New Cadillac of luxury cars is ... a Cadillac

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Plenty of dreamers still wax poetic about Cadillac - at one time the best-known brand in the world. The very name came to mean the best. Advertisers would promote "the Cadillac of" resorts, dishwashers, paper towels, and so on.

But somewhere along the line, BMW became "the Cadillac of luxury cars." Now, Cadillac is back with a car it hopes will eat BMWs for lunch - the CTS-V.

This car rides hard, steers tightly, and comes with a speedy six-speed manual transmission. No automatic is even offered - that wouldn't be sporting. Inside, beautiful, burly suede leather seats hold a narrow driver firmly in place. Those of larger girth may not fit.

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And, oh, does it go!

The formula is simple: Take a small sedan, and drop the biggest V8 engine you can find under the hood - in this case the 5.7-liter, 400 horsepower V8 from the Chevrolet Corvette. Press the gas pedal to the floor and the speed overwhelms your senses, rocketing to 60 miles per hour in 4.6 seconds.

The CTS-V has rear-wheel drive in the tradition of sports cars. That doesn't hurt in its competition with BMW, whose edgy handling characteristics convey a "street cred" that no previous Cadillac could dream of. But for $50,000, this Cadillac leaves BMW's small M3 and the mid-size M5 in the dust. Both BMWs cost much more than that.

The CTS-V fits between those BMWs in size, with enough back-seat room for two adults to avoid jamming their knees into the back of the front seats.

Like those BMWs, the so-called "V-spec" is a performance version of the basic small CTS Cadillac. Look for more high-performance V-spec designs to appear in other Cadillac models.

Problems in the CTS-V are few and minor. The dashboard screen that controls radio functions, custom settings (such as seat memory positions), and the navigation system is fussy. For example, changing the station requires too many button-clicks and submenus. The manual transmission has an annoying skip-shift feature that locks out second gear at the most inopportune moments, attempting to force the driver to shift into fourth gear to save gas. Cadillac's recommendation: Drive harder and it won't intervene. The balky stick shift and pounding suspension at lower speeds also become tiresome in the city.

Still, the CTS-V represents a long overdue about-face for Cadillac. And it's a breath of fresh air for Americans who want to see Detroit succeed against the crush of high-quality imports.

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