2020 Cadillac CT6-V First Drive: The Cadillac Of V8S

Cadillac goes “one man, one engine” a la Mercedes-AMG, and it works

Cadillac. What are we going to do with you? Like Paula Abdul and MC Skat Kat, you take two steps forward and two steps back. The latest CTS and ATS were both great cars. One is gone and one is on its way out. This CT6 is every bit as good as its German competitors, and it might be gone too (production is only guaranteed through January of 2020). That is, unless we save it and its new V8. And if/when you get to drive thisCT6/4.2-liter twin-turbo Blackwing V8 combination, like me, you’ll see that the company has returned to something truly befitting its 116-year-old name.

The basic CT6 was a well-controlled and great-looking car when it came out in 2016. But it didn’t really hit its stride until this year when it got a substantial redesign incorporating cues from the stunning Escala Concept that debuted three years ago at Pebble Beach. In 2018 the company introduced the new Blackwing engine, a 550-hp compact monster of a motor, that brings along 640 lb-ft of torque in the new CT6-V(the first run sold out in hours). You can also get the Blackwing V8 in the Platinum trim CT6, making 500 hp and 574 lb-ft. From behind the wheel, both feel like proper American luxury sedans.

And you ARE buying them. Sort of. The CT6 sold two-thirds of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class volume in 2019 and about the same as the BMW 7-Series. The 2020 model goes on sale late summer/early fall.

The CT6-V features a dark mesh grille in front along with new LED headlights cribbed from the Escala. It also comes with extra aero components around the bottom and gloss black side window surrounds the like the XT6 Sport model. Summer-only tires mount to 20-inch wheels (CT6 Platinum Blackwing models get all-season tires). Hiding behind the wheels and tires is a new Brembo brake package. It’s not nearly as wild-looking as the fantastic CTS-V; it’s understated, especially in dark colors.

The big Caddy comes standard with GM’s Magnetic Ride Control, 10-speed automatic transmission, a limited slip differential and a carbon fiber spoiler.

Inside, the new big deal is the rotary controller, which I still think is the easiest, most ergonomic way to control an infotainment system. It spins, it’s able to be pressed like a button and it jogs left, right, forward and back. You don’t need much more control than that. There’s still a slider for volume underneath the main screen but you can ignore that thanks to the little rotary volume dial in front of the big one. The new shifter is in front of that, which also works as expected. I do have a complaint here: it’s that the big dial, the little dial and the shifter all feel a little lightweight and inexpensive, not like the ones in Mercedes and nowhere near the hefty glass dial in the BMW. The surrounding buttons too, are matte black and don’t look like they fit the theme. Finally, the drive mode selector is squeezed in front of the gear selector making it hard to reach quickly or easily.

The CT6-V comes with carbon fiber trim; the CT6 Luxury model gets wood as standard. In the Platinum you can spec either. The wood looks more Cadillac-like, and it’s the trim I’d choose.

I hopped in the driver’s seat of the 550-hp CT6-V just outside Dulles Airport in Washington D.C. (totally feeling like a congressman); shut the door and it gets quiet. Even firing the engine up, there’s a small burst of bass rumble and then it smooths to a very low idle. This Blackwing V8 is by far the most “Cadillac” thing about this car. And it needs all the help it can get in a competitive segment, with the German competitors already having their territory staked and Lincoln tailing ominously in the rearview mirror.

That’s why I was surprised that the seats weren’t more opulent. The CT6 has the normal adjustments: fore and aft, seatback lean, and the lowering and raising. There’s not 30 ways of adjustment like Lincoln nor hugging bolsters like Mercedes. There’s is an adjustable lumbar and heat, cool and massage, but they weren’t old Cadillac/Lexus/Buick cushy either. I get that this is the V model, but there’s no reason my butt can’t be coddled while I’m hauling ass.

