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Deep in the US mid-west lurks a tough guys' race track dubbed Road America. Four miles long and punctuated with white-knuckle corners, it's a scary place to be in anything but top-notch machinery. Which makes me wonder why I'm heading out of the pits in a Cadillac.

Aside from an audacious but short-lived bid for LMP glory at Le Mans, Cadillac is not a name that jumps to mind when you think of racing. But that could change this year as General Motors' top drawer brand is entering a 500bhp-plus version of its Five Series-sized CTS into a US production saloon/sports car race series.

Regular shoppers, meanwhile, will be served up the 5.7-litre CTS-V, which comes with a mere 400bhp and in which I am now fast approaching one of Road America's meaner turns. Brakes are what you need at this track, and lots of them. Thankfully the V has monster Brembos all round and sheds speed swiftly and without drama. Now, it's time to see if it can corner - something Cadillacs have not been famous for in years gone by.

A swift fourth to third downshift in the six-speed manual - yes, manual - 'box and I turn in for a 90-degree left-hander. The steering firms up nicely after being a tad light on the straights and the sticky, low-profile Goodyear Eagles head faithfully towards the apex.

Sensing that everything is working out rather well, I squeeze the throttle and send a dose of the V8's torque back to the rear wheels. With 395lb ft of torque steaming out of the big Corvette-derived motor at 4,800rpm, it's a no-brainer to break the rear loose and drift to the exit point with ego-flattering accuracy. Call me ambitious but I'm wondering if Cadillac needs another driver to keep Italian hotshoe Max Angelelli honest in the racing CTS.

Back on a straight, there's time to glance at the digital lateral-g meter built into the dash to see just how brave I was in the corner. The display says 0.9g, which is pretty decent for a Cadillac, to put it mildly. I'm really starting to like this car. It stops smartly, corners crisply and goes like stink: 0-60mph in 4.6 seconds, says Cadillac, and a top end of 165mph. Nice numbers and believable, I'd wager, but what's even more special is the mid-range grunt. That 'Vette pushrod motor just keeps on giving, with a seamless flow of thrust accompanied by a distinctly Detroit-ish exhaust growl. Owners of BMW M3s and M5s, Audi S4s and 'Benz E55s take note; this particular Cadillac is no dodderer heading for the country club. With half a chance it'll give you a bloody good hiding.

On the smooth track surface the CTS-V corners virtually flat and the ride is pretty firm, as you'd expect. What's surprising is how compliant and composed the chassis remains when I venture onto the frost-heaved public roads of Wisconsin. The CTS-V doesn't smother bumps like its boulevard cruising ancestors, but nor does its rearrange your internal organs over harsh surfaces.

The fact the CTS-V has turned out so well wasn't a lucky accident for Cadillac. GM devoted serious engineering talent, experience and cash to create a car worthy of knocking on the door of Germany's elitist performance saloon club. Stuffing the V8 engine into the space normally occupied by a 3.2-litre V6 took some doing, but the work didn't stop there. The Corvette Z06's six-speed 'box was modified for the CTS, a much beefier driveshaft and limited slip differential installed, plus the aforementioned Brembo stoppers, which are a stonking 14 inches across at the front.

Throw in bigger dampers, stiffer springs, a shock tower brace and stiffened engine cradle. Suffice to say, this was a thorough job, with plenty of time fine-tuning the suspension at the mighty N?rburgring. Talk about taking the game to the enemy.

Outside, you can tell the V from the cooking variety CTS by its lowered bodywork, wire-mesh grille and seven-spoke wheels. Where the V shows the fewest signs of change is in its cabin, which remains pretty much standard CTS issue, except for suede seat inserts and a sportier instrument cluster. This is a disappointment because the plastic-intensive dashboard design is one of the CTS weak spots. But investing in a new dash was not on the cards for a low volume spin-off model like the V.

The real beauty of the CTS-V lies in the fact that it exists at all. It is the first, but not the last, of a series of high performance editions coming from Cadillac and shows this once-moribund division is preparing to kick some German butt. And just like the Corvette, which made this project possible, the CTS-V is stunningly good value in its class. At $50,000, it undercuts the M5 in the US by more than $20,000. Some are already calling this Cadillac the four-door Corvette, an appropriate analogy in terms of performance. I'd call it America's first civilised muscle car and encourage Cadillac to keep giving the V-sign to the competition.

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