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Cadillac’s CTS Turns Into BMW-Menacing $64,000 Superman Coupe

2011 Cadillac CTS
General Motors Co.'s 2011 Cadillac CTS Coupe. The two-door CTS Coupe starts at $39,000, and the high-performance CTS-V Coupe, $64,300. Photographer: Mark Elias/Bloomberg

A yellow taxi makes an illegal turn in front of me, nearly bashing the front of my new Cadillac CTS-V Coupe. I slam on both the brakes and horn, but no sound emerges, a serious technical fault in New York City, where the horn is as necessary as air bags for safety.

I’ll have to rely on the CTS-V’s natural, sharp-edged menace to warn off wayward cabs and street-weaving pedestrians. Luckily, the $64,300 predator attracts nearly as much attention on the street as Jaws in the water.

If General Motors is on the mend, it’s fair to say that Cadillac led it out of the design doldrums in 2008, with the release of the second-generation CTS sedan. The interior and electronics finally delivered on the promise of the previous iteration’s au-courant exterior. And it was a pleasure to drive.

The $39,000, two-door version has just been released, so now consumers can choose among a Baskin-Robbins-assortment of CTS flavors.

The four-door starts at $36,000 for a 3.0-liter engine, rising to $42,400 for the 3.6. The luggage-hauling, five-door Sport Wagon begins at $39,100 and like the coupe and sedan is available with rear-wheel or all-wheel-drive.

In any body style, you can choose between standard Clark Kent livery, with a 304-horsepower, 3.6-liter engine, or full-on Superman, with an enormous 6.2-liter V-8. These high-octane “V” versions deliver 556 hp and command a big premium. With options, my test CTS-V coupe was almost $70,000.

BMW Blueprint

If anything, Cadillac has mimicked the blueprint of the BMW 3 Series. Start with a really good car that a major segment of your customer base will want, then make tasty variations. In BMW’s case, those range from the vanilla 328i ($33,150), to the all-wheel-drive sports wagon ($37,700), all the way up to the chocoholic $67,050 M3 convertible.

Cadillac had its eye on the 3 Series in other ways, too -- promising both lively performance and an entry-level luxury interior. A quasi European, if you will.

The new coupe takes the best elements of the visually arresting sedan and sharpens them. The proportions are squished, the corners more distinct.

Two inches were taken off the top and overall length, while the rear grew two inches wider for a more sprawling stance. The cant of the windshield is more extreme and the center pillars are missing altogether, like a hardtop convertible.

The length of the doors is exaggerated, with flush handles so that the expanse suffers no protrusions. I love the back end, which has a series of sharp V angles and taillights that physically swoop off the trunk. The exhaust pipes look like twin gun barrels.

Rear View

Unfortunately the two rear pillars are the size of Ionic columns and erase a huge chunk of your side and rear view. Position side-mirrors carefully -- a blind-spot warning system is not yet offered.

I’ve always given the CTS sedan high marks because it makes a really fine commuting vehicle. Handsome but somewhat innocuous, it has a comfy interior and plenty of room up front and in back. In that form, I’d stick with the regular engine. Most do: CTS-Vs account for less than 10 percent of sales.

The coupe upends this criteria. It wants to be looked at and driven hard. And it has no interest in space for rear passengers. So if you’re going to go for the coupe, consider the performance V version. After all, you’re probably young and single and without baby seats in your immediate future.

American Muscle

Cadillac expects the V version of the coupe to account for as much as 20 percent of sales.

The CTS-V strikes a sweet spot between American muscle and European-bred handling. It looks classier than a ‘Stang or ‘Vette, yet you can smoke the back tires in first gear. It gets larger 19-inch aluminum wheels and sticky performance tires, meatier Brembo brakes and magnetic shocks.

All coupes come standard with a six-speed manual transmission. Throws are short and extremely precise, with a great feel as you work through the gears. The clutch is easy to operate, and I wasn’t bothered in stop-and-go traffic. A six-speed automatic is optional.

The V-8 has an Eaton supercharger which begins to bellow as it’s goosed above 4,000 rpm, going from bellicose to mean, like Archie Bunker on a bender. It will actually rattle the entire car if you stab the gas while idling at stop lights.

The suspension hangs on tight in fast sweeping turns, not unlike a BMW, and you never feel like the back end is going to swing around and bite you. Nuanced.

Gas mileage is embarrassing, however. Around town, the V gets a shameful 12 mpg. In the real world, I fared even worse.

That nonworking horn notwithstanding, the interior is excellent, with fetching dark wood and leather.

The back seat is a joke and only cruel drivers would force anybody back there. After all, that’s what the sedan is for.

The 2011 Cadillac CTS and CTS-V Coupes at a Glance

Engine: 3.6-liter V-6 with 304 hp and 273 pound-feet of torque; 6.2-liter Supercharged V-8 with 556 hp and 551 pound-feet of torque.

Transmission: Six speed manual (standard) or six-speed automatic.

Speed: 0 to 60 mph in about 6.5 seconds; 3.9 seconds.

Gas mileage per gallon: 17 city, 26 highway; 12, 18.

Price as tested: $46,470 and $69,390.

Best features: Well designed, fun to drive.

Worst features: Caves are more comfortable than the back seat; dreadful gas mileage.

Target buyer: Stylish Yanks without baby seats.

(Jason H. Harper writes about autos for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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