The CTS-V doesn’t quite achieve the fit and finish of a BMW or Mercedes, but

Cadillac CTS-V

The first CTS-V, introduced in 2004 with 400 hp, was a fun car. Most memorably, it was available only with manual transmission-not a notably smooth-shifting box, but a first for Cadillac since World War II and a signal that the company was serious about wooing performance-car buyers.

The new CTS-V takes the brand to the top rung, its 556-hp engine making it the quickest American sedan ever sold. The CTS-V still doesn't quite achieve the fit and finish of a BMW or Mercedes, but the experience of exhilaration behind the wheel cedes nothing to the Germans.

To see Cadillac, historically a purveyor of hovercraft to the Stay Puft marshmallow man, in the top stalls of GM's performance stable is a surprise, but in some ways it shouldn't be: the brand has been trying to shed its reputation for staid, numb conveyances since the mid-1980s, if you count the Allanté as its first stab at sports-car stardom. Cadillac sold almost 21,500 of the two-seat, Pininfarina-bodied convertibles in seven years of complicated, intercontinental production involving a Boeing 747 freighter. The two-seat, stowable-hardtop XLR continues the Allanté's assault on the Mercedes SL to this day, and in -V version it is the most expensive Caddy ever sold, at about $105,000.

By comparison, the CTS-V is a bargain at about $60,000, with twice the seating of the XLR, more power, the rigidity of a fixed hardtop and handling to hound or even trounce the best German sports sedans on the Nurburgring. A new BMW M5 will set you back close to $100,000, but a new M3 four-door typically sells in the low $60,000s, putting the CTS-V's price tag right where it belongs to succeed.

Unlike near-geezers, such as myself, who still associate Caddies with marshmallows and wandering hovercraft, younger enthusiasts today see a Cadillac as something to aspire to. I was intercepted outside a deli by a youth breathless with the excitement of laying eyes on what was clearly the car of his dreams. He knew its horsepower, its torque, its wheel sizes, its zero-to-60 and quarter-mile stats and, boy, did he want one. With this in mind, I made a conscious effort to look at the CTS-V from a strictly fresh perspective, not jaundiced by memories of eight-liter sumo rollers with the driving appeal of a sofa.

The chiseled and multifaceted lines of the CTS-V's exterior are straight out of the Skunkworks' design book for the Lockheed F-117A Nighthawk stealth fighter, to the point that you wonder whether the thing might actually be invisible to police radar. (Alas, it's built of steel and aluminum rather than radar-absorbent material, so no, it's not.)

Open the doors and a classy interior of leather and microfiber beckons, particularly the two genuine Recaro seats in the front. The CTS-V we borrowed was black outside and in, a shade that seemed to match the car's sinister shape. Its base price was $57,920, rising to $62,540 with destination charges and the three options installed: an "ultraview" sunroof ($900) with glazing that extended to the back seats, 19-inch polished aluminum wheels ($800) and a nav system ($2,145).

Standard equipment on the -V includes a 6.2-liter, 556-hp supercharged V8 with variable valve timing, an eager engine that is something of a cross between the Corvette ZR1's 638-hp and standard Corvette's 6.2-liter engines. Whatever, it never fails to quicken the pulse. How much power does the CTS-V pack? Four more horsepower propelling half a ton less weight than the twin-turbo six-liter W12 in the Bentley Continental GT we tested for the last issue of BJT.

The CTS-V now comes with either six-speed manual or button-shifted automatic transmission, and we had the latter, the three-pedal press car having met with an untimely demise before it was our turn to drive.

Something has changed at GM in terms of its willingness to stay the course when taking on the Germans. Earlier attempts fizzled and so did GM's resolve. This time, instead of walking away from the shortcomings of the original CTS-V, it has done something as obsessive as the Germans: charge its engineers with keeping the pressure on by fixing the weaknesses.

The result is a car that is exceedingly quick on both a standing start and through the turns. GM claims a zero-to-60 time of 3.9 seconds, and the supercharger makes for power that builds a little less abruptly than in, say, the Mercedes SL63 AMG. The CTS-V's powers of acceleration, steering and braking will stretch one's jowls with their quickness and sharpness. While the German builders govern their cars to a top speed of 155 mph, Cadillac just says giddy-up and claims a drag-limited 191 mph for the new CTS-V.

The car books have taken this Caddie to 0.93 lateral gs on the skidpad, shod with Michelin PS2 tires, the sort of grip limits that most prudent road drivers will never approach. Thanks to their shape and surface, the Recaro seats grip the driver and passenger as tenaciously as the Michelin rubber sticks to the road. And this is a Cadillac! (Excuse me for that Stay Puft flashback moment.)

No car that gets 15 mpg will save General Motors single-handedly, but as a piece of machinery, the 2009 CTS-V sedan shows what the distressed leviathan's engineers are capable of creating, given the right mission by management, the money to execute it and the will and resources to persevere. What a shame the company didn't give the world's car buyers a similar flash of brilliance 10 years ago instead of betting nearly everything on thirsty SUVs, dull sedans and halfhearted, lackluster econoboxes.

Cadillac CTS-V Stats

Engine: V8, 6.2 liters, supercharged, pushrods, 16 valves

Engine output: 556 hp @ 6100 rpm; 551 lb-ft @ 1600 rpm

Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual button shifters on steering wheel

Weight: Curb, 4,292 lb

Power loading: 7.7 lb/hp

Drag cd: 0.36

Top speed: 191 mph

Zero to 60 mph: 3.9 sec

Fuel capacity: 18 U.S. gal

City/highway (EPA): 14/19 mpg

Test average: 14.9 mpg

Test tires: Michelin Pilot Sport PS2, Front: 255/40ZR19, Rear: 285/35ZR19

Standard retail price: $57,920

Price as tested: $62,540

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