2019 Cadillac CTS-V Review: High Horsepower Final Executive Orders

The Cadillac CTS-V is the Godiva chocolate of the car world. An opulent serving of sweet divinity, featuring the very best the manufacturer has to offer, all while secretly packing way more than meets the eye. Something this special should never be taken for granted. Yet the commuter masses remain an oblivious lot, and without a coat of “Renaissance Gold Metallic” paint sprayed across its hull, the two-ton cruiser gets labeled as just another luxury sedan sitting in the box alongside all the other semi-sweet options.

This means that one must go to great lengths to explain the vehicle’s significance to the throngs of unheeding people one might encounter. The words “high-performance supersedan” are confusing enough for most people to understand, so you can only imagine what attaching these descriptors to a Cadillac badge might entail.

Yes, you are correct. It does look very much like an average estate sedan to the untrained eye. No, it does not have all-wheel drive or Super Cruise semi-autonomous interstate drive modes like the CT6. Yes, it has some serious Corvette Z06 underpinnings to go with those big shiny brakes and subtly crafted carbon fiber aero bits. No, it is not good on gas, nor does it come with anything other than a supercharged V8. Of course, I would very much like to own one, and why yes, I would love to try a double-dark Dutch hazelnut chocolate truffle.

Dive into a brief CTS-V history lesson, and you’ll need to explain that since its launch in 2004, the V badge has seen a sedan, coupe, and wagon variations, its Corvette genetics allowing it to best sports cars that cost more than triple its sticker price. To put it bluntly, this was Cadillac’s hell-raiser, and it did its job and then some. But the V’s fifteen-year reign has finally come to an end,  with the 2019 CTS-V being the last of its kind, making these endangered 640-horsepower high-end hot rods all the more of a commodity.

Stuffed with a supercharged 6.2-liter V8, the CTS-V sports the same propulsion system that comes in the Corvette C7 Z06, delivering 640-horsepower and 630 lb-ft of torque to the rear haunches. This provides a riveting good time for those of us who favor extreme amounts of power in a rear-wheel-drive luxury sedan. With the computer’s drive setting toggled to “Race Mode,” and the right driver behind the wheel, straight shots to 60 mph can be delivered in 3.6-second increments in dry summer months once the Michelin Pilot Super Sport rubber come up to temp.

Lamenting the demise of the 6-speed manual option that once adorned the CTS-V may be heartfelt for some, but for the average luxury car buyer looking for a fun daily driver, the magnesium paddled 8-speed auto in the V should offer plenty of engagement. Compared to the new 10-speed automatic transmissions adorning recent GM offerings, the old 8-gear layout may feel a bit rough around the edges for some, but when you are powering around a corner with the ass-end out it likely won’t matter so much.

Before we get lost in a cloud of tire smoke and exhaust soot, it is important to recall that this is a Cadillac and a damn fine one at that. Street cruising in Tour Mode is a polished affair, with those 19-inch alloys and their low profile tires absorbing bumps with surprising amounts of forgiveness.

Although you may be rolling around on tires with sidewalls the size of Sharpie markers, the adaptive shock absorbers do an impressive job of keeping things cushy when in this softer setting. This layout includes Magnetic Ride Control monotube inverted MacPherson struts and an independent five-link rear suspension layout, which has been tuned to offer an enjoyable ride when carving canyons isn’t in the cards. Avoid mashing the throttle like a complete heathen, and the CTS-V sails past unsuspecting pedestrians, appearing all the world like just another high-end executive sedan.

Slap the sedan into Sport or Track Mode though, and the supercharged sentinel surges to life, magnesium paddle shifters snapping to attention, and quad pipes blasting out the back. You may not notice it from the comfort of the heavily insulated cabin, but the V’s exhaust makes a lot of LT4 racket, and I don’t mean that in a wrong way. In true Caddy fashion, the V’s engineers have gone to great lengths to make this sports sedan sound just as sophisticated as it looks, creating an exhaust that likes to burble and pop without appearing obnoxious.

What may come as the biggest surprise though, is the CTS-V’s ability to hammer corners with acute precision. On paper, it may appear to be a two-ton luxury barge, but put the sedan in one of its two performance modes and those magnetic, auto-adjusting dampers pull off some impressive parlor tricks.

This is thanks in part to the CTS-V’s superbly calibrated steering, which is weighted just right, tracks dead-on center, offers just the right amount of feedback and comes tied to a perfectly proportioned steering wheel. Tack-on an overly fastidious limited-slip differential out back, 6-pot Brembo brakes up front with 4-pots in the rear, and a specially tuned Stabilitrak traction control/stability assist program, and you’ve got globs of grip to go with all that grunt.

A word of caution from my time with this vehicle on track during warmer months, as well as from my experience with it during colder weather on winter tires. This car is quick to walk out on you if you aren’t careful, as even sticky Michelin Pilot Super Sport summer tires struggle to stay in control upon reaching optimum temps. Upgrading to a wider staggered wheel configuration would likely help, as the 19 x 10-inch rear alloy configuration is a bit narrow for something stocking this much torque.

As for driving in frosty weather, the CTS-V offers a helping hand when things get icy and dicey. StabiliTrak keeps traction control a priority at all times, but when put in Snow Mode, works double-time to keep the V from getting out of line. By dampening throttle inputs and turning the rear differential into a micro-manager with OCD, this system removes many of the RWD worries one might have. Granted, not a lot of people in colder climates will be driving their CTS-V year round. But for those brave souls who wish to hoon their V year round, my suggestion would be to wrap those stock alloys in Bridgestone Blizzak rubber, as I was far from impressed with Pirelli’s Sottozero tires.

