WASHINGTON, D.C. - Cadillac has never been known as a high-performance division of General Motors. Over the years, that label has been applied to Pontiacs and to selected Chevrolets. Reaching back further yet, a batch of Oldsmobiles deserved such a designation, dating back to the original 88 model of 1949, powered by the company's first overhead-valve V-8 engine.
From time to time, though, Cadillac has introduced some performance-oriented offshoots of its regular luxury models. Most recently came the "V" edition of the CTS sedan, holding a 400-horsepower V-8 engine. During the 2006 model year, Cadillac launched an STS-V with the most powerful Cadillac engine ever.
Cadillac's V-series is now considered a series of its own. Billed as a "no-excuses" program, it's "taking performance and luxury to the highest level," said product director John Howell. Cadillac's goal is to "compete with the best products out there." In addition to the CTS-V and STS-V, Cadillac now offers a supercharged XLR-V sports car that sells for an even $100,000.
Under the hood of the STS-V is a supercharged V-8 that develops 469 horsepower at 6400 rpm - the most power ever for a Cadillac model, capable of what Howell calls "trackworthy performance." Torque output is 439 pound-feet at 3400 rpm. The supercharged engines are "tuned and refined without being sterile and isolated," said Greg Prior, design systems engineer for Northstar engines. That results in "effortless and refined performance" when you need it, Prior added.
Cadillac claims that the STS-V can accelerate to 60 mph in a swift 4.8 seconds. Engine oil and transmission oil coolers are installed. In Sport mode, the six-speed automatic transmission delivers quicker, slightly firmer upshifts than usual.
Additional technical improvements, compared to a regular STS sedan, include upgraded CV-joints in the driveline, as well as a thicker prop shaft and reinforced differential. Front suspension modifications produce a 15-percent increase in ride stiffness, and a 35-percent hike in roll stiffness. At the rear, the ride rate is up 20 percent, and the roll rate has increased by 30 percent. Cadillac's stability control system permits selection of Competitive Driving Mode, if desired.
Pirelli extended-mobility tires are bigger:18-inch up front and 19-inch at the rear. They can run flat at 50 mph for 50 miles, according to Bill Rietow, vehicle performance manager for the STS-V. Steering is quicker, too.
Expect to pay a substantial penalty in gas mileage. The EPA estimate is 14 mpg for city driving and 20 mpg on the highway, versus 17/26 mpg for a regular STS with a V-8 engine.
Appearance changes are subtle, including a front fascia that sits 50 millimeters lower. Inside, leather-wrapped seats have ultra suede inserts. They're aimed at "planting the driver in the seat," according to Rietow, during "aggressive driving maneuvers."
On moderately rough surfaces, the ride is much lumpier than experienced in Cadillac's two-passenger XLR-V sports car - or in a regular STS. The performance sedan hits bumps hard, though its suspension recovers quickly and positively. Much of the time, the ride is agreeable on smooth highways; but even there, you feel a certain amount of body motion.
No complaints are warranted about STS handling, as the driver enjoys excellent steering feel and precision. Acceleration is certainly eager and assertive: seriously enthusiastic, but wholly civilized. You get a steady stream of uninterrupted power, accompanied by a satisfying blower whine when pushing the engine hard.
Thick B-pillars don't help visibility. Traditional-style gauges are easy enough to read, and the high-mounted navigation screen displays a superior map.
For the 2007 model year, an STS-V stickers for $77,290, versus $51,990 for a conventional STS sedan with the 320-horsepower V-8 engine. No options are offered, except for deleting the standard sunroof.
Cadillac has now entered the "second phase" of its Renaissance, according to product director Howell. That means a "second product onslaught," accompanied by "more attention to detail" as well as elegance. "We've kind of pursued our vision of being standard of the world," Howell said.