Cadillac powers up CTS

AP News
Posted: Apr 27, 2011 12:32 PM
Cadillac powers up CTS

Cadillac's most powerful two-door model for 2011, the CTS-V Coupe, is a hard-charging gas guzzler that looks like a futuristic concept car that escaped from its auto show turntable.

Even before gasoline prices rose to above $4 a gallon, the federal government tagged the 556-horsepower CTS-V Coupe a gas guzzler, imposing a $1,300 tax that has to be paid by every CTS-V Coupe buyer.

The government's fuel economy ratings for this car are just 14 miles per gallon in city driving and 19 mpg on the highway.

But the CTS-V experience is about more than the gluttonous, heady rush of 556 horsepower and the full bore feel of 551 foot-pounds of torque coming on by 3,800 rpm from a supercharged V-8.

This sizable car has a suspension that thankfully keeps tight control of the car's body motions and the hefty, 4,200 pounds of weight that could otherwise make the CTS-V Coupe a handful to drive.

The CTS-V Coupe and the four-door CTS-V sedan are the performance versions of Cadillac's mid-size CTS model, which is the smallest car at Cadillac.

But size is relative. The CTS-V Coupe, with seats for four, is nearly 16 feet long, or about the length, from bumper to bumper, of a four-door Nissan Maxima sedan.

And the CTS-V price tags sure aren't small.

Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge and federal gas guzzler tax, for the 2011 CTS-V Coupe is $64,340.

This is $25,300 more than the base price for a non-performance version of the CTS Coupe with 304-horsepower V-6.

Note that the "regular" CTS Coupes come with a standard automatic transmission, while the CTS-V Coupe has a standard six-speed manual.

The lowest starting retail price for a CTS-V Coupe with six-speed automatic transmission is $65,640.

Competitors to the souped-up CTS Coupe include the 2012 Ford Shelby GT500 with 550-horsepower, supercharged V-8, which has a starting retail price of $49,495, and the 2011 Dodge Challenger SRT8 392, which starts at $44,410 and has a 470-horsepower Hemi V-8.

While the Shelby GT500 has a legacy dating back to race car driver Carroll Shelby and the Dodge Challenger is retro-styled to hew to the early 1970s Challengers, the CTS-V might seem historically adrift.

Cadillac lost its luster as the gold standard for American luxury cars in recent decades, and the CTS-V exterior design clings to the tired, sharp-edged, polarizing style that Cadillac used to reinvent itself many years ago.

Indeed, the silver-color test car with sinister-looking, black wheels drew no looks, except for a homeless man who stubbornly stood at the passenger-side door, trying to figure out where the exterior door handle was. He was surprised to see that the door opened after I slid my fingers into a gap between sheet metal pieces. A hidden, electronic button behind the metal unlatched the door.

I asked a young guy what he thought of the car, and he needed to be told what it was. He didn't know Cadillac, and he didn't know CTS or the V version.

But he certainly heard the throaty, 6.2-liter, supercharged V-8 when I started the car. The powerful engine sounds were a constant, at startup and during the drive, even at residential speed limits. The sounds weren't raucous, but they were distinctly different from those of mild-mannered cars.

The six-speed manual in the test car had a comfortable feel and good gearing to pull every bit of power. Only in sixth gear did I get a sense that the engine was relaxed and fuel usage was being moderated.

In hard driving, my back pushed into the driver seatback quickly upon acceleration. There's not a refined sense of power in the CTS-V Coupe; it's an immediate, here-you-go response.

But the CTS-V also could be driven mildly in city traffic, albeit with steady use of the clutch pedal, which required more than a little leg effort.

Try as I might, I never saw anywhere near the 19 mpg that the government puts as the highway mileage. Overall in city and highway travel, I managed 15.3 mpg, which is realistic for a powered-up V-8 in a heavy, 2-ton car, but nonetheless far from the average of today's similar-sized cars.

In all, I had a single-tank range of 275 miles at a price of $4.35 a gallon.

Thankfully, the CTS-V does fine with regular unleaded gasoline, but premium helps deliver top performance.

My passengers and I readily felt every road bump in the car, thanks in part to low-profile, 19-inch tires. Vibrations came directly to the front-seat cushions, which were in optional, Recaro bucket seats that cost $3,400.

These seats did a great job of holding bodies in place during spirited driving, but the suede insert in the middle of the cushions also could make it difficult to gracefully exit the car.

It's also difficult to enter and exit the two rear seats. I had to hunch over to get below the sleek roofline. And at 5 feet 4, my head touched the ceiling while I sat back there. The test car didn't have a sunroof, but back-seat passengers can feel the heat of the sun through the large sloped back window.

I could not see much of anything as I backed up in this car, and approaching cars in parking lots were a constant hazard because the rear window pillars were so thick and blocky. A standard rearview camera helped a bit.

Consumer Reports magazine does not list the CTS-V separately, but reliability for regular CTS models is below average.