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2009 Cadillac CTS-V review: 2009 Cadillac CTS-V

2009 Cadillac CTS-V

Wayne Cunningham Managing Editor / Roadshow
Wayne Cunningham reviews cars and writes about automotive technology for CNET's Roadshow. Prior to the automotive beat, he covered spyware, Web building technologies, and computer hardware. He began covering technology and the Web in 1994 as an editor of The Net magazine.
Wayne Cunningham
8 min read

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2009 Cadillac CTS-V


2009 Cadillac CTS-V

The Good

With its phenomenally powerful engine and well-designed suspension, the 2009 Cadillac CTS-V serves up blistering acceleration and very stable handling. The navigation system offers excellently integrated traffic and also shows weather conditions. The Bose stereo delivers great clarity.

The Bad

Gear shift buttons on the steering wheel are poorly placed and gas mileage is in the mid-teens.

The Bottom Line

As a high-performance luxury sedan, the 2009 Cadillac CTS-V sets a benchmark. It's blisteringly fast and handles extraordinarily well, and offers an excellent set of cabin gadgets.

We previously gave the Cadillac CTS our 2007 Tech Car of the Year award, as that car showed superb new cabin tech and impressive performance. Now Cadillac gives the CTS a steroid shot, pumping the engine up to a 6.2-liter supercharged V-8, giving it a magnetically controlled suspension to keep its horsepower useful, and calling it the 2009 Cadillac CTS-V.

This pumped-up model doesn't lose any of its excellent cabin tech in exchange for its new performance parts, either. In fact, it gains Bluetooth cell phone integration, which was absent in the previous model. The only trade-offs are a higher price and lousy gas mileage.

On the road
To test out the 2009 Cadillac CTS-V, we brought it to the same highway where we first drove its little brother. On the way there, the CTS-V showed that it could still carry the Cadillac brand with its well-appointed cabin.

Cadillac fits the CTS-V with shocks controlled by electromagnets and a computer.

On a freeway cruise, the car was comfortable, although it didn't quite float over the road. Its Magnetic Ride Control could be switched from Touring to Sport, much like on the Corvette Convertible we tested recently. But we found the ride much smoother in the Cadillac.

The Bose audio system--sending 5.1-channel sound through 10 speakers--is one of the best we've heard from that company. Most Bose systems we test sound a little muddy, but this one has excellent clarity, along with the usual powerful amplification. The CTS-V has a convenient iPod connection in the console, which we relied on for most of this trip, rather than the XM radio or onboard music storage.

After exiting the freeway, we set the navigation system for the route down our preferred highway, and found that the car was on a road that didn't exist. The navigation system went into off-road mode, showing a compass. We drove the nonexistent road and figured that the CTS-V's map was a couple of years out of date.

iPod integration makes any drive more pleasurable.

Once navigation and the outside world agreed with each other, we were in open terrain, speeding down a nice stretch of highway, no one else in sight. Trying a fast launch from a stop with the automatic transmission in Sport mode, the rear wheels squealed loose from the pavement as the supercharger boost-gauge needle moved upward. The dramatic start was quickly brought under control--we had the traction control on--and the CTS-V thrust forward. A mental countdown showed 60 mph coming in the vicinity of four seconds, and probably less. This car is fast.

We took full advantage of the many more depopulated straight sections to come, and then finally started to get in some twisties. The brakes worked beautifully: they weren't grabby and had plenty of room to modulate. But going into a turn the gas pedal proved terribly unresponsive, only making power at the apex. The supercharger was taking time to spool up and the automatic transmission wasn't stepping down like it should. In manual mode, the shifts were reasonably fast, but the placement of the shift buttons on the back of the steering wheel spokes was terrible. At least we could use the shifter to select gears.

The CTS-V got this cow wishing it was a human, so it could take a drive.

With a better sense of how this car worked, we applied gas early in the turn, so power would be up at the right time. And found that, even though this is a massively powerful sedan, it took the corners with incredible ease. Already doubling the recommended limits for the turns, the car wasn't bothered, not even deigning to squeal the tires. The CTS-V was capable of performing far beyond what we were willing to do on this highway, which led to a great sense of confidence.

In the cabin
The cabin of the 2009 CTS-V shows the kind of quality and luxury that Cadillac can pull off and on which it built its reputation. Soft leather-wrapped surfaces on the dashboard, quality switchgear on the stack, and even a nice graphic treatment for the interface on the LCD are only marred slightly by the fake carbon fiber trim and rough cloth headliner.

The optional Recaro seats really impressed. Far from the usual stiff racing seats from Recaro, these were cushioned and power adjustable. Beyond the normal adjustments, your switches also control the seat and side bolsters, so the seats will fit anyone like a glove.

These aren't your typical Recaro seats.

The electronics package, the same as in the standard CTS, is excellent, combining navigation, data services (such as traffic and weather), OnStar, and a good range of audio sources. The interface for these systems is a little bit weird, as it combines switchgear on the stack with some touch-screen functions. As a result, it's not always clear when you should be turning a dial or reaching for an onscreen button. That said, the onscreen controls are very intuitive.

