Versus the competiton:
Extreme performance sedans like the 2016 Cadillac CTS-V are often so focused on performing on a track that they make a commute or quick drive to the grocery store a lesson in discomfort.
Not the 2016 Cadillac CTS-V. It’s gone so far to please daily drivers that some buyers might prefer more visceral delight from this 640-horsepower track star — just to break up the mundanity.
I tested the CTS-V on a fast track — Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis. — and around suburbs and rural roads over a few days in late summer. It’s a remarkable machine and, in a way, quite a bargain even at $85,990 including destination and gas-guzzler tax.
Cadillac has taken its all-edges design about as far as it can go with the CTS. It’s a modern look, but it’s aged well on past generations. There’s no reason to think this interpretation won’t stand the test of time as well.
The V-Series model adds a side vent that dramatically alters the car’s profile, as well as three air vents on the hood that are harder to see at a quick glance. As with past generations of the CTS-V, the 2016 gets a unique open-mesh grille instead of the three wide slats that make up the standard CTS grille.
I’ve never been a fan of the CTS-V’s looks myself; to me it seems more like an aftermarket product than an original design.
Ultra-sport sedans like the BMW M5 and Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG have a habit of reminding you of their ultra-ness over every bump in the road. In the CTS-V, there were times tooling around the farmlands of Wisconsin that I really did forget I was in a performance car.
The ride is extremely comfortable even on rather rough roads, and the exhaust that rip-roars when the car is in Track mode goes mostly silent when in Tour. But then a turn approaches and the CTS-V reacts like an extension of your arms through the steering wheel, and you snap back to the realization that you’re piloting something special. And when you need to pass … well, the other car knows it, too.
In between those times, though, the CTS-V doesn’t spark you to demonstrate its prowess. Soon after driving the CTS-V, I was piloting Audi’s RS 7 around Chicago and it was the opposite. While not quite as comfortable as the CTS-V, it was just on the right side of a rough ride, and every touch of the accelerator brought renewed interest in me opening it up. Perhaps Cadillac went too far to please those who ask for such daily compliance.
On the track, though, there’s little to quibble about.
Road America is a long course that shows best with cars that pump out a lot of power. The CTS-V checks that box quite well. The car’s supercharged, 6.2-liter V-8 generates 640 hp at 6,400 rpm and 630 pounds-feet of torque at 3,600 rpm. It drives the rear wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission.
It wasn’t really the long straights — where you could hit a top speed of more than 150 mph — that impressed me most; it was coming out of a corner and being able to quickly get speeds back into triple digits before the next tight turn approached.
Then the huge brakes — 15.3-inch rotors up front and 14.3 in the rear — kick in. I probably could have pushed the brakes much harder than I did. There’s another layer of performance in this car that a moderately skilled driver like myself won’t be able to touch, but that’s the beauty of the CTS-V.
The CTS-V does, however, make you a better driver on a course like Road America — or at least feel like one. I’ve taken many a car around this track over the years, and unlike something like a Dodge Viper, which tests the very limits of your driving ability just to stay straight, the CTS-V lets you go into the toughest turns with pure confidence. Maybe it’s the advanced limited-slip differential — or the Michelin Pilot Super Sport high-performance tires — but I was amazed at how rarely I scurried to recover the times I went into a corner too fast or without the proper line.
Coming up the hill to Road America’s front straight is a gut-dropping experience, and even with that elevation I was able to touch just north of 150 mph. That speed in that location requires quite a bit of effort, and of course a lot of braking on the other end. Two turns later, on a bit of open road, I was reaching 130 without effort — that’s a showcase for the car’s true speed.
The typical high-performance niceties are all over the cabin of the CTS-V, like a thick steering wheel wrapped in microfiber (the generic term for synthetic suede most associated with the Alcantara brand). The application in the CTS-V is indeed suedelike, not the feel of those towels you use to detail such a machine after a wash.
There’s microfiber all over the CTS-V. It serves as the headliner and seat inserts and covers the steering wheel, shift knob and shift boot. Even the seatbacks are covered with it, whether you get the base seats or the optional Recaro seats.
Let’s talk about those seats.
The base seats are indeed comfortable, and I drove extensively with no complaints from my finicky back. Usually I’m not a fan of Recaros because they sacrifice too much comfort for the “performance” of hugging your body, often too tightly for my taste.
These Recaros, however, I do recommend. Not only do they hug in a Goldilocks, just-right way, but because after hours of pushing the limits around Road America, I felt not a scant bit of soreness in my back. I was 45 minutes into my drive home from the event in a Mercedes C-Class before my back was uncomfortable. Get the Recaros if you’re checking off boxes at a Cadillac dealership.
The 2016 CTS-V and the regular CTS get Apple CarPlay, which I hadn’t experienced before this evaluation. (Android Auto will be offered later in the model year.) Integrated within Cadillac’s advanced Cadillac User Experience system, it completely takes over when accessed … which is strange. I did prefer CarPlay’s straightforward menus, and the Siri integration for messaging worked well, too. But some things Cadillac does well — like shortcut presets for functions from navigation destinations to radio stations — were sorely missed. You can go back and forth between CarPlay and the CUE menus, of course, but that seems counterintuitive.
The system still sits amid a center console adorned with touch-sensitive control panels for stereo and environmental systems. Many on our staff are not fans of those panels. While executed about as well as possible, it still feels somewhat odd to use these controls, which align with raised pieces of metal trim. You have to place your finger just right to get the desired reaction.
I’ve never been a fan of the motorized cupholder cover in the CTS, which is present here as well. It seems unnecessary and easy to break.
With 13.7 cubic feet of cargo volume, the CTS-V’s trunk sacrifices no space compared with the regular CTS — not a guarantee in a track-optimized car. Similarly, a split, folding backseat is still available.
Compare other CTS and CTS-V specifications here.
In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety testing, the CTS received top scores in all crashworthiness tests to which it was subjected, which excluded the small overlap front crash test.
The CTS-V includes blind spot warning, rear-cross traffic alert, forward collision alert and lane departure warning. All these features alert the driver by vibrating the driver’s seat. Unfortunately, the CTS-V doesn’t offer the Front and Rear Automatic Braking System that’s optional on the CTS. With this option, the CTS scores superior in IIHS’ front crash prevention rating. With collision alert only, its rating is basic.
It’s not easy to say $85,990 is a bargain, especially given I just recommended adding the $2,300 Recaro seats. And you should really get the $5,500 Carbon Fiber Package, too, not just because it provides more downforce on the track, but because it looks better. So the CTS-V I’d want is $97,140 when all is said and done.
But the Cadillac is faster and better equipped than the 2016 BMW M5, which starts at $96,395, or the 2016 Mercedes E63 AMG, which costs $102,625. Sadly, I have not tested those two cars in the same way at Road America. But on the street they definitely sacrifice daily comfort that the CTS-V does not. (Compare these three models side by side.)