First Drive: 2011 Cadillac CTS-V Sedan Road Test & Review

2011 Cadillac CTS-V Sedan

Okay, I admit it… I’m guilty… of butchering Highway 405 where it runs through the City of Angels with reckless and wanton abandon… My weapon of choice?—the 2011 Cadillac CTS-V Sedan…. And to add insult to injury, I’m a repeat offender—I simply cannot help myself.

This vehicle is so wicked that it begs you to sin. From the moment you fire up the engine and the 556 hp supercharged V8 ignites, the RPM meter dances from left to right, the exhaust growls and the infotainment screen rises menacingly from the dash to cheer you on. And in the recesses of your consciousness you know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that you are no longer responsible for your actions. You begin to silently repeat lines such as "I'm sorry, officer, I thought the speed limit in this part of town was 125 mph." Or, uh, "Doing a U-turn in place is ok, right? Efficient, actually…"

Once a brand reserved for pimps, crime bosses and/or senior citizens, Cadillac has come a long way on its journey. The General's upper-crust brand is now at last a valiant competitor with the likes of German and Japanese luxury marquees. Thirteen years ago, the Catera was introduced as "The Caddy That Zigs." Unfortunately, the "Zig" never actually materialized– its bland styling, weak performance and spotty reliability finally sank the Catera in 2001. But Cadillac has made up for that debacle in spades with the new CTS-V, a tire-vaporizing monster that not only zigs but zags sideways with surprising disregard for the laws of physics.

The Look

2011 Cadillac CTS-V Sedan

The differences between the V Sedan and the regular CTS are subtle but nevertheless substantial. The V Sedan sports a bulging hood, large flared front fenders, and an aggressive mesh grill at the front of the car, both above and below the bumper, for greater breathability and cooling. Additional scoops can be found just inside the lower front corners adjacent to the fog lights. And in the rear, the trunk lid is extended to act as a spoiler, delivering increased downforce. Cadillac's "Art and Science" design language is in full effect, with the template's evolution really coming into its own with the second generation CTS. Cadillac's signature vertical tail lamps are represented well along with the now commonplace stacked head lamps. The car sports a muscular stance with strong definition that give it a beefy look. Overall, the CTS-V appears chiseled and sculpted with a presence that speaks for itself.

The Guts

2011 Cadillac CTS-V Sedan

The inside of the Cadillac CTS-V Coupe feels more purpose-oriented than luxury-driven. The controls are easy to use, well placed and ergonomically pleasing but the overall vibe is somewhat underwhelming. That said, when you put it all together it's readily apparent that the company's attention was focused more on turning this car into a pavement scorching monster than an uber-luxury cruiser, and for that we can only applaud them. Our model features the Midnight Sapele Wood Trim package which adds a nice touch of sporty elegance. And Cadillac does try to differentiate the V by way of richer dials and some nifty new readouts showing real-time driving dynamics such as lateral G-force.

2011 Cadillac CTS-V Sedan

The Recaro seats (a $3,400 option) are a must-have in a performance vehicle such as the CTS-V. Not only do they provide tremendous support and side bolstering for aggressive driving but they are comfortable enough for long road trips and complete the ‘look’ of the interior. Closely associated, but often disregarded is ‘feel’; taking a page out of Porsche's playbook, Cadillac adorns the steering wheel and shift knob with high-end suede (a $300 add-on) which makes the tactile experience quite pleasing. The rear seats are more than adequate and are perfectly capable of chauffering around 2 adults in comfort, but adding a third full-sized biped may be pushing it.


2011 Cadillac CTS-V Sedan

Cadillac has always excelled at front-running cool technology, and even though there isn't anything all that progressive, the expected boxes for bells-and-whistles are all checked off. Dual zone climate control, 10-way power-adjustable heated and ventilated seats with memory, power heated outside mirrors, rear seat trunk pass-through, LED interior lighting, power tilt and telescoping steering wheel and keyless access are all present and accounted for.

2011 Cadillac CTS-V Sedan

The graphic display on the 7-inch infotainment unit is outstanding with a cool 3D start-up showcasing an animated wreath and shield. A rich, vibrant, and almost TRON-like color palette is incorporated for all functions. The effect is playful yet makes the system seem more advanced than its rivals. The screen rises upon ignition and can be lowered to display only track or station info if deemed a distraction. The 40-gig hard-drive and navigation system is outstanding with one of the best screens and rerouting functionalities we've come across, with XM traffic data allowing you to avoid huge time sucks. Additionally, you can view a split-screen with audio info on the left and navigation map on the right, which is a nice touch. The Bose 5.1 surround sound system is excellent but could benefit from some updating. 

