With a new 550-hp 4.2-liter twin-turbo V-8, the CT6 comes alive. And it might only be built for a few months.
By Chris Perkins | Road & Track
It’s easy to get the impression that Cadillac threw everything it had at the CT6-V. This car is a beacon of what the brand is capable of when GM loosens the reins. A handsome luxury sedan riding on a platform not shared with any other car, and fit with a corker of an engine—a new 4.2-liter twin-turbo V-8 designed by the brand itself.
As an American car enthusiast, you can’t help but want Cadillac to succeed. It’s a matter of national pride. A Cadillac flagship should represent the best of what we, as a car-making country, are capable of, and for the most part, the CT6-V does. Unfortunately, there’s a very good chance Cadillac won’t sell many.
The CT6-V (née CT6-Vsport) was revealed last March. Seven months later, GM, looking to cut costs, announced that its Detroit-Hamtramck plant, which builds the CT6, would be closed alongside a number of other US plants. At the time of writing, GM says cars will stop rolling off the line at Hamtramck next January. The CT6 will continue to be made in China for that market for the foreseeable future, but for America, the sedan’s fate is undecided. Its future, Cadillac president Steve Carlisle told us, is “tied up, to a great extent with [United Auto Workers] negotiations.”
The bottom line of all this is that Cadillac currently only has plans to fit around 600 CT6s with this new V-8—about 75 percent of which will be Vs (costing $95,890), 25 percent will be more luxurious Platinums (costing $97,490). After that, it’s unclear.
Cadillac brought us out to Washington DC to sample the CT6-V on Virginia country roads outside the city, and talk to the people who created it. An interesting endeavor for what could end up being one of the rarest GM products since the Saab 9-4x. Perhaps an occasion for Cadillac to drum up support for its potentially doomed flagship.
You can’t blame Cadillac employees for trying to eke out a bit more life out of this car. There’s a lot to be proud of here.
To begin with, the standard CT6 was a surprisingly great driver’s car, blending big luxury-sedan space and presence with the driving dynamics of a much smaller sports sedan. The V ups the ante.
Standard, the V gets the CT6’s Active Chassis Package, which consists of rear-wheel steering and GM’s brilliant Magnetic Ride shocks. Compared with other CT6s, the V gets stiffer anti-roll bars and springs, plus unique damper and steering tuning. Fundamentally, it’s not that different underneath—the difference is mainly in the tuning.
Really, it’s the “Blackwing” V-8 that differentiates this from any other Cadillac. It shares some sensors with other GM engines, but beyond that, this is all Cadillac. It’s an all-aluminum, reverse-flow mill, with two turbochargers mounted within the “V” for better throttle response. Maximum boost pressure is 20 psi, while two water-to-air charge coolers mounted near the engine’s two throttle bodies keep things chilly.
Other neat details; the engine uses electric wastegates to regulate boost pressure; a new GM electronic brain allows the fuel injection and spark timing to managed for each specific cylinder individually; one person works on the engine from start to finish, and only six people are responsible for the entire production.
In the CT6-V, the V-8 makes 550 horsepower, which gets to all four wheels via a 10-speed automatic gearbox. The all-wheel drive system allows for a variable torque split depending on drive mode—in Tour, 60 percent goes to the rear wheels, while that increases to 80 and 95 percent in Sport and Track modes, respectively.
Cadillac has benefitted from the classic GM Small Block, but the brand’s chief engineer Brandon Vivian told us he wanted an engine with a distinctly different character. Job done. It’s smooth and refined in normal operation. Quiet even. Cadillac might’ve cribbed from Mercedes-AMG’s “One-Man, One-Engine” strategy here, but this isn’t a German thunder-machine.
Not that it’s slow. Go from nothing to full throttle, and it takes a moment for the turbos to respond, but when they do, maximum boost pressure arrives quickly. At which point, you’ll be enjoying the spoils of 640 lb-ft of torque, managed effortlessly by the all-wheel drive system. The noise is a subdued growl, with flaps in the exhaust opening up in Sport and Track mode for a little more volume. The sound is digitally augmented, too, though it’s hard to notice.
Whether or not 10 forward ratios are too many is (justifiably) still up for debate. Regardless, the transmission deals with them well, and ninth and 10th only come up at highway speeds. In automatic mode, the car always seems to pick the right gear, while the driver can take control with magnesium paddles mounted to the wheel.
A quad-cam, 32-valve, hot-vee V-8 might be aiming at the German luxury establishment—all of which make engines with basically the same configuration—but there is something deeply American about this drivetrain package. The torque-converter auto slurring through gears while the engine burbles away in the background feels right. This is what a big American luxury sedan should do.
Of course, this is a hell of a lot quicker than any old Cadillac. Handles way better, too.
With the last generation ATS and CTS, Cadillac proved its masterful chassis tuning ability. They out BMW’d BMW. That brilliance is on display in the CT6-V, which strikes a perfect balance between ride comfort and handling. Sport mode seems to be the sweet spot, with the Magnetic Ride dampers dealing well with every road surface.
The steering is a little less inspired. It’s accurate, but fairly lifeless, and artificially light in Tour mode, and artificially heavy in Track. Another reason why Sport mode is best. It’s a little less obvious than with the steering, but there’s something slightly unnatural with the brakes too—they use an electric booster, which gives them somewhat of the spongy feel of a hybrid car’s. The idea behind the system is that the car can provide the same amount of deceleration for a specific driver input regardless of what condition the brakes are in. If the brakes are hot, for example, this means the pedal won’t go long. It’s an interesting choice, especially for a car wearing a V badge. These are minor criticisms, though. Really, the CT6-V blends fast sports-sedan and big luxury cruiser perfectly.
Cadillac also gave us a brief chance to drive a CT6 Platinum with the V-8. In that car, the engine is tuned to make 500 horsepower and 574 lb-ft of torque, but it still feels plenty quick. With the Platinum, you also get Cadillac’s hands-free Super Cruise system, and slightly more luxurious interior trimmings (though the brand still has a ways to go to catch up to the Germans for cabin ambiance).
In many ways, the CT6-V feels like the culmination of efforts that began in 1999, when Cadillac announced to the world that it was going to reinvent itself, with the debut of the Evoq concept. It’s a car that lives up to the legacy of the brand.
Now, the question is, what comes next? Carlisle told us that Cadillac is staying committed to sports sedans, and that electrification might give the brand the opportunity for some sort of new flagship.
But what happens to this most Cadillac of Cadillacs? What happens with this V-8?
These are questions we’d like answers to, and we bet a lot of folks at Cadillac agree. We can only hope the CT6-V doesn’t become a future classic for the wrong reason.