Auto review: Last of the breed, best of the breed. Cadillac CT4-V and CT5-V Blackwings can absolutely fly

2022 Cadillac CT4-V Blackwing. (Cadillac/TNS)
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Henry Payne The Detroit News (TNS)

WAMPUM, Pennsylvania — The trouble with straightaways is they have to end.

With 668 horses howling in my ears, I bang the gearshift into fourth through the kink on Pittsburgh International Race Complex’s back straight and the supercharged 6.2-liter V-8 engine in the 2022 Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing wants to take me to the moon.

The sound is heavenly. Violent. Addicting. My brain wants more. My right foot flattens the throttle, but as the digital instrument display gallops past 135 mph, a first-gear hairpin looms. Sigh. Huge 15.7-inch brakes haul my Electric Blue missile back to earth for the right-hander ahead.

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For the last 20 years, General Motors’ luxury brand took a detour from a century as America’s premier land yacht-maker to become the sculptor of Detroit’s best track athletes.

Ditching Brougham elephant for CTS greyhound, Caddy benchmarked to Germany’s BMW, Mercedes and Audi in an attempt to climb the international podium as world’s best luxury performance brand. Engineers traveled to the Nürburgring, the world’s premier test track. Drivers competed in the world’s most challenging race series.

The results are the Blackwing siblings: CT4-V and CT5-V. They are the best performance vehicles ever developed by Cadillac — and the last gas-powered hot rods before the brand transitions to electric power.

Like other performance-oriented badges, the demands of making sedans this good trickle down to make the whole model line better. Just as development for the Porsche 911 GT3 track weapon assures the standard 911 is the world’s best sports car. Or the Honda Civic Type R promises the standard Civic is a superior compact sedan. So do the Blackwings make the base CT4 and CT5 exceptional cars.

I still remember my first test of the CT4 (then called the ATS — luxury brand alphanumerics can make your brain hurt) in 2015. It was magical. It was one of the best-handling compact sedans I’d driven. I would get in ATSs just to drive them — no destination required.

When the ATS-V performance model debuted, it went toe-to-toe with the BMW M3 and Giulia Quadrifoglio for the world’s best four-door filly. (Caddy even loaned its Alpha chassis to Chevy so Camaro’s team could make it the best-handling muscle car in class.)

The ’22 CT4-V Blackwing model updates the ATS-V and improves the formula for the new badging. Like thoroughbreds from Porsche to Dodge to Honda, you have to track it to appreciate its enormous bandwidth. Over PIR’s undulating 2.8-mile course, the neutral, rear-wheel-drive beast switched directions nimbly. Credit better Michelin tires, magnetic shocks and chassis stiffening for making this scalpel even sharper.

But the real revelation here is the CT5-V Blackwing — once known as the CTS-V Hair-whitener.

Injected with the last-gen Corvette Z06’s V-8 nuclear reactor, Cadillac’s alpha male sedan has always been a straight-line hoot. But get it into the twisties and its phenomenal power could try your nerves. I’ve had some hairy moments in the CTS-V on Michigan roads when my right foot was filled with too much lead.

Hairy on track, too. So hairy, in fact, that Caddy test drivers were faster in the ATS-V around Austin’s high-speed Circuit of the America’s Formula One track despite the V8-powered CTS-V’s tremendous speeds on COTA’s long straightaways.

Clearly something had to be done to correct this problem for Generation Blackwing.

“Oh, man, ya’ll gonna be in for a treat today!” exulted Johnny O’Donnell as he welcomed some hot-shoe media types to PIR. Johnny is a Connecticut boy who has adopted Atlanta and its native tongue, and it suits his outsized personality. He also has an outsized racing record — winning more races than any other GM driver in history.

It was his first visit to PIR, and he was in clover with 668 horses and a new track to conquer.

I wasn’t so sure. I’d raced PIR before. It’s a tight, technical track for my 1,000-pound Lola sports racer. But a 4,150-pound sedan with a V-8 boat anchor up front?

