Learning 'The American Way' with the Cadillac ATS-V
“It looks like a Transformer,” I mutter to no one in particular when seeing the shiny, new silver Cadillac CTS-V sitting in a parking space greeting me with a flash of its indicators. To some people that would be a compliment, but I’m not entirely sure I mean it in that way. As someone who has never really cared about – or even liked – cars it will be my first time driving something American. And on first impression it is everything I expected: big, brash and bold.
Tell your friends that you are spending the weekend driving a Cadillac, and they’ll likely pickle themselves with envy envisioning you in that classic ’60s winged-convertible from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. But the CTS-V is a different kind of Cadillac. The brand has taken clear steps to modernise, trading in the remnants of its classic cool vibe to build a luxury sedan for the modern driver; one that is overloaded with ride-enhancing technology. Oh, also, the third generation 6.2 litre, V-8 series now purring underneath my seat is also the most powerful vehicle the famous marque has ever produced.
Cadillac is old. Like, really old. Like, second-oldest-car-brand-in-the-world old. It was established in 1902 in the West Side Story-style breakup of the Henry Ford Company, and bears the wonderfully over-the-top name of the French explorer who founded Detroit in 1701: Antoine Laumet de la Mothe, sieur de Cadillac. In fact, the car’s badge is taken from Mr Cadillac’s original coat of arms (do coats of arms even exist anymore?).
The first automobile Cadillac ever produced was the Runabout. It was a two-seat horseless carriage, powered by a 10hp engine. Meanwhile, the CTS-V I find myself in 115-years later is kitted out in carbon-fibre and powered by a supercharged V-8 engine that can produce 640hp, and with an eye-watering max speed of 320kph. It’s an interesting juxtaposition.
I figure a fun way to test out the power of this new type of Cadillac is by criss-crossing Dubai’s network of highways, before gradually making my way to the classic Americana-inspired “Last Exit” Food Truck Park for a plate of chicken-n-waffles. ’Merica!
Taking my seat in what is more akin to a luxury boat than a car seat, there are buttons everywhere. Push-button ignition; push-button handbrake; push-button parking assist; push-button drive mode menu (Touring, Sport, Track, Ice); push-button launch control; push-button sunroof; there’s even a button that opens your glove compartment. Fancy.
Yes, this is all rather gimmicky, but all part of the message the manufacturer is trying to get across: when handling this sort of power, it’s probably best to keep your eyes on the road.
Unquestionably the coolest way to reinforce this point is the holographic Speedometer projected onto the windscreen just above the steering wheel. Because if you’re going to have a GPS-enabled car with 4G Wi-Fi hotspot allowing it to link to your phone and be controlled by the CUE digital dashboard, then I say: why the hell not have speed and safety indicators projected onto your windscreen like you’re flying the Millennium Falcon?
Seeing as hipster-friendly, southern-fried chicken is best enjoyed with company, I pick up a friend en route who actually knows something about cars and get him to clarify a few things for me – mainly, the age-old question: what the hell is “horsepower”?
With a sigh he begins to explain the rather complicated process of measuring an engine’s capability. As it turns out, the term was initially created in the early 1800s as a way to explain the power of new-fangled steam engines. Horsepower calculates the amount of work done over time, and was originally measured by studying the average work a typical horse would do per hour when pulling a mill wheel. “So,” I ask, “This car is the equivalent of 640 horses pulling a mill wheel?” “In theory,” he replies a little tetchily. “Look, it’s complicated.” I agree.
From a performance side the CTS-V is imperious. It glides through flash-bothering high-speeds with ease, smoothly transitioning between gears and lanes. The experience is helped by lane changing indicators and blind spot notifications built-into the wing mirrors.
Apparently, despite some mind-blowing power under the hood and the ability to go from 0 to 100kph in 3.7 seconds, the CTS-V does not qualify as a “Muscle Car”. To do that – as I’m reliably informed – the car has to be high-performance (which it is), American made (which it is), and be a 2-door sports car (which it is not). Instead what we have is a car that is as capable on a racetrack, as it is doing the school run. The car boot has enough space to please a New York City mobster.
Pulling into the truck stop – windows down, and the Caddy’s 13-speaker Bose sound system blaring out Van Halen’s “Jump”, I catch a couple of men on family outings with their kids gawking at us as we drive past. Parking is another thing that this car does well. Not only does the 2017 model come with rear camera video shown on your dashboard, and assistant parallel parking, but the seat vibrates on the small of your back to warn you if there’s an obstruction.
As we tuck into our unexpectedly delicious snack, my friend tries to make the comparison between the CTS-V, and the syrup-laced fried chicken and waffle: Both have deep roots in American culture, but have undergone a modern retrofit. Neither sound that appealing at first, but, on testing it, you are will quickly be convinced to change your mind. Ultimately, I see the hulking, tech-savvy Cadillac as a Hollywood summer blockbuster – it’s big, makes a lot of noise, has a famous name attached to it and the lasting emotion of driving that car is fun.