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2020 Cadillac CT5-V first drive review: Great to drive, even with finicky brakes

Can the new midsize V carry on the performance legacy of its predecessors despite being down on power?

The CT5 is a sharp, sophisticated-looking sedan.

Cadillac

Despite what you might think, this 2020 Cadillac CT5-V isn't a direct replacement for the outgoing CTS-V. Sure, they're similarly sized, but while the old CTS-V produced a fire-breathing 640 horsepower from a supercharged V8 engine -- and cost more than $85,000 -- this one takes it all down a notch with a 3.0-liter turbo V6, 360 hp, 405 lb-ft and a sub-$50K asking price. Yes, a proper CTS-V replacement is still in the works. But don't write off this CT5-V. There's still a lot to like.

While my initial test focused on the higher-performance V-Series model, the CT5 is also available in Luxury, Premium Luxury and Sport trims, powered by either a 237-hp I4 or a 335-hp V6. We'll have a full test of the standard CT5 in the coming months.

Both the CT5 and CT5-V are handsome cars, with a sleek fastback silhouette inspired by Cadillac's Escala concept. LED lighting is standard across the board and I really dig how the running lights pierce the front fascia. It's a very distinct and sophisticated light signature. The CT5-V distinguishes itself with unique front and rear fascias, a new grille, revised taillight design and quad exhaust tips.

Inside, the CT5 boasts plenty of nice features, including lumbar massaging, heated and cooled seats, an optional rear-camera mirror and some nice carbon-fiber trim. But there's too much hard plastic in here to really call it luxurious. What's more, the buttons for drive modes, stop-start and a few other functions are awkwardly placed behind the shifter and just feel like afterthoughts. Once again, this Cadillac's interior just can't match what you get from other premium-brand rivals.

Infotainment tech is thankfully robust, with a 10-inch screen running General Motors' easy-to-use multimedia system, with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Amazon Alexa incorporated. Wireless charging is here, as well as available driver-assistance systems such as adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist and a head-up display. Cadillac's excellent Super Cruise highway driving assistant will be an option on 2021 model-year CT5s.

None of those driver-assistance systems matter here at Thermal Club, of course, where I put the CT5-V in Track mode to dial back the safety nannies in the Performance Traction Management system. Track mode improves shift response from the 10-speed automatic transmission, adds some weight to the steering and delivers more feedback through the brake-by-wire system -- more on that last one in a minute.

The interior is full of sub-par materials, but at least the 10-inch multimedia interface is super easy to use.

Cadillac

The first thing I notice on track is the Magnetic Ride Control suspension. This quick-reacting tech can read the road every millisecond and change the damping settings instantly. The CT5-V has nicely weighted steering, corners flat, sticks like glue and never gets squirrely. With summer tires and rear-wheel drive, around Thermal Club, this setup is mostly fantastic.

The next thing that impresses me is the transmission. The 10-speed automatic performs admirably, upshifting quickly at the high end of the power band as I wring the CT5-V out down a straightaway, hitting triple-digit speeds with ease. As I hit the brakes for the next corner, the transmission is eager to downshift, ensuring I have tons of torque at the ready when I exit the corner. There are paddle shifters for those who want to choose their own adventure, but the automatic is tuned so nicely on its own, I'm inclined to just leave it alone.

Now, about those brakes. The initial bite is voracious and fierce -- you get everything right at the top of the pedal. Deep into the pedal travel, a mechanical connection with the Brembo stoppers kicks in, overriding the by-wire technology. If my foot gets more than an inch or two into the travel, however, I'm in some serious shit, unable to smoothly modulate the brakes while entering a corner. What's more, these brakes seemed to fade rather quickly after just a few laps at Thermal Club.

Don't worry, an even hotter CT5-V is coming soon.

Cadillac

The good news is that, at $48,690 including $995 for destination, the CT5-V is priced to compete. Adding all-wheel drive adds $2,600 to the price, which still puts this model below smaller competitors like the BMW M340i and Mercedes-AMG C43. Said another way, the CT5-V is a few thousand dollars cheaper than the base price of a similarly sized 2020 Audi A6.

As for the power, I don't mind this 360-hp version, and for the whiners out there, Cadillac will introduce a higher-performance version of the CT5-V later this year. Sadly, it won't have the 4.2-liter Blackwing V8, but Cadillac promises this hotter V will be more akin to the outrageous CTS-Vs of yore. I just hope the brakes get an upgrade, too.

Originally published Feb. 25.


Editors' note: Travel costs related to this story were covered by the manufacturer, which is common in the auto industry. The judgments and opinions of Roadshow's staff are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.