Caddy executive chief engineer (and SCCA nationals racer) Brandon Vivian and his merry band of elves have transformed the CTS-V into the Kraken in tennis shoes. The CT5-V Blackwing now feels like a big CT4. Like the NBA’s 6’3″ Chris Paul supersized into 6’8″ LeBron James, it’s a franchise player.

At the end of PIR’s back straight, the first gear right-hander opens up quickly to a long uphill bend crucial to front straight speeds. This is a challenge in any big car, and I can feel the weight transfer as the CT5 searches for traction.

It finds it with an impressive bag of tools including Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires, a sub-chassis stiffening plate, multi-link suspension and something called PTM modes.

Performance Traction Management, usefully contained in a dial on the steering wheel, allows me to dial in as much slip as I am comfortable with — but using engine mapping rather than torque-vectoring brake systems common in other performance sedans. This tool manages to bridle the intimidating power under the hood to be your friend, not your frenemy.

I played with the dial constantly during my hot laps, modulating power where I needed it the most. Exploding out of Turn 17 in first gear to maximize torque, the head-up display projected my RPM shift point so I never had to take my eyes off the road.

Every Blackwing should come with a “SAVE THE MANUAL” bumper sticker. Though Caddy options a 10-speed automatic, the 6-speed stick is the choice here. It’s tight, intuitive. Downshifting three gears into first into Turn 17 — BAM! BAM! BAM! — is made quick by electronic-assisted auto rev-matching. Quicker than I could manage via heel-and-toe.

This technical wizardry also gives the Blackwings dual personalities.

Track them on Sunday, commute them on Monday. The comfy interiors are bordered by configurable digital displays. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto seamlessly integrate your phone for navigation.

This digital cockpit will grow even more sci-fi as Cadillac transitions to its next-gen Lyriq and Celestiq battery-electric sedans. As the proper names infer, Cadillac is going back to the future — and away from the alphanumeric CT athletes — in order to take on Tesla. As good as Caddy’s athletes have been, they’ve failed to rival the Escalade SUV for brand awareness.

So Cadillac will tease customers with Escalade-like old-school style and electric-motor torque. Broughams with 21st century electrification.

The trouble with Cadillac’s manual shifters and roaring V-8s is they have to end. But we’ll have the Blackwings to remember them by for years to come.

2022 Cadillac CT4-V Blackwing

 

2022 Cadillac CT4-V Blackwing. (Cadillac/TNS)

Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear-wheel-drive five-passenger sedan

Price: $59,990, including $995 destination fee ($76,635 manual with carbon fiber package as tested)

Powerplant: 3.6-liter twin-turbo V-6

Power: 472 horsepower, 445 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 6-speed manual, 10-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 3.9 seconds, automatic. 4.1 sec., manual (mfr). Top speed, 189 mph

Weight: 3,860 pounds (manual as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA, 15 mpg city/23 highway/18 combined (manual); 16 mpg city/24 highway/19 combined (auto)

Report card

Highs: Nimble handling; improved styling over ATS-V

Lows: Tight back seat for 6-footers; turbo V-6 not as viscerally appealing as V-8

Overall: 4 stars

2022 Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing

 

Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing. (Cadillac/TNS)

Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear-wheel-drive five-passenger sedan

Price: $84,990, including $995 destination fee ($106,265 automatic, $112,845 manual with carbon-ceramic brakes, as tested)

Powerplant: 6.2-liter supercharged V-8

Power: 668 horsepower, 659 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 6-speed manual, 10-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 3.4 seconds, automatic. 3.6 sec., manual (mfr). Top speed, 200 mph-plus

Weight: 4,123 pounds (manual as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA, 13 mpg city/21 highway/15 combined (manual); 13 mpg city/22 highway/16 combined (auto)

Report card

Highs: Most improved handling; supercharged V-8 from the gods

Lows: Adaptive cruise control only available with automatic; options get pricey

Overall: 4 stars

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

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