Cadillac has done one helluva job rebranding a marque best known for grandfather land yachts that wallowed around corners. In part, credit goes to the sleek, sexy and powerful lineup currently available, but simple yet effective initiatives from the marketing department helped solidify that Caddy's back and they're better than ever. The latest smart step? Their V-Performance Lab, a traveling one-day track academy that places the (largely) uninitiated behind the wheels of the 465-horsepower ATS-V and the United States' best sports sedan, the incomparable 640-horsepower CTS-V. Knowing I'm a track novice, my bosses sent me to Lime Rock Park to test out the Lab. The result was a breathless day of speedy, endless fun.
The massive curriculum for the day utilized both the 7-turn, 1.5-mile circuit and the in-field autocross course, and saw the 80-plus V-badged beasts slammed through their paces. There was an onslaught of evasive maneuvers, launch control testing, several slalom courses and braking and avoidance, and skidpad work on how to induce, hold and correct oversteer. At the end, a timed autocross competition was held to see which participants best got the hang of things.
In order to prove the vehicle’s capabilities, Cadillac showed drivers their new built-in PDR (Performance Data Recorder) system from Cosworth Tools that digitally documents audio, video, and metrics associated with the driver’s laps. This allowed drivers to closely analyze their performance from lap-to-lap rather than guessing on where they were losing time or what they need to improve on. The PDR tells drivers their throttle behavior, gearing, speed, g-forces, and numerous other data points to help illuminate what's working and what needs further refinement. Here's mine:
It's a glorious thing when a manufacturer brings their wares to a track solely for the purpose of you thrashing them incessantly. It's also a testament to how well their cars are constructed. Cadillac didn't bother cycling out any coupes or sedans, because there was no need. I assumed I would see a few wounded soldiers making their way to the outskirts of the paddock, but every time I looked over, not a single V-series had tapped out early and limped in.
To showcase how far Cadillac has come, in terms of driver-focused, performance-oriented without sacrificing quality, is but one of the many goals of the V-Performance Lab. "Many consumers still have a false familiarity with our brand," Nathan Tan, Associate Director of Brand Partnerships and Experiences told The Drive. "While they’re certainly aware of Cadillac, their product perception may be at odds with the current reality: Cadillacs are agile, lightweight, powerful, and fun to drive. The V-Performance Lab can be the ultimate test drive of sorts, an integral part of new car consideration research."
Putting the V-Series squarely on the radar of those who might not have considered a Cadillac otherwise is a move that's paying off. Of the more than 1,100 drivers have gotten seat time since the V-Performance Lab launched in 2015, Tan indicated that around five percent of participants purchased or leased a V-series within six months of completing the $995 program.
While done for the current season, V-Performance Lab will be back next year, and likely with a tweaked, elevated syllabus. Credit for the evolution goes to the increasing capability of the CTS-V and the ATS-V. Even when the grey skies opened during our session, sending sheets of rain down onto the track, the cars handled just as well. "Our goal is that by the end of the experience, our guests will not only have a new found appreciation for the cars but also be better drivers themselves," Tan said.
I left the day with a beaming grin that wouldn't quit. A glance at the other sixty-plus attendees revealed equally delighted, toothy faces. Perhaps the best testament to the success of the day came from a CTS-V owner I chatted with: "Man, I never pushed my own V this far or hard. I didn't know it would respond so well."