Navigation works off of hard-drive-stored maps. Judging by how the maps in our car were out-of-date, Cadillac needs to develop a better process for updating the software in cars coming off the assembly line. Other than that, the maps have good resolution, and traffic is very well integrated, alerting you to incidents on the road ahead even if you don't have a route programmed.

The route guidance graphics are decent, but the system doesn't offer many different ways to input destinations. You get map input, manual address entry, and points of interest, but not freeway entrances or exits.

OnStar works in conjunction with the navigation system, letting you ask an OnStar operator to look up a local business or other location, the address for which can then be downloaded to the car.

This navigation system offers the best traffic integration we've seen.

Along with traffic, weather information is also fed to the system through XM satellite radio, showing current weather and forecasts for cities and regions throughout the U.S. The system can also warn of severe weather.

As is typical with hard drive-based navigation systems, storage space (10 megabytes in this case) is reserved for music. You can rip a standard audio CD to the car by simply putting it in the single disc slot and pressing the record button. An internal Gracenote database will tag each track, making all music accessible through the car's jukebox audio source.

iPod integration is also excellent in the CTS-V, and uses an onscreen interface similar to the jukebox. The connector, which also works for USB drives, is in the console. Other audio sources include MP3 CDs and XM satellite radio.

You can get phone service through OnStar, as before, but Cadillac also adds Bluetooth to the mix, so you can use your own phone, and not have to give out a second number to friends. This Bluetooth implementation is pretty basic, requiring you to manually enter contacts to the phonebook, but it's a feature we're happy to finally see in a Cadillac.

Under the hood
Although the cabin tech in the new model mostly came out with the standard CTS model in 2007, the engine is all new. The hood of the CTS-V bulges to accommodate the 6.2-liter supercharged V-8, and aluminum block-and-head engine that makes a breathtaking 556 horsepower at 6,100rpm and boasts, perhaps more impressively, 551 pound-feet of torque at 3,800rpm.

The speedometer needle has a red line that trails it up towards the century mark.

With only two valves per cylinder, the CTS-V's engine might seem primitive by European standards, but you can't argue with the power delivery. By contrast, the naturally aspirated, higher-revving, 6.2-liter engine in the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG only puts out 451 horsepower. The discrepancy is largely due to the 1.9-liter supercharger in the CTS-V, although we didn't see its boost gauge move much under normal driving conditions.

The suspension uses a magnetic system to constantly monitor road conditions and driving style, adjusting rigidity appropriately. Audi has been using a similar system for the past few years, and GM has adopted it for high-end cars like the CTS-V and the Corvette. Combined with the precise steering, the CTS-V offers excellent control, and we were particularly surprised to find that the back end wouldn't readily kick out, as it does in the BMW M3.

The automatic transmission didn't impress us as much as the rest of the performance equipment.

A manual six speed comes standard with the CTS-V, but ours came equipped with the six-speed automatic--a free option. After driving it a bit, we would have liked to at least try the manual. This automatic didn't shift as quickly as the one in the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG in manual mode, and in sport mode it didn't seem as aggressive in downshifting as the one in the standard CTS. And to reiterate a point made earlier, we hated the position of the paddle shifters, which are really just buttons on the back of the steering wheel. To use them, you have to move your hands away from normal driving placement, negating the advantage of steering wheel shifters.

Driving the CTS-V is an expensive proposition, as the gas mileage isn't good. The EPA rates it at 12 mpg city and 18 mpg highway, earning it the dreaded gas guzzler tax. During a mix of city, freeway, and winding-road driving, we came in with a tank average of 14.7 mpg. An emissions rating hasn't yet been published for the 2009 Cadillac CTS-V.

In sum
With a base price of $57,920, the 2009 Cadillac CTS-V is almost twice the price of a standard CTS. You will also have to add in the $2,600 gas guzzler tax. Options in our test car included the Recaro seats for $3,400, the navigation system for $2,145, and suede-covered steering wheel, adding $300 to the total. Final price with destination: $67,140.

While the CTS-V may seem pricey, it competes well with the BMW M3 and Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG, and comes in at a price similar to those cars. Better yet, the cabin is roomier, more equivalent to a BMW 5-Series. And you get more horsepower than the competition, while turning in about the same mileage.

In rating the CTS-V, we were blown away by the performance and impressed by the cabin tech. We docked it a point for fuel economy, and have reservations about that automatic transmission, but choosing the manual will alleviate the latter issue. The cabin tech is generally excellent, although we would like to see a better Bluetooth system, and possibly some driver aid technology, such as adaptive cruise control or blind spot detection. For design, we have to go with excellent as well. Cadillac has carved out a unique look with its angular styling, and the bulging hood on the CTS-V adds an aggressive character.


2009 Cadillac CTS-V

Score Breakdown

Cabin tech 9Performance tech 9Design 8


Trim levels CTS-VAvailable Engine GasBody style Sedan