Since moving to America I’ve been keeping my eye out for an opportunity to drive some newer Cadillac models. That opportunity finally came when their Truth + Dare event set up shop at a stadium car park in San Diego recently.
These kind of events come up in a while for automakers other than Cadillac as well, they move around the country for the public to experience the vehicles they have to offer. It’s like visiting a dealer but the test drives are fun and nobody asks what you can afford to pay monthly.
Truth + Dare is made up of five blocks of activity and/or demonstration. The first section is driving some of the cars around an autocross track. The course started with a long straight to air out the pipes, then a tight chicane and a long right hander leading into another chicane before the finish line. Interestingly for an event like this, Cadillac didn’t send us out with an instructor. I was simply told to go for it – just don’t hit or break anything.
The first car in line was a CT6 with the 3.6L naturally aspirated V6 engine. The larger engines are AWD, but the little 2.0 Turbo only comes in rear wheel drive. Once the 2.0 Turbo gets to speed it actually handles quite well. The price difference between the other two engines gets you an extra 69hp and 116 torques. Not terrible for $4000. Those that don’t fork out for that extra power won’t be too disappointed with the exhaust note. With the window down it’s a surprisingly decent sounding V6.
The track was short, but it was still fairly technical. The surface was a pretty cut up and rough piece of stadium carpark, but the AWD CT6’s really didn’t care. Quick, direct and with no sneaky ideas about letting go in the middle of a corner, or leaving me red faced about understeering into cones. The cars were on high end tires, but it was clear the chassis was the key. Cadillac setting anyone that showed up loose in their 400bhp car didn’t seem so blasé after a couple of laps.
The night vision demo could have been an eye rolling experience, but they set it up pretty well. Basically, it was a big tent with no windows and a couple of cars to sit in. Another car was then set opposite with its lights on, and some dry ice was pumped in to give a decent approximation of a dark road with mist and an oncoming car. When the screens in the cars were turned on there was a lot more going on than the headlights showed us. A man stepped out from behind the opposite car waving his hands. He was framed instantly in a yellow reticle by the pedestrian recognition software. His job was a simple one, but effective as the system tracked him around with clarity.
While all this was happening, we got a pleasant voice piped in over the speakers extolling the virtues of the system. Then she implied that if you don’t have it you’re basically going to die in a car wreck; and that Enhanced Night Vision system is only available at the highest of trim level on the CT6. That was the only real heavy sell of the event, and it was quite an effective one for the chap next to me. He was thinking about getting a CT6 and it seemed like he was now sold on the Platinum model. If the system does as well as demonstrated when the car is moving, then it’s very impressive. For those of us not considering a CT6, well, until the tech filters through to other models then hopefully it’s not a big dear we hit.
After the night vision demo we were moved on to a big line of various Cadillac vehicles to drive on the street. I hung back to see what the others were actually here to look at, and then drive whatever was left. It turned out nobody was interested in the CT6 plug in hybrid. That’s not really a shock though, the hybrid appears to exist mainly for the Chinese market. From what I could gather, Cadillac only expect to sell 1000 units in America each year and this was one of just 14 in the U.S right now. The added benefit of making it available in the U.S is helping the company to meet overall fuel efficiency standards in the U.S.
I disliked the seats straight away. They are very hard, but everything else about the car makes sense as a large luxury cruiser. The CT6 is already lightweight as its structure is mainly high-strength steel and aluminum. According to Cadillac it’s about 1000 pounds lighter than a BMW 740e and has a comparable engine. The hybrid CT6 does only comes in only one trim level, and that’s a high one. From my short time with the car there was a solid impression it’s well made and drives like a regular CT6 around town. For someone spending $75,000, the CT6 hybrid would save $15,000 against the BMW 740e xDrive. For anyone dropping that kind of cash, that should make for an interesting decision.
Next up, we moved to the acceleration and braking segment using the V-Series models. I’m not sure how long the drag strip was but it wasn’t a quarter of a mile. It was short, but it gave us a decent indication of what the cars are capable of.
The ATS-V uses a twin turbo V6 and the CTS-V has the full on supercharged V8 and this time we were sent out with an instructor. He told me to get my foot down all the way to the white cone, then get on the anchors without panicking because they big Brembo brakes and there’s room to spare. Which turned out to be quite true. The ATS-V wasn’t startling but it it was worthy of a grin as it ate up the ground. As promised the brakes did the job without complaint, and there was a lack of nose dive from the Magnetic Ride Control.
The CTS-V is the car for the drag strip though. For that run the instructor told me I should concentrate on feeling the acceleration – how it surges, the rush and the sound of the exhaust. I settled in and focussed my mind to do just that. Then failed completely. All I remember is a sensation of lightness. The rear end wigged it’s hips and then the white cone told me it’s time to hit the anchors. Braking was not dramatic at all, like the ATS-V it settled very quickly into being a normal car again.
The CTS-V and ATS-V are impressive cars, and exactly what I hoped for. There’s a part of me that wants Cadillac to be the car maker that goes back to its roots and build big comfortable cars using the modern suspension technology to make you feel like you’re sitting in a cloud. That part of me thinks a Cadillac should be the most American of things – a luxury car that carries style and status.
The satisfied part of me is enjoys the the shattered stereotype of American car makers not being able to build true performance cars.
For the last section we took a trip around as passengers in the XT5 equipped with Cadillacs automatic braking system. The driver aimed the car at a model of a person, and it automagically stopped. She then aimed the vehicle at the back of an inflatable car, and again the car stopped itself. It’s really hard to argue with that – it works very well. Convincing enough that I don’t feel the need to deliberately test it in the real world.
Ultimately, this isn’t enough time behind the wheel to truly know any of the cars, however it was a decent snapshot of where Cadillac is as a brand. The Escalade is obviously still around because it sells as a status symbol. It’s old enough to have covered its development and tooling costs, making it a profitable vehicle to make while it sells. This new breed of car though; they look well designed, well executed and worthy of the comparison to German luxury brands.
Full disclosure: Cadillac gave us all branded white caps. It didn’t sway my opinion either way.
Note: we also spoke about this on the Both Hand Drive podcast.