Smoke lingers in the air, slowly drifting across the sun-set scene. But it’s not tire smoke – it’s billowing out of the BBQ, this time a classic Bratwurst VS Johnsonville Brats cook-off. American meat vs German sausage. Well, you get the idea.
A lot more is at stake here than automotive best-in-class. The pride of a nation and its car culture rests upon the type of titanic competition that we have at hand. This is not sports car vs sports car; it’s the best Germany can offer vs the best America can muster. And it’s been a long time coming.
Launched in 1985, the BMW M5 has continuously set the high water-mark for what a sports sedan could be, indeed, should be. Hand-built and employing a supercar engine of the times, it was the fastest sedan the world knew in its first iteration, and every successive generation has earned that title – until now.
Many automakers have gone to great lengths to determine just what is in the German’s special BBQ sauce. What makes the M5 so spicy, so delectable, so… fast? Mercedes came to the cook-off with their AMG massaged E class, and – while this year it has finally turned up with the right flavor – it previously missed the mark (stand-by for an E63 AMG VS M5 Comparo – we know the Merc is on the war path and has already won some over). Audi and others have had a stab at the M5, but fell short. In 2004, Cadillac launched their first serious assault on the M5 in the form of the CTS-V. It too fell short. Not enough flavor, and the build quality left many with indigestion.
In 2009 Cadillac tried again, and this time the ingredients were just right for a proper comparison. Based on the GM Sigma II platform, the CTS-V gained weight, but also became a much more sophisticated, upscale sedan. Gone are the wayward interior moldings, squeaks and all. Reach out to touch the CTS-V’s interior surfaces and your hand will be rewarded with satisfying tactile sensations from the likes of real metals, better quality leathers, and plastics. The entire mood and aura has changed.
Of course, none of you are reading this article to hear how the interior build quality of the Cadillac compares to the BMW. The Germans are still a ways ahead in terms of fit and finish and use of quality materials, so if you’re looking for the better limo, buy the BMW. The heart of this comparison lies between the two cars’ performance, and equally important, how they feel to drive. Let’s get to it.
Walking up to the Cadillac, the car’s mysteriously alien yet organic lines are pleasing to the eye. Looks are subjective so I won’t delve in too deep here – but I must admit I am smitten by the Cadillac’s handsome looks. Every line intercepts the next just-right, creating a whole that’s greater than the sum of its individual lines and shapes. Even more important – the hood bulge, gaping wheel fenders and quad-exhaust are visual cues of the car’s immense 556 hp and 551 lb-ft of torque. Sitting idle, this car has a presence about it as you approach. You can’t help but feel a little bit excited to get inside and wiggle your toes over the pedals. In that respect, it is not so different from the M5.
Cadillac has nailed the seats – they are fantastic, holding you just right, such that you can dial in driver inputs with precision whilst fighting the G-force this car will create. As mentioned above, the interior of this car feels great – finally up to par with competition in the premium sport-luxury class. Is it best in class? Not by a long shot – but it gets the job done and leaves you saying, “yeah, that was $63,215 USD well spent” (as opposed to the previous car’s typical “great chassis… but what the *&%# did they do to the dash?” remark).
Fire up the 6.2 liter V8 and your ears will be tickled by a wonderful, sonorous hum. The American V8 is a soundfeast, unleashing glorious battle soundtracks as you get deeper into the throttle. It’s probably one of the best parts of this car – the way it sounds as it goes about its business.
And getting down to business, just what does this Cadillac accomplish? Official factory 0-60 times are conservative; independent testing has managed sub 4 second 0-60 times – and that is bloody fast for any sports car, never mind a fully appointed 4 door luxury sedan. Cadillac claims a 179 mph top speed, and given this car’s power and slippery sheet-metal, we wouldn’t doubt it. But the numbers do not tell the whole story of this car’s performance. The Cadillac gets under your collar, it pokes you in uncomfortable places and whispers dares in your ear. It’s a bad-ass American thug, in that respect. And we like it for that – it hasn’t lost its focus on performance and fun, while it delivers you to your destination in comfort and class.
