They really have saved the best for last
By Mike Duff / Sunday, 2 October 2022 / Loading comments
Back in the early years of the century, I was part of a small group of journalists invited to the Nürburgring by Cadillac to encounter a new car for the first time. This was an era when the US brand was still more associated with size and excess than dynamic prowess, with the only car it sold in Europe being the XL barge that was the front-driven Cadillac Seville. So it’s fair to say that expectations were low.
They were also the days before corporate responsibility turned press events dull and sensible, and the format was simple: driving a late prototype version of the as yet unlaunched CTS around the Norschleife, accompanied only by a slightly nervous development engineer who would advise on speed and line as we approached the many corners. His caution was entirely understandable given that my only previous drive around the Green Hell had been a single Touristfahrten lap five years earlier in an MG Maestro.
The CTS coped with the challenge well, although it was only modestly powered by the same 3.2-litre V6 that did duty in the most senior version of the Vauxhall Omega. No, I concluded in a fine example of junior road tester seen-it-all-ism, it didn’t feel like a rival for a BMW 530i, let alone an M5. But it was certainly better on a racetrack than any previous Cadillac road car would have been. A neat trick, but not one that seemed that likely to catch on.
Yet that first CTS was the start of a long, evolutionary journey – one that reaches its ultimate expression with the car you see here. This is the CTS-V Blackwing, and is also almost certainly the most exciting factory-produced sports saloon in the world thanks to its combination of 668hp, rear-wheel drive and the option of a six-speed manual gearbox. Cadillac has already said that it will be its last V8-powered four-door. And while I’m sure the all-wheel-drive, ZF-equipped M5 would still be quicker – certainly on anything but a smooth, dry surface – it couldn’t be more fun.
The fates had decreed it was raining as I picked the CT5-V up in Michigan, for the first time after several dry months. I was soon remembering racer Mark Donohue’s famous line about it being impossible to have too much power until you can spin the driven wheels at any speed in any gear. On that basis, the Blackwing pretty much qualifies – well before getting the throttle halfway down there’s the shimmying sensation of the rear tyres struggling to deliver the peak 659lb ft of torque. Even at freeway speeds.
But everything else makes strong first impressions. The CT5-V’s cabin feels much better than its frequently plasticy predecessors, with Cadillac’s preference for proper switchgear rather than glassy panels giving it a much friendly ambience than the tech-heavy Germans. Materials feel upmarket, pretty much everything that isn’t covered in leather is made from carbon fibre, and even under gentle use the thick-rimmed sports steering wheel radiates a reassuring level of feedback. Selecting the gentlest Tour dynamic modes also softens the adaptive dampers off to a velvety plushness; it is remarkably refined for something so potent. I’m thinking of an E39 BMW M5, only with 70 per cent more power.
Slippery conditions mean there’s no chance of experiencing full acceleration to begin with – that comes later – but the Blackwing stays driveable in the wet. The Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres have to fight for traction, but there’s plenty of lateral grip and steering responses are linear and accurate. Although it is possible to push the rear tyres into a slide even with the stability control fully on, the system intervenes quickly to prevent the drama from turning into a fully fledged crisis. Selecting the Sport dynamic mode slackens everything off slightly, and there’s the further option of playing with the Performance Traction Management system, although this is intended for track use. It gives the choice between Wet, Dry, Sport and Race modes, each progressively loosening the reins. Brief experimentation quickly proved that even Wet was a bit too hands-off for a sodden public road.
While I didn’t get the chance to experience the Blackwing on a racetrack, where I’m sure it would have truly shined, it still feels like a star when stuck in the real world. Fortunately, the weather cleared up enough for me to experience it in dry conditions as well.
With traction to match the thrust performance is huge, but not savage. Power builds with supercharged linearity and without any sudden arrival of boost. But the unaugmented and barely filtered V8 snarl provides plenty of visceral thrill, and the accelerative forces the CT5-V can generate are brutal, even shifting well short of the 6,750rpm limiter. In terms of outright speed the manual gearbox is undoubtedly the limiting factor; the 10-speed automatic the car is also offered with will be quicker and more deft when asked to provide instant thrust. But that doesn’t really matter, certainly not on road, where the six-speed is a core part of the dynamic experience with its beautifully weighted shift action and correspondingly spot-on clutch. There is a rev-matching mode to smooth downshifts, but this can be switched off.
Other stuff? I only discovered that the CT5-V Blackwing had carbon-ceramic brakes when I looked at the spec sheet, which shows how civilised and well behaved they were even at road speeds, which must have barely disturbed their thermal slumbers. But the ability to choose between varying levels of pedal force felt like a variable too far; it’s hard to imagine anyone not wanting the stopping pedal on a car like this to be as firm and reassuring as possible. The only other thing I didn’t like was the door handles, with the CT5 being one of those cars that have moved away from mechanical actuation to electrical release buttons, although the ones outside are still confusingly mounted into what otherwise looks and feels entirely like a normal handle. So hardly a deal breaker.
The Blackwing feels like a valedictory project for Cadillac and the team that created it, some of whom doubtless also worked on the original CTS. It’s a very different car from the whizz-bang German competition, one that has clearly been designed to deliver exhilaration over raw speed – although it still has an abundance of that. For that, for me, it’s actually a better car than the BMW M5 Competition or the Mercedes-AMG GT63S four-door. Maybe not when it comes to the objective proof of an acceleration run or a timed lap, but certainly when it comes to experiential thrills, of which it has a superabundance. When we look back from the future at the late combustion era, this will be one of the highlights.
Specification | Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing
Engine: 6162cc V8, supercharged
Transmission: Six-speed manual, rear wheel drive
Power (hp): 668 @ 6500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 659 @ 3600rpm
Top speed: 202mph
Price: $90,995 (base price), $123,535 (as tested)
- 2021 BMW M5 Competition | UK Review
- 2020 Mercedes-AMG GT 63 S | UK Review
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