When you consider everything that Cadillac has gone through in the last 14 months—an ousted CEO in part over the company’s failure to build SUVs quickly enough, leaving Manhattan for beautiful Warren, Michigan, cancelling its subscription service, trotting out a nameless rendering of an electric crossover when the competition are well on their way to production, tackling a pretty glaring problem with its semi-autonomous technology—the two woefully underpowered new V-Series models seem quite on brand.
To recap: the Cadillac CT4-V and CT5-V effectively replace the ATS-V and CTS-V we loved (but few people bought) only now they come with 320 and 355 HP, respectively. That’s way down from the old CTS-V, which made 640 HP, or even the smaller ATS-V, which put down 464 HP.
Yes, horsepower dick-measuring contests are often stupid and unnecessary. You should be able to enjoy your car in a vacuum without the nagging thought that another car in the same segment has more power.
But this isn’t the reality that Cadillac has spent years carving out for itself and it certainly isn’t the reality the V-Series cars exist in.
It all started in 2004, when Cadillac launched the very first of its V-Series cars, the CTS-V. It had a V8 from a C5 Corvette Z06 and came exclusively with a manual six-speed. It sent 400 horsepower to the rear wheels—and where did Cadillac choose to preview its new sports sedan? At the Nürburgring, proving grounds and home of the German sports sedans.
Maybe Cadillac didn’t expressly say so, but it was quite obvious where the bar had been set. It was aiming for BMW’s M and Mercedes-Benz’s AMG. This made it the underdog, but even so, there’s charm in being the underdog, especially one that easily punched above its weight.
This, from a company that had spent the last few decades meandering along with what the general public considered “old-people cars.” It was exciting. It grabbed you by the lapels and screamed in your face to pay attention.
In 2016, the third-gen CTS-V came smashing out of the gate once more, this time with an awesome 640 HP. At the same time, Cadillac also launched the ATS-V coupe and sedan, both good for 464 HP from a twin-turbo V6. Both with a manual option.
And those ATS-Vs were great. They were excellent on the track. They had a bunch of cool performance gizmos. You could camp in them. They were good. And! You got a lot more car for your money than if you bought something German. Every new-money schmuck bought an M3. You got an ATS-V because you had some originality.
And now the replacements for the ATS-V and CTS-V are here in the form of the CT4-V and the CT5-V. Two different V cars, both with very large shoes to fill—and revealed at the same time.
That certainly doesn’t feel very special, lumping the two together like that.
And then we get to the power. Given that the outgoing models would absolutely annihilate the new ones, this quickly issue quickly becomes one about perspective.
Whether or not this was a mistake, the image that Cadillac decided on was sporty luxury. Like the Germans. And like any good German sports-luxury brand, it needed a go-fast division, and that was V. Arguably, V was the best part of Cadillac, as the rest of the company’s cars typically ranged from not bad to meh. And the interiors just never measured up.
Unfortunately, Cadillac failed at cracking the seemingly iron-clad idea consumers have that buying German is best, so the only reason anyone would consider buying one of its cars is because either they just love Cadillac or it was the ultimate bang-for-you-buck option.
And even then, the ATS sold dismally: 10,859 total cars in 2018, compared to BMW’s 44,578 3 Series sold. (ATS-V and M3 sales were included in these figures.)
We already know the bang isn’t great with these two new cars, so here’s to hoping that at least the buck will be attractive. Maybe if the cars wind up significantly cheaper than their ATS-V and CTS-V predecessors, they’ll have a chance. (Supposedly hotter versions of these are coming with real power, but if the wait is even longer that just adds to the disappointment.)
Of course, there’s also the other reality, which is that General Motors has tacitly acknowledged that Cadillac isn’t working and is now trying weird, different approaches and hoping that something sticks.
Different is good! I welcome different. But if the CT4-V and the CT5-V are supposed to be different, they sure don’t seem like it. They seem like worse versions of a good thing Cadillac did that sadly didn’t work.
Who’s going to buy that?