“On this stretch, you’ll be hitting around 145 mph,” explained the Cadillac racing instructor, pointing at a map of the back straight of Circuit of the Americas (COTA), where I would shortly be manhandling the Cadillac CTS-V.
The fiendishly fast Caddy is about to be replaced by a car based on the new CTS. Before that happens, however, Cadillac wanted to send the V out in style, and give it a virtual Irish wake on one of the most demanding tracks in the country.
That wasn’t quite enough for me; I thought the warhorse that shouldered the burden of Cadillac’s transformation deserved more. That’s why I decided to drive it back from COTA in Austin, Texas, all the way home to Portland, Oregon –a journey that would take 2,490 miles and last nearly a week. Along the way, I would fall in love with the bruising beast, and get a hell of a ride out of the bargain.
From the inception of the first V in 2004, the car has been something special: an odd combination of German sports sedan and American muscle car. Not only did it push the envelope on the track, it changed the way people thought about Cadillac and American cars.
As good as the first CTS-V was, the second generation is an all-timer.
As good as the first CTS-V was, the second generation is an all-timer. It starts with the looks; the CTS-V sedan and wagon stand out. The coupe, however, is sensational. Thanks to the combination of sinister bulges and Cadillac “Art & Science” design language, it looks like a combination of a F111 Nighthawk stealth fighter and 1967 Cadillac Eldorado.
In fact, it looks so little like anything else on the road, it’s nearly impossible to photograph well. Shoot it from the wrong angle and it looks like a mess. But in my journey across America’s empty spaces, the CTS-V never failed to look anything but stunning.
Stepping out of the car in a New Mexican ghost town, with the desert hills rising above it and a rainbow seemingly sprouting from the car’s hood, I couldn’t help but think I had stepped into something out of a sci-fi novel.
Power for days
The Cadillac’s design isn’t the only thing that feels like it came out of science fiction. There is also the power. The CTS-V is equipped with a 6.2-liter, 556 horsepower, supercharged V8. The supercharger itself displaces 1.9-liters. That is not only insane; it is more than the entire engine in a stock Audi A3.
This galactic power is richly satisfying on the track, where it is capable of launching the massive V around corners all sorts of sideways and hammering straights at 140+ mph. But tracks – especially fast ones like Circuit of the Americas – have a way of swallowing power, leaving the driver wishing they had even more.
So it wasn’t until I hit the highways of Texas – where everything is bigger (even the speed limits) – that I really experienced the CTS-V’s power. I needed to make it the 800 miles from Austin Texas to New Mexico … and I was in a hurry. I didn’t want to spend money on a hotel, and I didn’t feel like sleeping in an $80,000 car anywhere near the drug-fueled murder-palooza that is the stretch of U.S./Mexico border near Ciudad Juarez.
Fortunately for me, I was in a car with more power than a Saturn V rocket. The first time I really opened the taps, it was to pass a column of semi trucks up a hill in west Texas. I dropped the hammer, the engine roared to life, and the thundering V8 and scream of the supercharger overwhelmed Mick Jagger singing Symphathy for the Devil. Despite the fact that I was already going 75 mph, I swear the rear tires wanted to break loose. And, before I knew it, those semis and that hill were a half mile behind CTS-V.
Over the next five days, this little teleportation act would become my favorite way to pass the time and further dent my already battered fuel economy.
Driving the CTS-V on COTA was frankly a bit terrifying. The combination of fast, blind corners with 556 hp being fed through rear tires produced the sort of raw, heart-pounding excitement I more typically associate with supercars than the supposedly saner world of sports sedans.
Over the one-week, five-state, and 2,490-mile journey, the CTS-V completely won me over.
Turn the traction control off, put the suspension and transmission in full attack mode, and the car becomes shockingly aggressive. On the track, this meant battling all-out to keep the car on the track and pointed in the right direction. But that is also what is special about the CTS-V; Modern performance cars do so much of the work for the driver that they almost seem to drive themselves. In fact, some basically do. The CTS-V, on the other hand, has a distinctly old-school feel to it. Cadillac has given the driver boatloads of power, an incredibly stiff platform, a race-style suspension, and told them to go outside and play.
This design philosophy may have made the track terrifying, albeit in a good way, but it also granted me perhaps the best driving experience of my life.
On the fourth day of my trip, heading from LA to San Francisco, I became very bored. And I was bored for good reason: I had spent all morning on America’s dullest stretch of freeway, the long straight run through the San Joaquin valley. I don’t know quite what prompted it, maybe the right song came on, or maybe I had just seen one too many fallow fields, but I decided that I was just going to take the next exit and drive until the navigation found me a new route to the Bay Area.
In short order, this looked to have been a terrible decision. After driving through a thin layer of orchards and fields I found myself in quite possibly the bleakest landscape imaginable: an apocalyptic wasteland of drought-blighted hills with dust on the road so thick I couldn’t see the pavement. Clearly, no one had driven on this particular road in months. But the navigation told me it was just two miles until a better road appeared, so I pressed on.
The navigation was wrong, and the road got worse and worse. Cell reception was long gone, and, thanks to the hills, even the car’s navigation was having a hard time finding a signal. This was alarming because I wasn’t sure I could find my own way back to the highway and I was down to around a quarter of a tank of fuel.
That’s when it happened. The heavens literally opened and a sun beam poured down in front of me, illuminating the country ahead. A fertile valley of abandoned ranch land appeared ahead of me, with a twisting strand of asphalt running off into a high canyon. I stopped the car to stare at this apparition … and to prepare myself.
What followed was the best driving experience I have ever had, bar none. The road might have been designed by god, a nearly perfect string of S-turns, hairpins, and long run outs. Fortunately for me, I had brought the perfect car. The CTS-V, for all its size and aggression, was poised and responsive, as I hammered through turn after turn. Each gear change, each apex felt perfect. It was as if the spirit of a racing driver had overtaken me. It was one of those rare moments where the car feels like a living thing, talking to me through the wheel and pedals, while its roaring exhaust note echoed off the canyon walls. That is a moment I will remember for the rest of my life.
Rest in peace
Over the one-week, five-state, and 2,490-mile journey, the CTS-V completely won me over. The combination of all American V8 thunder with supercar handling and sci-fi styling is truly something spectacular to behold. It may not be as polished or even as fast as some of its German rivals, but this CTS-V will be remembered when the same generation of M3s and RS4s have long faded into the annals of German competence.
In a few months, a new Cadillac CTS-V will be here. It should be a fantastic car, and I can’t wait to drive it, but it is hard to imagine that it will capture the same special feel of the outgoing car.
In the end, I am just glad I got to say goodbye in style.
- Wonderful, 6.2-liter supercharged V8
- Ferocious handling
- Unique styling
- Excellent Recaro seats
- Outdated tech
- Squirrely on wet pavement