Buyer Guide: 2004-2007 Cadillac CTS-V

By Robert Bowen
Mar 10, 2021 | Cadillac, CTS-V, Buyer's Guide | Posted in Buyer's Guides | From the June 2012 issue | Never miss an article

Photograph Courtesy GM unless otherwise credited

[Editor's Note: this article originally ran in the June 2012 issue of Grassroots Motorsports]

The General Motors of 2002 was very different from the one of 2012. Long before the global economy whipsawed the company to its knees, GM was desperately trying to reinvent itself as a global automaker. 

Mostly it failed in its attempts to introduce new thinking to fossilized product lines, but there were a few bright spots. One of those was the Cadillac CTS, a mid-sized, rear-wheel-drive sedan that has been very successful for the brand in the years since.

The CTS was a breath of fresh air when it was introduced. The name was short for Cadillac Touring Sedan, and the model was based on the all-new Sigma rear-drive platform—developed with the help of rear-drive experts at Holden, refined in Europe and the United States.

This was the first Sigma-platform car to reach production, followed by the STS and SRX sport-utes. During development, engineers strayed from the traditional Caddy edict and gave the car more of a European flavor. Dual A-arms up front and a multi-link rear suspension were straight out of the European playbook. 

The styling was controversial, though. Its hard lines followed the new Cadillac Art and Science design language that first debuted on the 1999 Evoque concept car and was later implemented on the XLR convertible. The slab sides and upright grille garnered both praise and scorn, but most reviewers appreciated the boldness of the design. It has certainly aged well, as today the CTS looks just as contemporary as it did a decade ago.

The finished product stood out in a sea of mediocre front-wheel drivers, including other models in the Cadillac lineup. Measured against the dead Catera, Cadillac’s last attempt at a sporty, rear-drive model, the CTS was faster, larger, more aggressive-looking, more reliable and more agile.

GM advertised a top speed of 163 mph and a zero-to-60 sprint of just 4.6 seconds. It’s even at home on the race track. Photography Credit: Chris Clark

Compared to anything else in the GM lineup—except maybe the Corvette—the CTS was a revelation. Frankly, compared to anything from GM in the previous 10 years, the new car was from another planet in terms of styling, overall performance and engineering.

Enthusiast publications were understandably thrilled that good looks and solid handling had returned to the Cadillac line—as well as to mainstream GM products. It’s also worth noting that this was the first Cadillac with an available manual transmission since the 1988 Cimarron, a compact Caddy based on the rather pedestrian Chevy Cavalier. It was not a high-water mark for the brand.

The 220-horsepower CTS was no rocket, but a 7-second zero-to-60 time made it a competent Euro-fighter. This was a new kind of Cadillac for sure.

Buyers flocked to it. The $30,000 base price probably helped some of them overlook the less-refined aspects of the car—such as the overly wide center console and the subpar plastic and wood surfaces on the dash and door panels. 

One Cam Is Better Than Four

The CTS would have been enough, but GM had another trick up its sleeve: In late 2003 the Cadillac CTS-V appeared, giving the automaker something to really boast about. Engineers borrowed the Corvette Z06’s potent LS6-spec V8 and Tremec six-speed and slipped it between the fenders, transforming the Caddy into a 400-horsepower supersedan that could run head to head with European icons like the BMW M5 and Mercedes C63 AMG. 

Its zero-to-60 time dropped below 5 seconds. The CTS-V was seriously fast.

The first CTS-Vs were powered by the 400-horsepower, 5.7-liter LS6 V8 engine, but 2006 and 2007 models got the 6-liter LS2; the output remained unchanged.

Massive Brembo front calipers clamp down on 14-inch drilled discs. 

Surprisingly, Cadillac used the pushrod Corvette engine instead of a new variant of the Northstar V8, a tacit admission that the twin-cam Northstar could not be made powerful enough for the new car. On the other hand, it was also a nod that the “outdated” pushrod V8 could be refined enough for a luxury brand.

The CTS-V was more than just a sedan with a big engine, though. The front cradle had to be modified significantly to squeeze in the larger powerplant, and its massive Brembo rotors and four-piston calipers at all four corners matched the car’s braking power to its acceleration. Big anti-roll bars, seriously uprated spring and damper rates—by about 30 percent, according to GM—and supersticky Goodyear 245/45WR18 tires gave the CTS-V unholy road-holding abilities that GM proudly proclaimed were fine-tuned on the Nüburgring.

