2020 Cadillac CT5-V First Drive: Vivacious And Vexing

First Drive / Comments

The CT5-V is a solid offer, but it stops short of being special.

It was about a year ago when Cadillac pulled the sheet off the 2020 CT4-V and 2020 CT5-V at an event leading up to the 2019 Belle Isle Grand Prix in Detroit, Michigan. The media crowd in attendance appeared thrilled, at first. New V-Series Cadillacs - the fourth installment of the performance vehicle family that has started to develop a reputation as the new sheriff of Munich. That's what V-Series implied, anyway.

At this juncture, I can't help but think of how the English language has words that represent a pinnacle adjective. V-Series represented a pinnacle of luxury vehicle performance.

Now, we're left having to make up new words to backfill what has been watered down. That's why Cadillac appears to be compensating its highly questionable marketing strategy with the new "Blackwing" moniker. Don't get me wrong - that's a good, strong name. And could have been used for something akin to what Mercedes-AMG does with its "Black Series" cars; limited run performance machines that are absolutely, outrageously powerful.

Perhaps this is a rigid way of thinking. After all, the 2020 Cadillac CT5-V is attempting to convince the world that it's not the uncompromising red-blooded personality that its father was, despite keeping the family name. We have to give it a chance.

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Exterior: Subtle, Strong

Good looks do indeed run in the family. The CTS looked good. The CT5-V looks even better, but keeps things buttoned-down and restrained as if to not give you the wrong impression. The only giveaway that the CT5-V is up for a track day is the rather extroverted exhaust tips at the backside. Look a little closer and you may spot Brembo brakes, complemented by meaty Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires, as well.

This same backside teases of a liftback profile. Which would be a more practical take over the "three box" approach - something that GM tried with the now-discontinued Buick Regal. However, it is just teasing. That sloped roofline does not indicate a break from convention. Despite this, its sculpture is otherwise strong and confident, yet speaks softly. Looking at it, you'd have little idea that there's over 400 lb-ft of torque under the hood. So if you want a posh sleeper, look no further. Adding to this is the fact that the exterior trimmings are otherwise absent of chrome, in a way that Mayweather is absent of jewelry in the ring. It certainly looks all-business.

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Interior: Similar Mistakes

The goalpost continues to move in automotive interior design arguably more than any other aspect, besides technology perhaps. With each passing generation, vehicle cabins continue to become ever more high-end, and there are a few brands known for moving the needle forward. Escalade aside, Cadillac hasn't really been known as that brand for a while. But that's not to say the CT5-V is necessarily drab. The Bose Performance Speakers are nicely plated with brushed aluminum in the door panels, while the power windows operate in dead silence. It's this kind of attention to detail, however, that clashes with overlooked touchpoints such as the steering column-mounted turn signal and windshield wiper control stalks. These flimsy pieces of black plastic are unforgivably low-quality for something the customer will constantly interact with.

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The instrument panel, electronic shifter, infotainment screen and HVAC controls otherwise seem directly pulled from Cadillac crossovers. Which is a fine demonstration of constancy. But who wants to be reminded of the Cadillac XT6 when piloting a V-Series? Moreover, this could make the CT5-V Blackwing a harder sell if the interior doesn't start to feel special for the price point it will likely command.

Visibility is otherwise optimal in the CT5-V, and the positioning of the steering wheel in relation to the seat, the beltline, and the pedals helps invoke confidence in its pilot.

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Technology: Big Improvements

Cadillac took a big risk with the introduction of the original CUE system. An early infotainment design that disregarded buttons and knobs for haptic touch controls didn't go over well with customers, and did little to attract buyers outside of the fold when they researched the system. The new infotainment layout found in the Cadillac CT5-V, as well as the base CT5, CT4, XT4 and XT6, is certainly much easier to use than the original CUE system.

The CT5-V incorporates GM's new Global B electrical architecture, which is five times more powerful than the system it replaces. Its full potential is not realized in the CT5-V just yet, however. Screen resolutions, displays and infotainment software seem to be carryover from what can be found in older designs. But we can only imagine that this will change shortly. Unfortunately, it will do little to increase the appeal of the camera mirror system. No matter how crisp the images are, the system strains the eyes, plain and simple.

This CT5-V also came with a "Parking Package." This $2,090 option adds the rear camera mirror, automated parking assist with braking, rear pedestrian alert, HD surround view camera system, surround vision recorder, power folding heated mirrors, power tilt and telescoping steering wheel, and hands-free controls for the rear trunk. But you shouldn't need any of these things. Pay attention, and save yourself some money.

