For the longest time American cars had a reputation of straight-line performance, with no focus on cornering. Luxury sedans in particular, like Cadillacs, were considered to be the opposite of a sports car, with a cushy suspension, plush seats and vague steering. This was exactly what many American car buyers wanted for years, but the sport sedans of Germany were highly regarded and selling quickly and Cadillac realized they needed to change their tune. The Cadillac CTS, especially the hardcore CTS-V performance variant, was the model that completely changed that direction, not just for Cadillac and GM, but for the entire American car industry.
The Cadillac CTS first emerged for the 2003 model year, and featured some performance-focused features like a fully independent suspension and an available manual transmission, along with styling that looked very modern for the time. The CTS was fresh and new, but Cadillac had something even better in the works.
In 2004, the CTS-V was revealed, and it was completely different than any other American car for sale at that time. GM took the 400 hp 5.7-liter LS6 V8 from the C5 Corvette Z06 and shoved it under the hood of the CTS-V, which was paired up with the Z06’s 6-speed manual transmission. This allowed the first generation CTS-V to hit 60 mph in just 4.8 seconds. But going fast in a straight line is nothing new to American cars.
To really take on the best of European sport sedans, the CTS-V needed to corner as well. To accomplish this, GM engineers fit the CTS-V with super high-performance tires for maximum grip, gigantic 4-piston Brembo brakes, added stiffer and thicker anti-roll bars and an upgraded suspension with larger shocks and increased spring rates. Later in 2006, the CTS-V was given the larger 6.0-liter LS2 V8 from the latest Corvette base model, which produced the same horsepower and torque as the previous engine but with a wider and more accessible torque curve, alongside a beefed up rear differential.
Cadillac signaled their intention to take on their German rivals by bringing the CTS-V to Germany itself. Near the town of Nürburg lies a 12.93-mile race track with 154 turns and hundreds of feet of elevation changes as it snakes through the mountainous terrain known as the Nürburgring. This race track is frequently used by German manufacturers to refine their sports cars, as the track presents a variety of conditions and issues that must be overcome in order to be successful. It was a challenge that the CTS-V was up to, posting a time of 8 minutes 19 seconds, on par with the German competitors at the time like the BMW M5 and Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG.
The CTS-V was briefly in jeopardy after the federal government’s bailout of General Motors, but it was brought back even better than ever. It was a surprisingly good first attempt at creating a luxury sport sedan, still fairly unrefined compared to the competition. The second generation of the CTS-V released for the 2009 model year remedied some flaws with a much nicer interior that was befitting a luxury car, along with an exponential increase in performance.
The second generation was also given a warhead for an engine: a 6.2-liter supercharged V8 based on the engine in the C6 Corvette ZR1. This engine produced 556 hp and 551 lb. ft. torque, allowing the CTS-V to hit 60 mph in just 3.9 seconds which is faster than both the BMW M5 and the Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG. That acceleration continued until hitting a top speed of 191 mph, when both German cars were limited to 155 mph. Cadillac had built a better Autobahn blaster than the Germans.
The second generation CTS-V was also better in the corners, with a new chassis and suspension set up that combined with the Michelin PS2 tires developed specially for the Caddy, allowed it to pull 0.92 lateral G in the corner before the tires break loose. GM also included their fantastic magnetic adjustable suspension that can automatically alter the amount of dampening needed many times per second to maintain optimal grip. For track days the CTS-V was loaded up with cooling systems and behind the wheels were even bigger brakes. All this allowed the 2009 CTS-V to post a Nürburgring time of 7:59.32, making it the fastest sedan to ever lap the circuit. If the Germans didn’t think Cadillac was seriously gunning for them, they soon did.
The latest generation was released in 2016, and the intensity was turned up to eleven. The current engine is an even more powerful 6.2-liter supercharged V8 that puts out a whopping 640 hp and 630 lb. ft. torque, allowing it to hit 60 mph in just 3.3 seconds with a top speed of 200 mph, making it one of the fastest sedans in the world.
So the CTS-V is really good, but can you say it changed the American car market?
I believe you can, starting with Cadillac themselves. When the CTS-V first came out, Cadillac had never built a performance car in their 112 year history. Since then, the brand has repositioned themselves as a sporty American competitor to Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz, now with other V-series options like the smaller ATS-V. Additionally, since the introduction of the CTS-V, the picture of the American performance car shifted from a focus on muscle and straight-line speed to a focus on overall performance, including cornering. Mustangs and Camaros were released with performance focused track packs, and both eventually received independent rear suspensions instead of the solid rear axles loved by drag racers. At this point, the only brand that focuses on classic American muscle is Dodge, and even they don’t ignore the need to corner well.
Because of this, it’s quite easy to say that the CTS-V made American companies completely re-think the nature of performance cars, making them more competitive with the global market and offerings from Europe. The CTS-V showed everyone that it could be done, and that American engineers were capable of designing something that could go fast in both a straight line and around the corner, leaving nothing for anyone to sneer at.
Motortrend – Cadillac CTS-V Overview
Wikipedia – Cadillac CTS-V
Wikipedia – Nürburgring
Car and Driver – 2009 Cadillac CTS-V Instrumented Test