Cadillac kept things serious with the transmission: No slushbox was available, and the Tremec T56 six-speed was the only choice.

The visual cues were more limited: a mesh grille, brake cooling vents, dual exhaust and unique bumpers. The interior featured deeper bolstered seats with contrast stitching and suede inserts, a bright finish on the instrument panel and steering wheel, and unique gauges. Overall it was a tasteful, sporty spin on the CTS formula, with just the right amount of high-performance accouterments.

The CTS-V’s $49,999 price tag may have seemed high when compared to the base CTS, but it was about 20 percent cheaper than its German rivals, the BMW M5 and Mercedes E55. 

The CTS-V received a lot of buzz in the press, but not many were produced in the first year. According to GM, some 2461 examples left the same Lansing, Michigan, factory that also produced the pedestrian CTS. All copies of the CTS-V were either silver or black with tan or ebony interiors.

Small Production, Big Value

While the CTS-V wasn’t a sales volume leader, Cadillac didn’t sweep it under the rug, either. The brand has now twice used the CTS-V as the basis for their factory-backed Pirelli World Challenge race effort, and when GM redid the CTS line for the 2008 model year, an even more outrageous CTS-V hit the market.

The first-generation CTS-V may be a bit of a rarity today, but it’s a practical, comfortable sedan that packs a mighty punch. Think of it as a European sport sedan with a definite American flavor. 

Things to Know

We love a good bargain, and the first-generation Cadillac CTS-V is the textbook definition of a great deal. It offers performance akin to the C5 Corvette Z06, but with 100 percent more doors and a whole lot more practicality.

Just how far has the $50,000 CTS-V depreciated? About as much in performance terms as the little Cobalt. Edmunds says that a 2004 CTS-V, originally a $50,000 car, is now worth about $15,000. The last-of-the-line 2007 models should trade for about $23,000. Yep, you read that right: A full-sized sedan that can reach 60 mph in fewer than 5 seconds and lap the Nürburgring within striking distance of a Porsche Panamera can be in your garage for about the price of a new Honda Fit.

Engine and Drivetrain

Once you have a decent CTS-V in your possession, let the fun begin. A huge aftermarket serves the LS6 and LS2 engines: 600 horsepower is only as far away as a pair of heads and some bolt-ons. 

The Tremec T56 is a big, strong transmission, and that makes it hard to shift smoothly. The first step is generally a skip-shift eliminator kit; it does away with the fuel-saving forced shift from first to fourth. Next, we’d install a more precise aftermarket shifter.

To combat wheel hop, banging and the occasional broken halfshaft, GM continually tinkered with bushings for the rear cradle, differential and rear control arms over the CTS-V production period. These are not issues in the second-generation car, but unfortunately the parts are not backward-compatible. The aftermarket, however, has produced several solutions in the form of reengineered bushings as well as a replica of the later staggered axles. Most drivers with stock-ish CTS-Vs won’t need the fancy axles, but stiffer bushings will make a big difference.

When buying a CTS-V, check the differential and rear cradle very carefully. Listen for whining noises when accelerating gently, and for banging or clunks when driving more aggressively. A howling differential should be replaced with an upgraded one from a 2006 or 2007 model. 

The original fluid-filled engine mounts have a tendency to crack and separate, leading to excessive engine movement or vibrations at idle. 

The 2007 car is EPA-rated at 14/22 mpg, but we hear that hypermilers can beat that figure. That six-speed Tremec transmission allows for some superlow revs on the highway.

Body and Interior

While the CTS-V offers world-class performance, the interior has received a few knocks for not coming up to par. 

Suspension and Brakes

The stock CTS-V suspension is pretty good all around. Its standard FE4 shock absorbers were supplemented by a set of stiffer, track-focused FG2 units available as a dealer-installed option. The FG2s were load-leveling items, so they don’t work well with all lowering springs.

Not that the CTS-V has a reputation for being too soft, but the usual suspects offer suspension bolt-ons. Hotchkis, for example, sells a hollow anti-roll bar kit for the car.

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