2016 Cadillac CTS-V First Drive

A million insects lost their lives today. Boxelder bugs and mayflies making the ultimate sacrifice in Elkhart Lake, their carapaces no buffer against a rocketing rectangle of safety glass. Their bodies gorily streaking into spangles along the diamond-faceted face of the Cadillac CTS-V.

2016 Cadillac CTS-V

Road America is a four-mile ribbon of pavement snaking its way through the emerald center of the country’s northern heartland. Since the 1950s it’s seen uncountable fields of diverse racing machinery rocket over its hills and around its 14 corners. I would imagine that on those occasions the tramping of onlookers and hubbub of vehicles, both competitive and commonplace, would dissuade a great number of our six-legged friends from making their way onto the track.

But today it’s just me turning laps. Inconceivably just one journalist, driving the baddest roadgoing Cadillac ever made, on one of the loveliest circuits America has ever carved out. So big-winged bugs made it out to me in a vast array and a tragic sum, and I drilled through them oblivious to anything but one of the greatest days of driving I’ve ever had.

For 2016 Cadillac has turned its CTS-V from a performance sedan to a monster worthy of the carnage described above. The words “epic” and “awesome” are hilariously overused on the Internet, but in the case of the CTS-V’s 6.2-liter supercharged V8, their literal meanings are fitting. The capacity to produce 640 horsepower and 630 pound-feet of torque is astounding. Feeling those outputs come to growling life under my foot arch, uncorks different reactions in my brain as the day wears on: first trepidation, next cautious optimism, finally red-eyed bloodlust.

A glance at the power and torque curves will show you that the charged V8 behaves more like a naturally aspirated thing than a turbo’d on/off switch. Peak torque arrives at 3,600 rpm, horsepower at 6,400, giving the engine lovely, linear power delivery. Even with top torque happening near the middle of the tach, there’s no small amount of the stuff when the engine first spins up, so launching all 4,145 pounds of Detroit iron still feels exotic.

On the roads around Wisconsin, using all of the available power is hardly advisable, but I have no trouble driving this fast car slowly (sort of). Ignition of the rear rubber may always be just the length of my big toe away, but it’s perfectly happy to rumble along past various cheese castles and jerky emporiums at 65 miles per hour (though that part is hard on my always-hungry, video-wiz co-pilot Chris McGraw).

In fact, in day-to-day driving, the only compromise one will have to make is near-constant sound of a potent supercharger doing its work. On the track, the high-pitched hum makes the Cadillac sound like a kind of Earthbound Tie Interceptor while underway at a full go. When driving with less pace, that dentist drill is still audible, and not mellowed with a V8 bark. I predict you’ll get used to it.

And, just like the rest of the current crop of magically fast luxury sedans – those’ll be the BMW M5, Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG S, and Audi RS 7 in the main – you’ll get used to first-rate ride quality. As it does in the Corvette Z06, GM’s gen-three Magnetic Ride Control runs adjustable front and rear dampers, and can make the chassis feel forgiving or unholy, as you like, at the tap of a rocker switch. Nineteen-inch wheels on strappy Michelin rubber give a tiny bit of chop to the low-speed quality, but I mostly don’t noticed unless I hit a particularly pothole-ridden stretch of road.

Inside is a riot of soft surfaces: leathers shiny and sueded, whole, and perforated. The Recaro seats hug my body without pinching or tiring me out over the day; supporting enough to keep me stable while charging through the track’s gravity well of a carousel. I’m six-feet, five-inches tall, and yet I’ve got just enough room to sit properly while helmeted – suffice it to say most drivers should have ample leg and head space. Other finishes and accents are mostly of the fingerprint-gathering sort. Metals and piano blacks and the big CUE screen all look great in the abstract, but I know I’m one in-car order of French fries away from smudging up the lot. Interior decorating tastes vary, of course, and I think the Cadillac adornment is of a high quality, but I’ll admit that no piece of design in the cabin impressed me half as much as the bookmatched carbon fiber on the wing, splitter, and vent louvers outside.But the two most critical parts of the facing interior are the steering wheel and the shift lever. The former for what it means to the immediate driving experience, and the later for how it can facilitate while staying out of my damn way.

