2022 Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing First Drive: Heart Of A Hooligan

Cadillac's love affair with the big, ballsy V8 may be coming to an end, but the 2022 CT5-V Blackwing isn't letting its 668 horses leave with anything less than a gut-wrenching howl. Writhing behind the crisp-edged veneer of American Luxury is a racing-inspired beast; capable of being tamed for the road, sure, but unmistakably crafted with the track in mind.

0-60 mph comes in 3.4 seconds; a 1/4 mile takes 11:30 at 129 mph. Top speed is in excess of 200 mph. It's fast, then, but there's also rarity to distinguish things. Each of these final-hurrah engines is hand-assembled by a single builder, with their signature on a plaque under the hood.

The CT5-V Blackwing feels not only like a tribute to gasoline engines, but an outright love letter to combustion. Cadillac is upfront that these two Blackwing cars are the last of their breed before the V-Series team embarks on performance electrification. Nobody I spoke to seemed anything less than enthusiastic about discovering the possibilities and limits of EV drivetrains, but there's clearly a whole lot of affection – or perhaps addiction – to big engines and big displacement.

This most potent of the Blackwings, then, has the most powerful engine Cadillac has ever made. The 6.2-liter LT4 V8 is familiar from Chevy's stable, here tuned for 668 horsepower and 659 lb-ft of torque. Where the Corvette team had its share of troubles keeping the LT4 tamed and reliable, however, its luxe counterparts took no chances.

Air intake restrictions have improved by 46-percent, and there's 10-percent greater heat reduction. Cadillac put its handiwork through thousands of miles of track testing – including more than 797 laps of 24 hour testing – to make sure the V8 could deliver not only sustainable performance, but the sort of consistency its owners demand.

"With this generation – and we've not been shy that this is our last ICE version of the family here – we really wanted to go out on a high note," Tony Roma, chief engineer for Cadillac sedans, explains. "We really wanted to elevate the sophistication, the craftsmanship inside ... all these details. They'll be whatever you want them to be: if you want them to be a little gnarly, if you want them to be comfortable."

As with the CT4-V Blackwing, a manual option was non-negotiable. It's a 6-speed, related to Cadillac's others but with more gear polishing for an uptick in durability and a cut in noise. It's also, notably, an outlier in the segment.

"As a team, we were very proud to end an era for us, and put a manual in this car," Mirza Grebovic, performance variant manager at Cadillac, explains. "We started this story with a V8 and a manual transmission: even before the rest of the car was defined, we knew we needed a manual."

If the 3.4 second 0-60 mph time is your guiding star, of course, you'll need the automatic. Specifically, a 10-speed Hydra-Matic, which Cadillac says is the fastest-shifting transmission in the world. Yes, faster than Porsche's blisteringly quick PDK, and here specially uprated to handle the extra torque and cut rotating inertia compared to the old 8-speed auto.

GM's latest electronics architecture weaves around and between the mechanics, "doing things you didn't know you needed," Roma promises. There are the usual drive modes, ramping all the way up to Race, and then the Performance Traction Management (PTM) system with its own five modes. A V-Mode button on the steering wheel summons your choice of drive settings with a single tap; a switch to toggle through the PTM settings is on the other side.

Like you'd expect, the electronics progressively take a back seat as you notch through those settings. All the same, Cadillac isn't afraid to leave some tech involvement: just as long as the theory is race-proven. The final two PTM Race modes, for example, will still add a little traction control on your exits: "they're intended to make an already-capable driver get good lap times," chief engineer Roma argues. After all, even professional drivers rely on traction control to squeeze the very best out of their performance.

If you suspected that would leave the CT5-V Blackwing any less intense on the track, any less visceral – or, indeed, any less terrifying as you begin to understand the sheer extent of its capabilities – then you can squash such concerns from the get-go. We're a couple of generations away from the old CTS-V now, but the outrageous, relentless purpose of that big sedan has found its way to this new, 2022 model too.

It feels big, and intentional, and meaty. Where the CT4-V Blackwing is giddy and playful, this bigger sedan is stern and serious. Everything about it – from the world's fastest reacting suspension, Cadillac's first carbon ceramic brakes, and of course all that horsepower – is there in focused commitment to make this the best possible track car. Should the person behind the wheel not quite be up to that task, the CT5-V Blackwing feels unsparing in its scorn.

