2020 Cadillac CT5-V Review: A Lot Closer This Time
How can Cadillac get its groove back? To start, by making more cars like this one.
Years have passed since my last Cadillac V outing, and I had few kind words to relay. In a certain light, the ATS-V and CTS-V looked brilliant, spec-sheet heroes built by enthusiasts and racers with tons of power and sharing one of the best handling platforms—General Motors' Alpha architecture—ever gifted to a performance sedan. Cadillac should’ve been beating customers away with one of its own chrome-plastic grilles. Instead, they sank like the SS Andrea Doria.
There’s contention behind both Vs' inadvertent rejection, but I have my theories. Chief among them was that neither car was holistic enough to attract German devotees, being too cobbled together like some Victorian monster cooked up one absinthe-fueled night—cough, cough, the ATS-V’s gauges that looked and felt like they came from an abandoned Pontiac warehouse. A soulless twin-turbocharged V6 didn’t help, but neither did the CTS-V’s tower-of-power supercharged V8.
Cadillac was once the pinnacle of luxury, but I question whether the brand tipped the scales too far toward performance, leaving the penny-pinching accountants to saddle the dynamically brilliant cars with interiors that looked like a patchwork of disparate parts-bin rejects. Cadillac needed balance, especially swimming in such a razzle-dazzle pond.
My expectations weren't exactly soaring for the 2020 Cadillac CT5-V. But against the backdrop of Palm Springs, California, I cranked the Bose to bolt-shaking levels, sunk into a blissfully comfortable driver's seat, introduced the CT5-V's throttle to its floorboard, and let the chassis shine along endless mountain curves. Hot damn, Cadillac finally built a winner—lighter, more visceral and with an interior no one will compare to Pontiac this time.
The 2020 Cadillac CT5-V, By the Numbers
- Base Price: $48,690
- Powertrain: Twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 | 10-speed automatic| rear or all-wheel drive
- Horsepower: 360 horsepower @ 5,400 rpm
- Torque: 405 pound-feet of torque @ 2,350-4,000 rpm
- 0-60 mph: 4.6 seconds
- Passenger Capacity: 5
- Curb Weight: 3,660 pounds
- The Promise: The start of a new generation of performance luxury sedans for Cadillac—minus a V8, for now.
- The Delivery: This is the car every Cadillac should emulate in the foreseeable future.
Oh, Be Some Other Name!
First, some housekeeping on the CT5-V name. Alphanumerics were the hallmark of Cadillac’s old head honcho Johan de Nysschen; he also used them at Audi and Infiniti, and though he’s left to corrupt—I mean help—Volkswagen, Caddy’s use letters and digits continue at a time where competitor Lincoln is back to real using real words.
But gone are the ATS, CTS, XTS, and CT6, which supposedly ended production in January. I say supposedly because Cadillac pointed to the CT6 rounding out its three-car lineup as if it were still very much alive. Now we have the CT4, which Cadillac says is supposed to slot just beneath the compact ATS; the CT5, which is a bit smaller than the old midsize CTS; and whatever Cadillac intends as a follow-up to the full-size CT6.
Adding to the mental strain here is Cadillac's simultaneous decision to rework the whole V performance nameplate. Its old "-V" cars were like full-on BMW M models, the absolute peaks of the lineup with maxed-out engines and a noticeably mean edge. Now, the CT5-V (and CT4-V) are being rebranded as something of an M Sport model if you will, a solid performer with small-time track ambitions, a less powerful engine, and much more balance.
Still, a fully-fledged V model is coming for both models, possibly with a V8 in the CT5, and there are rumors Cadillac will call these "V Series"—which itself was a moniker previously used for lower-tier performance trims. If you've gone cross-eyed, you're not alone. Fortunately, it appears the engineering team skipped whatever psychedelics the product planners were passing out in the office the day the CT5-V was conceived.
Time Heals “Most” Wounds
But back to the car before us. Nearly every grievance I had with previous Vs has been addressed, the most noticeable being its interior.
Wood, aluminum, and carbon fiber weave artfully through the leather dash, seats, and center console, a warm welcome and finally a coherent blend of performance traits and traditional Cadillac luxury. Two analog gauges, a tachometer and speedometer, finally shed GM’s clunky motifs for a more classic-looking setup, augmented by a central digital display for audio info, driver aid monitoring, and performance stats when pounding the CT5-V on a track—hello, G-meter.
Narrow, binding, and supremely uncomfortable V seats are a thing of the past, with the old units designed for Homo Floresiensis. The new V welcomes drivers and passengers of all stature and heft with heated, cooled, and (optional) massage sport seats. A sunroof is also available, but don’t be that person. Though beautiful from the outside, the tapered roofline cuts into the rear headroom, but thankfully legroom was appropriately plentiful for a Caddy, even for this 6’4” author.
Once as glitchy as a hacked Dell, Cadillac’s Cue infotainment system is updated and actually responds to your finger’s command. Menus are clearly marked and easily scrolled through. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard and make the Caddy’s infotainment that much easier. Replacing the cursed touch slider interface is a physical volume knob; two grace the front of the dash, to be precise.
But their off-center placement an inelegant solution, especially since the center console-mounted control knob is down by the gear shift. You also have volume buttons on the steering wheel if that's your speed. A Bose Performance Audio system is standard and rocks my multi-colored socks with an impressive clarity at entirely antisocial volume levels.
I still have two key issues with the interior packaging here, the first being a knobby protrusion on the driver's side of the center console that digs into your right patella. After a few knocks to your knee, you’ll be looking for the nearest Home Depot to get a heavy-duty grinder and pulverize that dumb little nub. And second, Cadillac’s bleeding-edge Super Cruise Level 2 autonomous highway driving technology isn’t yet available—the engineers offered an apology and said it’ll be ready for 2021 models, but launching without it isn't ideal.
