Track Test – 2013 Cadillac CTS-V

Zeus having a serious fight with Hera on Mount Olympus.

Or God emitting a seriously long burp after having a six course meal.

That’s how otherworldly the Cadillac CTS-V’s 556hp/551lb-ft of torque, supercharged LSA V8 sounds at full boil. And this is from inside the car.

It’s hard to imagine that this is a toned-down version of the same 638hp nuclear reactor that makes the Corvette ZR1 such an American terror on the track. The pull from standstill is immense, the power at speed unrelenting and if it sounds this good from the cockpit, imagine standing next to Palm Beach International Raceway’s long straight when one of these things comes flying down at full throttle. The sound will be instantly baked into your memory eons. That and you’ll be unable to wipe that silly Joker-like grin off your face. Or calm down the hairs on your neck.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. Let’s wind the clock back to a few hours earlier when I woke up, sleepy-eyed and wondering why I didn’t schedule myself for the late afternoon track session. I had been anticipating this day for weeks on end and, despite this, I seriously wanted to fall back into bed and wrap myself up. It was only after remembering my first meeting with the Cadillac CTS-V, a Black Diamond Edition in Fort Lauderdale the previous year that I came to my enthusiast senses. I drove all the other Cadillac models except that one but one of the reps was kind enough to start it up for me. The sound of that big 6.2 liter lump growling to life was intoxicating. Despite my incessant pleas for a supervised drive around the block, the rep declined citing “insurance and liability” reasons…whatever that means. Remembering how I utterly failed at climbing behind the wheel then and now, being fully unleashed in all coupe, sedan and wagon versions of Cadillac’s M/AMG slayer I immediately jumped out of bed and into the shower. I was going to savor this day.

The Lineup

Palm Beach International Raceway is located, rather curiously, in the middle of nowhere. Getting off at the Bee Line Highway exit off Florida’s Turnpike, you’re greeted with a four lane road. Maybe it was still really early in the morning, but cars were conspicuously few in number and the scenery was similar to that of swamplands and thick brush. This was also exacerbated by the steady decline of cellphone reception. Four bars…three bars…two bars…switch to 2G. Four bars…three bars…okay, holding at three bars. But then getting to the venue you’re amazed at the size of the place. These high power cars need a lot of acreage to run and with the plethora of noise these machines will make (music to the ears or not) the choice of venue is a smart one. Wouldn’t want to disturb the neighbors now.

After a light breakfast and introductions of the staff, it was time to head out to the cars. Lined up neatly from nose to tail were about 12 or so CTS-Vs of various versions: coupe, sedan and wagon. It was our job to schlep them from the meeting area to the pits so we could have our first of three driving module introductions, this one concerning vehicle dynamics. After a roughly 20 minute briefing (which involved short grin-inducing moments of hearing that riotous V8 echo off the pit walls) it was time to grab a helmet and head out to meet our driving instructors by the waiting cars. I’d love to say I picked mine perfectly but in all honesty, he picked me. Mr. Schmidt (or R.J.) would be my chaperone for the day and, according him anyway, knew right away that I had a smooth driving style just from eyeing me up and down. Walking up to the vehicles, I decided on a black CTS-V wagon because, well, if you know me you know that stupid-fast wagons intrigue me. Hearing my reasoning, R.J. immediately laughed and confided in me that the wagon was his favorite as well. Something about a 556hp grocery getter just stands the hairs on end. Anyway, the first of two laps would be for demonstration purposes with him at the helm, showing the turns, entry points, acceleration and braking areas as well as the manner in which I was to drive. In a nutshell, he pretty much said, “Try not to stuff it…or worse, take me with you.”

Well said.

2013 Cadillac CTS-V Wagon

After the first lap, we headed to the pits where I took the helm and R.J rode shot gun. Exiting the pit area and ensuring there was no traffic we played follow the leader, though R.J., ever the wise instructor, allowed the car in front a bigger lead in order to give us some adequate room to hustle the 5 door wagon and not get slowed up, just in case the lead car’s pilot was a granny behind the wheel. Heading on the track I immediately mashed the throttle and reveled in the intoxicating sound of the LSA motor clearing its voice but all too quickly the first corner came up and it was hard on the brakes. Hit the apex and ever so slightly ease into the power and deep torque reserves will power the car out and on to the next corner. The extra weight over the rear wheels gives the wagon a smidge more traction and a more even front/rear weight balance. Through another series of turns, I could sense the levels of grip on the front end and what the tires were doing through the steering wheel. So effective is the communication that I’m sure I would’ve sensed a pebble at the apex had the tires ran over it. Getting on to the back straight at speed, R.J. barked an order to mash the throttle and in two or three seconds we were teasing 120mph (we weren’t allowed to go faster…bummer). Roughly three quarters of the way down came the braking zone and, abruptly lifting off the throttle produced a series of wonderful pops and burbles from the exhaust. Stomping on the massive brakes, the big wagon quickly shrugged off speed in preparation for another turn. Smoothly positioning the car to hit the apex, the big 19″ tires gripped the tarmac with such tenacity that, by my butt-o-meter, it felt like we had just pulled over 1g of cornering force. The sophisticated magnetic dampers fitted at all four corners effectively stifled body roll, enabling me to once again lean into the throttle to squirt the car onto the front straight.where we hit 90mph before braking again for the turn one and another lap. All the while, oblivious to huge grin on my face. Color R.J. amused.

