I'm Thinking About The 2020 Cadillac CT5-V

Illustration for article titled Im Thinking About The 2020 Cadillac CT5-V
Photo: Cadillac

The CT5 is Cadillac’s midsize sedan... think Audi A6 or BMW 5-Series. The CT5-V is the performance-oriented version of the CT5, but not the only performance version. There’s another one coming, so there will end up being at least two performance-oriented CT5-Vs. If you’ve heard this before, it’s because it’s the only part of the CT5-V that anyone has talked about since it was introduced. Which is too bad, because it’s actually a pretty good car.

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(Full Disclosure: Cadillac dropped this car off in my driveway with a full tank of gas. At least I assume it was gas. I didn’t check.)

(Testing Conditions: Some city driving. A little highway cruising. I went out to the suburbs and drove around some roads with gentle curves. It was nice.)

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When the CT5-V was announced (last year, alongside the CT4-V) and the specs were made public, a bunch of people were left scratching their heads because it was less powerful than the outgoing CTS-V. I was at that event, which took place a few hundred yards from my old office. I asked one of the PR people something like, “Hey, this isn’t the real V, is it?” and it was explained to me that there was a “big V” in development — this car should be thought of as similar to the E53 AMG or M550i, whereas the forthcoming car would be more comparable to the E63 or M5.

Easy enough. They intimated that there was another, more track-oriented car coming during the presentation, but people were already fired up by then.

They could have called this one “Son of CT5-V” or “CT5-V, not a direct CTS-V replacement” or maybe shared a chart showing how these cars line up against the competitive German cars, even if they would have had to put a little black silhouette with question marks on it next to the E63 AMG S. But regardless, go ahead and visit the German car websites and poke around. Issues with complex naming conventions aren’t limited to Cadillac. Maybe this all started with someone’s desire to be like the Germans.

Anyway, last month (or thereabouts) I actually got to drive a CT5-V. I pressed the positively scandalous naming thing to the most remote reaches of my little brain, strapped in and did my best to evaluate the car on its merits. While I didn’t get quite enough time in it to offer the full-boat Jalopnik Review, Andrew has given me a temporary disposition to share some quick impressions.

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Thoughts On How It Looks:

In the dead-on profile view, my eye was drawn to the rear where the taillight interacts with the rear quarter window which is, notably, not a window. The tail light has a little protrusion that reaches toward the front of the car and the not-window has a little tail that reaches back toward the tail light. It’s like they want to touch, but can’t. The tension is too much for me.

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Illustration for article titled Im Thinking About The 2020 Cadillac CT5-V
Photo: Cadillac

I’m sure it all has a purpose, probably something to do with the fact that I (6’2”) can sit comfortably in the backseat. To me, someone who is widely considered to be not a car designer, it draws a lot of attention to the back of the car that might be better directed elsewhere.

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But from the C-pillar forward, it’s a very good-looking car. You’ve got your classic sporty-car dash to axle situation, the still-futuristic-looking upright LED headlight signature, the whole deal. It doesn’t always work in photos, but in person, it’s an exciting car to walk up to.

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If I’m finding another complaint, I’d prefer less of the black plastic everyone’s using now. Normally, I’d tell you to get one of the more expressive colors while probably quietly choosing black for myself, but in this case, I’m going to suggest we all get ours in black. Deal?

What About The Inside?

The interior is a huge step up from the previous generation of Cadillacs, which if you’ve driven every generation of Cadillac since the Art and Science era, you’ll recognize as a pretty clear trend. By now, pretty much all the stuff you come into regular contact with — seats, upper door cards, etc. — is nice, soft leather. The seats even have the famous perforations that we know and love.

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There’s a floating touchscreen on the dash that can also be controlled via a console-mounted wheel. In place of the old swipe controls you get dials and switches for just about everything important. The ability to skip a song without performing the perfect magic trick hand wave? That’s real luxury, baby!

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That said, there is one thing that I found objectionable: If the rest of the car is proof that GM is capable of building cars that compete with just about anything on the market, the shift lever is a little reminder of a time when that wasn’t the case. It’s not the only lightweight plastic shifter out there (BMW’s is similar) but it is the only one you can also find in a Buick Enclave. How about a little rubberized hat for my friend?

How’s It Drive?  

As you may have intuited from the beginning of this post, this car doesn’t have a big V8 with 500 or 700 HP. It doesn’t have a manual transmission. It’s got a twin-turbo V6 with 360 HP and 405 lb-ft of torque and a conventional automatic transmission. It’s enough, the car is fun to drive, smooth, sounds pretty good — but it’s in the same league as other 3-liter twin-turbo V6s that are suddenly everywhere. For the first time in a V-badged car, you can get all-wheel-drive, but do not do that.

