A little ice and snow on the roads never hurt anyone. (Wait, no. Yes it has. Never mind.) But the prevailing wisdom among many Americans is that the dead of winter means a fun, powerful, rear-wheel drive car must sit in the garage. I, and this 2014 Cadillac CTS Vsport, proved them wrong.
As far as big American luxury sedans go these days — hell, cars in general, forget the qualifiers — you can't really do much better than the new CTS. In Vsport trim, it's got a twin-turbo V6 that sends 420 stonking horsepower to the rear wheels.
But when you consider that the Washington, D.C. area where I live recently received as much as 10 inches of snow in some areas, back road hoonage seems like a really bad idea. Is it though? Not at all. In fact, it can be even better than regular hoonage.
(Full disclosure: GM needed me to drive the new CTS Vsport so badly they had PR man Stephen Martin drive one down to D.C. for the Washington Auto Show. We took it into the Virginia countryside for a few hours to see how it handles winter weather.)
Our original plan was to do this drive in a Corvette Stingray Convertible and see how long we could last with the top down in the frosty weather, but that got nixed because of the snow, and the more time I spent outdoors last week the more I realized that wasn't such a bad development. (Not every Jalopnik adventure involves freezing your ass off somewhere, but most do.)
The last time Steve and I hung out, we had a Corvette Stingray in a nasty rainstorm. I enjoy driving overpowered GM cars in inappropriate weather, though. Later this year I hope to pilot the new Corvette Z06 into an active volcano.
Whatever lingering disappointment I may have had at not driving a droptop 'Vette in 20-degree weather quickly faded once I drove the Vsport-ified CTS. When Travis reviewed it last year, he called it the best sedan GM has ever built, and he was right. The new, larger, more powerful CTS is easily one of the better executive sedans on the market right now. If you somehow didn't believe that Cadillac is a legit competitor to the Germans now, this is the car that will change your mind.
Here's where it trumps them, in my opinion: Vsport isn't just some vaguely performance-oriented wheels, suspension and aero package like the one some manufacturers plop onto their luxury cars to get you to pay more. (Looking at you, M Sport and S-Line.) No, the Vsport is currently the highest trim of 2014 CTS you can buy, and it carries two turbos strapped onto a 3.6-liter V6 that can propel the car from zero to 60 mph in just 4.4 seconds. I told you it was quick.
While the Vsport isn't a full-on V-model like the old supercharged V8 CTS-V, or the inevitable new CTS-V that's probably in the works, it is a serious power monger that acts like a civilized, comfortable, respectable sedan most of the time and unleashes its inner axe murderer at the flick of the switch — or in this case, the stomp of a right foot.
It's the Patrick Bateman of big luxury sedans. It's not an obvious and explicit psychopath like a CTS-V; it even seems kind of buttoned-down and innocuous at first. But then when you want it to get on it, it invites you over to its apartment and asks you if you like Huey Lewis and the News.
Step into the CTS and slide into its wide, well-bolstered driver's seat. Take in the sweet red leather and carbon fiber trim. Then, when you're done admiring all that stuff, turn it on, put it in Drive and slam on the gas pedal at your nearest opportunity. Then grip that beefy steering wheel and hold on.
The Vsport is fast. Faster than I thought it would be. That turbo'd V6 produces a crushing, seemingly limitless and lag-free blast of acceleration that pins you back in your seat. At any RPM level, you're treated to hard and furious acceleration all the way up to redline. It may not have a V8, but it's so potent that only the hardcorest of the hardcore will miss those two extra cylinders. Luckily the CTS-V will probably have eight cylinders and forced induction, which should keep those people happy. In the meantime, the Vsport also excels at blowing doors off on the highway and attacking back roads.
And attack corners is what we wanted to do. The thing about driving in D.C. is this, though: despite a couple fairly decent roads in town like the Rock Creek and George Washington Memorial parkways, you really have to get out of the District for the good stuff. So we set out onto Interstate 66 and headed into Virginia on a route kindly supplied to us by Jalopnik reader Battery Tender Unnecessary. I made a few tweaks because the glorious Skyline Drive is closed for snow and ice, and we may have deviated from it a few times because GPS is spotty out there.
