Since its 2008 redesign, the Cadillac CTS has been a car you could point to as evidence that GM can build world-class cars. It's classy, through and through, and proves that when the automaker puts its considerable resources behind a product, it can compete with the best of most of its competitors. You may notice I said "most"...
The CTS can go toe-to-toe with its Mercedes, Audi and Lexus rivals. While it does hit on some of the driving characteristics that make BMWs so revered, its driving experience doesn't fire on all cylinders, if you will.
The new CTS and CTS-V coupes covered in this review continue that trend. They offer distinctive style and — in V-Series form — formidable power, but after testing both these cars I can't see many driving enthusiasts choosing them over a comparable BMW. Seat-comfort problems hurt the coupes even more.
The CTS lineup has expanded considerably over the years, and for 2011 the car is available as a sedan, coupe or wagon, with V-Series variants for all the body styles. For a comparison, click here.
Meet the Wedge
The CTS sedan's exterior is angular, but the new CTS coupe takes the design theme to a new level. There are creases everywhere, and while most meet and intersect to create a unique-looking coupe that's instantly recognizable as a Cadillac, they don't do the trick at the rear of the car.
One of the issues is that the coupe's trunklid is quite tall. That probably makes for enhanced trunk space, but it also creates an aesthetic problem — and a visibility one. In many cars, you can get by just fine without a backup camera, but the CTS coupe's tail is so tall that the optional camera is not just useful, it borders on necessary. The rising rear also gives the coupe a bustled shape at the back that's not the most flattering.
V-Series coupes have a number of special styling cues, like a mesh chrome grille in place of the regular coupe's eggcrate design. I like the eggcrate look a lot and wouldn't have minded if it had carried over to the CTS-V. The CTS-V's hood also has a pronounced power bulge.
It's worth mentioning that the CTS-V generated quite a bit of attention during a video shoot. A number of passers-by came over to ask about it and get a closer look. The attention was even more notable because our test car was painted a relatively anonymous color: Thunder Gray, a $995 option. People knew what the car was, and that's a testament to its design.
Ride & Handling
The regular CTS coupe's ride quality strikes a nice middle ground. There's a firmness to the tuning that's expected in a car like this, but Cadillac hasn't gone overboard and created a bone-jarring setup.
It handles rougher stretches of pavement pretty well; you'll know when you hit a bump or dip, but you won't regret it for the next minute.
The coupe's steering and handling, however, seem like the outgrowth of an identity crisis within Cadillac. It's as if some of its product planners wanted the car to behave like a Lexus, while the others were shooting for a BMW. They ended up with a combination of the two.
The quick-reacting steering conveys a feeling of agility, but the wheel has quite a bit of power assist and not much road feel, which will disappoint some enthusiasts. By comparison, it takes more muscle to turn the steering wheel in a BMW 335is coupe, which delivers more rewarding steering feel.
The CTS coupe can't touch a 335is in terms of dynamics, either. Whereas the BMW loves to be driven fast into corners, exhibiting a high degree of balance in the process, the CTS coupe hunkers down over its outside rear wheel but feels like a bigger car than the BMW (which it is). It also isn't as composed, so you don't want to push it as hard.
For a high-performance car, the CTS-V's ride is also livable. It's firm, no question, but it will soak up enough road irregularities to avoid irritating you and your passengers. However, switching the Magnetic Ride Control adaptive suspension from regular Tour mode to the Sport setting completely changes things. It lessens the damping, which results in a lot of up-and-down motions over even the smallest bumps.
It's clear that the Sport setting is designed for track work, and the payoff there might be worth the penalty in ride comfort, because the CTS-V coupe corners great in Sport mode — and pretty well in Tour, too. Though I only drove the car on public roads, the coupe stays flat without a hint of body roll during long, sweeping turns.
I like how Cadillac has tuned the CTS-V's steering, as it offers a level of driver involvement that the regular coupe lacks. You're still going to find more power-assistance than in a BMW, but the setup offers decent feedback. That said, it still seems more focused on luxury than on sport.
The CTS coupe's standard 3.6-liter V-6 moves this two-door smartly enough, but it doesn't necessarily feel like there's a 304-horsepower engine under the hood. With a curb weight of around 4,000 pounds and the engine's 273 pounds-feet of peak torque arriving at a high 5,200 rpm, you have to wait longer for the CTS coupe's power to build than you do in the turbocharged 335is or normally aspirated Infiniti G37, both of which provide more immediate thrust.
The coupe is available with a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic, which is what our test car had. It's a good automatic transmission; it shifts unobtrusively when cruising, but if you need to make a quick pass, just floor the gas pedal and it kicks down a few gears. (Though one staffer did notice some lag.) It's simple to initiate a one-gear kickdown by pressing the gas pedal partway, which isn't easy to do in every automatic-equipped car.
The transmission's Sport mode makes the automatic transmission downshift more aggressively, and it enables continuous use of the transmission's clutchless-manual mode; you can change gears yourself if you leave the transmission in Drive, but it reverts to the regular shift program if you stop making selections.