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The shifts and throttle responses keep the car from feeling really special until you select Track Mode. That’s when you get access to the excellent Performance Traction Management system, and it’s when you can start getting a sense for the brilliance of the electronic diff. It’s clear that an ungodly amount of time went into tuning this car, but had I not switched it into Track Mode for a drive that took place entirely on the street, I probably would have been left with a different impression of it overall.

The brakes are “brake by wire” but if I hadn’t looked it up, I wouldn’t have known. I didn’t get the chance to really abuse them, but they’re great on the street. Like the rest of the car, they’re intuitive and confidence inspiring.

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Once you press the right buttons, the GM/Ford 10-speed automatic shifts quickly, you stay right in boost, it’s fun. I complained to a Cadillac rep about the settings and he reminded me that the parameters are all customizable and I could program my own “V” button to do whatever I wanted. I had to remind him that I’m pretty widely considered to be a buffoon.

If you haven’t driven an Alpha platform car (this one is Alpha2) then you can’t possibly begin to conceive of how good GM’s best chassis engineers are. Building a supercar is one thing, but building a luxury sedan that provides the same magic you get in an ND Miata or a Camaro SS 1LE is a vastly more difficult and impressive thing. When car reviewers say a chassis is “communicative,” this is what they’re talking about. The “communicating” is the CT5-V telling you how to go fast.

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This is where automotive engineering approaches artistry: Balancing hundreds of variables and parameters to create that impossible, intangible sense that you know exactly how the car is going to respond to every input. Tuning the chassis, suspension, drivetrain, steering, etc., so that the car, through a combination of cues, very clearly tells you that exactly NOW is the time to flatten the throttle pedal if you want to bring the rear end around, feel it hook up and slingshot you out of a corner like you’re Jim Lovell coming around the moon.

There are a lot of cars that are great to drive, and a lot of them are fast enough to set incredible times on a racetrack. But the number of cars that get the “feel” thing exactly right is vanishingly small. GM can do it.

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Final Thoughts

The CT5-V was much better to drive than I expected, and like pretty much everyone who’s ever worked here, I’ve been a pretty vocal fan of past Cadillac V-cars. The combination of Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires, the electronic diff and the magnetorheological shocks is a cheat code, but the chassis everything gets bolted onto is special. And this car starts at $48,690. The old CTS V-sport started $13k higher. It’s a deal.

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If I were shopping for a performance sports sedan today, I’d probably get the Cadillac. Part of it is that I gravitate to less-obvious cars. But the bigger thing is that because it’s so much fun to drive, this car feels less like a diminished version of the real thing than the competition.

That said, when the one with the V8 and the manual transmission arrives, I expect it to be monumental.

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DISCUSSION

shanemorris
Shane Morris

Oh hey there Rory! I have some notes here, as someone who recently traded in my CTS V-Sport. I loved it, mostly. What I don’t understand is why Cadillac de-tuned the engine. The V-Sport made 420 horsepower, while this car, with the same engine, is only putting out 360 horsepower. Why not just uncork it? That makes no sense to me.

I loved how the CTS V-Sport drove, handled, and performed. If I’m keeping it 100% real, I think that BMW, Audi and Mercedes all trail Cadillac in terms of fun-factor. Turning off the traction control, you can hoon around corners in easily controllable powerslides. It’s an absolute blast, and it really is the sweet spot for power. (The former CTS-V was north of 600 horsepower, and if I’m keeping it real — it was too much of a monster.)

Here’s my gripe: Cadillac has GM build quality, and after 18 months of ownership, everything felt cheap, sun-blasted, and it rattled. The plastic pieces start losing their finish, things chip too easily, and trim bits start having trouble hanging on. The initial impressions you offered here are exactly how I felt when I bought mine. It’s the longevity of these cars that causes them to fail. GM just doesn’t have the right type of mindset.

Also, not that it really makes a huge difference, but the dealer experience at Cadillac is not like what I have come to expect from Lexus, Audi, Mercedes, and BMW. It’s definitely a notch below, whether I was in Florida, Tennessee, or Texas. (I got to know my dealer network well, because the Cadillac seemed to have little electronic gremlins that popped their heads up to mess with me.)

I maintain that the first 9-12 months will be the best time with the car, and after that, you’re going to own a slowly degrading GM product that feels cheap every time you drive it.