Driving the Alphabet: CTS-V, GTO, and XLR
02 March, 2004. Texas Motor Speedway. Cadillac brings out a small fleet of CTS-Vs and competitors and lets us have at them. The LS6 engine is so sweet. 400hp and 395ft-pounds through a six-speed with an IRS (3.73 final drive), 14" Brembos up front and 14.4" in the back, and true dual exhaust. Their event is setup with three stations. A smallish autocross complete with timers and display, a comparison autocross (no timers), and a 'road-course' setup using part of the infield track. I went up with four salesmen (I work in service) from our dealership and we all had a pretty good time.
First off, a sit-down (with catered breakfast munchies) intro. They discussed the CTS popularity and went over the basics of the car. The woman (who claimed racing championships in the US and Europe) kept making annoying technical mistakes. I was embarrassed for her but it seemed most of the group didn't catch them. A few of my guys did, and they would look at me and mouth like they were laughing. Once, when describing the CAGS (computer aided gear selection....it bumps the shifter over when you pull down from first so you end up in 4th...will only do it when you shift at less than 20mph and with very little TPS angle...it's a fuel saving thing) feature, she said to defeat it you just 'blip the throttle, get it over the rev-limiter, and away you go'. That had ALL my guys laughing. In pictures of lower control arms she called them 'cradles' and kept referring to spring rate in "pounds per square inch". There were more, but I stopped counting.
Autocross: After the big intro to the car, they split the big group into three groups and rotated us among the stations. Our group did autocross first and 'my' guys were asking for quick advice on the walk over to the course. No stranger to killing cones, I gave them the basic 'look far ahead, no coasting, fast but smooth inputs' speech. There were about 25 folks in our sub-group and the first thing we did was have a smaller and shorter sit-down with our 'expert'. Each 'station' (autocross, comparison, road-course) had its own 'experts'. The autocross guy was not. He said he was a magazine writer with 10 championships (mumbled SCCA and IMSA) to his credit. During the 'mechanicals overview' he made glaring mistakes that even the salesmen caught. I mean really, if the SALES-people catch it, you know it is bad. So after the smaller mechanical session we start the autocrossing. His helper talks us through the sequence of how we will get one 'warm-up' run and then a 'real' run. Our 'expert' cuts a 29.2 warm-up run and then a 27.8 'timed' run. Since we didn't get to walk the course I tried to pay close attention to what the car was doing when it was 200 yards down the apron so I would get an idea of what to expect. The course had small cones and white chalk lining it, and with the tire marks visible in some areas it was obvious that this course had been run quite a few times before we walked over. My salesmen do great and actually have the four fastest times when it gets down to me, the last one left. With a 28.8 as the quick time so far, I sat down in the first staged car (there were four). A quick double tap of the 'traction control' switch and the big LCD screen in the center wiped everything clean and only displayed 'competitive driving'. I launch the car gently in first and short-shift to second and move my left foot over for braking. I take it pretty easy on the run and end up with a 28.1. My guys are all thumbs-up as I pull around for my 'real' run. I think back at the two corners that I didn't do well at all and also think of what a cool car this is. With so much torque on tap, even the painfully-slow back corner isn't too bad. The motor does not struggle or strain from that low of an RPM, it just scoots the car. As soon as the tachometer gets above 2000 or so, it really pushes you back in the seat. The steering is extremely light (54/46 weight distribution) and the big sway bars keep the car very flat. I drive Cadillacs all the time but this is one that I WANT to drive! I launch on my next run and bring up the anger a few