Pulling up to the American Club in Kohler, Wisconsin, in the 2016 Cadillac CTS-V ($84,999), making my way past the high redbrick entranceway, a Cadillac DTS lazily peaked its nose out from between a row of cars to my left as if it were greeting us, welcoming the new CTS-V to one of the most longstanding, privileged families in America. But the DTS, clad in a pale champagne color popular with Florida retirees, and the CTS-V, one of the newest additions to the Cadillac family (along with the ATS-V) and the biggest and most serious step taken on to the world stage by the brand, couldn’t be more different. The CTS-V has fallen far from the family tree, and in this case rebellious progeny need to be praised.
In 2002, Cadillac revamped their look to take on the lucrative performance-luxury segment and ditch the image of the aforementioned Boca Raton boulevard cruisers. The first-generation CTS was a valiant attempt, but fell short; the second showed Cadillac was heading in the right direction. Now, in its third iteration, the CTS-V seems to have gotten ahold of the plot.
With its redesigned family crest, the CTS-V didn’t seem out of place at American Club, but carrying nine irons and playing a round of 18 certainly isn’t CTS-V’s natural habitat. For that, I had to take the new big V to Road America, a four-mile, 14-turn racetrack in the heart of Wisconsin. That’s where the CTS-V feels at home, and the only place in the area where I could let loose all 640 horsepower the supercharged Corvette V8 engine had to offer. And with interior draped in Alcantara, leather, with carbon fiber accents inside and out, the Cadillac isn’t trying to skew its message. There’s a pent-up energy that beckons the track.
Under the Hood
Engine: 6.2-Liter Supercharged V8
Transmission: 8-Speed Automatic
Torque: 630 lb-ft
0-60 mph: 3.7 seconds
Top Speed: 200+ mph
My first real taste of the CTS-V’s power was a quick punch through turn 14 and then a kick of power uphill and down the front straight. On Road America’s main straight, at just shy of one mile, the CTS-V was flirting with 150 mph before I braked for turn 1 (given enough room, the Caddy will hit 200 mph). But accelerating a 4,100-pound car to 150 mph isn’t nearly as intimidating as trying to slow it down from the same speed. In the briefing, before the track drive, Cadillac Chief engineer David Leone stressed: “The 2016 CTS-V has the largest brakes of any sedan on the market.” He then coupled this comment with a quick explanation of the custom F1-inspired Michelin tires that housed the brakes — both are features worth boasting about, but hard to trust until you actually put them to good use. I stood hard on the brakes, the roar of the exhaust piped down just long enough for the front tires to chime in with a moan, then I was back on the gas headed towards turn 2.
Rounding Road America’s famous Carousel at 85 mph, the tuned suspension and custom Michelin rubber kept the two-ton car from spearing off into the forest.
The CTS-V doesn’t hide the fact it’s a heavy car, but it certainly carries the heft well. Credit’s due to the Cadillac engineers who designed the suspension, aero and balance. Rounding Road America’s famous Carousel at 85 mph, the tuned suspension and custom Michelin rubber kept the two-ton car from spearing off into the forest. As for transmission, I found it better to forget the paddle-shifters and leave gear changing to the eight-speed automatic. Leone had also boasted about the .150-second shift time, but while that may hold true, between calling on the next gear and the transmission initiating the actual change, there’s a wait. The shift-lag forced me to anticipate the engine speed: as I approached the redline, if I didn’t grab the next gear in time, it would hit the redline, hang there, and then finally change (even though I already asked it to).
Along with the powerful drive backed by chest-pounding bigger-better-faster stats, the new 2016 Cadillac CTS-V now has the style and class to back it up. This is a car with presence. Cadillac designers have refined and matured the lines of the CTS-V over its three generations, with the newest incorporating the current Cadillac design language, inspired by the Elmiraj concept. The aggressive hard edges of the second-generation CTS have been smoothed over, made more appealing and mature. It’s a smart choice, since the ATS has moved in underneath the CTS to take on the BMW 3 Series, with the big brother Caddy moving up in size and rank to take on the more adult 5 Series.
Cadillac finally has an upmarket competitor worthy of getting in the ring with the European royalty it so often compares itself to. The look and feel of the new CTS-V will definitely land it on the cross-shopping list next to the Mercedes-AMG E63 and BMW M5. But if they really want to be seen as a better option to their rivals, Cadillac has to stop mentioning “the Germans” in every comparative statement they make. It makes the storied American brand look desperate to join the big boy club, when clearly they’re capable of being in a class all of their own.