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2012 Cadillac CTS-V Coupe Review by Carey Russ

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2012 Cadillac CTS-V


SEE ALSO: Cadillac Buyers Guide

"Iron fist in a velvet glove" is a term that has been used to describe many a German or British high-performance car. Applied to an automobile, the term means a combination of first-rate sports car performance and handling with luxury levels of comfort and refinement.

The Europeans no longer have a monopoly on the genre. The description applies just as well to the Cadillac CTS-V, especially in coupe form. To styling that looks like a spin-off from the Lockheed F-117 program add a supercharged and intercooled 6.2-liter V8 boasting 556 horsepower and chassis upgrades to cope with that very well indeed. The interior gets subtle upgrades, and unlike many luxury cars today electronic distractions are notably subdued or absent. This is a car for driving, not a connectivity module!

Watch "Things To Do Wth A Cadillac CTS-v

"Connectivity" here means connection with the car. There is one very notable bit of equipment that can be had in the CTS-V, be it coupe, sedan, or wagon -- a real manual gearbox, six speeds, with excellent linkage and just the right clutch effort. Yes, an automatic, also six-speed, is available and will likely be the overwhelming choice. But Cadillac is making a bold statement here: this is a car for serious drivers, drivers who prefer the control and involvement with the machine that a stick gives. Dual-clutch paddle-shift automated manuals may be the state of the racecar art, but the needs of the racing driver and the street or track day driver are not necessarily the same.

Did I just say "track day" in a Cadillac review? I sure did -- the CTS-V Coupe is a lovely and lively car for daily driving, and will do any chore necessary from grocery-getting to commuting to long-distance travel. But it's potent enough -- 0-60 well under five seconds and top speed far in excess of prudent on a public road, with cornering to match -- that serious exercise of its abilities is far into the "do not pass go, go directly to jail" zone. Cadillac did development testing on Germany's Nurburgring Nordschleife race track, so the beast is no stranger to competition tarmac.

Standard equipment level in the CTS-V Coupe is appropriately high, and it does have all of the contemporary electronics, including an excellent Bose audio system, Bluetooth phone connectivity, a navigation system, OnStar telematics, blind-spot warning, ultrasonic rear parking assist, and a rearview camera. It won't read your text messages to you, and that's a Good Thing -- the car is so quick and potent that any lapse of attention to that which is most important -- driving -- could have dire consequences. (True in any vehicle, especially so in one with high performance potential!)

My week with the CTS-V Coupe was a typical Spring week where I live. Which meant both sunny, warm weather and heavy rain and wind. The car's bespoke Michelin PS2 tires are not "all-season" but can handle rain well enough -- just be careful, keep the revs low, and don't provoke trouble. Snow? If you live there, you know the drill -- a separate set of wheels with snow tires mounted. The CTS-V is as potent as some German factory-tuner machinery that costs considerably more, and can hold its own with that exotica. It's thrillingly quick, with brakes to match, and despite track-ready cornering prowess its ride quality should be an industry standard. It should dispel any doubt that GM can build a world-class automobile. Downside? Well, those 550+ horses have to be fed… put that in your entertainment budget and buy oil company stock.

APPEARANCE: The regular CTS Coupe is unique in its styling, a wonderful and unmistakable example of the current state of Cadillac's "Art and Science" design language. It looks smaller than it is, and it's already pleasantly compact. The -V treatment for the coupe is much the same as is given to the sedan -- a unique front clip with mesh upper and lower grilles, a noticeable hood bulge to fit the supercharged V8 in place of the smaller V6, and flared wheel arches to better fit the differentially-sized 19-inch Michelins (P255/40 ZR19 front, P285/35 ZR19 rear) on alloy wheels. "Satin Graphite" colored wheels are one option fitted to my test car, and quite the lookers. Just be careful parallel parking, they're much to nice to scuff. The result of the -V additions is a car that is muscular in the manner of a true athlete, not muscle-bound like a cartoon body-builder.

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2012 Cadillac CTS-V

COMFORT: Here, too, the -V builds on the standard CTS, with Cadillac design language at its highest specification. It's appropriately conservative, with excellent fit and finish and use of materials. The seating position is lower than in the sedan, for a more "in the car" feeling. It's a fine office for the business of serious driving. My test car had the optional Recaro front seats, which power-adjust for just about any parameter including bolster snugness, and are both heated and cooled. They may feel firm initially, but that's best for distance. The steering wheel is power-adjustable for tilt and reach and has controls for audio and cruise systems on the spokes. Its thick leather rim is near-perfect, as is the position of the short-throw shift lever. Latches and auxiliary fore-aft controls at the rear top of the seatbacks allow easier access to the 2+2 rear seats, but this is a coupe, with the expected tradeoff between rear access and style. Once in, the rear bucket seats have a comfortable back angle and adequate room for medium-sized adults. A 60/40 split folding seatback is a surprise, and although trunk access is tight -- it's via a trunk lid, not a hatchback -- there is a useful amount of space for long-distance two-person touring. Some of that trunk space is due to the spare tire being replaced by a fix-a-flat kit.

