Looking at this photo, I feel a mixture of both frustration and envy. I am frustrated because I failed to take any more snaps of this rare Cadillac STS-V, one of only 2440 produced. The envy is a result of this car’s owner living my dream. He or she owns an STS-V, a car I have lusted after for a decade now. He or she also lives in Harlem, a neighborhood I adore and one very close to my old apartment in Washington Heights. But there are downsides to living in Harlem, just as there are downsides to the STS-V.
Harlem is becoming an increasingly desirable place to live—after all, its location is extremely convenient, it’s full of amazing restaurants and bars, it’s steeped in history, and it has a wonderful vibe. Of course, everybody else is realizing that, too, including landlords and developers and so rents continue to rise. There are also the downsides of gentrification, like low-income residents and small businesses being forced out, but that’s a complex discussion that can’t be covered in a few sentences.
Although my NYC friends may disagree – which is ironic because so many of them are transplants from cities with certifiably awful public transport – the NYC subway system is very good. There’s little need for a car, and off-street parking is expensive. For a car enthusiast, that is one hefty downside to living Harlem or indeed anywhere in NYC. The number of cars wearing DeFenders and Bumper Bullies also demonstrate the danger one faces in street parking. Would you want to street park a rare beast like an STS-V? Probably not.
To those outside of New York, the name ‘Harlem’ may conjure imagery of some frightening neighborhood, as though nothing has changed between Across 110th Street and today (of course, Harlem was hardly ever the worst of NYC’s neighborhoods). Likewise, the Cadillac nameplate carries its own baggage, many associating it with lumbering landyachts purchased by retired grandparents in Florida. Of course, those enlightened know today’s Harlem and today’s Cadillac are very different to their 1970s counterparts. The STS-V and its Sigma platform cohort were the first thundering calls announcing Cadillac had changed.
Although the STS-V wore a much more sedate interpretation of the brand’s new Art & Science design language than the first CTS, its sharp lines and creases, bulging hood and mesh grille made a statement. For whatever reason, the owner of this STS-V – photographed by William Rubano – wanted to make even more of a statement and had his car wrapped in vinyl. Quite a change from how Cadillacs used to be wrapped in vinyl! Unfortunately, this chrome-effect wrapping conceals the character line down the side of the car.
Cadillac advertising touted that all three of the V-Series models hit 0-60 in under 5 seconds. The 2004 CTS-V followed that classic American adage, “there’s no replacement for displacement” with Corvette-sourced LS6 V8 engines (a 5.7 then a 6.0) each pumping out 400 hp and 395 ft-lbs.
The STS-V and XLR-V went a different route, employing a Roots-type supercharged version of the 32-valve, DOHC Northstar producing 469 hp at 6400 rpm and 439 ft-lbs of torque at 3800 rpm. Displacement was reduced to 4.4 liters, while the block and head gaskets were reinforced, new cylinder heads were installed and numerous other modifications were made to support the V’s high-performance mission.
While the 14-year old Cadillac V8 may have seemed an odd starting point for Cadillac’s second V-Series high performance model, the Northstar had already seen enhancements in 2000 and was also adapted for rear-wheel-drive in 2004. However, the needle hadn’t been moved much in terms of performance: the XLR, STS and SRX V8s produced 320 hp and 315 ft-lbs, just 20 horses more than a ’95 Seville STS.
The STS-V was one of numerous hi-po GM models born under the auspices of John Heinricy, the director of GM’s performance vehicles division. Its output was nothing to scoff at, outperforming the Jaguar S-Type R, matching the Mercedes E55 and CLS55 in horsepower but not torque, and besting the V10 M5 in torque but not horsepower.
While the rawer, pushrod V8-packing CTS-V came only with a six-speed manual, the STS-V came only with a 6-speed GM 6L80 automatic with a manual shift mode and Cadillac’s Performance Algorithm Shifting for more aggressive shifts. Sadly, paddle shifters were not available.
While I would happily daily drive a regular STS, an STS-V would have to be a weekend car for me. Like its super-sedan rivals, the V is heavy on fuel: EPA estimates put it at 13/19 mpg. Parts would also be rare and expensive should something go wrong.
If you did have an STS-V as your daily driver, you would have been pleasantly surprised by the ride quality. Cadillac ditched its lauded Magnetic Ride Control (optional in lesser STS models) to provide the V with a more restricted range of motion. They also stiffened the front and rear shocks and anti-roll bars by 15% and added larger Pirelli Eufori run-flat tires (18 inches up front, 19 at the back), but the ride remained compliant. The V also stopped shorter thanks to Brembo brakes.
Presaging the 2007 STS Platinum, the V received an enhanced interior courtesy of Dräxlmaier, known for their work with Maybach. There was a leather-wrapped dash and center console, available in black-on-black or two-tone black and Tango Red. The real Eucalyptus seen in lesser STSs was replaced with olive ash burl wood. Seats featured suede inserts and thicker bolstering but lacked the ventilation of the regular STS. Despite this omission, the V was otherwise fully-loaded—the only option was a sunroof delete.
Critics were impressed with the STS-V but not enough to give it segment honors. Car and Driver ranked it above the CLS55 but below the M5 in a three-way comparison test, praising its comparatively sharper price (at $74k it cost $7k less than the BMW), handsome interior, comfortable ride and impressive power. However, like other media outlets, the STS-V was found to have less engaging handling compared to the Germans, although it certainly didn’t embarrass itself. Its greater dimensions naturally resulted in a less wieldy feel, although the 4300 lb curb weight was close to the Germans. Curiously, Canada’s Driving found the Benz to have more of a rumbling, old-school Detroit muscle feel and sound to it than the STS-V; the Caddy had a more subdued engine note and lower noise, vibration and harshness, although the transmission’s occasional stumbles were a fly in the otherwise very refined ointment. Those seeking to get wild in the V could switch the Stabilitrak to Competitive Mode, allowing for some delightful power oversteer.
The STS-V’s curse seemed to be that it always lived in the shadow of something else. It launched at the same time as the Chrysler 300C SRT-8, an even more dramatically-styled, full-sized American sedan with 425 hp and 420 ft-lbs from its 6.1 Hemi V8 and a price tag $35k less. Then, right as Cadillac finally entered the supersedan party, Mercedes and BMW went ahead and upped the stakes with their even more powerful E63 AMG and V10 M5. The poor STS-V had enemies coming from above and below, but the final nail in the coffin was the second-generation CTS-V.
With a price tag $23k less and a gobsmacking 556 hp and 551 ft-lbs from a supercharged 6.2 V8, not to mention a gorgeous interior and an exciting new interpretation of Art & Science, the new CTS-V made the STS-V the most pointless potential purchase in a Cadillac showroom. The XLR-V roadster may have been even more expensive and just as slow a seller but at least it was a roadster and had something no other Cadillac could offer. The STS-V overlapped with the new CTS-V for one year before being retired.
The STS-V’s exclusivity hasn’t translated to strong resale values, the cars being worth little more than the contemporary first-generation CTS-V. The 2009 models — the rarest model year — are generally worth thousands less than the much more desirable 2009 CTS-V. Selling an STS-V to M5 drivers in the mid-2000s was like trying to sell a two-bedroom Harlem walk-up to Upper East Side debutantes.
I daydream often about where I’d like to live and what cars I’d like to own. Give me a brownstone in Harlem, and some off-street parking for a daily driver CTS. And although the STS-V isn’t perfect, I’d love to have one as a weekend car. Then I wouldn’t need to be envious anymore.