Inexplicably, in the teeth of the Great Depression, America’s luxury car brands got into a war to see which could offer the most cylinders. Many of them replaced their grand straight-eight engines with outrageous V12s. Furthermore, Cadillac seemed to take this as a cue to go completely cylinder-berserk, topping its own extraordinary V12 with an even more spectacular V16. Today it’s remembered as both a dizzying apex in engine sophistication and complete and total marketing insanity.
A generation later, when this excess had been forgotten, Cadillac got carried away again, building the world’s epic examples of towering tail-fins, bullet bumpers and glistening chrome. After a couple of beguiling summers, the driving public came to their senses, looked at these wonderful absurdities and said “enough already.” And just like that, Cadillac put the kiss of death on another moment of memorable excessiveness.
In other words, Cadillac has had a habit of holding on to the symbols that have brought automotive epochs to an end.
Which makes me wonder if – with this new CTS-V Coupe – Cadillac isn’t raising those era-ending symbols again. Cadillac’s crazy car this decade is a scary-looking two-door based on America’s all-time-fastest four-door, the terrifying CTS-V sedan. A car that, until the Porsche Panamera Turbo came along, had produced the fastest lap for a production sedan (on stock tires) around the Nurburgring’s fabled North Loop.
There are two distinct parts to the CTS-V Coupe story: its fearsome drive train and its ferocious styling. And it’s hard to say which of them is the more fearsome/ferocious.
Let’s start with the extraordinary muscle that slingshots this 2-ton coupe to 60 mph in about four seconds. Whereas the standard CTS Coupe utilizes a 304-hp, 3.6-liter V6, the ‘V’ version hijacks the Corvette ZR1’s fantastic supercharged 6.2-liter V8 – which, in this application, produces a mere 556 hp. Coupled to it are two transmission offerings, a nice-shifting six-speed manual and a six-speed paddle-shift automatic. Elsewhere, there are other hot bits too, including Brembo brakes, Magnetic Ride shocks (which contain a magical oil that matches road conditions in the blink of an eye) and sticky Michelin tires co-developed with Cadillac. On the road, the CTS-V is indisputably fast – but a little uneven. For instance, I thought the car’s steering could be a little quicker-reacting and more heavily weighted. And downshifts in the automatic-transmission car I sampled were muddier than I’d expect a performance car’s to be.
Barely containing all the rippling Motown muscle is bodywork that’s Darth Vader on wheels. In addition to the standard coupe’s dagger-like shape are larger air openings in front, a power dome on the hood and twin beer-can-sized, side-by-side exhausts. But for all this evil beauty, one must compromise a bit – such as rearward vision that’s like peering through a mail slot and such difficulty getting into the two rear seats that you’re better off crawling through the trunk (really). On the bright side, the CTS-V’s interior fit and finish are top-drawer, a big stride by the Cadillac crew.
All of this is indisputable evidence that we’re probably heading for another automotive cliff. Forget rising gas prices and tightening mileage standards. They’re little more than hints. The only definite sign that the Cadillac symbol crash is coming for our era’s super-powerful, deadly-quick premium luxury cars is this very machine.
Kim Reynolds is technical editor of Motor Trend magazine.
• STAT SHEET
Who should drive this car: The BMW- and Mercedes-Benz-driving hoards cruising up and down Pacific Coast Highway may never be convinced. But if you grew up wanting a Corvette, though your station in life says “Cadillac,” here’s your car.
How it drives: Don’t expect anything customarily related to Cadillac values here. The sport seats are snug, the engine’s loud and its ride quality has exchanged “racetrack” for “boulevard.” All of which is what Cadillac had intended.
MPG: 12 city / 18 highway
Cost (base price): $62,165; requires an $875 destination charge
Comparable: BMW M3, Jaguar XKR