Most CTS-V drivers will come away from steering the car with a sense of nonplussed indifference, I guess. My notes on steering from the first portion of the test say simply, “unremarkable.” But my sense for the rack changes at track speeds, where there’s enough information – still filtered, but available – to provide useful information about grip.

Pronouncement about the eight-automatic transmission (there’s no manual to be had) is almost the opposite. In traffic and on the street, I find myself playing with the responsive paddle shifters just for the hell of it, listening to that big motor spin up whenever possible. The paddles still work smoothly when the pace gets superlegal at Road America, but I find that the sportiest version of the auto-shift logic is well suited to sort things out for itself. The paddles are fun on the track, but I’m slower when I use them.The market at large says this should probably be an all-wheel-drive car. But Cadillac is not only sticking to its performance car heritage, it has worked like hell to make the rear-drive-only CTS-V stick to the ground and pull hard out of corners.

The car I’m tracking has the optional carbon-fiber package, which optimizes the balance of lift and drag to ultimately pin the sedan firmly to the pavement. It also reduces the car’s impressive 200-mile-per-hour top speed by a few clicks. Even on my most strident laps, chugging all-out up the hill and down the start-finish straight, I never see more than 155 mph before I call on the Brembos to haul me back down. So you’ll forgive me if I’m willing to give up two-hundo for a settled rear end.

But the specially engineered Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires, 295/35ZR19 in back and 265/30ZR19 in front, make the biggest difference in keeping the Caddy glued. It only takes a few four-mile laps before I start to understand how much grip I have to work with, and how well the Michelins complement MRC in keeping my contact patches fat. The electronic limited-slip differential is also a hero in this effort – especially pulling out of the slower corners, the CTS-V manages to keep all of its prodigious output steady flowing to the rear tires. Compare this to still more staggering ‘power cars’ like the Mopar Hellcats: the Cadillac feels almost completely composed, while the Dodge is always on the edge of obliteration. Thanks, tires.Cadillac engineers told me repeatedly that they didn’t set out to “out-BMW BMW” or “chase the M5.” Fair enough. My gut feeling is that former M5 owners might love this CTS-V if they gave it a true test, but I understand that what drives one person to purchase a six-figure (or nearly) German performance sedan might not be sated with a domestic badge. But the Cadillac certainly makes a strong case for itself when spec sheets are measured.

Take the previously cited competitive set from Audi, BMW, and Mercedes for example: The CTS-V has a clear power advantage over all of them. The M5 gives up 80 hp and 130 lb-ft, the RS 7 80 hp and 113 lb-ft, and the E63 by an appropriate 63 hp and 40 lb-ft. The Cadillac is the lightest of the bunch, undercutting by anywhere from 130 to 330 pounds, and only the all-wheel-drive Mercedes is quicker to 60, by two tenths of a second. But you’ll have to pay out of the nose to get those tenths: the E-Class is about $17,000 more expensive, base to base. Meanwhile, the Bimmer is roughly ten grand more dear, and the slant-back Audi about twenty-five. You pays your money and takes your choice, and all that, but even for rich guys that’s not chump change.I still owe a few thank you cards to the journalists that didn’t show up to Road America that morning. I lost count of the number of laps I turned, but I can say that I was on track more than off for nearly four hours. I had to pit in for gas on a couple of occasions, and to dump SD cards on others. I finally walked off tired, sweaty, ready for a good beer, and happier than hell. It was a fine afternoon, and I’m a lucky man.

Cadillac’s V-squad of engineers seem more good than lucky. They’ve screwed together a rocketship sedan that ought to make big gains in its posh segment. All things being equal (they aren’t, but it’s a nice thought) the CTS-V deserves to sell in better numbers than ever before. Just scrape the bugs off.

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