There was a brief period of time after the bailout and before the recall crisis where GM was filled with a spirit of "we can do better" before the reality of just how bad they'd been had fully sunk in. This golden era product many treasured products, including the new Corvette, but none of them are better than the Cadillac CTS-V.
(Full Disclosure: GM wanted me to drive the CTS-V Coupe so badly they gave me the last of the final edition cars with VIN# 00001. It's the only #1 VIN car I think I've ever driven and thus I treated everything but the rear tires with care)
History has many tales of people overreaching and paying for it with their lives and their pride. Icarus flew too close to the sun and his wings melted. Napoleon tried to expand his empire into Russia and died in exile. KFC tried to make a sandwich where the bread was fried chicken and gave an entire nation diarrhea-by-association.
None of those efforts seem as hopeless as Cadillac — a luxury brand whose only superlative for about 30 years had to do with the size of their badge — trying to build the best of anything, let alone the fastest luxury car with four doors. That they achieved it in only their second try and with serious competition from a handful of Germans makes the feat all that more impressive. It's not like some guy in a shed trying to build the biggest rocking chair. Companies spend millions of dollars and thousands of hours trying to make these things.
GM isn't fully of dummies. There are smart people at nearly every level of the company. Some are even gifted. The problems with GM have always stemmed from someone smart at one level of the organization being stymied by someone less confident or less able at another level. It's the theory of many former employees and current journalists that this prevents them from building a perfectly realized mass-market product.
Somehow, everyone at GM managed to listen to all the best ideas that Bob Lutz had and his coterie of like-minded engineers and ignore all the terrible ideas that Bob Lutz has (for the record, I sincerely love Bob Lutz but he's turned into a switch with only two positions: off and off his fucking crazy jet-powered rocker).
Is it the best car ever made? No. Does it have its flaws? Of course. Can you get a faster luxury sedan? Nope. You still can't. The closest car is a Charger Hellcat, which is a stellar experiment in testing the moral and legal responsibility of a company to its customers but is certainly as compromised as the current SRT8 Charger and is far from luxurious.
Driving any CTS-V it's clear how close they got to achieving perfection.
Before I even sit in the CTS-V Coupe for the first time I just stare at it. Cadillac called this visual language "art & science" when it debuted, but that's just a fancy way of saying "we gave all the designers PCP, T-squares and locked them in Falling Water until they made something distinct." And that's what the CTS-V is. Distinct. Some of the design, like the massive exterior center-mounted brake light, is a bit heavy handed, but you wouldn't mistake it for an Audi or really anything.
The interior is a little more generic, but it still feels American and comfortable.
But looking at a CTS-V all day robs you of the joy of driving the damn thing.
The second generation Cadillac CTS was a car finally good enough to be mentioned in the same sentence as the 5-series and it had some of the best tech that GM has ever been partially responsible for making in their Magnetic Ride Control (a geekier explanation here).
This gives the Cadillac the ability to absolutely shred around the track (as I did at Laguna Seca) one moment and then casually float over bumpy Chelsea streets without causing the inhabitants the slightest bit of distress.
Did I mention it has a six-speed manual transmission? It has a six-speed transmission. The clutch is heavy but... it has a six-speed manual transmission.
It's a car that can be driven in any situation that doesn't require a winch and tow straps and it handles as well as anything in its class, setting a Nürburgring lap time faster than many fabled sports cars. Granted, that's not just superior damping and suspension tuning. There's also the LSA engine underhood — essentially the same OHV V8 found in the ZR1 but with a smaller supercharger.
Because I didn't have access to a track for the weekend I took the car to the closest place I could find where I wouldn't be immediately arrested for testing every one of the car's 556 horses and then end up having to write a report from jail. Essentially, it's an abandoned airfield and some sections of it are used for various motorsports activities, or in my case, crazy ripping burnouts, drifts and donuts. I also raced an R/C dragster and was absolutely pummeled because nothing is faster to 20 mph than an R/C dragster.
Driving away from a group of friends one of them yelled "Light up the tires" and, after remembering how to defeat most of the traction control, I suddenly and effortlessly found myself swimming in a pool of my own tiresmoke.
The car is so easy to drive fast and so enjoyable to hoon that it's hard to believe it's a luxury car. It's not unrefined, it's just still somehow raw despite all the technical sophistication that went into creating it. Not giving a fuck is truly the greatest luxury, and no luxury car gives fewer fucks than a CTS-V.
Now GM has to give many fucks, so it's not clear if the next CTS-V will be quite so perfect, even if it's almost certainly going to be faster and probably better looking.
Photos: Nicholas Stango