Left mostly alone is GM’s too-good-to-be-true Alpha chassis architecture, upgraded for greater torsional rigidity and better noise dampening. The styling is also mostly an evolution, a fascia wearing Cadillac's new Escala concept design language, a fastback silhouette, and a frankly uninspired tail. Explaining the dimensions isn't quite so simple. In overall length, the 193.8-inch CT5 is two inches shorter than the outgoing CTS—yet its wheelbase is two inches longer than the old car, and track width has also grown by two inches. The trick comes down to minimal nose and tail overhang along with a deeply inset engine.
All the while, Cadillac took a page from Colin Chapman's book and somehow made the 2020 CT5-V almost 500 pounds lighter than the CTS-V amid the sizing shuffle. And before you chalk that up to the use of a V6 versus a supercharged V8, know that the CTS-V is also 200 pounds under the much smaller ATS-V.
So, about that engine. Putting down 360 horsepower and 405 pound-feet of torque, the twin-turbocharged V6 is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, taking the sedan to 60 in just under five seconds. Tonally, it’s worlds apart compared to the blatty cow-calls of the ATS-V’s 3.5-liter V6, producing a smooth note similar to an inline-six—though not as raspy or high-strung. It’s no V8 in terms of sheer tip-in power or attention-getting redline pulls, but again, an eight-cylinder future looks almost certain here.
Deviating from the prior Vs, the 2020 CT5-V sends its power either to all four wheels or just the rears through a 10-speed automatic transmission. Eagle eyes will recognize the transmission as the unit co-developed with Ford. Backing up the gearbox is an electronic limited-slip differential at the back, while four-piston Brembo brakes scrub momentum at the front. The rears get standard Cadillac single-piston calipers.
GM’s MagneRide, the industry gold standard for electronically controlled adaptive suspension, comes standard as the final icing on the CT5-V’s cake.
Pulling up Palm Spring’s Highway 74, the empty mountain road immediately reveals the gearbox shifts with a swift smoothness that's second only to the best dual-clutches. Downshifts are equally groovy, though once initiated, they tend to hang for longer than I’d like. OTA updates are coming to Cadillac within the next year, and this is a prime candidate for one.
On sharper corners, there’s just enough heave in the suspension’s standard Touring mode without being as seaworthy as Cadillacs of old. The leather-wrapped seats are nicely bolstered, keeping my hindquarters secure but not squished. And the steering is captivating, with the electric unit relaying what’s touching the CT5-V’s Michelin-wrapped rims, though not too jittery as to exhaust the driver. Likewise, the balanced twin-turbocharged engine hums along at normal speeds, never once being too noisy for daily use, or too craven for an Autobahn-esque blast. Cross-country or even cross-continent trips are in play here.
But the CT5-V can’t just resurrect Cadillac’s luxuriousness; there has to be some fire, and wow, does this thing have it.
Foot to the floor within the safe confines of Palm Springs' Thermal Club track, there’s fury behind the CT5-V’s aggressive headlights. The twin-turbos spool with electrical efficiency to quickly double the CT5-V’s 58-mph first corner exit speed. That 405 pound-feet of torque seems limitless, too, pulling the CT5-V forward with more urgency than I remember in the ATS-V—likely down to its sizable weight savings. The fury is palpable here.
Moreover, few dedicated sports cars are as nimble or as agile as the CT5-V. With the Cadillac tightly holding your hips, tangoing to your inputs, directional changes are blink-and-you’ll-miss-them quick even without the stickier Michelin-supplied Pilot Super Sports that adorned prior V generations. You do lose a noticeable amount of agility swapping to all-wheel drive due to the added front-end weight, so just get the rear-drive CT5-V and be happy.
The Caddy’s front Brembos are comparatively small for the segment, but we’ve been led to believe that bigger is always better. Reality proves otherwise with plenty of stopping force even after a day’s worth of track flogging. Better yet, the CT5-V aches to pivot under braking—take the corner hot, stab the brakes while turning the wheel, let the back lock up slightly and rotate around, and gas, gas, gas.
MagneRide remains beyond reproach, same with the CT5-V’s e-diff which will make heroes out of zeroes for how little wheel slip occurs rocketing out of turns. And turn after turn, lap after lap, mile after mile, the CT5-V ingratiated itself more with each and every minute spent behind the wheel. I could’ve spent days flogging it around the track or jamming out to its perfect audio system, but a verdict must be given and thankfully for Cadillac, it’s a good one.
BMW, Audi, and Mercedes-Benz Beware (This Time, Maybe, Hopefully)
The Palm Desert in my review mirror, just three words sprang to mind as I pulled the 2020 Cadillac CT5-V into my garage: “I’d buy this.” After a few weeks of contemplation, I stand by that statement.
Cadillac finally built what the ATS-V and CTS-V should’ve been all along, a nimble, aggressive, luxurious, and someday soon, tech-forward performance sedan. This is what Cadillac customers—as well as those elusive Mercedes, Audi, and BMW buyers—want. It’s not just some one-trick, performance hooligan with some leather and faux Alcantara taped to the seats. The CT5-V is the whole package.
And that philosophy includes its price, which is correctly pegged at $48,690 to start. Any less and wouldn’t carry the same weight among its competitors, any more and it’d be dooming the CT5-V to the same ill-conceived existence as the last two Vs.
The CT5-V has a lot riding on its shoulders, with Cadillac fumbling its identity more times than anyone cares to admit thanks to bad cars, all-right cars, and some truly boneheaded decisions (hello, Blackwing engine idiocy).
But the CT5-V shows that when Cadillac gets its act together, it’s a force to be reckoned with. Now it just needs to keep this streak going—fingers crossed it doesn’t screw it up this time.
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