#8 Cadillac CTS-V Coupe race car
#8 Cadillac CTS-V race car
View of the huge wheel/tire and massive slotted/vented brake.
6.2L race engine (note the narrowness of the intake tube just in front of the motor)

After a cool down lap, it was back to the pits to go over the our the first module and how I did. My track experience is severely limited but, according to R.J., I was perhaps the best he’d seen after three days of hot laps with amateur drivers. My driving style encouraged smoothness over outright speed and when power was called for, I engaged it at all the right points. My one nagging flaw was that in some corners I tended to drift wide, a sign that indicated I was training my vision on the corner itself instead of looking through the corner and where I ultimately wanted the car to be after the corner. While another group took its turn, Robert and I engaged professional race driver Andy Pilgrim in some conversation regarding Cadillac’s racing program, the company itself and what the V cars mean to consumers.The #8 race car is an impressive sight to behold. Powered by a naturally aspirated and massively massaged 6.2L V8, Andy indicates that the motor actually had to have its throat (throttle body) stifled so as not to, in his words, “wipe the floor with the other cars.” The production CTS-V platform makes for a rather excellent basis to create a full on LeMans racer. Hunkered down on its adjustable racing springs, widened carbon fiber bodied fender flares barely containing fat racing slicks and the completely gutted interior which contains a full racing safety cage and special steering wheel (which by itself costs an eye-watering $25,000…or about the price of a fully loaded Chevy Cruze compact), the car looks absolutely mean. I asked Andy if he’d take me for a spin it and, of course, he politely declined citing the same “insurance and liability” reasons. Now where have I heard that before…

Cut out of the powerful 6.2L supercharged LSA V8
6L30 six speed automatic transmission

After checking out the DTS-replacing XTS full sized sedan (first impressions of that coming shortly), it was time for another module and one more 20 minute presentation, this time detailing the stonkin’ 6.2L LSA motor. Based on the same LS9 motor that powers the Corvette ZR1 (up the ante by 24hp and you get the Camaro ZL1 motor), the LSA features a smaller 1.9L capacity supercharger (2.3L on the LS9), a single heat exchanger to the LS9’s two, cast instead of forged pistons and a slightly lower compression ratio. Having digested this it was time for three more laps, this time in the CTS-V Coupe and myself at the helm for all three. Again R.J. was my instructor and as you can see in the video below, I had quite a grand time.

2013 Cadillac CTS-V Coupe

Differences between the wagon and the coupe? Very slight. The coupe is a tad lighter than the wagon and the rear track is two inches wider, which gives it better stability. However, the coupe’s lighter rear end and slightly worse weight balance front/rear makes powering out of corners a bit dicey if you’re not careful. That being said, the nose will push when entering a corner too hot so getting the corner entry right is absolutely critical. Try to power out too early and the lighter rear end will come around. That said, the CTS-V has an amazing stability and traction control system that, when set to the Sport setting, backs off just enough to allow some sliding and tail happiness (besides, we weren’t allowed to turn it off anyway). Remember what I said earlier about the engine sounding God-like? Don’t forget, this is still a luxury car so while the engine does make itself clearly known its not raucous or unrefined in nature. At lower speeds (like idling around in the pits) the big V8 is barely audible. But lay into the throttle and it clears its throat before freely revving up to its 6300rpm redline, sounding every bit like the American pushrod motor it is and emitting just the faintest hint of supercharger whine. Credit should also go to the six speed 6L30 automatic transmission which, in its Sport setting, was more often than not in the right gear.There were times when I did catch it a gear too low when coming out of corners but it produced crisp upshifts right up to the rev limiter. I wanted to give the shift paddles behind the steering wheel a go but honestly, I doubt I would’ve been much faster. Steering was also very direct and telegraphic in the way it communicated information through the hands. It didn’t come off as overly light, but was reasonably quick.

2013 Cadillac CTS-V Coupe Black Diamond Edition

If the base CTS makes such a great driver’s car then the V models are the proverbial icing on the cake. The relationship between the controls is so harmonious that, at least in the wagon, you’ll almost forget what you’re driving. Having piloted the wagon, I got out shaking my head and laughing at myself. A 4200lb five door wagon that will scare the bejezuss out of any Camaro or Mustang driver at a stoplight (the ultimate sleeper in my eye and my personal favorite of the three body styles). A two door coupe that will bully a BMW M3 up and down a racetrack. A four door sedan that mopped the floor with the last generation E60 BMW M5 and is the equal to the new F10 model. I believe Cadillac has truly established its V Series performance vehicles right up there with the German blue bloods. The impressiveness of the cars’ on track manners, the deep wells of power from the huge V8 and the sophistication of its suspension (technology that even Ferrari has borrowed for its road cars, yes really) imbue the CTS-V with a personality that is becoming of a luxury sport sedan. Only this time, you can have your cake in three flavors.

I’ll take the sleeper five door wagon. In Black Diamond Edition please.

2013 Cadillac CTS-V Wagon Black Diamond Edition

I’d like to once again thank Cadillac for the opportunity to test their various V models on the beautiful track that is Palm Beach International Raceway. Special thanks for Lauren, Jenna, Mr Schmidt (you’re still R.J. by the way) and Andy Pilgrim for their friendliness, knowledge and courteousness in answering all my questions and putting up with my annoying child-in-a-candystore-like behavior. 

Sidenote: you may have noticed that I did not report on the CTS-V sedan. It was my understanding that the three modules would’ve included track testing all three models, followed by testing the CTS-V’s little brother ATS but I was mistaken. In any case, based on the performance of the wagon and the coupe, you can place the sedan somewhere in between the two, though to be frank the performance differences were barely discernible and can only be accurately told with a stop watch and more sophisticated test equipment that are far more accurate than my butt-o-meter. 

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