Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: October 26, 2020
Let’s get the elephant out of the room. The CT5-V is not meant to compete against the BMW M3. Rather, it’s aimed directly at other one-rung-below-halo models like the BMW M340i, Mercedes-AMG C 43, and Audi S4. Perhaps they should have called it the V-Sport? Nevertheless, Cadillac says the CT5-V is the direct replacement for the ATS-V and CTS V-Sport, sitting in between the two in terms of size and performance. But introducing a brand new model name, CT5, and reshuffling the performance hierarchy, won’t exactly make things any easier for consumers to learn and become attracted to.
And we’ve been spoiled in the past by dedicated V products like the ATS-V and CTS-V, a pair of muscular, exceptionally agile, and athletic American sedans that shaped the way we viewed Cadillac as a performance brand. We adored the ATS-V for its sharp front end, beautifully damped suspension, and convoluted but welcome traction control settings. Though it lacked character and sound from its V6 engine, it put up a strong fight against the BMW M3. The CTS-V was another wild Cadillac with the beating heart of a Corvette Z06. It was cheaper, more spacious, and nearly as sharp as a BMW M5.
But this new CT5-V doesn’t quite compete at the same level. The spec sheet can raise an eyebrow at first because under the hood is not a V8, but a 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged V6 that produces 360 hp and 405 lb-ft through a 10-speed automatic transmission. Rear-wheel drive comes standard, as it should for any performance offering, with optional all-wheel drive. Along with Magnetic Ride Control 4.0, a clever traction management system with five modes, an electronic limited-slip differential, Brembo front brakes with electronic boost assist, and 19-inch wheels with performance tires, the CT5-V appears to have the right ingredients to topple its direct rivals.
The pricing is also structured to be competitive, with the RWD CT5-V starting at $49,798 and the AWD at $51,998, ringing up significantly lower than the Audi S4 ($60,400), BMW M340i ($65,354), and Mercedes-AMG C 43 ($59,900). So there is quite a lot of value to be found, and there will inevitably be cross-shopping with other underdogs like the Genesis G70 3.3t, Kia Stinger, and Infiniti Q50 400 Sport as well. But have no fear. Cadillac is coming out with a proper M3 fighter in the form of the CT5 Blackwing scheduled for later next year. And yes, it will use an updated version of the CTS-V’s 6.2-litre supercharged V8.
Cadillac has always managed to make their V models look the part. Sporting a sleek silhouette, broad shoulders, and a wide grill that links the headlights together, the CT5-V has got to be one of the most distinctive and visually appealing Cadillacs to date. The rear end is also quite the looker, with a unique light signature and aggressive quad exhaust tips.
But it’s going to take more than looks if Cadillac wants us to forget about the offerings from Germany. Luckily, the CT5-V is a pretty wonderful machine, and a proper dancing partner at that. The V6 engine has character, something that can’t be said for Cadillac engines in the past. The torque band is broad, and heavily swells up in the mid-range. I wouldn’t mind more power in the higher RPMs, and 6,000 rpm is quite low for a V6 redline. The power delivery feels very similar to the Maserati Ghibli’s V6 in fact, which coincidentally uses the same engine layout. And there’s no denying the V6’s effectiveness with 90% of its maximum torque coming right at 1,800 rpm, giving it a nice low-end kick. The CT5-V actually carries more torque than the Audi S4 (369 lb-ft), BMW M340i (369 lb-ft), and C 43 AMG (384 lb-ft), but the Cadillac is slightly heavier, meaning its 0-100 km/h is hampered at 5.0 seconds, slower than the S4 (4.7 s), M340i (4.3 s), and C 43 (4.7 s).
The 10-speed gearbox is a welcome companion and was actually co-developed with Ford. Quick to shift and smooth in transitions, the 10-speed is well-matched to the high-torque V6. Taking control via the paddle shifters does expose some rougher edges, as it lacks the lightning pace of an 8-speed ZF or dual-clutch. The shifts could be crispier but it’s still quick enough to keep up on spirited runs. And despite ten gears to row through, the CT5-V AWD is not the most fuel-efficient performance sedan we’ve tested. In city driving alone, we averaged a measly 14.3 L/100km.
The steering is fluid and direct, instilling enough confidence to place the CT5-V exactly where you want it. The steering feel is intrinsically heavy, not as muted as a BMW M340i but more granular than a C 43 AMG. It almost holds a candle to our gold standard of electric steering racks - the Alfa Romeo Giulia. The front nose isn’t as tight or as pointed as the M340i but the rear end remains just as playful, ready to kick out at any moment’s notice should you get too carried away with the gas. My gut tells me the RWD variant will be even sharper and with better steering feel.
As always, Cadillac’s suspension and damper setup is exceptional. Like the ATS-V before it, the CT5-V and its magnetic damper system is a wonder to behold. Not just in the way it absorbs bumps and relays a comfortable, almost magic carpet ride around town at low speeds, but the way it feels taut and exhibits minimal body roll when tossed around at speed. It strikes that fine line between comfort and performance, and strays to both extremes at the same time. The end result is the CT5-V feeling more grounded than an Audi S4, and slightly more playful than a C 43 AMG.
