when newer means less power

In Performance Terms, Cadillac’s New V-Series Sedans Are a Huge Step Down


May 31, 2019 Cars By
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Cadillac has often seemed like a brand wandering in the wilderness in recent years, but if there’s one part of the carmaker that’s succeeded in creating great products, it’s the company’s V-Series performance division. Cars like the ATS-V and CTS-V have reset expectations for American sports sedans, overpowering and outpacing the mighty four-doors from Germany and Japan while still offering their own distinct character.

At least, until Thursday. On May 30th, Cadillac revealed the latest additions to its V-Series line: the CT5-V and CT4-V, which replace the ATS-V and CTS-V in the lineup. But in stark opposition to industry trends and expectations, both sedans are far less powerful than the cars they’re subbing in for.

The CT5-V, which replaces the 640-horsepower CTS-V we know and love, is powered by a twin turbo 3.0-liter V-6 making 355 horsepower and 400 pound-feet of torque. In case your elementary school math skills are on the fritz, that works out to a mere 56 percent of the power found in the outgoing car. That also means it makes just 20 more horses than the regular CT5 unveiled a couple months ago ahead of the New York Auto Show.

Granted, the new CT5-V’s 10-speed automatic transmission and optional all-wheel-drive (rear-wheel-drive comes standard) should help it achieve decent acceleration. And Cadillac has been aiming to point out that the repositioning of its sedan lineup means the CT5 is meant to compete against the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class, whereas the CTS butted heads with the 5 Series and E-Class. Still, in a world where the BMW M3 makes 425 horsepower and the AMG C63 S cranks out 503, 355 horses puts it well behind the pack — closer to the middleweight C43 and M340i than any true sport sedans.

Handling, at least, should still be a high point. The CT5-V benefits from continued use of General Motors’s solid electronic limited-slip differential shuffling power between the rear wheels, as well as the latest version of the delightful Magnetic Ride Control magnetorheological suspension. Summer tires comes standard, as do the handy-dandy Performance Traction Management system designed to help drivers make the most of the car’s, the Vehicle Control Mode drive mode selector with a customizable V-Mode; Brembo brakes up front help claw the car to a stop. Still, with just shy of 4,000 pounds of curb weight to shove around, it’s hard to see how it’ll hold up anywhere close to the standard set by the 420-hp CTS Vsport, let alone the CTS-V. (Luckily, if the ennui sets in and you lose the will to go on, Cadillac’s excellent Super Cruise is available to handle the driving for you so long as you’re on a divided highway.)

The smaller CT4-V is in slightly better standing, given its size and market positioning. While based on the same Alpha platform as the CT5 (and the outgoing CTS and ATS), the CT4 is aimed at the smallest luxury sedans, like the Mercedes-Benz A-Class and the Audi A3. As such, its turbocharged 2.7-liter inline-four’s output of 320 horses and 369 pound-feet holds up decently well for the class. Still, considering it’s actually longer and wider than the 464-hp ATS-V (and at 3,616 pounds, nearly as heavy), its stats put it at a significant disadvantage versus its forbear.

Aside from the engine, most of the other bits on the CT4-V are familiar from the CT5-V: 10-speed automatic, rear-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive, Brembo front brakes, available Super Cruise. It does cede a couple performance perks to its bigger sibling: the CT4-V’s limited-slip diff is mechanical, not electronic, and the adaptive magnetic ride dampers only come on the RWD version; AWD ones have to live with ZF-sourced passive ones.

And based on the first images, telling the two sedans apart at first glance will be tough. Both use Cadillac’s new sedan face, inspired by the Escala concept of 2016 and decorated with black accents and a dark mesh grille up front; the CT4’s front fascia looks a little lower and wider, but apart from the headlight treatment — the CT5’s LED accent lights sweep upwards in a way the CT4’s don’t — the two are damn similar. It’s a little easier telling them apart from the side and stern, as the CT5 boats a fastback profile and a blacked-out treatment on the C-pillar to exaggerate the size of the side glass, while the CT4 uses a more traditional, angular rear with a slight boat-tail spoiler effect to the trunk.

Why the change in tactic away from reserving the hallowed V badge for true Standard of the World-level sport sedans ? The carmaker didn’t say much, but GM president Mark Reuss did offer a hint: Buyers were scared. “When we did a V-Series, they were hammers,” Reuss said shortly after the unveil, according to Automotive News. “There was, frankly, some people who were intimidated by the cars.”

All hope isn’t lost, though. Cadillac suggested there would be more potent, track-happy versions of the V Series models coming down the pike, though the company is playing things extremely coy. (“This is only the beginning of the V family. Cadillac’s passion for performance shines on a racetrack. Stay tuned,” Reuss was quoted as saying in the official press release.) And considering the effort Cadillac spent developing an all-new twin-turbo V-8 for its own bespoke use — one already seen in the CT6-V in 550-hp form — it’s hard to imagine the company ceding both its hard-fought spot in the sport sedan world.

Still, with the lack of information forthcoming about those spicier models, it’s not impossible to imagine that. And with the diminishing returns to be found in the sedan market these days and Cadillac now being repositioned as the point of the spear in GM’s drive to electrify its lineup, it’s tragically easy to see how these half-caf sport sedans might wind up being the new normal, rather than an exception to it.

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