Cadillac's CTS-V is a mild-mannered monster, a Clark Kent car that transforms instantly from milquetoast sedan to high-horsepower track master.
Moderately styled inside and out but massive under the hood, the CTS-V represents Cadillac's ambition to build the perfect all-around performance car — or what the company calls "the ultimate sports sedan."
"This is a car for someone who wants a car that can do everything," said Tony Roma, chief engineer for Cadillac's ATS, CTS and V-series family. "They don't want a fleet full of sports cars and luxury cars."
Cadillac has stuffed the CTS-V with sports car and luxury car appointments.
The four-door, five-passenger sedan is propelled by a 6.2-liter supercharged V-8 engine, jointly designed by engineers from Cadillac and its GM sibling Corvette, that makes 640 horsepower and 630 pound-feet of torque.
The CTS-V engineers said they were trying for the throttle response of a Ferrari 458 and an engine growl that "barked with a special signature," helped in part by the quad exhaust system.
Check off that box. The rear-wheel-drive CTS-V is a rubber-burning, tail-wagging hooligan car.
The eight-speed transmission comes with a track mode and a launch control function. (The daily driver modes are Touring and Sport.) The 19-inch wheels are clad in performance tires. A front splitter and rear spoiler come standard.
Together, those elements allow this refined rocket to jet from zero to 60 miles per hour in a claimed 3.7 seconds, on the way to a top speed of 200 miles per hour.
Brembo brake calipers bring the vehicle back to earth. A magnetic ride control suspension system keeps it stable. A head-up display keeps the driver's eyes on the road, and the magnesium paddle shifters allow for a pleasantly engaged drive experience.
Of course, not all buyers will be ready to take advantage of the power, speed and handling of the CTS-V. So, Cadillac has thoughtfully included in the price of the car two days of "performance training" at a race track.
Inside, the CTS-V is private club comfortable. The snug seats are leather, and heated, and ventilated, and highly adjustable. The Bose surround-sound stereo is plush. The infotainment console is easy to navigate and pleasing to the eye. The usual configuration of cup holders, device plug-ins and storage compartments completes the daily driver cabin.
The rear seats are not as sumptuous, but three adults could fit comfortably there. The creature comforts afforded them are limited, though: There are no back seat device plug-ins, nor does that space have its own climate control. The fold-down central armrest contains a cup holder, though that's of no use if there's a passenger in the middle seat.
There's more space, though, behind the seats. The trunk on the CTS-V is roomy enough to hold a track weekend's worth of gear, or several golf bags. Also, the rear seats fold flat, opening the trunk space considerably. Cadillac devotes no storage area to a spare tire. The CTS-V comes standard with a tire sealant and inflator kit instead.
The model I drove was laden with a few extras. Among them were a $6,950 carbon fiber package that included the front splitter, rear diffuser and spoiler, as well as special "after midnight" dark alloy wheels, high performance seats from Recaro, and a "performance data recorder" that would have allowed me to make a record of my lap times and top speeds — had I gone to the track and done anything to brag about. (I hadn't, alas, and didn't.)
The purchase price also includes a $1,000 gas guzzler tax, reflective of the 17-mile-per-gallon combined fuel economy that Cadillac claims is possible in the CTS-V. That was not my experience, and won't be the experience of anyone who buys the car in order to actually enjoy it in ways it is intended.
Cadillac doesn't sell a lot of CTS-Vs. Fewer than 10% of the 15,911 CTS sedans sold in the U.S. last year were the high-performance V-variants, and domestic sales of all CTS models are down for 2017.
But the brand is having a good year overall. Cadillac reported this week that year-to-date sales were down 4% in the U.S. but up 20% globally, thanks to growth in China.
Despite the low numbers, the average CTS-V buyer, Cadillac research shows, is a coveted one: upscale, young and male. (Roma said the car was tested with female drivers wearing a variety of shoe styles, to make sure that performance wasn't limited to males or race-ready women wearing only flats.)
Matt Russell, marketing manager for the ATS, CTS and V-series cars, said that in the "ultimate sport sedan" niche the CTS-V outsells the Audi Sport RS7, BMW M5 and Mercedes-Benz AMG E63.
What he didn't say was the CTS-V starts at $10,000 to $25,000 below those competitors.
Times' take: An American four-door Ferrari
Highs: Magnificent match of performance and plush
Lows: Fuel economy? That V-8 is thirsty
Vehicle type: Four-door, five passenger sedan
Base price: $86,990
Price as tested: $103,260
Powertrain: 6.2-liter, supercharged V-8 gasoline engine
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Torque: 630 pound-feet
EPA fuel economy rating: 14 miles per gallon city / 21 highway / 17 combined