The brake-by-wire system can get some getting used to, as the brake pedal is electrically boosted and incredibly sensitive to input. For those sim racing enthusiasts out there, it feels quite similar to a load cell pedal, in that it only takes a minimal amount of pedal travel to elicit a strong braking response, and it exponentially increases with added pressure. The travel is linear, predictable, and more importantly, replicable time after time, giving you consistent braking force and a build up of driver confidence. It’s not artificial feeling at all, and is a major improvement from Cadillac’s first application of it on the XT4.
At the end of the day, if performance remains a top priority, it’s the RWD variant that you want. Our test vehicle was equipped with the AWD system that commands a $2,200 premium, and Cadillac themselves are quick to point out that driving all four wheels is less of a performance enhancer with the CT5-V, and more for inclement weather traction. For us Canadians though, that might be a penny worth paying for, along with a nice set of winter tires. The drawbacks remain with a heavier front end and busier steering, but we have yet to test the RWD variant so we can’t report back on any differences.
When the road becomes serpentine, Cadillac has installed a convenient V button within thumb’s reach on the steering wheel. Like BMW’s red M buttons, this conjures up a customizable mode for you to map your engine response, gearbox calibration, suspension setting, steering effort, and exhaust noise. Of course, ours was set to the full extreme, so whenever we pushed the V button, the V6 would wake from its slumber, the ride would stiffen up, and the exhaust would snarl to life.
And it’s the exhaust where Cadillac has made a monumental step forward. My oh my, have they finally found a way to make this V6 sing. It’s the best sounding Cadillac of this generation. There’s character in its voice, a distinct pop on hard upshifts, and a polished gearbox to keep up with the rapid fire shifts. Select the aforementioned V mode and a flap in the exhaust will open, turning up the volume even further. A higher RPM limit would have been the icing on the cake. Cadillac admits that some of the noise is piped in through the speaker system, making it sound 75% like a Maserati Quattroporte, but have a listen to our Exhaust Notes video where our microphone is mounted outside right next to the actual exhaust, to hear its true authentic voice.
While not a terribly bright or characterfully designed cabin, the interior remains functional and ergonomically sound. There’s not much going for it in terms of cabin pizzazz, and is frankly quite bland in comparison to its Teutonic offerings, but there are some standout features like crisp analog gauges and a substantial steering wheel that feels wonderful to grip. It’s available in suede too. I’m generally not a fan of suede in road cars but this one is exceptionally warm, soft, and fuzzy when the heated wheel function is switched on.
The 10-inch touchscreen is standard fare and is a breeze to use, a far cry from what used to be known as CUE. The learning curve here is significantly lower, and comes with crisp high-definition graphics. It supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as well should you prefer a more familiar interface. At first, the flurry of buttons and dials does make functionality a tad confusing. There are three redundant ways to control the touchscreen. You can touch the screen, utilize the knob right below it, or use the larger rotary dial near the armrest. The problem comes down to choosing which one to use, because the dials are actually limited in function. For example, the shortcut menu screen with the widgets? The dials don’t work with that screen. I kid you not - a message will actually ping up that says ‘this knob does not work on this screen,’ meaning the only way to access it is by touching the screen. Frustrating? Extremely.
Good thing that there are massaging seats to bring your blood pressure back to normal. Oh yes, driver and front passenger massaging seats on a compact entry-level premium sedan. It’s almost like Cadillac knew. Of course, it’s not the adjustable, customizable, and strong variant that you would find in the Escalade. There are just four lumbar air bladders that knurl the lower and middle back area, but it’s better than nothing. There’s a dedicated button for it next to the seat controls on the lower seat frame.
What slightly irks me is that the gear shifter is ripped straight from a Buick Enclave. Sure it’s padded with suede at the back but if Cadillac wants us to forget about its more humble origins, best to invest more money and make it more upscale without clearly borrowed parts. Window switches, signal stalks, and infotainment units I’m okay about. But the substantially sized gear shifter? That’s a bit of a stretch, and is a missed opportunity if you ask me to really cement the V Series from an aesthetic standpoint.
Where the CT5-V gains an advantage is by being slightly larger in size than its direct competitors. It matches up against the 3 Series and C Class but the rear accommodations in the Cadillac are noticeably roomier and closer to the 5 Series and E Class. I can sit behind myself and have enough legroom to wiggle about. Headroom is still a bit tight with its sloped back roofline but more than acceptable for my six-foot frame to call home for lengthy journeys.
We weren’t expecting to enjoy the CT5-V as much as we did. Set your expectations correctly and there’s a lot to like. The CT5-V is not a traditional hairy-chested V product but it’s just as fun, equally as engaging, and finally has the vocals to tingle the spine. It’s the clear underdog in this fight, living in the shadow of BMW and AMG with a lower price tag, but the undeniable value should be appreciated. Cadillac is almost there, and the CT5-V is hopefully an exciting taste of what’s to come. The shuffling of the nomenclature and the overall confusion that it brings consumers is not exactly welcome, and the interior could use some garnish to bring an upscale vibe, but there’s no denying the fact that Cadillac has engineered a proper performance sedan to ring in new and loyal customers.
Model: 2020 Cadillac CT5-V AWD
Paint Type: Satin Steel Metallic
Base Price: $49,798
Price as Tested: $65,423
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,924 / 1,883 (without mirrors) / 1,452
Curb weight (kg): 1,803
Engine: 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged V6
Horsepower: 360 hp @ 5,600 rpm
Torque: 405 lb-ft @ 2,400 - 4,400 rpm
Transmission: 10-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 14.3