notches, take the sections that I messed up last time perfectly this time and scream to the finish and ....oh my goodness the timers stopped working. They had worked perfectly for 50+ runs and now, on my last run, as the 'expert' walked over to them as I was on the course, they just stopped. Amazing. What is even more amazing is that they wouldn't come back on (add huge sarcasm) after he repeatedly tried to 'reset' them. So the 'expert' tells me to take one more run and he will 'hand time me' as he messes with his watch. Sitting in stage the 'expert' is getting some jeers from the 25+ folks on the sidelines who know what is really going on. As I look over, I see two of my guys setup their watches (geeks) along with several others in the crowd. So I launch again and actually do even better and carry a little more speed though a few sections. I find I don't really like the brakes. The ABS kicks in a little to early for my tastes and I wish I could just turn it off. Regardless, by now I really know the course and just fly. The competitive driving mode is predictable (thanks to hours of Z06 seat time at MSR and TWS in the same mode) and the car is very very forgiving and just a joy to push fast. I come through the finish and the 'expert' is messing with his watch. I stop and look over. People yell out 'what time?"....the 'expert' stutters...."uh.......uh....(pushing buttons)...uh........28 FLAT....uh...28.005!". I just laugh. Two other folks time me at 26.6 and 26.8 but the 'expert' puts me on the board at the 28.0. My sales manager had me at a 26.7 and shows me his watch. No biggie, I was really happy for the third run! :-) When the board is reviewed the guys from our dealership have the 5 fastest times so we are pretty pumped. This is the first Cadillac with this much horsepower and I really like it a ton. They have put decent side-bolsters in the seat and made them from something grippy that really holds you in the seat. I didn't feel like I was flailing about like so many other cars when pushed hard. The diff never let the inside tire spin under hard acceleration from tight corners and under 'competitive driving' mode the car under-steers slightly until throttle application. Really a very fun (and easy) car to push hard.
Next up: Roadcourse. This is where we got to push the cars at speeds above the legal limit. The experts rode shotgun and just made sure that we didn't do anything foolish. We had to wear helmets but there were no timers. I had a very cool expert who chatted with me while we were in line and asked about experience. I gave him the quick rundown and turns out he is a huge rally fan. I told him all about the Club Rally National Championships and autocrossing with the trees at better than 80 mph. When it was our turn to launch, he let me go and just sat back. He was grinning from ear to ear after our laps and when we got out he called the other experts over and we all chatted for a while and I was almost late for lunch. Very good group of guys. The car, however, was much better than that. In 'competitive driving' again, it is a really fun car. The middle-3rd-gear chicanes they had setup were very easy to maneuver though once the car took a set. Playing around, it felt like the car really liked to be 'set' for a corner before you dialed in the turn input. Perhaps it was the alignments (factory? custom? don't know....) or maybe the stock Eagle F1 Supercars, or maybe the higher than I am used to CG, but staying ahead of this car was important. If you gave it a little 'settle time' on the brakes or going into a corner it felt so much more stable. Quicker inputs seemed to bind up the car and make it feel numb. With just a little slowing down on the inputs the car could go so much faster. I like the brakes more the faster we went. Absolutely fade-free after repeated top-of-3rd-gear hard slow-downs and no hint of ABS on those stops. Perhaps it is just the lower-speeds that they intrude upon? Regardless, they felt very good and I would easily compare them to the PBR setup on my 1LE.
Lunch time. Catered in the big garage and wonderful. Somebody is throwing out the serious red carpet.
