- The Washington Times - Friday, November 14, 2008

Cadillac wants to motor with the big lugs.

Not only that, it wants to torque them at their own game.

They are the power brokers — BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Lexus and Audi — that disdainfully look down their hoods at lesser metal because they have special engineering teams to soup up their already pricey luxury performance cars.

The instrument for this audacious challenge is the 2009 Cadillac CTS-V. The V dukes it out with the AMG cars from Mercedes-Benz, the F models from Lexus, the S cars from Audi and the M machines from BMW.

In times past, luxury — and the elevated prices it justified — was a matter of layering Tiffany-like touches on a soft sedan. Now the times still demand embellishments, but race-track power and handling as well.

Your neighbor may have a regular Cadillac or Mercedes-Benz, but if you have the CTS-V, you possess the one-up satisfaction of knowing that you can, should the occasion and conditions arise, rocket to 60 miles an hour in less than four seconds and top out at 191 miles an hour.

Those are Cadillac’s test numbers for the CTS-V with the six-speed manual gearbox. The times are marginally slower with the six-speed automatic transmission, which has a manual shift mode.

The high performance comes courtesy of a 556-horsepower, 6.2-liter V8 engine boosted by a supercharger.

In a test outing at the private Monticello race track in New York State, which has a long back straightaway, even a non-professional driver was able to achieve speeds of 130 and 140 miles an hour with the manual and automatic transmissions.

The CTS-V is a mid-size, rear-drive sedan that, in addition to its boisterous V8 engine, adds a whole bunch of other performance enhancements that its designers say make it the best-performing, highest-technology Cadillac ever.

“This is not just a big motor in a Caddy,” said Chris Berube, the V’s chief development engineer. “It’s a total package. We’re trying to dispel the notion that Cadillacs do not perform as well as the best from Europe.”

One important improvement is Magnetic Ride Control, which the company claims is the world’s fastest reacting suspension system. It uses shock absorbers filled with fluid and iron particles that are electro-magnetically controlled with sensors that continually monitor road surfaces and stiffen or relax the shocks in milliseconds, depending on conditions.

In practice, it keeps the CTS-V attached to the road and composed in fast, tight corners on race tracks. In everyday motoring, the system produces a nice balance between competent handling and a good ride, although the latter could not be described as cushy.

The driver also can select between two settings: touring for cruising and sport for all-out track driving. Augmenting the Magnetic Ride Control are giant, antilock disc brakes from Brembo, the famed supplier to many of the world’s highest performance cars.

Of course, the CTS-V has traction control and a limited-slip differential, as well as high-speed rated Michelin tires on 19-inch wheels.

Curiously, although the CTS-V has the sort of classy interior, including shiny obsidian trim, that you expect from a luxury/performance car with a sticker price of $60,000, the standard front seats don’t measure up to the car’s capabilities.

Though they’re plenty supportive and comfortable for routine motoring, the front seats lack lateral support to hold torsos in place in tight, fast corners.

Cadillac remedies the shortcoming by offering aftermarket Recaro seats as an option. They cost $3,400 extra. Obviously, the standard seats are for people who want the super-car cachet but will rarely engage in foot-through-the-floorboard driving.

The six-speed automatic transmission shifts crisply in automatic or manual mode. The six-speed stick shift is similarly positive, although the clutch is grabby and requires judicious slipping for smooth starts.

Spacing between the brake and accelerator pedals is optimized for matching engine revolutions during the simultaneous braking and downshifting that characterize race-track driving.

Nice touches are a pop-up navigation screen and a dual glass sunroof with a translucent shade that admits light, but not bright sunlight. However, there are no overhead assist handles up front, and the back seat is tight on head and knee room, with an impossible center seating position.

The $59,995 base price allows a choice of either the manual or automatic transmission. It includes a $1,300 gas guzzler tax, the result of a 13/19 city/highway fuel consumption rating. This obviously is not a vehicle that minimizes environmental impact.

Tack on options that include the Recaro seats, the navigation system, sunroof and interior micro-fiber trim, and the suggested sticker price jumps to $69,840. That looks pretty stiff until you consider that the BMW M5 and the Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG start well north of $85,000.

During the CTS-V’s development, race driver John Heinricy, whose day job is as General Motors’ performance executive, drove a CTS-V around the famed Nurburgring race course in Germany. He traveled the 12.9-mile circuit in less than eight minutes, at an average speed of better than 96 miles an hour, which Cadillac claims was a record for a production sedan.

That’s running with the big lugs.

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