The CTS Vsport does an excellent job on the highway. Besides the prodigious passing power, it has a supple and comfortable ride quality and it always feels solid at high speeds, thanks largely to the magic that is Magnetic Ride Control. The cabin is incredibly quiet, too, isolating you from road noise or the sound of the engine — until you get on it, in which case the V6's angry and deeply satisfying rumble is allowed to ring free. It's got a rich and full sound, one you come to enjoy hearing all the time.
Really, the only issue I faced was D.C. and Virginia's absurdly low speed limits, which the Vsport's turbo engine has no patience for.
But this wasn't about highway driving. It was about back roads. And once I turned onto Route 17 and headed south, it became apparent that we'd have to contend with more snow and ice than anticipated.
The CTS comes ready for this kind of thing. Its eight-speed Aisin gearbox has a mode for snow and ice that adjusts the car's throttle response and torque to keep the wheels from slipping too much. With snow/ice mode engaged, I was sure to stay safe and controlled and protected from the scary elements.
Except I didn't use snow/ice mode. I used track mode.
Track mode isn't even available on non-Vsport CTS. It's not for the faint of heart. In track mode, the engine note is as loud as it can possibly be, throttle response is razor sharp, the electric steering is ultra-tight, and gears are held until redline. And the Magnetic Ride Control suspension is stiffened for maximum handling accuracy at the expense of ride quality. Track mode might as well be called "beast mode."
You might think that this was a very bad idea, given conditions. But it's not for two reasons: a.) I'm an insanely great driver and b.) Blizzaks. Okay, only one of those is true. Despite all that power, rear-wheel drive and the most performance-oriented setting on the car, with the right tires and a reasonable amount of caution, we were just fine.
Better than fine, in fact. The CTS Vsport proved to be a surprisingly capable backroad barnstormer. The car's steering rack is light, tight and extremely direct, offering a very impressive degree of road feel. People say it's basically a bigger ATS, and that certainly seems accurate to me. It's also a good thing. You always feel very connected to the CTS and what it can do on the road; sure, it's big, and there's a low-to-moderate amount of body roll, but it proved to be very athletic and corner-loving machine.
That eight-speed, paddle-shift transmission is an impressive piece of work too. It is not the automatic that's now optional in the new Corvette Z06, but it still provides shifts that are quick and direct. When you're dealing with ice and snow, it's nice to have that extra degree of control on an otherwise automatic car, I think. It's also an indicator of just how good modern torque-converter based autos are these days.
The ice got worse as we powered through our route, but in this car, that meant more fun could be had. The ice and snow on the road meant a lower level of adhesion, but also more of an opportunity to get the rear end out in the corners.
Granted, I was going slower than I would in the summer, and track mode meant the traction control was less apt to step in, but any time the rear stepped out, I could simply catch it with a dap of oppo and I was away. Even in these conditions, the CTS remained extremely controllable thanks in large part to those Blizzaks.
Really, the only time we ran into trouble was when we pulled over into a snow-filled church parking lot to get some pictures and got stuck for a little bit. Steve managed to get us out with the aid of snow/ice mode and more experience in these kinds of situations than I have. I'm a Texan, and you know how we do in the winter.
I kind of wanted to do donuts in the snow, but we decided not to push our luck. My fear was getting stuck permanently out there with no cell phone reception and then freezing to death, like the ending to The Shining. Except in a Cadillac.
Other downsides to the CTS? Well, the touch-screen CUE infotainment system isn't the greatest one out there, and Cadillac's haptic touch panels can be pretty hit or miss. Buttons, people. Don't be afraid of buttons. At the same time the layout of the panel and the CUE menus makes more sense and is a little less distracting to me than some, including the confusing one on the Audi RS7 I drove this weekend.
But in the end, I came away not only impressed with the CTS Vsport, but convinced that it's one of those rare, great "do everything" kinds of cars. Sure, it's not as hard-edged as a Corvette, or even the CTS-V, but it's well-equipped, comfortable, attractive, and has enough power and handling prowess to satisfy the needs of most sport sedan buyers. It also makes me very excited about the next CTS-V, because it's probably going to be ridiculous.
The other takeaway from this? Blizzaks. Blizzaks, Blizzaks, Blizzaks. Veterans of snowy climates and astute readers of this website will tell you that snow tires are more than worth it, but there's still that contingent of people who think they're fine with all-season tires or all-wheel drive and just being careful. They aren't. Snow tires are the way to go, always. If people don't believe you when you tell them this, send them this story.
Why wait until the spring for your hoonage when you can do it right now?