But the Blackwing, oh boy the Blackwing. This hand-built twin-turbo V8 is the most Cadillac thing to come out of the brand’s shop in years. Each 4.2-liter it built by one man, or woman, AMG-style at the Bowling Green plant, right next to the Corvette engines. The builders were actually plucked from the Corvette line. The Blackwing was named for the company’s original crest, which was the coat of arms of Antoine De La Mothe Cadillac, the founder of Detroit.

The V8 has a hot V configuration, “that transposes the conventional layout of the cylinder heads’ intake and exhaust systems to mount the turbos at the top of the engine.” Basically it helps to eliminate turbo lag, but the bonus is that it reduces the engine’s packaging size.

And it does: Popping the hood, the Blackwing looks to be less than an armful, and the kicker is that the covers, both the engine and air cleaners, are made from metal. Rap your knuckle on either and you get a nice metallic “ting-ting” as opposed to the thud-thud of plastic or even carbon fiber. We stood over the engine bay for a good 15 minutes before Cadillac told us to get out and drive the damn thing.

This car feels like a Cadillac. It isn’t high strung or in your face like the CTS-V. Power comes on smoothly but powerfully. It’s not loud, at first. I drove around for a half-hour before really putting my foot into it. At that point, hold on tight. It’s a slingshot feeling that pushes your back into the seats and pulls your arms away from the steering wheel. Now it’s loud both inside the car and out. Granted, Cadillac does do some fancy noise tricks, canceling some frequencies and adding others, but it all sounds very natural.

Shifts come quickly in the new ten-speed automatic and with this much power it never hunts for gears or gets hung up. The redline is low, though, at about 6,000 rpm. I played with paddles (they’re metal but feel a little chintzy for my taste) for a bit but you’re better off just putting it in sport or race mode and flattening the gas pedal (those modes also change the gauge to a sporty white). I didn’t even see gears 9 or 10, but I’m assuming they engaged during one of our expressway jaunts.

Sixty mph passes by in 3.8 seconds and top speed is limited to 149 mph. I didn’t get near that, but at 85 mph it feels like it’s barely breaking a sweat. Stomp the pedal there, it’ll drop 3 or 4 gears and shoot the car forward into a legal gray area that would definitely get you arrested if you were driving a flashy white CTS-V, but in this car, you might just sneak under the radar.

And that’s why it feels so Cadillac. Even the power delivery is understated. And if you stay disciplined with your foot, quiet. It’s not a tire smoker, it feels more like a trailer puller. Also helping it feel like a Cadillac is the new-generation Magnetic Ride Control.

In both the new XT6 and the CT6-V, there is a wide differentiation between the modes. Click down to tour mode and bumps immediately smooth out. Turn up the wick and everything (steering, throttle, shift points) gets more aggressive. I found a poorly cared for dirt road and the bumps and dips never felt sharp despite having big wheels. But it’s not soft, which is fine because this is the V model.

However, I later jumped into a Blackwing-equipped Platinum trim and I didn’t find it big-luxury-car soft either. Maybe there should be a drive mode setting softer than “Tour.” Call it something cool like Super Comfort. It would go along with Super Cruise, which is standard on the Platinum and the best semi-autonomous system I’ve experienced.

The V comes standard with active rear steering, which essentially makes the car more nimble at low speeds. It’s a big car, so changes of direction don’t feel lightning quick, but they do feel quicker than expected: especially during emergency lane changes. The system makes the CT6-V feel smaller in parking lots too.

If I’m shopping in this market and I want the softest, most coddling luxury I can find, I’m going with the Mercedes S-Class at about $92K (side note, if you get one with the V8 the price jumps to $102K), but if I’m looking for ANYTHING else: looks, sport, handling, semi-self-driving tech, I’m picking this CT6-V for a few grand more ($95,890). Now, if about 10,000 of you go buy one, or the Platinum trim ($97,490), maybe we can keep this car, and its epic new Cadillac Blackwing V8, around a little longer.


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