Future Classic: 2016-19 Cadillac CTS-V – The Answer

It’s a question we’ve probably all been asked before whenever someone finds out we’re into cars. “What’s your dream car, money no object?” they ask. Well, I feel we’re in a safe space here. I don’t have to pretend my dream new car is some $3 million Bugatti Chiron. It’s still a high-end vehicle but it’s a little bit more humble… about as humble as an $87k luxury sports sedan with a supercharged V8 engine can be. Yes, my dream car is a Cadillac, to the surprise of nobody here. Another American car – similarly sized yet diametrically opposed in specification – is a close second. With the CTS-V soon to make way for the inevitable V-Series versions of the upcoming CT4 and CT5, it will no longer be my go-to dream new car. Will those new Caddys take over or will Tesla win my heart?

It makes sense that an American car is my dream car given the fascination I’ve had with the U.S. auto industry for many, many years. Mind you, were I to fill a hypothetical garage of dream cars, money no object, there’d be plenty of non-American iron. Any new Aston Martin, for example. A Porsche Panamera Turbo Sport Turismo, with a 911 Turbo on the side. A Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupe in either S63 AMG or S65 AMG guise. Of course, there’d be some other domestics in said garage, including a Dodge Challenger Hellcat.

I’m drawn to the Tesla Model S, specifically the P100D model, not just because of its world-class technology and zero emissions but because its so bloody fast. I mean, for real, 0-60 mph in 2.5 seconds? How could you not be captivated? If this is the future of not only electric cars but cars themselves, then I’m very enthusiastic.

Compared to that, the CTS-V’s 3.7 second sprint is a little less meteoric. The soundtrack from its supercharged 6.2 V8, conversely, has so much more theatre while its handling is more poised (although the Model S is no shrinking violet dynamically). With 640 hp at 6400 rpm and 630 ft-lbs at 3600 rpm and a top speed of 200 mph, the CTS-V’s pushrod V8 is an absolute beast. That’s more power and torque than even the brand-new, $20k-pricier BMW M5, although it demonstrates how difficult it gets at this stratosphere of performance to put the power down to the ground. That’s why the new M5 has all-wheel-drive and why the Bavarian express manages an ever-so-slightly quicker 0-60 time.

I’ve driven the 2.0 turbocharged version of this CTS and found the ride/handling balance to be superb, as is frequently noted by automotive journalists. The V takes it to the next level or, as Car & Driver puts it, the V “works as a tool of clinical precision as well as a tire-smoking, drifting hooligan.” The best part? Cadillac’s Magnetic Ride Control affords the V with superb body control yet a ride that’s surprisingly comfortable and compliant for a super-sedan.

If it wasn’t for a certain popular electric car, I’d consider the CTS-V to be the ne plus ultra of American cars. It manages to expertly blend raw American V8 power – hell, it still has a pushrod V8 – with the sublime dynamics of a German sport sedan. Its interior is made of high quality materials and it has an impressive array of safety features and performance hardware. The only consistent complaints from critics are that rear seat room is a bit tight and the interior is a bit busy-looking.

Alas, the rousing recommendations haven’t been enough to elevate this latest and more expensive generation of CTS and CTS-V in the sales race. The caveat to that is the old CTS was available in three different body styles. Still, for all the talk of higher ATPs and suggestions that exclusivity is more desirable than big sales volumes, it must disappoint GM to see the CTS and CTS-V posting these numbers. For reference, the entire CTS line sells in roughly the same numbers as the Lexus GS and, as of this year, about half as well as the Audi A6 and around a third of the Tesla Model S’ numbers. It doesn’t help the CTS that, like the Lexus GS, there’s an even larger if more sedate sedan available at the same price (Cadillac XTS, Lexus ES).

It’s funny that Cadillac of all brands has occupied a niche of sorts, offering some of the most dynamic luxury sedans out there. BMW has been criticized for softening their sedans or at least tucking away their true dynamic potential in expensive option packages. Meanwhile, Cadillac’s ATS and CTS – if not, by some accounts, the bigger, plusher, moribund CT6 – have offered sharp handling and communicative steering even in their lowliest, four-cylinder models.

It’s even more amusing when you consider what Cadillac was pitching as a sport sedan thirty years ago. I covered Cadillac’s first attempt at a sport sedan, the 1988-91 Seville STS, earlier this week. It was front-wheel-drive, boxier than a Chrysler New Yorker, and managed to simultaneously undercut similarly-sized European sport sedans and be ridiculously overpriced. How far Cadillac has come, even if it’s still struggling against the Germans (and now Tesla, too) after so many reboots and leadership changes.

For any American who criticizes their domestic auto industry – and it’s an industry whose decisions often invite criticism – I’d just like to point at the CTS-V and say, “Well, when they try, they can come up with something like this.” Any misgivings you may have about the Big 3 and General Motors in particular surely must give way to some feeling of pride that your country can engineer and manufacture a world-class sport sedan like this. It’s like the pride I felt for our defunct Aussie auto industry, although even the most expensive HSV didn’t quite offer the same level of polish as the CTS-V.

I’m not going to gush on and on about the CTS-V. There are some things about it that I don’t love. For example, the interior color options are much more limited than that of the regular CTS, which has been offered with stunning all-tan, all-blue and red/black options, while real-world gas mileage is bound to be as terrible as you’d expect. But this car still occupies, for now, that prime spot in my fantasy garage.

Tesla has shown how mighty an electric car can be, utterly rattling other luxury automakers. And even if you don’t care about the latest in infotainment or in the environmental benefits that can arise from electrification, you must be in awe of the sheer performance the Model S offers. I know I am, and it looks great sitting in my fantasy garage in my fantasy mid-century modern lake house (with its array of solar panels). Cadillac, unless your next V-Series models really bring it, it’s possible that not even the intoxicating sound of your V8 engines or the agility of your chassis can keep you in that prime garage spot.

Photographed in June 2017 in Washington Heights, Manhattan, NY.

Related Reading:

CC of the Future: 2013 Tesla Model S – Welcome to the 21st Century, Your Jetpack is Here

CC Comparison Test: The Best And Wurst Alternatives – 1st Place, 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Luxury

COAL: 2006 Dodge Magnum SRT8 – My Dream Car Is Another Dodge Station Wagon