Most impressive is the Cadillac’s chassis. Ok, at 4,300 lbs it’s way too heavy, but overall weight aside, the CTS-V is a balanced, well-tuned sport sedan. Turn in is crisp and immediate, the front tires mating to the asphalt well as you get the nose to rotate in towards apex. The Cadillac does exhibit understeer, but it’s mild and easily negated several ways – from throttle lift-off to a good wallop of the right-most pedal. Thanks to the immediacy of the throttle response, the Cadillac is easy to balance on throttle at the limit, allowing you to put in quick lap times. In short, the Cadillac is a driver’s car. It demands your attention and quick hands on the wheel. It prods you and begs to go faster. It hits all the right buttons and if you can overlook the less than top-notch interior, it is a complete package – a four doored sports car. Of course, all the necessary trimmings are included, from a slick 6-speed manual to a LSD between the rear wheels.
BMW’s M5 was born on the Nurburgring – and that’s not some hyped corporate salesy baloney tag-line. The M5 was actually born on the Nurburgring. The same arena every M car ever built was designed and tested. Don’t ever underestimate an M5. Ok, yes, it’s bloated to the size of a 7 series and weighs just shy of the Cadillac at 4,288 lbs of heft – but M has worked some kind of voodoo performance magic into the metallurgy of the M5′s skin, and once you’re off to trott on a racetrack, the M5′s bloodline shows through. It’s just fantastic – the harder you push the more the M5 rewards, and no matter its size and weight – it doesn’t tire out. After relentless lapping of Ascari racetrack, the M5 remained unflappable. All I ran out of was rear tire and fuel. Once the rears were replaced and the tank was filled, it just wanted more corners to conquer, or slide through. (For an in depth analysis of the M5′s track performance, hit the jump).
There is little difference in outright performance between these two. Yes, the M5 is a little quicker around most racetracks, and it does have more advanced technology on board – from its raging, twin-turbo’d engine to its directly-bolted rear sub-frame. If you are bent on winning a local time attack championship – buy the M5. If you’re not being timed to a tenth, then sit tight while we ponder what’s left between these two super-sedans.
There’s a linguistic adage, “What you say matters less than how you say it.” We can apply this truth here in automotive form, “performance numbers matter less than driving experience.” It’s true, the M5 can be one big, quiet, sedate – dare I say it – boring sedan. But at the flick of a steering wheel-mounted M button it can deliver the type of spine-tingling performance jollies that earned the original M5 its hallowed reputation. The Cadillac is at least as exciting as the M5. Where the M5 is more polished, more mature and grown-up, the Cadillac is a bit of a boy-racer. It is a little more ragged, requires a little more attention behind the wheel, and a little more bravery to run at 10/10ths pace. This is a two edged sword – to some a demerit, to others a merit.
In the sound department, the CTS-V lands a heavy blow. This car sounds awesome at any rpm, yet the soundtrack is never tiresome from behind the wheel. This, compared to the M5′s fake engine sounds: synthesized and pumped to your ear drums through the sound system. No thanks.
When it comes to driving excitement, I’d call it a tie – the pendulum will swing in favor of each respective car depending on your driving tastes.
So the M5 is a little quicker, equally as exciting though a little more polished, and features better interior build-quality. It possesses a duality in spirit that leaves the CTS-V staring cross-eyed – a one-trick-pony. By those measures, it’s the clear winner in our books. But factor in the roughly $30,000 difference in sticker price, and we have a more complicated situation. I’d call it 90% of the performance, 80% of the polish and an equal match for fun and excitement. We must be ever-congnisant that $30k buys an awful lot of track time and R comp tires.
If you want a world-class sausage, buy a Bratwurst – but the Johnsonville Brats are on sale, and as juicy as ever.
Photo by Road and Track