It’s difficult to describe the raw power of a car. As a culture we’re so used to hearing and seeing the most ridiculous in automotives, from drifting movies like Fast and Furious to the highest-end sports cars on shows like Top Gear. Relating a sense of wonder, excitement, or driving prowess in light of such over the top attractions is a challenge at best, but after a week with the Cadillac CTS-V, I was left nothing short of ecstatic. This car is a beast.
The 2013 Cadillac CTS-V is a startling, masculine ride that doesn’t hug the road so much as it is glued to it. Packed with a 6.2L supercharged V8 that’s capable of pushing 551lb. –ft of torque from the 556HP engine, this Caddy in almost every situation feels like bringing a bazooka to a knife fight. Especially if you’re the kind of person who loves big explosions.
Big, imposing, and very sharply styled, the CTS-V Coupe that I test drove was an absolute stunner, even if it did have a very large rump.
While we typically write about the cool gadgets inside the car first, I want to change the typical auto review for this occasion because of the absolute joy that the Cadillac CTS-V Coupe is to drive. That is if you have a chance to push the car to its limits, or more accurately, to yours.
With the incredible amount of torque that the CTS-V can push out, driving through canyons, hills, and windy roads is the sort of luxury that you will want from this Cadillac. While the company’s many other vehicles are built for a smooth, rounded feel, the CTS-V comes with two drive modes, Touring and Sport. The former is for your typical drive to work: standard straight roads. The boring stuff. The latter is when you want to drive, not just muck about listening to satellite radio comedy channels.
However, the different driving modes is the first bump the CTS-V hits. Touring mode is meant to be the typical driving mode, but it doesn’t feel as luxurious or as subtle as it should. Sport mode is tight and an absolute joy to drive in; the suspension, brakes, and steering are all perfectly suited for the 4,200 lbs chassis. But in touring mode the whole vehicle feels more like it sways instead of slows in any given direction; it isn’t subtle at all, exactly what a luxury drive should be.
In all fairness I can’t expect anyone who wants an old-man-feeling car to have any interest in the CTS-V. It’s too sporty, and is the exact opposite of mildness almost to the point of making the car feel gaudy. But it isn’t. It’s a testosterone-filled behemoth in the sport mode, which is exactly why anyone would want to get it. The CTS-V isn’t meant to be driven casually at 50MPH: it’s built so drivers liberally hit the accelerator and brakes and can’t imagine doing otherwise.
Case in point, I drove the CTS-V through the Malibu hills, where several of the major streets are known for their tight corners, minimal space, and long windy paths. What began as a test of the car’s capabilities quickly turned into a test of my bravery. How fast was I willing to go down Kanan road, how sharp of a turn can the CTS-V make on Mulholland or Westlake Boulevard? Within minutes I realized that there was no way to properly drive the car down any road once unless I had some inclination to pay for replacements of the expertly stitched leather seats. Whatever road, no matter how perilous or how fast I went, the CTS-V handled it without missing an inch of concrete. It managed several 120 degree turns on a downgrade incline at over 60 MPH when signs pointed to 20 MPH as the max. I dared not go higher.
The felt steering wheel is posh and, unlike leather, provides both a sincere amount of grip and style. While I tested the automatic, the gearbox is still supremely built and both luxurious and sporty. The paddle-shifters are a bit silly and are only in the automatic, which brings us to the nonsensical manual-automatic shifting.
Manually shifting an automatic-drive car is already an obscure concept, one that’s been available in vehicles for the better part of a decade. The CTS-V, however, doesn’t provide typical “manual” shifting. It still forces gear changes on drivers no matter how poorly/courageously or well they drive. In effect, if you want the luxury feel of an automatic but occasionally want a real great time with manual shifting, the CTS-V is not the car for you. The automatic adjusts the gear no matter what the driver does, so don’t bother.
In many ways, the barbaric capacity for gripping the road completely contrasts how the CTS-V is for an everyday ride. That is, it isn’t suited for driving straight roads, much less driving in traffic. The V8 can roar louder than most $100K cars driven by the famous and wealthy in Beverly Hills and around Los Angeles, and it certainly demands the eyes of passersby, but it looks and feels almost monolithic, more savage than anyone is used to seeing. Or driving, for that matter. It’s so large and so imposing that stepping out of it one can’t help but feel that every entrance is a grand entrance.
At the same time all that power remains locked away, available when need be, but so rarely used. Considering the starting price of $64,515, that’s a fair price to keep a lion caged beneath the shell of a rhino, but then you must ask yourself whether you want the rhino in the first place. The raw power is bewildering and intoxicating; few cars can turn on a dime like the CTS-V can. The only question is whether you can hold out and not break every speed law within five counties while driving.
The Gadgets and The Inside
The CTS-V Coupe that I tested came fully loaded and stocked with everything, from voice search and navigation to a dashboard with more buttons than you can shake a 90’s boom box at. Surprisingly most of the gadgetry meant to bring drivers into the “smart” era don’t do that.
