2011 Cadillac CTS-V Sedan Black Diamond Edition Road Trip, Part Two
By Chris Haak
In Part One, we read about the planning of this road trip, driving off the beaten path (sometimes too far off of it).
Shortly after we made the route change, we found ourselves on MD 51, with instructions to turn right in the next few miles. When we made the turn as instructed, we arrived at what appeared to be a parking lot and a small toll booth, with a river in front of us. We later learned that this low water bridge, called the Oldtown Toll Bridge, is the only privately-owned bridge that crosses to Potomac River. Why is it a “low water bridge?” Because it only works when the river is reasonably low. When water levels are higher, the bridge is closed because it’s underwater.
As mentioned earlier, the area in which we were traveling had experienced heavy rains in the days leading to our visit, so the Potomac was not more than 18 inches below the bridge. As you can see from the photo, the bridge has no railings, and we were unsure if the 4,255-pound CTS-V would be too much for the bridge. Fortunately, a full-size pickup crossed successfully from West Virginia to our side in Maryland, so we felt that it could hold the Cadillac, though apparently our safety concern were valid. We paid our 50 cent toll to the operator into the tin cup attached to a stick, and ventured across.
As you can see, we weren’t particularly far from the water, and the huge pile of debris that had washed up against the bridge’s right side, nearly over the road surface, was a particularly charming detail. Nonetheless, we did safely cross the bridge – even stopping in the middle to snap a photo or two – and continued on our way toward Petersburg, WV.
As we hummed along on WV 28 en route to Petersburg, we came upon an interesting looking small railroad, called the Potomac Eagle Scenic Railroad. Though there were no trains running as we were there (nor were there any other people around), we did snap a few photos of some locomotives and train cars that appeared to be nicely restored. The photo leading this article was taken there; unfortunately, the car was not looking its best after a few hundred miles of driving (a few dozen of which were on dirt and gravel roads).
Upon arriving on the outskirts of Petersburg (a town of about 2,400, but the closest thing to civilization we’d seen in a while), my disgust with driving a car with paint as beautiful as the black diamond premium paint on this CTS-V that was covered in dust and mud reached a breaking point. I took a quick turn into a local car wash, got $5 in quarters from the change machine, and went to town blasting the worst of the dirt from the car with the high-pressure nozzle. Soon, the car was again presentable, and we continued to the town square in Petersburg.
But Petersburg wasn’t really the destination; it was just a milepost along our journey. At the square, I re-programmed the V’s old-tech navigation system to take us next to Harper’s Ferry, WV, about 100 miles east of Petersburg. By this point, it was late afternoon, and we were again making good time, having sworn to stay only on paved roads going forward.
As we approached Harper’s Ferry, WV – the site of John Brown’s raid on the federal arsenal that was one of the preambles of the Civil War – we hit the first traffic jam of the trip. We decided to ditch the traffic and turn onto a side street, and the first restaurant that our iPhones referred us to appeared to have been shuttered some time ago. The second one, though – The Anvil – was excellent (if a bit pricey); I had the Chicken Parmesan. They had local brews on tap (not too much for us, though – we still had a bit of driving ahead of us) – and no wait for a table when we arrived. The place started to fill up as we finished dinner, so it was yet another example of perfect timing for this trip.
While at dinner, we made a hotel reservation for the evening in Winchester, VA – about 30 miles west of Harper’s Ferry. Why were we backtracking? I don’t remember anymore, but it could be that Winchester was a bigger town with more hotel choices, and not knowing anything about the area, we stuck with the name brand (Courtyard by Marriott) and were not disappointed. Plus, having two separate beds was a must-have, and the first hotel we called couldn’t promise that to us. Bonus: there was a hot air balloon about to land on the roof of the hotel as we reached the parking lot. Its pilot selected a nearby field instead.
We chilled out in the hotel for a little while and ventured out to find a theater. The Cadillac’s navigation system pointed us to a theater in the downtown area. We followed its directions and found nothing. We called the theater and got the recording with current showtimes, then tried the AroundMe app on our iPhones; still no luck. After more than a half hour of driving aimlessly around Winchester, Virginia looking for a theater, we gave up. Plan B was to go to the drive thru at Wendy’s, get Frostys and fries, then head back to the hotel. We watched Jim Norton’s comedy special on the HBOGO app on my iPad and called it a night.