SAFETY: The CTS-V Coupe is a real coupe, so there are blind spots, but no worse than other cars of the genre. A blind-spot warning system is standard, watch for lit icons in the outside rearview mirrors. Correct setting of those mirrors minimizes any rear-view issues anyway. Parking safety is aided by the backup camera, as the high tail does limit close rear vision. There's no rear wiper, but once up to speed aerodynamics take care of any rain there. The unibody structure is designed and built to protect passengers, there is a full complement of airbags, and OnStar telematics can provide emergency assistance. What can go exceedingly fast should stop just as well, and to that end strong antilock Brembo ventilated disc brakes with six-piston calipers in front and four-piston calipers in the rear do a more than admirable job.

RIDE AND HANDLING: Some other manufacturers have recently crowed about their use of magneto-rheological (MR) shock damping like it's a new invention. Yawn… Cadillac has been using and refining that for twenty years. Magnetic Ride Control uses electronic sensors and damper fluid that changes viscosity with the application of an electromagnetic field to actively and continuously change damping rate depending on road shock strength and driver desires. The two driver-adjustable settings here are "Tour" and "Sport". For everyday use, and even spirited street driving, Tour is just fine. Body roll is minimized by stiffer damping as necessary (by the variable MR fluid viscosity) with good ride comfort on poor surfaces. Sport is stiffer, and more appropriate to smooth roads or tracks. The -V builds on the regular CTS's independent short-and-long arm front, multilink rear suspension architecture, suitably beefed up for the demands of the extra power and contact patch. Steering effort is just right for optimum control and easy low-speed maneuverability.

PERFORMANCE: Five hundred fifty-six horsepower. It sounds, and is, impressive. Here it's also completely civilized, at least at low rpm, under 3000 or so. You could easily just short-shift at 3500 and feel completely happy with the CTS-V's ability to quickly make up there become back there. And driven like that, fuel economy is almost reasonable. But if that's what you really want, get the regular CTS… this one builds power right to the 6200 rpm redline, with the maximum at 6100. Torque is where the 6.2-liter supercharged and intercooled aluminum alloy OHV V8 excels - 551 lb-ft at 3800 rpm and plenty down lower for a the sort of healthy midrange torque that makes shifting optional. But the precise linkage and well-chosen ratios of the six-speed manual make its use a pleasure. Clutch effort is moderate despite the torque involved, this is not an Italian body-building machine. The audio system sounds just fine, but mostly I listened to the stereo music coming from the twin exhausts under the center of the rear bumper, classic American V8. Fuel economy is not a reason to buy this car -- EPA estimates are 14mpg city and 19 highway, probably accurate for gentle use. I got 14 with mostly around-town driving and a few moderately successful efforts at back-road and highway on-ramp fun.

CONCLUSIONS: The Cadillac CTS-V can hold its own against anything the Germans can offer.


2012 Cadillac CTS-V Coupe

Base Price $ 63,215

Price As Tested $ 71,185

Engine Type supercharged and intercooled pushrod OHV 16-valve V8

Engine Size 6.2 liters / 376 cu. in.

Horsepower 556 @ 6100 rpm

Torque (lb-ft) 551 @ 3800 rpm

Transmission 6-speed manual

Wheelbase / Length 113.4 in. / 188.5 in.

Curb Weight 4209 lbs.

Pounds Per Horsepower 7.6

Fuel Capacity 18 gal.

Fuel Requirement 91 octane unleaded premium gasoline

Tires F: P255/40 ZR19 99Y R: P285/35 ZR19 99Y Michelin Pilot Sport PS2

Brakes, front/rear vented disc all around, ABS, brake assist, dynamic rear brake proportioning standard

Suspension, front/rear independent short-and-long arm (SLA) / multilink, magneto-rheological shock damping front and rear

Drivetrain front engine, rear-wheel drive


EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon

city / highway / observed 14 / 19 / 14

0 to 60 mph est 4.5 sec


Recaro high-performance seats (heated and cooled) $ 3,400

Gas guzzler tax $ 1,300

Thunder Gray Chromaflair paint $ 995

19" satin graphite wheels $ 800

Midnight Sapele wood trim package $ 600

Destination charge $ 875