Review: 2011 Cadillac CTS-V Coupe

(This story has been updated in the third paragraph to say that the CTS-V's engine is the most powerful engine Cadillac has ever installed in a production car, not the biggest.)

Up Front

You can tell just by looking that the new CTS-V Coupe is a radical departure for Cadillac. The severely raked windshield and roof line, the big air vent under the front grille, the sculpted brake light-cum-rear-spoiler in back, and the massive yellow Brembo brake calipers all portend incredible performance. You know right away that this is nothing like the boaty Caddies of yesteryear.

When you slide behind the wheel, the V Coupe doesn't disappoint: This car jumps from 0 to 60 in an astonishing 3.9 seconds, only slightly slower than super cars such as the Chevy Corvette ZR1, Mercedes' (DAI:GR) SLS AMG Gullwing, and Ferrari California. Amazingly, the V Coupe is noticeably faster than BMW's (BMW:GR) M3 coupe, which is rated to accelerate from 0 to 60 in 4.5 seconds with an automatic and 4.7 seconds with a stick shift.

That's because all CTS-Vs (there are also a station wagon and sedan) are powered by the most powerful engine Cadillac has ever offered in a production car—a supercharged, 6.2-liter, 556 horsepower V8 that generates 551 lb.-ft. of torque. It's basically the same engine as the one in the $112,000 Corvette ZR1. In other nods to performance junkies, the CTS-V Coupe comes standard with a six-speed stick shift (a six-speed automatic is available at no extra cost). Heavily bolstered Recaro racing seats are available as a $3,400 option.

The V Coupe is priced a lot like a German car. Starting sticker is $64,290, including a $1,300 gas-guzzler tax, and options can easily push the total over 70 grand. The new model's average selling price is $68,204, according to the Power Information Network (PIN)—above the 2011 Audi S5 coupe's $60,985 and Porsche Cayman's $65,624, and on par with the BMW M3 coupe's $68,322.

Even so, General Motors (GM) says the CTS-V Coupe has been selling briskly since it hit dealer showrooms in September. Cadillac claims to be the fastest-growing luxury carmaker in the U.S. this year, with sales up 38 percent, to 130,207, in the first 11 months of 2010.

The company says the CTS Coupe contributed significantly to its booming sales in November. Coupes account for about 20 percent of total CTS sales and the "V" accounts for about 15 percent of total CTS coupe sales, a Cadillac spokesman says.

Not surprisingly, the CTS-V coupe isn't particularly fuel-efficient. It's rated to get a mere 14 miles per gallon in the city and 19 on the highway with a stick shift, vs. 12/18 with an automatic. That's only slightly worse than the BMW M3 coupe, which is rated at 14/20 with stick or automatic. Both the Audi S4 Quattro (rated at 18/27) and the Porsche Cayman (19/27 with a stick, 20/29 with an automatic) do much better.

Behind the Wheel

The regular, V6-powered CTS Coupe can't match the quickness of rivals such as the BMW 335i and Nissan's (NSANY) Infiniti G37. The CTS-V Coupe has no such problem. Except for much pricier super cars like the ones mentioned above, virtually nothing on the road can match its raw speed. You can pull out in front of oncoming traffic with absolute confidence that you will be able to accelerate your way out of trouble. When taking off after stopping at a light, it's hard not to squeal the tires.

My CTS-V Coupe was somewhat less impressive when I took it took out among the rolling hills of rural Northeast Pennsylvania, where I live. When I pushed the car hard on a curve or series of curves, I often had to back off the gas to keep it on the road—surprising because magnetic ride control comes standard on the V Coupe. The BMWs, Infinitis, and Mercedes I've driven on the same stretches of road inspired more confidence. However, the tires on my test CTS-V Coupe were well-worn and the pressure monitors were going haywire, making it hard to keep the pressure at correct levels.

On the other hand, the V Coupe is remarkably easy to live with in daily driving. The magnetic ride control smooths out bumps and potholes surprisingly well. My test car had a stick shift, which was a bit awkward to use on hills and during stop-and-go driving. I suspect that with the automatic transmission, you could tool around town quite comfortably in a V Coupe.

The dashboard and center-console layouts are similar to those in the regular CTS, with stitched leather, a navigation screen that pops up out of the dash, and an odd-shaped little temperature gauge near the bottom of the center stack. The cabin, however, is no more spacious than that of a BMW M3 or Audi S4, even though the Cadillac is longer and wider than either. Notably, front-seat headroom in the CTS-V Coupe is only 36.9 in., compared with 40 in. for the Audi S4 and 38.4 in for the BMW M3.

As in other coupes, the CTS-V's rear seat holds only two passengers and is quite cramped. I'm 5 ft. 10 in. With the front seat set for my height, I hardly had any extra leg and knee space in the back seat. My head was brushing against the ceiling. The lack of rear doors also makes it a real chore for an adult to get into and out of the rear seats.

Another downside of the "V" Coupe is that visibility is limited. The side windows are very narrow and the big outside mirrors obstruct the driver's sightlines during turns. It's very hard to see out the nearly horizontal rear window. Luckily a backup camera is standard. You really need one in this car.

The trunk is small (10.5 cu. ft.), but the rear seats fold down in a 60/40 pattern to create a cargo space.

Buy it or Bag It?

These days, Cadillac is the only game in town if you're shopping for a high-performance luxury car from a domestic company. Chrysler is pretty much out of the luxury car business. Ford (F) is planning to come out with a raft of new Lincoln models, but up to now hasn't really tried to match BMW-style top-end performance in the way Cadillac has. To my mind, the closest thing Ford has on offer is the Shelby GT500, which is more of a muscle car than a luxury car.

The CTS-V sedan and station wagon offer similar speed and roomier interiors than the Coupe, but neither makes the dramatic statement that the V Coupe's radical styling does. The regular, V6-powered CTS Coupe has the same styling and costs a lot less (average price: about $50,000) but lacks the V Coupe's incredible quickness.

The V Coupe's main competitor, for me at least, is the BMW M3 Coupe, which has about the same 68-grand average selling price. However, the Caddie comes packed with standard equipment, including satellite radio, hard-drive sound and navigation systems, power and heated front seats, adaptive headlights with washers, a backup camera, and magnetic ride control. A lot of that gear is optional on the BMW, costing extra.

The bottom line is that nothing on the road in the same price range can match the CTS-V Coupe's raw speed and radical looks. If those are your priorities, this car is definitely worth inspecting.

Click here to see more of the 2011 Cadillac CTS-V Coupe.

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