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Back in the Game — Cadillac takes on all comers with its world-beating V-Series.

Despite fancy wire mesh grilles and sporty wheels, Cadillac's CTS-V appears as an unassuming car to most drivers on the road. But as soon as you step on that right-side pedal, everything changes…in a hurry. Yes, it's a cliché, but this is not your grandfather's Cadillac. The CTS-V is so completely different from any Cadillac in recent memory that you simply don't feel you're even in a car from the marque. The first indicator this isn't Grandpa John's plushmobile is the lack of an automatic transmission; that's right, no poseurs allowed here. You want performance? Well, you're going to have to work the Tremec 6-speed manual to get at it. Second, there's the engine-it's the LS6, the 5.7-liter pushrod V-8 that powered the C5 Chevrolet Corvette Z06, in CTS-V guise making 400 bhp and 395 lb.-ft. of torque. Its raucous sound seems completely out of place in a Cadillac; it's subdued from the Z06, but not by much. We love it!

What does all this add up to? Explosive straight-line performance. Our Road Test in the February 2004 issue netted 0-60 mph in 5.0 seconds, the quarter mile in just 13.4 sec. at 109.0 mph along with a top speed of 163 mph.

Luckily, Cadillac's transformation of the CTS didn't stop at the engine compartment. GM's Performance Division brought the V to Germany's legendary Nürburgring track to dial in the suspension to the level of the best European sports sedans. They succeeded. The CTS-V claws around the skidpad at 0.87g (pretty impressive considering the car weighs just shy of 4000 lb.) and makes its way between the slalom cones at an average of 66.0 mph. Steering feedback is quite good, as is the grip afforded by the Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar tires, size P245/45ZR-18 front and rear. Vented 14.0-in. Brembo front brakes and vented 14.4-in. rears provide excellent stopping power with a firm pedal feel.

The option list on the CTS-V is short: special paint and a sunroof. The Red Line paint (new for 2005, along with Stealth Gray) tacked on $995 to the base price of $49,300, but we took the purist's route and skipped the sunroof. The gas-guzzler tax added $1300 and destination another $695, bringing the total to $52,290.

Despite the lack of options, we don't feel at all deprived driving our CTS-V. On the contrary, it comes standard with just about every luxury feature you could want, including electrically adjustable, heated leather front seats with suede inserts; power windows, locks and mirrors (the last heated as well); dual-zone climate control, cruise control, an 8-speaker AM/FM stereo with a 6-disc in-dash CD player, satellite radio, a navigation system and, just for the fun of it, an onboard g-meter.

So far, the CTS-V is pegging our fun meter. The throaty V-8 engine's sound is captivating, and boy is it fun to probe the car's very high handling limits. Cadillac's traction control and StabiliTrak yaw control systems come standard, and fortunately the driver is allowed to program the amount of intervention he desires. It defaults to full computer-controlled babysitting, but press the "TC" (Traction Control) button on the steering wheel once and traction control is eliminated; press it twice and it goes into Competitive Driving mode, which means zero traction control along with considerably less "easy there, fella" from the yaw control; press and hold the TC button for five seconds and the yaw control is completely turned off. This, combined with the car's prodigious power, means long powerslides (if you like) through corners, pointing toward what is sure to be a short life span for those rear tires.

The Tremec's sloppy shift action is by far the biggest downside we've found so far with the CTS-V. The long, balky throws mar what is otherwise a fantastic driving experience. On top of that, the linkage makes cheap-sounding plastic crunches as you row through the gates, and is sometimes hesitant to slide into 1st gear and reverse. While we're griping, the leather-wrapped steering wheel is about two sizes too large in diameter, and the front seats-though comfortable-could use considerably more lateral support for attacking turns like this car begs you to. And the pedals should be spaced better for heel and toeing.

We have yet to decide whether our issues with the gearbox would keep us from buying the CTS-V. And as for quality compared to European competitors, stay tuned for updates. In the meantime, our storming piece of American thunder will be out picking fights with snooty European 4-doors.

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