New breed of Caddy delivers power, ride

This is a review that would not have been possible a few years ago. We're talking pre-Led Zeppelin music.

We're talking when Cadillac was Cadillac - which was code for "you're not driving that old man's Cadillac, are you?"

And then along came Robert Plant and Jimmy Page. With a few guitar chords of "Rock and Roll," Led Zeppelin's signature song that accompanies every Cadillac commercial now, there is a revolution of sorts going on at General Motor's luxury division.

Or is it the performance division? With a few chords of the Cadillac CTS-V's 400 horsepower, 5.7-liter V-8 engine (the old Corvette Z06 engine), it's clear there is a revolution with the CTS as well.

Cadillac sales are red hot. Styling is cool (if not a bit polarizing). And, with a factory-made firepower rolling off assembly lines, there is a domestic contender in the race from zero to 60 mph.

Turn the key on the CTS-V, and it's audible. Step on the accelerator, and it's obvious.

As one auto journalist recently wrote, the CTS-V is a rude jolt of a new reality. We're talking a greasy fast ride. With an all-aluminum LS6 bolted to a six-speed manual gearbox, this is the toy that all boys dreamt about. It's original. And it's totally American, built as a special performance line (or "V") in the same Lansing, Mich., plant as the regular (non-V) CTS.

Only 6,000 units of the CTS-V will roll off that line, but here's the catch: It's the sign of things to come. More V products are on the way in more products, and it's good news for those of us who don't mind that extra punch when it's needed.

Designed using Germany's Nurburgring racing road course, it is a roller coaster on rails - sticky in the turns while hugging the line of the road and hunkering down when power is applied to the pedal, especially with the high-performance suspension and StabiliTrak stability enhancement system.

There is even a gauge that measures the g-forces in the vehicle. That's cool.

There are bigger wheels. Eighteen-inch tires. Big Brembo brakes. And there is a generator of power.

Don't come looking for the normal CTS. You won't find it here. This is no leisurely trip to the in-laws' house.

Acceleration is tremendous at any speed. If anything, there is too much torque (or push from a standing start) for the CTS to handle. It is raw power. Brutal power. Blowtorch power.

The CTS-V is more than happy to kick out its heels (which are then reigned in by the traction control system) and spread its wings.

The steering is crisp and precise (not wondering or numb), and there is good feedback from pedal to tire to wheel. The ride is surprisingly comfortable for a sports sedan of this caliber. It is firm, but not jarring. Hit a pothole, and you'll feel it. Hit a smooth track of road, and you'll think you're sailing.

Back-s eat passengers have plenty of leg room along with an armrest with dual cupholders and a rear power point. Head room is good.

Noise level should be an alert. This is no quiet country cruise. The CTS-V's engine is a loudspeaker, and the exhaust is aggressive - which is about the way this car wants to be driven on a full-time basis (or the way gear-heads want this car to be driven).

As for features, there is a standard Bose stereo, a navigation system and everything else under the sun, except a moonroof, which is optional (along with upgraded shocks). That's all good.

Regrettably, a few things still need work. Although great under the hood, the CTS-V suffers from occasional wheel spin in the back, or something industry folks call "wheel hop," which sounds like what it is. Cadillac promises that will be fixed next year with a more buttoned down back end. For now, it was a bit of nuisance.

Other annoyances: For the price tag ($49,300 for the V-rated odel), there is nowhere near the refinement available in competing models. Cadillac has done wonders with its exterior and angular styling, but it has done little to improve its biggest downfall: the interior.

The only major problem is that's where we spend most of our time.

Besides the velvet seats and aluminum trim door handles, the inside of the CTS-V still looks like it was ripped out of a plastics factory.

The switches are not high quality the way they are in a BMW or Audi. It is molded plastic, awkward and cheap-feeling control knobs and too many areas where you could see that the job just wasn't finished right. Close my eyes and it could be a Saab. Or perhaps a Malibu.

This is Cadillac. Treat it the way it needs to be treated, which is, give me a quality interior I won't have to apologize for.

Bottom line: There is a lot to like about the CTS-V.

Engine power is No. 1. Dynamics and handling and all-out fun are the others.

Cadillac has indeed tried hard here. With a little more refinement (Cadillac outgoing general manager Mark LaNeve says the new interiors will "blow people away") there could be a serious import contender on Caddy's hands.

For $50,000 - yes, that`s a lot of money - you might have a hard time finding a better domestic that will blow your doors off the way the CTS-V will.

And that definitely wasn't possible a few years ago.

2005 Cadillac CTS-V

Vehicle type: Rear-wheel-drive, front-engine, four-door, four-passenger sports sedan

Key competition: BMW M3, Audi S4, Chrysler 300C

Base engine: 400 horsepower, 5.7-liter V-8

Optional engine: None

Transmission: Six-speed manual

Standard safety equipment: Four-wheel disc brakes; front air bags, side air bags, traction control, run-flat tires

MPG rating: 15 city/23 highway

Manufactured: Lansing, Mich.

Warranty: Basic warranty is three years/36,000 miles with roadside assistance.

Base price: $49,300

Price as tested (including destination and delivery): $51