The sensation of speed is magical, and the noise isn't half bad either. Cadillac redesigned the exhaust system, with variable valve timing and special Exhaust Sound Character (ExC) software that throws in throaty pops and gurgles. In the cabin, there's a mixture of engine sound enhancement and active noise cancellation, keeping the frequencies that sound good and ditching those that don't live up to the performance billing.

All put together, it's easy to get overwhelmed by just what the Blackwing is capable of. After a day on Virginia International Raceway's 3.27 mile Full Course in the smaller Blackwing, I at least had a rough memory of the tightly-twisting track and its sudden changes in elevation. Even so, approaching it with the excesses of the bigger car on tap is a little intimidating.

The CT5-V Blackwing may not suffer fools gladly, but it does give them the tools to claw their way to ridiculous speed – or make even bigger fools of themselves. Screw up your line through the corners, or ham-fist a gear change, and the deep well of sheer power is invariably there to catapult you back into place. The hardest part was trusting in the engineering to overcome the sense of heft: the Dr Strangelove sensation that you're straddling an ICBM.

In the hands of the deeply-familiar, though, the CT5-V Blackwing dances like little else. Corners taken at speeds you'd think there was no coming back from; that body-clenching straight line pace. It may not have the flics and blades and scoops of the CT4-V Blackwing, but its hooliganism is DNA-deep nonetheless.

Somehow, though, it manages to not only tackle public roads without shattering every bone in your body, but deliver the compliance more typically associated with the Cadillac badge.

Magnetic Ride Control 4.0 – now with accelerometers on each wheel for even swifter reactions – by turns softens and stiffens the suspension, and nudges the Blackwing even closer to magical status. In Tour mode, this feels like a regular CT5, albeit one hugging you in leather and Alcantara clad sports seats.

It's as nicely put-together as any recent big Cadillac sedan, which is to say there are all the toys you'd expect and a sense of solidity, albeit with an aesthetic and a parts bin that struggles a little to be memorable. The Performance Data Recorder (PDR) 2.0 can now capture regular road footage as well as the metric-overlaid track video, making it more usable as a dash-cam; it's now 1080p resolution and grabs cabin audio too.

Out on regular roads, though, the CT5-V Blackwing is utterly wasted. The power of the V8 and the refinement of Tour mode conspire: it's all too easy to unwittingly find yourself deep in license-losing territory. Even point-and-squirt blasts of speed on the occasional wide open backroad demand almost immediate restraint, so rapid is the big Caddy's surge.

Much in the same way, it's only on the track that those vast brakes – the largest Cadillac has ever fitted – get to show their true worth. 6-pistons at the front, clamping either on 15.67 x 1.42 inch iron rotors or 15.75 x 1.5 inch carbon ceramics; 4-pistons at the rear, and either 14.7 x 1.1 inch iron or 14.6 x 1.34 inch carbon ceramics. It's not just slowing power that makes the carbon ceramic option worthwhile; there's also a huge improvement in weight, too.

Check off those options, of course, and the price gets higher. The 2022 CT5-V Blackwing starts at $84,990 with the stick-shift; the 10-speed automatic starts at $88,165, though you also get niceties like the Driver Assist Package added in as well. Fully-loaded, you're looking at $125,980.

2022 Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing Verdict

My biggest Blackwing surprise was just how much more accessible the smaller of Cadillac's two new cars actually is. The 2022 CT4-V Blackwing shrinks around you; disguises its weight. It feels eager and playful, certainly not short on power but not profligate with it either.

The CT5-V Blackwing, in contrast, is all about excess. Big, demanding, and unapologetic: in the hands of a proficient driver it's monstrously capable. All the same, it's easy to feel overwhelmed by just how much Cadillac has squeezed out of this last-hurrah for internal combustion.

I can't overstate just what a technical accomplishment the CT5-V Blackwing has turned out to be, Cadillac's expertise shining through in a car that's equally at home playing limo duty as it is thrashing around a track. That sets a high bar for the driver, however. The limits of the public road arrive long before the Blackwing has hit its stride: not only would it be disastrously wasteful not to take it to the track, you could well argue that owning it is fairly pointless if you're not doing so.

Times, they are a-changing. Today's flavor of V-Series may be high-octane gasoline, but tomorrow it'll be electrons and kilowatts: the CT5-V Blackwing may not be handing down its engine to what comes next, but only a naive enthusiast underestimates Cadillac's tuning talents. Don't think of it as leaving the V8 on a high, then, but more a promise of the capabilities still to come.