If cars were weapons, the Germans in this test would be precision-made, easily concealable handguns. But these two? Brass knuckles, battering rams, and maybe a medieval mace thrown in for good measure. They are V-8-powered, supercharged rear-drive thugs of the automotive world, blunt-force devices that make glorious power and great sounds, not apologies.
But even here, there are shades of gray. Take the Ford Shelby GT500, the more, shall we say, elemental of the pair. Even at idle, its V-8 rumble throbs urgently out of speed shop mufflers with raw-edged tailpipes; its massive gray wheels (part of the SVT Performance Package that also includes lower, stiffer suspension, a shorter 3.73:1 final drive ratio and the latest Goodyear F1 Supercar G:2 tires) seem barely contained in the fenders, and its cue-ball shifter and pleated racing-stripe seats look straight out of a sepia-tone 1960s brochure.
It was also a pretty effective machine at devouring large chunks of racetrack. Check out our graphs/data spread and you'll see it beat the by 1.5 sec., and was only about 0.3 sec. away from the day's quickest car, the Boxster Spyder. Much credit goes to the suspension tuning, the grip and progressive breakaway characteristics of the tires, but also remember that for 2011, the GT500 went to an aluminum block for its 550-bhp 5.4-liter supercharged V-8, taking about 100 lb. off the front axle.
"So pointable, so playful; leaves a lot up to the driver," said Elfalan. With substantial 265-section front tires (the CTS-V has 255s up front, and both have 285s at the rear), understeer is minimal and easily managed. The live rear axle bobs and writhes around, its inertia felt, but never to the point of breaking traction. The engine's torque, though (a peak of 510 lb.-ft. at 4250 rpm) will haze the inside rear on corner exit, so squeeeezing on the throttle, or short-shifting to 3rd out of the tightest spots yielded the best lap times. We must point out that the GT500 was by far the loosest car before its tire temps came up, but we applaud Ford for not dumbing down the balance, because the GT500's front grip gives you more options of line and encourages deeper and deeper braking points. Demerits, though, for slippery seats that had us using the steering wheel as a circular grab handle in fast turns. With 1.01g of cornering force on tap, the seats should have better support.
Step out of the GT500 and into the CTS-V, and go from slightly backwoods to metropolitan suave. Inside it's more of a jet-fighter ambience, snug and ensconced rather than the GT500's high-in-the-saddle feel overlooking a bulky, tall hood. There are seat bolsters that properly pin you in place, and bits of Alcantara at touch points on the wheel and shifter. And the Caddy's linkage here feels solid, precise, yet nicely delicate compared to the GT500's high-effort tug-and-click setup. Exterior-wise, we aren't big fans of the Black Diamond Edition paint (the package also includes gray 19-in. wheels, yellow paint for the Brembo calipers, Recaro seats and special wood trim). Embedded with "SpectraFlair bright silver pigment," it's not for the timid, but might save your neighbors a trip to the local planetarium ("I think I see the Orion Nebula on the fuel flap, Bill!").
No complaints whatsoever from the engine room, where the 556-bhp supercharged 6.2-liter pushrod V-8—the LSA, or Corvette ZR1 Lite—manages to be genteel and world-conquering at once. Working in concert with a Tremec 6-speed manual and independent rear suspension ( adjustable magnetorheologic damping all around), the V-8 gobbles ground in huge, huffing strides. Throttle response is immediate, and the exhaust note is deep, powerful, but never obnoxious.
The CTS-V is no petite flower, its curb weight of 4300 lb. some 430 lb. heavier than the GT500's. Couple that with the slightly narrower front tires, and the result is understeer, especially excruciating on some of the Radical Loop's tighter turns. Our skidpad testing reaffirms the deficiency, with excessive front scrub and a 0.92g number that's simply outclassed by the Shelby. Said Elfalan, "In Sport mode, the suspension feels like it has too much compression damping, to the point where the front end washes out prematurely." Bailey counters, "Where the GT500 gets ragged, the Cadillac felt solid and stoic under duress of hard lapping." Certainly, the Caddy is more at home on the fast, fluid sweepers of the Nürburgring, where its chassis engineers have put in considerable development time, but here under Nevada's bright sun, you need to think well ahead of the car, trail-braking deeply to keep the front tires stuck and get the more lightly loaded rear end to rotate.
Once front grip is shored up, power delivery on exit is sublime...no wheelspin issues, just glorious, swelling speed and admirable compliance when a bump is thrown into the mix. Like the GT500's, the CTS-V's braking is powerful and virtually fade-free. Ultimately, for a quick lap, the Caddy requires a little restraint, smooth inputs and some advanced planning. Continuing the aviation analogy, Kim said, "The CTS-V is like a jet on final approach...you have to conserve the energy."
So in our hypothetical ultimate 2-car garage, there's a place for both—the stiffer-riding, varsity jacket-wearing GT500, the perfect around-town hooligan, and the CTS-V, the Gulfstream G550 of sports sedans with the heart of a Corvette. We side with the Caddy for a 2 a.m. sortie to Vegas, but for track work, we've got to give it to the GT500, rough edges and all.