’s dynamics, but there are few situations where I’d take it out of sport mode.
Like all sport sedans, the CTS-V is a juxtaposition of luxury and performance. How well that balance is struck depends on your driving aspirations.
Finding supercharger rotors on your Cadillac’s boost gauge is like spotting a Metallica tattoo on your boss: unexpected and awesome.
As a daily driver, the CTS-V offers adequate space in the front and back seats, with a usable trunk. Rated at 556 horsepower and 551 pound-feet of torque, the long-legged engine consumes highway miles with ease, registering under 2,000 rpm at 70 mph. Still, fuel consumption will be a factor. The average fuel economy in my test car only reached 13 mpg, according to the car’s digital display. As with all depreciation specials, the car becomes more affordable; its care and feeding do not. Tires are 255/40ZR19 in the front and 285/35ZR19 in the rear, so a set of Pirelli P Zeros, like those tested, will cost more than $1,000. The Brembo brakes are excellent, but remember that reining in this much weight will shorten pad life quite a bit.
Aside from consumables, there isn’t much to worry about. The LSA is still a pushrod V8, and its internals have been strengthened to handle the boost from a 1.9-liter supercharger. The drivetrain is a simple rear-wheel drive configuration with a limited slip differential. Most owners with a basic set of tools should be able to handle regular maintenance, and almost any professional garage can handle the rest.
When the pace quickens, the CTS-V begins to shine, with the exhaust note leading the way. Imagine a baseball covered in homemade apple pie. Now, imagine that baseball being smashed over a center field fence by Babe Ruth thousands of times every minute. What you are hearing in your head is the engine note of a CTS-V. The supercharged 6.2-liter V8 builds power instantly; the automatic transmission is less responsive. General Motors’ 6L80 is shared by some Chevrolet Corvettes and Camaros, but it can also be found in Avalanches and Hummer H2s. Unlike a versatile ZF gearbox that seems to excel in any platform, this one doesn’t feel like it was meant for the CTS-V. Improved gear selection can be achieved with the shift column or buttons on the back of the steering wheel. Response in manual mode is quicker, and results in a much sharper throttle and useful (read: glorious-sounding) engine braking.
The numb steering rack means a driver must dial in steering input and trust that it will be carried out by the front wheels. Ample body roll can limit confidence at first, but authoritative acceleration makes up for it and delivers big smiles every time. Luckily, the right tires can give a car this heavy substantial grip.
I know this car earned its stripes at the Nürburgring; but, for those of us who are not racing drivers employed by a major auto manufacturer, driving the CTS-V at its limits takes more skill than most of us have to offer. Extracting maximum performance also requires speeds not suitable for public roads, and you’ll be eligible for overnight accommodations at a state facility long before the car approaches its potential. It’s probably best, then, to think of the CTS-V as a muscle car with enough handling chops to get you out of trouble once the road starts to bend.
Just like that, your garage became the Batcave.
The Cadillac CTS-V is a boardroom brawler. It’s like a coworker from accounts payable who got a gym membership, started competing in strongman, and is now pulling fire trucks around for fun. The chiseled lines and giant hood cowl make intentions clear, but in a world where everything seems to have fake hood scoops and four exhaust tips, it looks–dare I say–reserved.
Sedan buyers biased toward the sporting end of the spectrum might be happier in a BMW M5 or Mercedes E63 AMG, and that’s fine (I have to mention the Chevrolet SS, but the used market isn’t comparable). I don’t think it’s a knock on the CTS-V to acknowledge the differences compared to its European competition. General Motors successfully stood toe-to-toe with BMW and Mercedes without imitating them. Cadillac covered their bases with luxury trimmings, and brought it all home with a rowdy, supercharged V8 fit for the drag strip. Many buyers will appreciate that the CTS-V’s character is undeniably American, and those who don’t have alternatives. We should be glad to have so many choices.
To those of you in the market for a brawny sports sedan, happy hunting. The Cadillac CTS-V is a perfect way to sneak a muscle car into the office parking garage. Just don’t forget to make your coworkers buckle up.
Scott is a lover of motorized fun, whether on four wheels or two. A child of the 90’s, he has a particular soft spot for hatchbacks and believes all aging cars deserve a second chance at life. Scott works as a freelance marketer for Dingo Productions in Fort Worth, Texas. If he’s not behind a camera or a computer, he’s probably chasing down new coffee shops with his wife or throwing a frisbee for his dog.
The views and opinions expressed here are his own and may not align with the founders of Everyday Driver.