Review: 2012 Cadillac CTS-V Coupe
By Chris Haak
Cadillac calls itself the “New Standard of the World” these days. I suppose the implication is that the old standard of the world, when Cadillac made The. Best. Car. In. The. World. is of another era, and expectations are different today. For what GM and some buyers see as a “luxury” brand, it’s curious that Cadillac doesn’t even sell what many would consider a true luxury car. Though Cadillac is without a luxury flagship for the foreseeable future, at least we get a performance flagship. One that can stand toe-to-toe with the best of what the rest of the world offers. That’s the CTS-V.
Let’s begin by discussing design. In my humble and mostly unqualified opinion, the CTS-V coupe in Crystal Red Tintcoat, with satin graphite wheels and yellow Brembo brake calipers is possibly the best-looking Cadillac ever made. It has everything: presence, intrigue, contrasts, proportions, and attitude. Plus, as a bonus, you’ll never have to clean brake dust from your wheels again – and I’m pretty sure these big brakes generate a lot of dust. If I had to criticize, it’s that the rear quarter panels can seem a big large, but that’s the price of sharing a wheelbase with the sedan and wagon.
I was happy to have another week with a CTS-V; the last time GM provided one to Autosavant for a weeklong stay, it was a sedan and it was around Memorial Day weekend. It turns out that the car is a completely different beast in cold weather.
As mentioned, the CTS-V coupe shares its 113.4 inch wheelbase with the CTS-V sedan and wagon. It’s a big car, tipping the scales at a hefty 4,233 pounds, yet despite its sledgehammer-like power (more on that in a moment), it’s pretty remarkable what 556 horsepower and 551 lb-ft of torque can do to create the sensation that you’re not driving such a heavy car. The only times that the car’s weight betrays it a bit is when it’s not traveling in a straight line; at those times, you can feel that there’s a lot of weight on the nose, and sometimes the body wants to keep moving straight while the tires are pulling the car in a different direction.
Over the past five model years since the 2008 Cadillac CTS made its debut, what I (and others) once hailed as the best interior GM has ever created is showing its age. Big time. When Toyota wraps parts of its Camry’s instrument panel in faux leather that is less faux than what Cadillac is using in this car, it’s time for Caddy to step up its game. Seriously, for 73 grand, this thing should have real leather wrap on the dash and upper door panels. Even less forgivable is the terrible, old-tech navigation and infotainment system.
What was endearing to me in 2007 causes frustration in 2012. Radio station data is not displayed anywhere on the map screen. Route calculations are done very slowly and deliberately, despite the data being stored on a hard drive. The iPod interface cable, included with the car, can control an iPhone or iPod, but its cable is too short (the phone needs to be stashed in the console) and the control interface is cumbersome. There also is an alarming lack of detail displayed on the navigation screen (perhaps one in five roads have their names displayed, even when operating at or near maximum zoom). The car does have Bluetooth telephone capabilities, but the pairing is done completely via voice prompt, and Bluetooth streaming audio is but a pipe dream for this car, despite its competitors offering it for nearly half a decade. A Ford Fiesta offers that capability. Finally, if I am ever in another Cadillac that acknowledges a “Hands Free” command as “Enter Street” again, I will promptly send a fist through the middle of the touchscreen.
With that rant out of the way, the rest of the interior is decent. The optional ($3,500) Recaro sport seats are an upgrade from the under-bolstered, non-supportive standard CTS seats, but perhaps go a bit far in the direction of over-bolstering. There are myriad adjustments available on the seats, but no matter how much I fiddled with them, the seats continued to do a better job of holding me fast in corners than making me feel comfortable. Lateral support and thigh support is nice to have in seats, but there’s a sweet spot between that and comfort that these Recaros just don’t quite seem to hit. At first glance, the ebony/saffron interior color combination seems kind of odd for a crystal red tintcoat paint job, but it grew on me after a while.
When I learned that this particular CTS-V was an automatic, I was initially disappointed. What enthusiast wouldn’t be? In reality, though, you don’t need a manual transmission to drive this car quickly. There’s so much power and torque on tap that it doesn’t matter what gear you’re in – the car will PULL. I was going to say “pull like a freight train,” but that phrase is more than overused in car reviews. In cold weather, when the V’s summer rubber is below its optimal operating temperature – and its boosted engine can suck in denser air to make a bit more power – the car will spin its tires on a dry road at 40 miles per hour when you floor it. Even with traction control turned on. This car was probably the sixth or seventh CTS-V that I’ve driven, and though the power has been prodigious in all of them, something about the diminished traction from the summer tires made it seem a little less tamed, a little more dangerous. In a good way, of course.
