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Driving the 2016 CTS-V: An Intern Takes On Cadillac's Monster

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 8/10/2015 Trace Hance

I am the world's luckiest intern. As a 21-year-old, I got an amazing opportunity to represent Motor Trend at a Cadillac press event for the all-new CTS-V at Road America. It all started with editor-in-chief Ed Loh asking me for a racing resume to send to Cadillac. I only have a few go-karting championships, two autocross championships, five years of racing in a Spec Miata with SCCA, and a good story about starting 58th and finishing fourth at Daytona in May under my belt ( #humblebrag -Ed ). Apparently, that was enough "expertise" to let this intern drive a 640-horsepower, supercharged sedan on a racecourse. Not a bad summer gig, right?

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Photos by Julia LaPalme and the automaker

Cadillac booked a room for me at the American Club in Kohler, Wisconsin. Now a Five Diamond resort, the American Club used to be a boarding house where German factory workers stayed while they studied for their citizenship tests. Cadillac actually paid for an intern to stay at a resort. Good enough, right? Nope. Dinner was provided for all the journalists at the Kohler Design Center on the third floor in theme-decorated kitchens. We had Italian in little Italy, sushi in little Japan, and vegan in little San Francisco. It was delightful.

2016 Cadillac CTS V Front View In Motion© Provided by MotorTrend 2016 Cadillac CTS V Front View In Motion After I gave up wondering why Kohler's design center has a statue of a man in a gymnastics dismount on top of a wall of toilets, I got to talk with the chief engineer of the CTS-V, David Leone. He told me about his very brief childhood experience with the accordion, and then we discussed the CTS-V and the process behind it. "It's performance without punishment," he said. "We've estimated 17 mpg city and 24 mpg highway while still going 0-60 mph in 3.7 seconds." As he was telling me this, Hampden Tener, Cadillac's product manager, walked up and added, "V means power with passion and performance is now a Cadillac signature."

Cadillac has always been General Motors' top luxury brand. The 1959 Coupe DeVille, for example, is iconic for its fins and how back then driving any Cadillac was like driving a couch on a cloud. History proves that Cadillac was the best luxury car you could buy. Unfortunately, my generation doesn't know that history. But like with any struggling college football team, a new head coach can turn the whole team around. Johan de Nysschen is to Cadillac as Brian Kelly is to Notre Dame.

After the short drive from the resort to Road America, I was incredibly eager to get out on the track. The last time I had driven on Road America was the summer of 2012 at the June Sprints with Tom Long as my coach. There's always a bit of anxiety, too. Like at any racetrack, there are walls, and walls don't do kind things to cars that approach them quickly. Before I left for the event, Ed and Kim Reynolds, Motor Trend 's testing director, told me to keep three things in mind while on track: Don't wreck the car, don't wreck the car, and don't wreck the freaking car! Good thing my racing motto has always been "no new dents." Either way, it was vitally important to keep all four wheels on the pavement.

2016 Cadillac CTS V Sedan Front Three Quarter In Motion 04© Provided by MotorTrend 2016 Cadillac CTS V Sedan Front Three Quarter In Motion 04 Everyone was given a quick warm-up with the cars before heading out on track. Our warm-up was a lead-follow lap with Cadillac's driving instructors with a walkie-talkie plugged into the CTS-V's stereo. This was so the instructor could tell all the drivers where to brake, turn in, apex, and exit the corner. The first lap was a grueling max speed of 45 mph. The second lap was a bit faster, but our third lap the instructor pulled off and set us free.

Being the boy racer I am, I immediately turned all electronic aids off and put the transmission into manual. I was extremely disappointed. The car handled like it was confused about what I was asking it to do. I would click the right paddle to shift up around 6,000 rpm, count to three, and then the car would shift. Even with a stab to the throttle before mid-apex, I would count to three then the car would snap into oversteer. What is wrong with this car? Why would it not do what I wanted it to do?

Then I remembered what Cadillac told us in the morning walk-around. This CTS-V has an electronic limited-slip differential (ELSD). It's designed to help the car's turn-in stability and keep the car hooked up on the track. So I slowed down, turned the CTS-V's Performance Track Management (PTM) system to level 5, which is Race mode, and switched the transmission back into automatic. Race mode turns traction control and active steering control off but leaves stability control on. After three corners in Race mode, I realized I'd awoken a beast.

After I pressed just a few buttons, the car's handling and drive ability changed drastically. It was night to day with how the CTS-V drove in PTM 5. It was nimble, tossable, and bloody fast. The car allowed a small amount of slip angle during cornering to allow maximum cornering speed. A car's slip angle is basically a small drift. It's the difference between the direction the car is heading and the direction the car is pointing. A small amount of slip angle can let a longer-wheelbase car rotate through a corner and carry more speed, ultimately lowering a lap time. With the right amount of slip angle just after corner turn-in, you can keep the steering wheel straight and steer the car with only the throttle. What's amazing about the CTS-V in Race mode is that the car's computer will keep you at the right slip angle through every corner. Basically, all I had to do was brake at the right time, point the car to the apex, and keep it floored, letting the computers take control.

The only car I can compare the CTS-V to is my personal 1990 1.6 Spec Miata race car with Hoosier slicks. I was only 3 seconds slower in the CTS-V than in my Spec Miata because of the motorcycle chicane opposed to the famous kink and a mandatory slow section entering Turn 4. To put that into perspective, if the CTS-V and my Spec Miata were to race each other, the CTS-V would have to go through two hairpin corners and pit lane at 65 mph each lap, but the Miata wouldn't. My time in the Spec Miata was a 2:44.198, and my fastest lap time in the CTS-V was 2:47.027. The CTS-V has agility, power, and air-conditioned seats. The CTS-V falls right into the intersection of the luxury car and performance car Venn diagram. It's the best of both worlds.

The saddest part about this track day was it was only a half day. The Cadillac driving staff actually had to show me a checkered flag to get me off the track. Also, the fuel light came on during my cool-down lap. So much for the fuel economy numbers Leone mentioned the night before. As I drove down Cadillac's makeshift pit lane, I realized I had accomplished what Cadillac's insurers hoped I wouldn't. I returned the car with no new dents. I wasn't "that guy" or "that intern." While I was being driven back to General Mitchell International Airport, I talked with some of my new journalist friends. We talked about the car itself, and we shared our lap times. I know this event wasn't about who was fastest, but there is a little bit of pride knowing Motor Trend 's intern was faster than everyone else's journalist. To have had that opportunity is why I'm the world's luckiest intern.

2016 Cadillac CTS V Sedan Tire Burnout© Provided by MotorTrend 2016 Cadillac CTS V Sedan Tire Burnout
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