I write mostly about German performance cars. Obviously, BMWs take up the lion’s share of my stories and reviews but other German brands are pretty heavily featured as well. And because of that, I tend to write the same few phrases over and over again–“twin-turbocharged,” “V8,” “4.something-liter,” “all-wheel drive,” “mild-hybrid,” and, of course, “automatic.” That’s because all modern German performance cars seem to be copycats of each other, all with the same style of powertrain, drivetrain, and technology, all of which point to a more homogenized, clinical, numbers-oriented future. But not the Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing. Instead, the big American bruiser is a giant middle finger to the such homogenization and a beautiful love letter to the cars that first captured our imaginations.
A few months back, I reached out to Cadillac to see if I could test drive the CT5-V Blackwing. I felt it was an important car to test because the gas-powered BMW M5 is likely on its last legs and the latest M5 CS was probably the greatest sedan I’d ever driven. So I not only wanted to test its best competitor but I also wanted to see if the hype was real. Plus, I selfishly wanted to drive a V8-powered, rear-wheel drive, manual performance sedan.
Typically when I reach out to other brands and mention who I am and where I publish my musings, they’re apprehensive to let me test their cars. I assume they think I’ll be biased and trash-talk their car, to give BMW an easy victory for our readers. Of course, that’s not the case, I judge all cars as objectively as possible, regardless of brand, country of origin, or price. However, kudos to Cadillac for not even flinching. The Americans are confident in their newest performance sedan and they should be.
What is the Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing?
The Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing is the American luxury brand’s M5-figher, a two ton-plus, four door, super sedan with all of the luxury and tech you could ask for. It’s obviously based on the standard Cadillac CT5 but it’s so much more than just a normal CT5 with a stonking big engine. Its chassis, suspension, and brakes have all been thoroughly upgraded, too. Make no mistake, the Blackwing is genuine competition for the Germans.
Old-School American Muscle
As with all great American cars, it all starts with a V8. Under the hood of the Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing is a 6.2 liter supercharged V8 that, ironically, isn’t actually a “Blackwing” engine. Instead, it’s a supercharged Corvette engine but that’s no bad thing. It makes a monstrous 668 horsepower and 659 lb-ft of torque, accompanied by the most raucous, aggressive V8 sound I’ve heard since, well, the Corvette. It’s a mega engine and the heart of the Blackwing.
Cadillac claims 0-60 mph time of around 3.6 seconds, which is slower than the M5 but, honestly, that means nothing. One stomp of the Blackwing’s go-pedal is all you need to realize that 0-60 mph times are made-up, arbitrary nonsense. The forward thrust and thunderclap soundtrack you get from the CT5-V Blackwing are both so violent and thrilling, its 0-60 time becomes meaningless. Feeling the Blackwing’s mega V8 push me back into the seat, while hearing the guttural roar from its quad exhausts, was as addictive as any exotic powertrain I’ve ever felt, even if it was a very different experience.
It’s also a sweetheart of an engine. You’d think, with all that power going to the rear wheels, it’d be an absolute nightmare to drive. At least that’s what zee Germans will tell you, when they explain why they’ve switched to all-wheel drive. Initially, I thought the Germans would be right, as I was incredibly apprehensive about pushing the Blackwing at first, for fear its monstrous power would bite. However, it’s the opposite. Power comes on smoothly, with excellent throttle calibration, and its rear axle is more than capable of putting it down without sending you into a tree.
BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Audi ramble on about how cars with 600 horsepower need all-wheel drive. Not only did Cadillac disagree but it proved them wrong. The CT5-V Blackwing can put its power down and it does so with more power than the Germans can muster.
Eight Cylinder, Three Pedals, Six Speeds–This is the Way
Here’s another slap in the face of the German super sedan establishment–a manual transmission. The Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing can be had with a ten-speed automatic (why?) or a six-speed manual. Typically, I’d say choose whichever you’d like. But it’s the latter that’s the correct choice, here.
Manual transmissions are a dying breed in any segment, from all types of cars. But in big, two ton-plus luxury super sedans, they’re unheard of. However, the Blackwing offers one and, more importantly, it’s really good. The Tremec six-speed used in the Blackwing is a thing of joy to use, with crisp but heavy throws, clearly defined gates, and a rev-match function that’s easy to turn on and off.
The clutch is quite springy and I actually stalled my very first attempt to get it going because I simply was not prepared for the force with which it would spring my left foot back up. After that embarrassing mistake (while trying to pull out of a tricky driveway in Manhattan traffic, I might add), I learned my lesson and soon became friendly with the Blackwing’s third pedal.