I’d like to say that passing on two lane roads is effortless and drama-free, but there’s drama. Not the kind of drama you encounter when you’re in an underpowered econobox and a semi appears in the oncoming lane on the horizon. The drama from passing cars in the CTS-V comes from the explosion in thrust that catapults the car forward, leaving your body and any loose articles behind at the car’s former speed until they catch up to you. There’s also the boom from the V coupe’s center-mounted exhaust cannons when you try such maneuvers. There is a very pronounced supercharger whine coming from under the hood when using the accelerator with some degree of enthusiasm. I have been on record saying that I wish the CTS-V was a bit more boisterous like the C63 AMG and that its exhaust note was too tame, but this time, I felt like it droned a bit at certain highway speeds.
Interior dimensions are a little bit tighter than in the V sedan or wagon, but it’s not to the degree that you’d expect – at least front-to-back. When I told my wife that I planned on using the V coupe for our weekend errands, she and my sons thought I was crazy. “Car seats won’t fit in that thing!” “But honey, it has the same wheelbase as the sedan – which you know we all more or less fit in.” But believe it or not, we did fit everyone in the car. Of course, with only two doors, access isn’t as easy as it would be with a four door. Duh. Published dimensions show that the coupe has between two and two and a half inches less headroom than the sedan, and gives up a significant amount of rear seat shoulder room (about four inches) and rear seat hip room (about six and a half inches) to the sedan. Of course, the sedan has a center-rear seating position, and the coupe sports a two-plus-two layout with a console between the back seats instead.
The biggest story with the CTS-V is its supercharged LSA engine, of course. But the fact is, this car has what may be the finest steering system GM has installed on a production car. I’m looking at you, Corvette. The wheel is thick and grippy (thanks to its Alcantara covering), and it actually feels lighter at low speeds than does my “regular” 2008 CTS. It’s still a little heavy, but that’s probably to be expected when the car in question tips the scales at 4,313 pounds. The V’s big Brembo brakes quickly bring the fun to a stop. They’re actuated by a firm pedal, and though they may fade during extreme, extreme race use, they will never even get close to that point on the street, no matter how ridiculously you drive the car. You’ll lose your license long before you lose your brakes in this car.
It’s an absolute blast to drive. Even on wet roads, it’s not too bad – and a friend reviewed one of these with snow tires, and it did great in the snow. So why would I not buy one? It’s just too expensive. Don’t get me wrong – the car is a relative performance bargain at $73,000 as-tested when you compare it to an M5 or E63 AMG. But those cars have far better interior quality; there’s nothing for free in this world. If you want luxury-brand, supercar performance, the car is cheap, but it’s also nearly twice as expensive as a standard CTS. True, it has nearly twice the performance, but it guzzles premium unleaded like it’s going out of style. (Yes, “guzzles” is the right word, given that it carries a $2,600 Gas Guzzler tariff on the Monroney.) The 18 gallon fuel tank will get you 252 miles of range at the 14 mile per gallon figure that I saw more than once in my week with the car. Go very, very gentle on the gas, and you might touch 18 MPG. Start using this car’s capabilities and having fun with it, and you’re looking at 10 miles per gallon, or less. I burned through my first half-tank of gas in about 75 miles, and saw 7.9 miles per gallon on the trip computer.
For those who aren’t bothered by paying twice as much to fuel their car*, and can afford to feed it premium unleaded several times a week, the CTS-V coupe is a stylish, extremely capable car with more muscle than some race cars. Personally, I think I’d spend this amount of money on something like an A7, which is much more comfortable (and admittedly slower), has better all-weather capabilities, and is much more efficient. Maybe I’m getting softer in my old age.
*Half of the CTS-V coupe’s as-tested price of $73,380 is $36,690. I paid within a few hundred dollars of the latter amount in August 2008 for my then-new 2008 CTS sedan (RWD with 3.6 DI V6 and navigation) after rebate, employee pricing promotion, and GM Card earnings.
GM provided the vehicle, insurance, and ¾ of a tank of gas for this review.