That Thing Got a Supercharger?
Yes, the CTS-V does indeed have a supercharged V-8, but you'd be hard-pressed to know it by listening to the engine. Step on the gas and the most noticeable sound is the burbling exhaust, which quiets down when cruising but still mumbles for the duration of your drive. The CTS-V's Eaton supercharger has four-lobe rotors for performance and quietness, so there's none of the whoosh or moan sounds you may associate with forced-induction engines.
The 6.2-liter V-8 makes 556 hp at 6,100 rpm and 551 pounds-feet of torque at 3,800 rpm. In nearly any other era that would have been an unbelievable amount of power from a production engine, but with the proliferation today of performance cars that make 500 hp or more, it somehow — inexplicably — seems ordinary. Cadillac says the car can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in just 3.9 seconds.
The CTS-V feels pretty ordinary in everyday driving, too. Our test car had the six-speed automatic transmission, and the coupe accelerated from stoplights with all the refinement you'd expect from a luxury car. Unlike the Chevrolet Corvette's V-8, which shakes the whole car at idle, the supercharged V-8 in the CTS-V has a lump-free idle.
It's partly this refinement that gets in the way of the CTS-V's performance aspirations. In most everyday driving situations, it just doesn't feel like a car with more than 500 hp under its hood. It gets around fine, and highway merging isn't an issue, but when you compare it with a car like the Jaguar XKR, which is powered by a 510-hp, supercharged V-8, the Cadillac's power delivery doesn't have any of the immediacy of the Jag's. The XKR leaves no question as to what's under its hood, while the CTS-V's performance isn't so overt. Perhaps a few laps at a racetrack — or a coupe with the manual transmission — would rid me of this impression.
The CTS-V wins points for its Brembo brakes. Six-piston calipers grip massive, 15-inch front rotors, and four-piston rear calipers clamp 14.7-inch rotors. The setup provides a level of control not often seen in a production car; the brake pedal is firm and requires that you exert some force to depress it, but the payoff is an ability to fine-tune your stops to a high degree. It's the kind of confidence you'd want to have for a day at the track.
Unfortunately, the regular coupe's brake-pedal feel isn't worthy of praise. It feels spongy and dull, and it doesn't give you a sense of what's happening down at the tires. You might be able to get used to it in time, but there are more satisfying setups elsewhere.
You may have heard the term "range anxiety" tossed about in reference to electric cars, but I experienced it in the CTS-V, too. With an EPA-estimated 12/18 mpg city/highway with the automatic transmission and an 18-gallon gas tank, the fuel gauge's needle swings toward empty at a startlingly quick rate. Manual-transmission models get slightly better mileage — 14/19 mpg — but both versions are subject to a gas-guzzler tax. The regular automatic CTS coupe, by comparison, is rated 18/27 mpg.
The redesigned 2008 CTS was one of the prime examples of GM's renewed commitment to interior quality, and the design has held up well over the past few years; it still looks modern and inviting in the 2011 CTS coupe. Contributing to the premium look are top-notch materials like a padded dashboard, stellar fit and finish, and attractive design details, like an optional pop-up navigation screen. All in all, it's a job well done.
Unfortunately, the CTS-V's front-seat comfort isn't as praiseworthy as the rest of the interior. I'm fine with most bucket seats, but this is one of the few cars — another being the Buick LaCrosse — with seats that just don't do it for me. Our test CTS-V had the $3,400 Recaro high-performance seats. They're firm, which I don't mind, but the backrest cushioning prevented me from fully enjoying them.
The regular CTS coupe's front bucket seats are even more disappointing. The seats have a contour problem; they feel like they're made of 2-by-4s — particularly the backrest, which doesn't attempt to mold to your back. The seats don't have enough side bolstering, either; I had to fight to stay in place during fast turns.
There's also a two-person backseat. I climbed back there, and the first thing I noticed was that the front seat belts are attached to the base of the front seat. That means the belt is in your way when you move the front seat forward to crawl in back.
Once you're seated, backseat comfort and legroom seem passable for a short trip (I'm 6-foot-1), but headroom is decidedly not; I couldn't sit upright without the top of my head pressed against the roof or the rear window — not enjoyable.
Standard features include antilock brakes, side-impact airbags for the front seats, side curtain airbags, an electronic stability system, and a tire pressure monitoring system. For a full list of safety features, check out the Standard Equipment & Specs page.
CTS Coupe in the Market
In terms of arresting exterior design and luxurious cabin furnishings, the CTS coupe has it made. Many coupe buyers, though, want more than a car that just looks great: They want something that goes great, too. If that's what you want, the BMW 3 Series coupe or Infiniti G37 coupe are better choices.
Not surprisingly, the CTS-V coupe comes off as a more enthusiast-oriented car, and its horsepower-to-starting-price ratio is pretty impressive. Despite all that, I never really warmed to it. There are a select few performance cars — the Porsche Cayman S and Audi RS 4 come to mind — that, for one reason or another, live with you long after you've driven them. The CTS-V coupe isn't one of them.
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