Who makes the best V8 super-saloon?
BMW is not holding back when it comes to equipping the new M5 with sheer firepower. Currently being rolled out in the UK, then thing has a massive 600bhp from a twin-turbo V8 engine, and although it’s a two-tonne luxury saloon, part of the UK launch involved lap after lap of the tenacious Anglesey race circuit.
Sensibly, with all that power, BMW has equipped it with four-wheel-drive for the first time… which simply highlights with even more clarity what an oddball its counterpart in this twin test is. The Cadillac CTS-V. All 640bhp of it. Channelled through just the rear two tyres. BMW felt 600 was too much for just two wheels, yet here’s Cadillac sending even more than that through two hard-worked wheels.
Time to bring them together, we thought…
Price: £101,900 as tested
Engine: 4.4-litre, V8, twin turbocharged petrol
Transmission: 8-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
Top speed: 189mph (with M Driver’s package)
Weight: 1,930kg (EU, with driver)
Economy: 27mpg (NEDC combined)
CO2 emissions: 241g/km
This is not exactly easy, as the American Cadillac isn’t officially sold here. But friendly importers will do the work for you, provided you don’t mind putting up with left-hand-drive. In this example, there’s more than a £40,000 saving if you don’t. This CTS-V has been highly rated across the Atlantic, and has all the technical equipment to show it’s a proper job, from an electronic limited-slip differential to Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres (and a 200mph top speed).
Driving the BMW, however, reveals the job it has on its hands. On the circuit, this big beast somehow still feels rear-biased in its handling, with plentiful balance and throttle adjustability. It feels like a much smaller car, although some of this sensation is dialled back a bit once out on the road, simply because its limits are so high. Perhaps BMW could have traded some of this ultimate prowess for a bit more character at saner speeds?
It’s a big car too, feeling it at times on really tight roads. But no matter where you’re driving, there’s that magnificent V8 there to raise a smile. It’s a mighty performer and response is near-instant, while superb body control lets you press on as fast as you dare without ever feeling ruffled or queasy.
Price: £59,995 (used with 4,000 miles)
Engine: 6.2-litre, V8, supercharged petrol
Transmission: 8-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Top speed: 200mph
Weight: 1,880kg (kerbweight)
Economy: 14/21 (US gallons, city/highway)
CO2 emissions: N/A
Which means the Cadillac must feel a right old brute by comparison, right? Well, no, actually. You’d think it would seem just another overpowered and undersophisticated Yank tank on British roads, but it’s much, much better than that in reality. It arguably has a better-balanced ride in everyday driving conditions. It certainly has more subtlety and finesse at sane speeds.
It has an exceptional engine as well. The Corvette Z06-derived powerplant is brilliant, sounding better even than the BMW and delivering every little bit of the expected charisma and far, far more besides. The eight-speed automatic gearbox isn’t as clever, though, when compared to the M5’s excellent auto.
Germany takes this victory on merit, but America is far from outclassed
At times, through corners, it’s super-satisfying, with way more traction than you’d expect, and a load of grip front and rear. But for all its clever technology, the response can sometimes feel a bit unnerving, and the traction control needs more subtlety. There’s a strong basic chassis beneath the CTS-V, but the extra tuning and polish that makes the BMW such a class act isn’t quite so evident.
Nowhere better is this demonstrated than inside. The M5’s cabin is exceptional. The Cadillac does the basics right but forgets the details, with a nightmarish ‘CUE’ infotainment system, average quality and a general ambience that’s more Mini than BMW.
So the result is, perhaps inevitably, that the newer, more expensive, German-honed car beats the cheaper, older American. But that’s not the whole picture. Because for the money, the CTS-V is a revelation, with way more charisma and capability than you’d expect. Germany takes this victory on merit, but America is far from outclassed.
We’re sure the BMW engineers wouldn’t have expected the older stateside saloon to have run it quite so close on British roads…