But Cadillac has been in the throes of transformation for more than a decade. For much of its history, it sat at the peak of GM's famous-brand ladder: You entered your automotive life with a Chevy and closed it with one. Back then, during the US auto industry's golden age and even into its crisis years in the 1970s and '80s, Cadillac produced big, comfortable cars that were designed to surround passengers in swaths of soft leather and ample ashtrays.
Taking one hard turn into a corner wasn't something that entered any Cadillac owner's mind, as he or she piloted the barge down a freeway with Sinatra flowing from the FM radio. The invasion of German sports sedans disrupted this settled arrangement. "Luxury" now had to include "performance." And to up the ante, BMW in particular began to advance its "ultimate driving machine" pitch with street-legal competition-derived cars from its M Sport division. This was German performance — plus!
Even after Cadillac revolutionized its styling to be more aggressive, it had to tackle the impression that the Germans were better at going fast. This led to a synthesis of Cadillac and Corvette. Posh met performance, and "performance" was a big V8 engine with enough horsepower to make you think you're not just driving — you're being propelled forward at alarming velocity by a thick column of fire. The V-Series was born.
Caddy has been refining this formula for about a decade now, and Johan de Nysschen, the brand's boss, recently stressed to Business Insider how important the V-cars are to the future of the the brand. "[They're] very stunning and are exciting people around the brand," he said. "They draw people into showrooms who would never consider Cadillac."
A Caddy with the heart of a Corvette? Sounds pretty tasty, and maybe just a little bit rude. So we sampled the core of the V lineup: the 2016 CTS-V sedan.
The Caddy landed in my driveway at Business Insider car-test HQ on the rainy days before the end of 2015. The "Red Obsession" paint brightened things up.
I know the CTS-V doesn't look anything like its ferocious GM stablemate, the Corvette Z06 supercar, which serves up 650 horsepower and 650 pound-feet of torque from the most powerful engine GM has built.
But the Cadillac actually has ... THE SAME ENGINE as the Vette, a 6.2-liter supercharged widow-maker. It's just been toned down to crank out a mere 640 hp.
It's a monster motor, but it appears rather compact under the CTS-V's hood.
The "V" cars are Caddy's answer to high-performance versions of European sports sedans: BMW's M Sports, Mercedes-AMGs, and the Audi RS. Our well-equipped test car was priced at about $92,000, about $10,000 over the base price.
Cadillac's styling for these cars is aggressive. Jutting angles, razored cut-ins, bold scoops, and aerodynamics define the attitude.
In fact, the legendary Cadillac shield is one of the few nods to tradition on the CTS-V. But even here, the wreath has been removed, leaving only a shield to anchor that snarling black grille. A Fleetwood Brougham freeway cruiser this is not.
Michael Bay would groove on these headlights.
And any fan of arrogant, hot-rodding American muscle will dig this slatted hood scoop. That hood, by the way, is made of lightweight carbon fiber.
The theme is echoed closer to the ground. And yes, there's barely room for a rattlesnake on the Zone diet to wiggle under that strip of wind-cheating technology. All this ventilation is functional, according the Caddy: It assists in cooling the engine for better track performance.
The "V" badging shows up here and there, ...
... and the at-times yowling exhaust note is piped through a quartet of these babies.
Overall, the CTS-V is a successful translation of the Corvette Z06 into a rear-wheel-drive sports sedan — with four doors, a comfortable back seat, and ...
... a nice, big trunk that makes the CTS-V a better choice for grocery runs than its supercar brother.
But just because the CTS-V has 10 fewer horses under the hood than the Vette and is versatile enough to satisfy mundane suburban requirements for gathering provisions, that doesn't mean it lacks angry bones beneath its shimmering chassis. This innocuous little button ...
... enables the driver to access one of several driving modes, which can be tweaked in various ways. The appearance of the digital display changes slightly for each one. This is what you see when you're in poke-around-town mode.
This is sport mode. A little green checkered-flag icon appears, and the tachometer turns white.
And here's track mode — Caddy bills the CTS-V as track-ready. The green icon has transformed into a tiny oval. Those paddle shifters behind the steering wheel can be used to operate the CTS-V in automanual, which particularly in track mode enables you to make that big supercharged engine growl like Jimmy Page's Les Paul on "Whole Lotta Love."
It's all tamed by an impeccable eight-speed transmission.
Driving the car is glorious. The Z06 requires constant attention, as I found out when I sampled it last year. The CTS-V, by contrast, is an insane beast when you want it to be, possessed of earth-splitting violence delivered via a 0-to-60 time of 3.6 seconds.
Hulking Brembo brakes keep all that velocity under control. Of course, you do have to be careful about potholes and speed bumps with that kind of minimal ground clearance.
The CTS-V can also be a perfectly docile roadway companion — when the claws are retracted. I wound up driving the Caddy on some of the same routes as the Z06, and the CTS-V was a mellower instrument — particularly when, for example, I was stuck in traffic on the George Washington Bridge. But you aren't going to get Prius-like MPGs from a 640-hp V8. The CTS-V manages 17 combined.
The Vette wants you to play AC/DC's "Thunderstruck" and play it at Norse warrior demigod volumes, while this is more the CTS-V's speed.
The cabin is soothing while also being sophisticated and sporty.
The Recaro seats provide the right amount of support for enthusiastic driving without being too stiff for a daily commute, ...
... and they're heated, as well as ventilated.
You've got the obligatory carbon-fiber highlights.
Compartments that slide open to reveal ...
A concealed inductive-charging system for mobile devices, ...
... plus a branded cloth to polish everything.
As with most GM vehicles, the CTS-V is enabled for CarPlay or Android Auto, and the infotainment system is solid — made that much better through the addition of 4G LTE Wi-Fi connectivity. Cadillac also offers a performance data recorder that allows you to record and later study your driving.
But you also have OnStar. A press of the blue button connects you with a human operator who can assist with navigation and various other vehicle functions.
Audio gets piped through a 13-speaker Bose audio system. It's a solid performer, doing what Bose audio does best: provide you with access to a wide range of dynamic sounds without making you feel overloaded on thumping bass.
Cadillac has been working on taking it to BMW's M cars for some time now, and with the CTS-V ... well, it may have taken it PAST the Ms. The CTS-V bears no resemblance to the Caddys of the Carter and Reagan administrations, and it has grabbed the sports-sedan concept and pushed it into new territory. You can now have your midlife crisis without embarrassing yourself.