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Return to Glory

With the CTS-V, Cadillac combines performance and luxury

Nearly 62 years ago, Cadillac put its “Standard of the World” reputation on the line. It sent two cars, one with few modifications, one with many, to compete in France’s Le Mans 24 Hours endurance race. The nearly stock 1950 Cadillac Coupe DeVille finished 10th, beating some of Europe’s most prestigious brands, including Bentley, Jaguar and Ferrari, not to mention its heavily modified and custom-bodied teammate, which placed 11th. The French motoring press dubbed this car “Le Monstre.” No translation necessary.

For some auto enthusiasts, this 1950 Coupe DeVille marked the high point in Cadillac’s ability to combine performance and luxury. The period of the late ’70s and early ’80s was particularly bleak in this regard.

How times have changed. With the introduction of the second-generation CTS-V models in 2009, Cadillac took a major step in rebuilding its credibility among customers wanting a luxurious, high-performance automobile. Based on the CTS five-passenger sedan, the 2009 CTS-V, with its boisterous V-8 and upgraded suspension, tires and brakes, was bold, even brash. Its performance was breathtaking. During the 2010 model year, Cadillac added a stylish CTS-V five-passenger wagon to the lineup; then, last year, a fourpassenger coupe.

All CTS-Vs are powered by a supercharged 6.2-liter V-8, good for 556 horsepower. Lesser CTS models use either a 270-hp 3.0-liter V-6 or a 318-hp 3.6-liter V-6. Both are impressively peppy.

The CTS-V, however, is downright fast. Last year, a CTS-V coupe loaned to us for review managed to blast to 60 mph in just 4.2 seconds. That was with the six-speed manual transmission. A six-speed automatic is also offered and it has, in the hands of some publications, managed to knock three-tenths of a second off our time.

That Cadillac offers the CTS-V with a manual transmission speaks volumes about the company’s desire to compete with the best sports sedans in the world. The manual transmission features a firm but still easily operated clutch and a robust shift linkage. Going from one gear to the next requires slightly more than average effort, but the transmission rewards the driver with its smooth and solid operation. Buyers not wishing to get bogged down in such matters can opt for the automatic at no extra cost, other than the stiffer gas guzzler tax due to its poorer fuel economy.

EPA estimates are 14 mpg in the city and 19 mpg on the highway with the manual transmission, which prompts a $1,300 gas-guzzler surcharge. The automatic, rated at 12 mpg and 18 mpg, doubles that tax.

The engine and gearbox have been lifted from the Corvette. And not just any Corvette, either. The CTS-V’s engine is closely related to the supercharged V-8 in the $112,000 Corvette ZR1. Yet, the Cadillac CTS-V starts at just $63,215.

One area Cadillac dealer has said that many of the customers who own a European high-performance luxury sports sedan look at a CTS-V sticker and ask, “Is that all it costs?” The CTS-V does more than just go fast. Unlike Detroit muscle cars of a generation ago, which were wonderful until you had to turn or stop, the CTS-V copes well with anything a road can throw its way. Much of its reputation was made in 2009 when it tackled the famous 12.9-mile Nurburgring course in Germany and completed the route in less than eight minutes, a record for a production sedan.

To do this, the CTS-V features GM’s Magnetic-Ride Control suspension, which allows the driver to tailor the ride and handling for Touring or Sport. The ride is firm but livable in the Touring setting. Switch to Sport and bumps become a little more pronounced. Regardless of the setting, however, the CTS-V was jittery over many stretches of broken pavement.

As for stopping, the Brembo brakes on our review CTS-V were capable of generating retina-detaching deceleration. They stopped this relatively heavy sports sedan in 109 feet from 60 mph.

The full performance of the CTS-V simply cannot be exploited on a public street. It took driving a first generation CTS-V on the racetrack at Willow Springs, Calif., and then trying the current generation on the infield course at Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania to reveal its true capabilities.

More impressive is the fact that this car not only handles race tracks, it can also cope with the daily drive. As ferocious as it turns out to be when driven hard on a closed course, it is thoroughly domesticated and very easy to maneuver through gridlocked traffic. Just sit back, let the air conditioning keep you comfortable and enjoy the Bose audio system while waiting for the road to clear.

The standard sport seats are comfortable, despite their somewhat aggressive side bolstering. Upgrading to the optional Recaro front seats delivers even more side bolstering and a mind-numbing array of power adjustments. In theory, there are enough buttons and moving parts to make just about anyone comfortable, but finding just the right combination could take some time. In addition, one passenger who has seen his girth broaden over time felt uncomfortably constrained by the Recaro’s side padding, which is designed to keep you in place during fast, sharp cornering. Big adults confined to the back seat will also wish for more room. The driver, however, should want for nothing when it comes to power, handling or comfort.

The current CTS-V proclaims that Cadillac is regaining the spirit that prompted it to send two entries to Le Mans 62 years ago. And rest assured, the current CTS-V would vanquish that stock 1950 DeVille in any competitive track event.