The next morning, we hit McDonald’s for breakfast, then charted a course for my friend Doug’s house in Silver Spring, MD. We stayed on highways for this leg of the trip, doing a tower flyby of the Dulles air traffic control tower (figuratively, not literally), hopping on the beltway for a bit, then picking up Doug to go to the baseball game. He advised us to head straight through the city to get to Nationals Park, just skipping the beltway and basically staying on Georgia Avenue NW for about 12 miles (and 1200 traffic lights). We stopped for an early pre-game lunch at Hooters of DC, in Chinatown. Another bonus: free parking downtown on a holiday!
After lunch, we headed for the cheap “$5.00″ parking lot (which actually cost $11.25 once you tack on their $1.00 convenience fee (for not getting your parking pass at the Will Call window; how much sense does that make?) and $5.25 “order processing fee (including delivery) – which consisted of me printing the PDF on my own paper, using my own printer. But at least it was under the expressway, which meant that the CTS-V was parked in the shade while it was 99 degrees in the sun.
The ball game was great; although Roy Halladay wasn’t his normal dominating self – giving up 10 hits and 3 HRs – the visiting Phillies beat the Nationals 5-4. Nationals Ballpark is a nice stadium; it had working wifi throughout and good sightlines, with a classic retro ballpark design. Kind of like the CTS-V’s tailfin-esque tail lamps. As with the CTS-V, my only critique of the ballpark was what was inside it; the CTS-V has some cheap materials in its interior unbecoming a $70,000 car, and Nationals Park has repetitive food stands every 200 feet that seem to offer the same foods that other stands were selling a few steps earlier.
After the game, we had to head to Alexandria to pick up a toy for my son that I found on Craigslist. I had the address, and programmed it into the CTS-V’s navigation system. After getting on the beltway, it quickly became apparent that something was amiss. In the middle of the highway, I was told, “You have arrived at your destination.” So I pressed the destination button, set it to my previously-entered destination, and after a few seconds, was again told that we had reached our destination. I suffered through this nonsense for at least a half dozen repetitions (Einstein said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results), growing increasingly frustrated. Eventually, I called OnStar instead, and the automated voice response system didn’t recognize the address that I was attempting to get to (yet the navigation system did, at least initially). After connecting to the operator, she uploaded the destination into the navigation system and we found our destination. Had the car not belonged to someone else, I would have been more tempted to put a fist through the navigation screen. As it was, my travel companions thoroughly enjoyed watching my annoyance.
With the toy truck now in the trunk, we headed back to Silver Spring to drop off Doug, then headed back to PA via the beltway, then I-83 north. We swung by my brother’s house to show him the car, I dropped off Ryan, then I drove solo for the final hour of the trip. The final tally was 756.2 miles and 14.6 MPG. Though that mileage may sound terrible – and quite frankly, it is – that’s about in the middle between the EPA city (12 MPG) and highway (18 MPG) figures. It would have been even worse had it not been for the last half of the trip being almost exclusively highway miles; the “off road” portion on the first day really caused harm to our average MPGs.
Since my daily driver is a 2008 Cadillac CTS, I’m already very familiar with the positives and negatives of the CTS interior. It’s barely changed for the V; our tester had no panoramic sunroof (which in my car helps offset the somewhat-small daylight opening on the windows), but added heated/cooled Recaro front seats, an Alcantara-covered steering wheel and shift knob, and piano black plastic rather than aluminum-painted plastic around the center stack. Our test vehicle had midnight sapele wood trim as part of its Black Diamond Edition package (in addition to the paint, which looks nothing short of magnificent in direct sunlight, the Black Diamond package also gets you 19 inch satin graphite wheels with yellow calipers and throws in the optional Recaro seats, all for $4,850.
The interior looks great, the front seats are outstanding for all-day comfort while still providing excellent lateral support. I found the steering wheel – which is the same as in lesser CTSs except for its Altantara wrap – to have a sufficiently thick rim and reasonably small diameter. The gauges are easy to read, and the CTS-V adds tracer LEDs that follow the tach and speedometer needles, enabling quick at-a-glance clues as to the car’s status. While I’ve been a fan of the CTS’ cut-and-sewn dash treatment since I first saw it in January 2007, I’ve grown less enamored over the years with the fact that the “leather” on the dash and upper door panels could not be more phony-looking if it tried. I’m not saying that a $70,000 car has to have real leather on the dash (though it sure would look and smell great), but something without the pebbled grain of what the CTS has would be welcome.