The rear park assist's radar sensors fire appropriately while the rear vision camera is functional but doesn't provide any kind of visual cues. Trajectory and vehicle boundary outlines are becoming more and more prevalent and I was surprised that they're glaringly absent. The Bluetooth phone system works flawlessly, but again the lack of Bluetooth Audio is a bit disappointing. 

The Goods

2011 Cadillac CTS-V Sedan

The CTS-V is outfitted with a variation of the LS9 supercharged V8 found in the fabulous Corvette ZR1. It uses the same displacement of 6.2-liters, but instead of 634hp, it gets a more “manageable” 556 horses with a whopping 551 lb-ft of torque. The CTS-V's masssive powerplant is hooked up with a Tremec TR6060 six-speed, dual-clutch manual transmission that provides smooth, quick shifts with easy slotting and no discernible chatter. The scales are tipped at 4,200 pounds but that doesn't stop this Caddy from sprinting from 0-60 mph in a scant 3.9 seconds. Naturally, fossil fuels are consumed at a frenetic pace. The CTS-V is rated at 14 mpg in the city and 19 mpg on the highway

(Compare this to the 2010 BMW M5 which steps up to a normally-aspirated V10 but falls short with 500hp and just 383 lb-ft of twist with sprints from 0-60mph taking 4.5 seconds. The Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG gets closer with 525 hp and 465 lb-ft of torque from a heavily tuned 6.2-liter V8, but is also 6/10th’s of a second slower.)

2011 Cadillac CTS-V Sedan

Stopping power comes by way of six-piston, mono-block Brembo calipers mounted at the front corners and four-piston grippers in the rear. This happens to also be the same equipment used on the ZR1 save for the vented cast iron and aluminum rotors used in place of carbon-ceramic discs on the Vette. Deceleration happens adeptly and without any mushiness, with the amount of pressure applied interpreted accurately to brake pressure.

The overall ride quality is excellent. For all of its performance aspirations, the Cadillac CTS-V Sedan is still a luxury four-door vehicle and behaves accordingly. That said, handling is also crisp, tight and responsive. This feat of dexterity is accomplished with Magnetic-Ride damping, a first for Cadillac. The way the system works is that instead of having to use springs and dampers set to a specific level of stiffness, the shock absorbers are filled with magneto-rheological fluid. Sounds cool, right?

Basically, this is hydraulic oil that has been mixed with particles of magnetically sensitive iron. As the vehicle's sensors detect body roll or off-axis cornering with their millisecond monitoring, an electrical current is passed through the fluid to change its viscosity, which is a fancy way of saying the ease of movement is either restricted or released. Another feat of engineering wizardry is the asymmetrical half-shafts for the rear-axle which do away with the previous generation's dreaded wheel hop. Overall, the overwhelmed chassis of previous efforts has been tamed and used to work for and no longer against the driver. Two selectable modes – Sport and Tour – allow you to dial in suspension settings for added control.

2011 Cadillac CTS-V Sedan

The large 19-inch painted aluminum wheels are wrapped with exclusive Michellin Pilot Sport PS2 rubber, in a joint engineering partnership that offers solid track grip and excellent general performance for public roads. That said, with 556hp on tap, the tires can only do so much and can be spun violently with relative ease. The rear-wheel drive setup creates plenty of wheel spin with quick launches or any aggressive acceleration in first or second gear. Drifting feels like second nature to the CTS-V which can break the rear-end loose at a moment’s notice. In fact, almost any downshift into 2nd approaching a turn is cause for some serious self-restrant on the part of the driver.


Cadillac provides front and side impact airbags for both driver and passenger, head curtain side airbags front and rear, safety belt pretensioners, active front head restraints and daytime running lamps. Child safety locks in back help keep kids from jettisoning themselves from the vehicle or escaping unnoticed. And, of course, the benevolent Onstar system is present to provide automatic crash response as well as directions and turn-by-turn navigation should you be too lazy or techno-phobic.


2011 Cadillac CTS-V Sedan

Test driving this car was beyond awesome, though it forced me to manufacture outrageous reasons for errands at odd and suspicious hours of day and night. The simultaneous combination of excellent daily driver and fearsome track beast is difficult to find even in the performance segment.

At this price point (our model is priced at $68,590), there are plenty of options but few which provide the dual-personality this Cadillac serves up. The interior may seem a bit bland and not up-to-snuff compared to the European vehicles of this class, and reliability is always of concern where GM is concerned, but the CTS-V Sedan is car that excels in the way which matters most to us — performance. The power is absolutely enchanting, steering is spot on, turn-in is laser sharp and braking is sublime. We'll take a refined brute over sleepy lavish splendor any day of the week.