Last up: Comparison. In line at another autocross course is a CTS-V, a new M3 (333hp with less than 5k on the clock), another CTS-V, a new Audi S4 (340hp with less than 6k on the clock), and another CTS-V. The drill is to pair up with another person and take the first CTS-V for two fast laps (each driver getting one lap), then the BMW, then another CTS-V, then the Audi, then the last CTS-V. This will give you time in each car driving and riding. I team up with a guy from Oklahoma who is in sales, but was a USN and then commercial pilot. We hit it off back at the Roadcourse section talking aircraft (my Father was a USAF pilot) and quickly became the troublemakers. While most folks were talking market penetration and sales numbers, we talked Orion cruise speeds, cat shots, sub hunting tactics, high-ROC intercepts, etc. We waited till most folks had worked their way through and then we started going. 'Jacks' was quick and smooth and we had a ball. When he dropped into the first Caddy we ran the checklist (which consisted of me saying 'emergency brake: off' and him saying 'off' and me saying 'checklist complete) and went to the start line. He said 'Don't be afraid to give me some hints' and I said 'no problem', and the clutch came up and away we went. Instructing for some HPDE events, I am used to hollering out hints along the way and I started in on him. With no helmets, I could see him grinning and I told him to wait to brake, carry more speed, go wide, etc etc. We came through the finish sideways grinning like idiots. Jacks handled the car like a pro and it was my turn. After forgetting the checklist I had to release the emergency brake on the first little straight then we started moving. I went wide through one corner pushing (but not tipping) a cone out some. The expert admonished me a bit, but I just blamed my navigator for the incorrect heading input. Next we hopped the BMW and after the checklist (much easier since it is a handbrake in the middle, not a pedal under the dash) Jacks whipped onto course. This car easily changes direction as fast as the CTS-V but just does not have the pull down the straight. It waits for the revs to come up before it begins to pull you along hard. The brakes were easily a match for the CTS-V at the 2nd gear speeds. The BMW feels lighter, but the grip levels (BMW was on stock tires, but with the optional 18" wheels) felt about the same. I would have liked to compare them at the roadcourse, but that was not going to happen. The BMW leans a little less than the Caddy, but I really don't think it was much, if any, faster. It could hustle slightly faster through a sharp corner but as soon as you got on the gas the waiting began. The Caddy, on the other hand, would come out of the corners much harder. The Audi felt out of place. It felt nose-heavy and would not change direction near as fast as the two others. I have driven a well-prepped S4 at MSR and this car didn't feel like that at all. The faster corners were ok, but the slow speed stuff just made it feel like a front-wheel drive car in a bad way. The brakes felt ok, but not as crisp or solid as the BMW or Caddy. Being at the end of the line, when there were gaps, we made more passes and tore up more tires. Jacks and I agreed that the Audi is outclassed on this low-speed stuff, and the Caddy and the BMW are close, but the Caddy was more fun to drive simply due to the additional power. Power corrupts and it corrupted us quickly. The tire-shredding down-low right-NOW torque that the motor puts out is a serious hit on the go-fast-crack-pipe that just makes you want more. Yes, the BMW is fun. Just not AS fun. We would have needed to go faster to see the Audi shine, but it wouldn't happen at this event.
11 March, 2004. I look up and there on my service drive, still in it's plastic and moments off the transporter, is a black 2004 GTO. Black on black 6-speed. Sweet. Later, I take the beast for a spin. A longer in-depth drive will surely take place but for now the jury is 'in' and this is one sweet ride. It is smaller than it looked in the pictures I had seen, about the size of a 2-door Grand Prix. The IRS is so sweet. Coming from F-bodies, I am so used to the live axle effect and the lack of that effect is a damn nice one. The back end felt very much like the CTS-V. The rear seats are, get this, comfortable. They lean back at a nice angle and even with a tall person in the front, you still don't suck on your knees. Like the front seats, you sit IN them, not ON them. Unlike the F-body, a multi-hour trip in the back of this car would not be a problem at all. The HVAC controls are goofy, the steering wheel design is not for everyone, but the horsepower in a small-ish chassis for sure IS. With true-dual exhaust it has a very nice rumble (that really needs to be a bit louder for me, but it's a good start) but the inside is new-car quiet. Blaupunkt 6 disc changer with too many watts I'm sure (I so don't care about stereo stuff) and only fuel and temp gauges to go along with the tachometer and speedometer. The small LCD display can give a ton of info, but I personally like oil pressure as a 'permanent' gauge.
XLR: No, I didn't get to drive this one yet. I have ridden in it and with it being 100hp down on the CTS-V it isn't (comparatively) fast. Wendi's ten year old Z28 has 275 so outright speed isn't the goal. The goal is style and (for me) the goal is easily surpassed. The car looks fantastic in person either with the top up or the top down. The actual raising and lowering of the top is too cool (should have a vid of it up shortly) and even just gliding along at 20mph the car looks stunning. Ours is a the deep maroon (Go Ags!) and I just love it. Boulevard smooth no matter what the pavement and docile feeling regardless of the speed, this car is built to look good while cruising. Considering the recent car magazine articles, this car is a complete home-run winner for Cadillac.