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Engine: A Healthy Heart

A twin-turbo 3.0-liter V6 that isn't found in any other vehicle in Cadillac's portfolio (except for the discontinued CT6) is under the hood of the CT5-V, producing just 360 horsepower, but a sensual 405 lb-ft of torque. The GM 10-speed automatic transmission is, wonderfully, as quick as they can make a single-clutch unit, and as smart as they come. It also helps keep the engine in an optimal power band through a broader range of speed. The sound of a bullwhip-cracking exhaust after an upshift at the top of the RPM range is the reward for driving the CT5-V as intended (yes - at the end of the day it is an athlete).

However, we'd like to be able to listen to turbocharger whooshes and whistles that could add a bit more character to the driving experience. Cadillac, if you're going to pretend that you're too good for a small block V8, at least uncork your turbo engine audio a bit. Shying from a V8 certainly doesn't feel like a CAFE play, either. The CT5-V in RWD guise is EPA rated at 18 mpg city and 26 mpg highway for a combined 21 mpg. By comparison, a V8-powered Camaro SS actually returns 1 mpg better on the highway.

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Driving Impressions: Softer Than Before

The CT5-V has a chassis that's based on the GM A2 Platform, which is an evolution of the Alpha platform used for the ATS, CTS, and sixth-generation Chevrolet Camaro. I'm told that one of the main targets that engineers had to meet for the A2 Platform was to dial out much of the noise, vibration and harshness that can be found in the ATS and CTS. To that end, they've succeeded, although there's little that can be done about the thump and slap transmitting from the Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires over road imperfections. The 3,993-pound CT5-V otherwise behaves in familiar ways compared to its ancestors. That's to say that it's very easy to get in and drive fast, and very easy to build up to the limit. It's a great chassis for both beginners and expert drivers, as it rewards and forgives with generosity on both sides.

That said, there are a few items that set the driving experience back a bit. And it has mostly to do with the steering calibration. This new electronic power steering assist system needs to be ironed out still, as it feels less dialed in than what can be found in the ATS and CTS.

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In Sport and Track settings, the steering effort of the CT5-V feels akin to winding up a rubber band-powered propellor. It's a far cry from the steering feel of the ATS and CTS, which were commended for their sharpness. As a reference, our house has an ATS as a daily driver, so it's easy to recall what was offered before CT5 and CT4. Our tester provided by Cadillac was a pre-production model, so hopefully, that means improvements are still inbound.

The brake and gas systems are similar stories. The CT5-V is a throttle-by-wire setup, while the brake system is assisted with an e-booster. As a result, we're left feeling that every input is now as numb as any BMW. This wasn't the case with the previous go-round.

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Pricing: A Winning Strategy?

The starting MSRP of our 2020 Cadillac CT5-V tester begins at $47,695, plus a $995 destination fee, and $11,500 worth of options. This brings the grand total to $60,195. Aside from the Parking Package mentioned previously, options included a V Premium Package ($4,190) that adds special lighting, navigation, the Bose premium audio package, and a Climate Package. Other options include a $1,500 Whisper Beige/Jet Black Accents interior, a $1,300 Driver Awareness Plus package, $600 19-inch wheels, and $595 colored Brembo brakes. Lastly, the Red Obsession Tintcoat costs $1,225.

Since the pricing announcement of the 2020 Corvette Stingray, all performance vehicles have been henceforth indexed by the MSRP of this mid-engined supercar. Thus, with an MSRP of over $60,000 as tested, you can have *this* CT5-V as is, or you could have a base C8 Corvette. You better use those extra seats if you desire the former.

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At any rate, it just makes the BMW M335i look like even more of a ripoff, let alone the M540i. The new CT5-V also undercuts its predecessor, the Cadillac CTS V-Sport, which came in at $61,695 before options.

With the rollout of the CT5, Cadillac is reverting back to a successful pricing strategy that worked well with the second-generation CTS, which was close to a BMW 5 Series in size, but competed with the 3 Series in terms of price. The CT5-V aggressively undercuts all of its competitors in terms of MSRP, and for that reason alone, makes it a hard prospect to ignore. Even as eyes are looking away from this segment entirely, Cadillac seems to have a more pragmatic strategy this go-round, and it could pay off.

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Verdict: Some Lessons Were Learned

The 2020 Cadillac CT5-V is a well-sculpted and rather stealthy sport sedan with a fantastic chassis and robust powertrain that's held back by underwhelming driver controls and an impotent marketing strategy. Regardless, the CT5-V is a relative performance value to the rest of the segment, is the only American offering, and is still a fun driving machine overall. It's certainly worth a look, simply on price and design alone.

Over time, we can see more technology upgrades happening to the car, as Cadillac begins to roll out new software that properly demonstrates the power of a new electrical architecture. We can otherwise hope for a powertrain offering that could bridge the gap between the 360-hp CT5-V here, and the upcoming Blackwing version, which will likely have almost 300 additional horsepower. This CT5-V would make a very fine base model. But saying that just makes us question the naming strategy even more.

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