Once you get used to the clutch, it’s actually a peach to use in traffic, thanks to a clear engagement point and the engine’s tidal wave of torque. Just ease off the clutch until you feel it engage, gently feather it, and not only will the Blackwing move but it will accelerate at idle, completely off the clutch. You can probably get it into second gear without ever touching the gas pedal, that’s how much torque it has.
Start hustling it, though, and its six-speed helps the CT5-V really comes alive. Driving a 670 horsepower, V8-powered super sedan with rear-wheel drive and a manual transmission, especially one as good as the Blackwing, that ignites all the senses at once. It’s like eating bacon, dipped in bourbon, while staring at Jennifer Connelly. It’s too much stimulus for my tiny lizard brain to handle and I love it.
Handles Better Than Almost All the Germans
If you’ve read reviews about the Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing, claiming it to be a better driver’s car than the BMW M5, Mercedes-AMG E63, and Audi RS6/RS7, and though that it can’t be possible, think again. The CT5-V Blackwing’s steering doesn’t have much feel, just like its aforementioned competitors, but its weighting is better and–crucially–that weight increases as you add steering lock, which provides a far better sense of precision than you’ll get from an M5. I did sometimes feel a strange sensation which I thought was some sort of variable steering system adapting to changes in speed. However, it was rare and hardly a big deal.
I didn’t get the chance to push the CT5-V Blackwing on track, nor are there good enough driving roads anywhere near me to find its limits. However, even on moderately fun roads, the Blackwing’s chassis balance, poise, and suspension damping all really blew me away. It’s surprisingly playful and engaging for such a big heavy car, more so than the BMW M5 or any other of its competitors.
There’s a fluidity to the way it moves that actually reminds me of old BMWs. It dances across the road with the poise and athleticism of a smaller car. When you combine that with a weapons-grade powertrain, it becomes one of the most entertaining cars you can buy at the moment. The fact that it’s a four-door sedan, that can comfortably seat five, is just icing on the cake.
Cadillac also deserves kudos for its suspension tuning. Its newest generation of magnetic dampers is lovely, isolating bumps from the road while also feeling firm and composed. The only BMW to have a similar, albeit slightly less comfortable, suspension setup is the M5 CS but that costs $40,000 more.
Cadillac Stepping its Interior Game Up
Modern Cadillacs aren’t known for stellar interiors, especially if you’re used to German brands. While their designs are fine and their tech works well enough, they often have cheap-ish materials in places that would appall most German car customers. The CT5-V Blackwing’s cabin is mostly very nice, but it still suffers from typical GM cost-cutting in some areas. One very minor niggle that did bother me a bit was its turn signal stalk, which not only feels cheap but is placed awkwardly, making it slightly uncomfortable to use. It’s a minor thing but one you have to use constantly, so it can become annoying.
To make up for that, its carbon-backed seats are not only fantastic to both look at and sit in, but they’re far more adjustable than those found in the M5 CS, despite looking every bit as cool. That and the steering wheel itself is lovely to hold, with a nice diameter and less beefiness than you’ll fine from the wheel in the M5.
Tech is fine, it works well enough, but it’s nothing to write home about. It’s just sort of there. Though, if there was a tech complaint, it’d be that the digital instrument panel is a bit slow to change its graphics when you do things like change drive modes. Aside from that, it’s all fine.
Should Anyone Actually Buy a Cadillac Over an M5?
In this case, the answer is yes. Sort of. In most instances, the Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing is more fun, more engaging, more exciting, and more interesting car than the BMW M5. It also comes with a six-speed manual, which the M5 does not, and is rear-wheel drive, which the M5 is not (unless you disable all traction and stability controls, which is dangerous on public roads). The M5 is faster in a straight line, its interior is more premium, and its tech is better, but if you prioritize those things, get a 540i and call it a day. If you prioritize fun and driver engagement–which is sort of the whole point of these cars–then the Caddy is the better car. But that comes with an asterisk.
The Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing is slightly better than both the BMW M5 and M5 Competition, of that I have no doubt. But it’s not better than the M5 CS. The M Division made magic when it developed the M5 CS and created the best driving sedan I’ve still ever driven. I would take the M5 CS over the Blackwing but it’s not as easy as all that. For starters, the M5 CS was over $40,000 more expensive than the Caddy, the latter of which can be had for under $100,000.
However, the M5 CS is no longer on sale, as all of its limited allocation has already been bought. So if you want an M5 CS, you’ll have to get it on the second-hand market and deal with even further price bumps, on top of its $140,000 starting MSRP.
If you can’t get a BMW M5 CS–which most enthusiasts can’t–the Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing can fill that gap–and, honestly, when it comes to actually driving–it’s a great buy.