Traction concerns voiced, there are a few more issues with this vehicle that demands to be discussed, which are more of inconveniences than grievances.

First of all, this final generation of the CTS-V is somewhat of a relic. It may have the latest CUE infotainment system and a digital dash that comes packed with useful and entertaining graphics, but this car has gone virtually unchanged since 2016. It’s still an attractive automobile, with high-quality materials spread throughout, but it definitely doesn’t strike you like the latest from the luxury brand.

Also, for being so large, the CTS-V has infuriatingly cramped storage compartments, and the rear seat is not nearly as roomy as one might expect. You also have to contend with fussy haptic feedback buttons instead of dedicated control knobs and switches along the center stack, and you would think that for around $100,000 Cadillac would have found a way to keep the standard CTS adaptive cruise control on deck.

Another glaring issue is that although the covert center stack storage tray may be designed for wireless charging, most phones won’t fit inside, and even if they do you’re going to have one hell of a hard time trying to get them out. In short, the CTS-V is not nearly as well packaged as say the CT6, which offers far superior storage solutions and user-friendly tech interfaces. For someone who is looking for a high-end commuter sedan, this can be a major deal-breaker. So if high-performance perks are nice but not necessary, and you really want a Cadillac, I would suggest looking toward the twin-turbo version of the Cadillac CT6.

Complaints about compartmentalized interior qualms complete, let’s turn back to the multitude of reasons why the Cadillac CTS-V makes for one hell of a solid executive sports sedan. With a starting price of $87,000, this platform offers buyers a lot of options at base value, starting with all of the V’s outstanding suspension, engine, brake, and powertrain performance perks. You also get a customizable 12-inch digital display cluster, the latest CUE infotainment suite, microfiber suede interior touches, magnesium paddle shifters, a color head-up display, and much more.

But one of my favorite characteristic of the Cadillac CTS-V is its ability to blend in. Unlike a Hellcat or a Camaro ZL1, the four-door genetic makeup of the V makes it look like just another refined luxury sedan to the untrained eye. While a carbon vented hood and coordinating materials along lower portions of the vehicle certainly stand out, it is done subtly as not to attract too much attention. Even those hulking brakes look like they belong, and without the optional gold color upgrade, almost disappear entirely. No gregarious physical attributes or unnecessary additions, just tastefully crafted, fully functional aerodynamics.

In operation, it’s impossible to mask the unmistakable whine of the LT4’s supercharger or the roar from the sedan’s quad exhaust upon startup. Snarling at a standstill with launch control safely engaged, the CTS-V suddenly turns from controlled corporate sedan to street screamer. And for those of us who prefer this sort of engagement, there is little to dislike about how the V behaves under heavy throttle.

With your foot off the brake and tire smoke billowing out back, it’s easy to hit 60 in just a tick under 4 seconds, with 200mph being the final top speed. Not confident in your ability to safely handle this much performance but still really want to own a V? Cadillac offers complimentary 2-day “V Performance Training” classes to anyone who buys one of these machines. From following a proper line and learning when to brake while approaching a carousel, to mastering the art of launch control, this private workshop has you covered.

For those dedicated track fanatics, a performance data recorder can be installed for $1,600, and a bolstered Recaro seat upgrade costs $2,300, which deletes the ventilated cushions up front leaving only heat. An additional $6,250 will secure the pictured carbon fiber aero package, and an interior luxury package runs a cool $2,500, which includes tri-zone climate control, heated rear seats, and sunshades. Other optional additions that might be of interest include a $1,295 carbon fiber engine cover, Cadillac’s Ultraview sunroof, polished wheels, and dark gold brakes. All tallied-up, along with a $1,300 gas guzzler tax and destination charges, my CTS-V for the week came to $106,180, a full $18,190 over its starting price.

Regardless of whether you opt for all, some, or none of these options, the Cadillac CTS-V remains one of the most intriguing performance vehicles of all time. This final generation is without a doubt the most fantastic version to date, even if it doesn’t come equipped with a manual gearbox anymore. It’s not just lightning fast and loud as all hell, but surprisingly refined and more comfortable than ever before. The downside is that buyers looking for practical packaging might find it to be a bit of a compromise.

For those of you who are in the market for a Cadillac sedan, my suggestion would be to drive the Cadillac CTS-V and then test-out a loaded CT6. Fully loaded this alternative features a boosted V6 with 404hp and almost equal amounts of torque, real carbon accents, rear TV screens, a more practical interior, and a self-driving interstate feature called “Super Cruise.” You will likely find both sedans to be excellent buying options, and by driving them back-to-back, you can determine whether extreme performance perks indeed are mandatory.

Striking a balance between brutish barbarian and board member, I firmly believe that the CTS-V stands as one of the greatest achievements in high-performance automotive history. The only question now is, are you willing to scoop one up before they disappear from sales floors forever?

Vehicle Type: Five passenger sport sedan, rear-wheel drive

Base Price: $86,995 Price as Tested: $106,180

Engine: 6.2-liter supercharged V8, 640-horsepower, 630- lb.-ft of torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic with manual mode

Overall Length/Width/Height: 198 L x 72 W x 57 H

Curb Weight: 4,141 lbs

Tire Size: 265/35R-19 F x 295/30R-19 R

EPA Mileage Estimates: 14 city / 21 highway / 16 combined

Assembled In: Lansing, Michigan

About the author

Micah Wright

Raised on LEGOs by grandfathers who insisted on fixing everything themselves, Micah has been a petrolhead in training since age four. His favorite past times include craft beer, strong cigars, fast cars, and culinary creativity in all of its forms.
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