The navigation system that Cadillac installs in the CTS (standard in the CTS-V, optional in the CTS) may have seemed as if it were state-of-the-art back in 2007, but the system has literally not changed in the past four model years. That means very slow route calculations, a lack of detail (particularly street names) on maps, no on-screen phone operation, no Bluetooth streaming audio, and iPod/USB compatibility that only works with a true iPod, not an iPhone. The sound system is fine, and the 40 GB hard drive for storing music is a nice feature that hasn’t made its way to many other vehicles yet.
The CTS is also really lacking in other in-car technology that is now finding its way into much less expensive cars. Things like lane departure warning, lane departure prevention, blind spot warning, adaptive cruise control, collision warning, and more can be added to a Ford Taurus or an Infiniti G37, but aren’t available at any price on the CTS-V. You can’t even get pushbutton start in the CTS; it has keyless start, but still has a rubberized “key” in the steering column that has to be turned rather than a pushbutton, as the Ford Fiesta (among dozens of other cars) has.
But turn that key-like protrusion, and you quickly forget the car’s shortcomings. The rumble of the big 6.2 liter V8 can be felt in the depths of your chest as it settles into its idle, and you just know that it’s something special under the car’s power dome. The exhaust is actually a bit quieter than I’d like from a 556 horsepower beast – especially one with blacked-out wheels – perhaps even quieter than the 3.6 liter V6 in my own CTS. However, you won’t hear any complaints about the car’s power. The CTS-V has enough power to chirp its tires between first and second gear in an automatic. Yet the Michelin Pilot Sport PS2s offer so much grip, and such high limits, that I didn’t dare explore those limits on public roads. I probably spun the rear tires from a launch only a half dozen times in about 900 miles with the car; it has plenty of power, but the tires are very grippy.
Naturally, those grippy tires help with steering and braking as well. The steering is very communicative and accurate, and despite sharing a 16.1:1 steering ratio with all but the base CTS and AWD CTS models, the extra width and taller wheel profile helps telegraph what’s going on between the tires and the road quite effectively. The giant yellow-painted Brembo brakes (15 inch rotors in the front) give a firm pedal and a ton of confidence that the car can be stopped from almost any speed in a very short distance. The Magnetic Ride Control suspension offered more body control, yet a more supple ride, than the FE2 mid-level suspension in my own CTS, and gives the driver the choice of “Tour” or “Sport” settings. We spent the vast majority of our trip in “Tour” mode, since that’s what we were doing most of the time: touring.
Though as an enthusiast, I was hoping to have the opportunity to test a CTS-V with a manual transmission, the automotive gods were not quite that benevolent toward me, and I got an automatic. I really had no issues with it, though. It blips the throttle on manual downshifts (which can be effected with either the buttons behind the steering wheel – not paddles – or in the manual gate section of the gear selector) and has a sport mode that holds gears longer, including on curvy roads. It’s sometimes a bit slow to downshift when in regular automatic mode, but that’s much more of an issue with a V6-powered CTS, not one that has 551 lb-ft of torque on tap.
Five hundred fifty six horsepower is certainly intoxicating, and once you’ve tapped into it for the first time, you quickly realize that it takes an enormous amount of self control just to keep the car near the speed limit. At every highway on-ramp the CTS-V met, I had to hit the brakes to slow the car to the speed of prevailing traffic flow by the end of the ramp. As mentioned in Part One yesterday, we probably passed a hundred different cars on two-lane roads’ passing zones. Each time, the biggest concern wasn’t whether we’d get past the car in front of us, but how fast we’d be going when we blew by the slowpoke.
The huge amount of power makes the CTS-V feel smaller and lighter than it really is. You can blast into holes in traffic in the blink of an eye, just as you might be able to do with a small, well-handling small car like a Mazda2, but you do so in the CTS-V with brute force instead. You’re likely to never lose a stoplight drag race in this car. Quite simply, by spending a week in the CTS-V, and having the opportunity to take it on the adventure we did, I had more fun than I’ve ever had in an automobile. I can’t afford a CTS-V, and certainly can’t afford premium unleaded at 14.3 MPG, but if I could, I’d trade up to one of these in a heartbeat.
Postscript: just this week, nearly two months after my time in the CTS-V, I received an email that said in part, “Hey Chris, hate to be the bearer of bad news, but we have a speeding ticket that was issued to you during your loan period with General Motors’ vehicles. Attached is the speeding ticket that was issued on 05/30/2011 to a vehicle while in your possession.” So despite seeing almost no law enforcement during the 756.2 mile trip, a speeding camera in downtown DC got me. Nobody likes to pay a speeding fine, but after time with this car, it almost – almost – felt like money well spent.
Note: for the full gallery of CTS-V and road trip photos, go to the end of Part 1.