No fins, whitewalls or crushed velvet seats – but 556hp makes for a courageous Caddy
By Mike Duff / Saturday, July 3, 2021 / Loading comments
No car company has a greater discrepancy between name recognition and European sales volumes than Cadillac, not even Ferrari. Pretty much everybody on our side of the pond has heard of the American brand, with the word likely to summon mental images of pink Elvis-spec Fleetwoods from the ’50s, or a fully pimped Huggy Bear spec Eldorado from the ’70s. But sales in Euroland have always been tiny. Our Pill has retired here after its first life in the Middle East and seems to be one of fewer than a dozen CTS-Vs in the UK, the fact it’s a coupe making it even rarer.
Cadillac’s modern era is very different from that earlier period of waterbed dynamics and chrome by the acre. The change to the new epoch was neatly summarized in the gap between the two attempts that were made to launch Caddy into the UK just after the millennium.
The first of these involved the sizeable Seville saloon, which some bright-eyed and doubtless long since sacked GM executive reckoned could be pitched as a credible rival to posh European brands. This despite its unlikely combination of front-wheel drive and a V8 engine that gave a handling balance as front biased as Lolo Ferrari’s modelling portfolio. Cadillac went to the considerable trouble of creating a right-hand drive Seville and then spent many millions on an advertising campaign which – like the earlier one for the Rover 800 – tried to celebrate the fact that you’d be able to find your Caddy in a carpark packed with executive me-toos. But the car itself didn’t come close to delivering on the necessary quality, its cabin made from plastic and hide so pungent that you smelled it as much as saw it. Fewer than 500 were sold.
Plan B arrived a couple of years later, and with a very different car. The CTS was a smaller, sportier Cadillac, positioned between the BMW 3-Series and 5-Series in size and aiming at both. It had been engineered to deliver a much sharper driving experience than any of its predecessors, including the option of a manual gearbox (making it the first Caddy to get one since the Mk2 Cavalier related Cimarron had died in 1988.) To prove its dynamic credentials the company invited a small group of journos to the Nurburgring to pedal a V6 prototype around the Nordschleife and, even in its vanilla guise, the CTS coped impressively well with this unlikely challenge.
There were still a couple of fairly obvious issues. The first was a cabin that felt far closer to contemporary Vauxhalls than BMWs in terms of perceived quality. The second was the fact that, despite promising to do so, GM never actually fronted the considerable costs of moving the steering wheel across the cabin. (The only Cadillac since the Seville to have been offered with the factory option of right-hand drive was the Saab-based, Europe-only BLS.)
European sales of the CTS were barely better than those of the Seville had been, but the new car was a hit in its homeland and Cadillac soon introduced a V8-powered version carrying CTS-V branding. The first generation V used a naturally aspirated 5.7-litre version of the familiar LS1 V8 making 400hp, and with the sole transmission choice of a six-speed Tremec manual gearbox. But with the second generation, launched in 2008, Cadillac upgraded the CTS-V to a supercharged 6.2-litre V8 based on the engine in the Corvette ZR1 and producing a mighty 556hp, a figure that outgunned every obvious European alternative.
The Mk2 CTS range had also been broadened with the arrival of both coupe and estate bodyshells – the latter known as the Sport Wagon – and in time the decision was taken to offer CTS-V versions of both of these as well. The Coupe was launched in 2010 with the two door model’s combination of height and shortness giving it compellingly strange visual proportions. The V came with standard magnetic dampers, vast Brembo brakes and 19-inch wheels, and was capable of both a 4.4 second 0-62 mph time and a 191mph top speed with the manual gearbox. (The auto was limited to 179mph, as the gearbox software wouldn’t allow it to use sixth at very high speeds.) When not delivering full fury the engine was much more laid-back, contemporary reviews praising its relaxed demeanour and ability to deliver effortless high-speed cruising.
This CTS-V was nominally available in the UK, although buying one would mean accepting the need to always be sitting on the wrong side at ticket barriers, and also travelling to the UK’s sole Cadillac dealership at the time, Bauer Millett in Manchester. You’d also need to fork out a very considerable £69,875 for the privilege; this at a time when the Competition Package version of the E92 M3 listed for £56,600. Business was less than brisk. Indeed, the inability to distinguish between saloon and coupe in the available registration data means it is entirely possible none were sold at all.
According to the dealer offering our Pill it only reached the UK earlier this year, having originally been supplied to an unspecified (but doubtless affluent) part of the Gulf. It is also a Black Diamond Edition which it transpires was an expensive factory offering rather than the sort of ‘tick every option’ dealer upgrade that the name suggests. Black Diamond spec included what Cadillac promised was the first use of proprietary triple coat ‘SpectraFlair’ pigment paint – good luck having that colour matched at Backstreet Dave’s Spray Shop – plus graphite-colour wheels, yellow brake calipers and ‘Midnight Sapele’ wood in the cabin; presumably these being the bits of trim that look like they are black plastic.
The seller promises a full history and has listed services at what seem to be sensible time and distance gaps. Our Pill passed its first British MOT in late March and with a mileage that corresponds to the kilometres on the service record. Pictures show the speedo has been set to mph (which should just be a tweaked menu setting), but because it keeps the kilometre number scale it means it reads to 330mph. Something that will doubtless impress the next buyer’s more credulous mates. Internet research suggests the aftermarket-looking infotainment screen is the actual factory system, this incorporating a miniature panel of touch sensitive buttons left exposed when the screen half-retracts into the dash. Something which may impress anybody who has never seen an iPad.
Mechanically pretty much everything is familiar, and as with all versions of GM’s long-serving pushrod V8 there will be plentiful expertise and support out there. But the rest of the car is far closer to ‘on your own’ territory, even the most specialised of UK-based specialists are unlikely to have seen another one. If anything CTS-specific goes badly wrong then you’re likely to be spending lots of time and/ or money trying to put it right. For £32,000 our Pill is well beyond frivolous purchase territory, and also considerably more than you’d have to spend on even the nicest E92 M3 or W204 E63 from the era.
But anyone courageous enough to take the plunge could end up with something truly unique, on this side of the Atlantic at least. What’s that level of exclusivity worth?
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