The CTS-V has voice-recognition that can respond to complete sentences. Press the button on the steering wheel and ask for directions to the mall, and voila. Voiced recognition is still a work in progress and my experience with the CTS-V is that more often than not it didn’t recognize what I was asking for and I had to repeat myself two or three times before getting the appropriate response or giving up. It’s also worth noting that some voices, my own included, don’t work well with voice recognition, though in my experience other systems in place do a better job than the CTS-V.
Thankfully all GM models come with OnStar, so if machined responses fail, you can always speak directly with a real human being. Aside from the fact that OnStar personnel are available 24/7 and can control many of the functions of your vehicle (unlock doors, send GPS coordinates and traffic information, etc.), the microphone built into the rearview is one of the first I’ve tested that actually picks up voice in the car properly. I never needed to shout, speak directly towards the microphone, or any other tricks that too many of us are used to with in-car communication. The same is true with voice recognition. The problem there is that it will hear you; it may not understand you though.
For drivers hoping to circumvent voice recognition, the step-by-step process to select specific menus by hand is some of the most laborious work in car history. It may very well be the cause of many accidents in the future, if users aren’t frustrated out of ever using it more than once.
Then there’s the dashboard, which is remarkably packed to the brim with buttons. As much as I love buttons, there are too many when it takes 30 minutes to figure out what all of them do. There is a button for everything, but all too often voice commands can’t actually activate/deactivate any of the features that these buttons control. And the few functions that actually require some simple button for setup – like connecting new Bluetooth devices – have no buttons or instructions (in fact, Bluetooth can only be installed through voice commands, something that is not listed in the manual but that I could thankfully find out through OnStar…after two transfers and the representative reading it in their own specialized manual).
In all the features which are meant to reduce the use of a smartphone take too many steps and aren’t as good as the iPhone, Android devices, or even Windows Phone. Smartphones are still easier to use for everything, and everyone will be compelled to keep holding a phone in the CTS-V instead of just using the car’s build-in electronics.
But when it comes to car-specific features, the technology is over the top. Warming seats that also cool through air jets that pulse by holes in the leather seats? It’s a sensation that feels like water pouring down your back on a hot summer day. Side mirrors that flash an indicator when a car is in your blind spot? Brilliantly simple, and it should be a requirement for all cars. USB connector for smartphones, seat memory, remote car start, internal hard drive for saving and storing music…the CTS-V can come with just about anything you want.
My biggest concern is why the CTS-V does not support Bluetooth audio. In this wireless age sure, it’s nice to charge my phone in the car, but what I really want is to never have to plug it in anywhere. So in 2013 why is that a requirement for listening to my own music?
Again, anything that a smartphone can do, Cadillac hasn’t improved upon. The USB connector for smartphones is actually more difficult to handle than just connecting an auxiliary cable and controlling your phone directly. It doesn’t matter whether you use iPhone or Android, a direct connection just isn’t supplemented the way it should be to make things easy, or at least easier. Even storing the phone once it’s connected clearly hasn’t been thought out: why would anyone want to put it in the armrest?
A quick glance at the road during night, however, reveals just where the tech spending goes, and good riddance. The adaptive headlights are the exact opposite of so many other gadgets inside the CTS-V: they just work. Drive through a mountainous road and the headlights turn with the road, not with the car. It brings an entirely different driving experience; instead of slowing down around turns because you can’t see the road, the car always – and I mean always – points those lights right where you need to see. And when adaptive headlights are gone, it’s as if someone took away your sunglasses. You can live without them, but even the thought of it is depressing.
As far as the technology of the CTS-V goes, Cadillac has certainly made a step forward in many ways, but other GM models like the 2013 Spark and Sonic, both low-end models, are better designed for anyone who lives by their phone. It just seems strange that the high-end CTS-V is such a step down in a few simple ways compared to these other vehicles.
One final note on the inside of the CTS-V: as a four-seater, the two back seats are horribly small. They’re clearly not made for an adult to sit comfortably; children will certainly have enough space, but an adult over 5’6” will feel cramped around the head and legs. The trunk is very large, which is no surprise considering how big the back of the car is.
Driving the CTS-V is best described as a trip to a theme park when you’re grounded. You have a great time doing things you know you’re not supposed to do, and even if you get in trouble for it you don’t feel bad afterwards. But the ride to and from the theme park is only filled with the anticipation of how good it will be, and the exhilaration of how good it was.
In driving the Cadillac CTS-V Coupe 2013 for a week, I can guarantee that you will feel the pump of adrenaline every time you push down on the gas, every time you take a hard turn, and every time you realize that this road has plenty of twists and inclines. The CTS-V is an absolute thrill. It stands out like a Greek statue, bold and daring, and every bit of it is exactly that down to the sharp edges in the chassis.
But it isn’t the car of the future. As far as Cadillac and GM have come in building a car for tomorrow, the CTS-V’s technology is still very much in the present, and more often than not in the past. The tech-savvy hipsters with the money will snuff out this overly-masculine automobile, if not for its nearly-abrasive design then for the seemingly old internal gadgetry.
No, the CTS-V is built for the love of the drive. Forget gas mileage, forget techno-babble, and maybe bend the rules a little bit. The CTS-V is just plain fun, and that’s something all too hard to find in a car today.