MONTICELLO, NY – When the second-generation CTS sedan rolled out for ’08, it showed the world Cadillac’s Art and Science bender could yield sleek and beautiful rides with top-notch cabins and commendable road manners.

General Motors Corp. now is more serious than ever about its top brand’s ambitions beyond these shores. And with the addition of some of its finest go-fast hardware, the new ’09 CTS-V arriving this fall will be one of the best performance buys ever.

With an expected MSRP of about $60,000 netting 556 supercharged horses and a top speed approaching 200 mph (322 km/h), the latest “V” car packs enough firepower and panache to make the German icons of 4-door mayhem quiver in their treads, and enough change leftover for plenty of premium fuel and an extra set of tires.

The original CTS-V, the car that proved the Wreath and Crest could adorn fire-breathing, race-winning machines, wasn’t so fortunate. It had the interior refinement of a woodshed, the gear shifter from a tractor and a propensity to axle hop its rear wheels off the chassis.

The STS-V and XLR-V that followed, though faster and more sophisticated, improved the V-Series range, yet haven’t lived up to GM’s expectations.

In making the new V sedan, Cadillac took everything that’s great about the standard CTS and turned it up a notch or three.

The interior – already one of the best in the industry – is stylized with unique Obsidian trim, a thicker steering wheel and supportive sport seats, while the outside is blistered and chiseled into a menacing, street-predator form.

Parked next to the 500-hp BMW M5 and Mercedes E63 AMG, the CTS-V is as subtle as a face full of sauerkraut.

But as looks only go so far, GM let its engineering wonks loose to create what is likely the most capable, dual-natured performance car for the money.

GM is quite fond of the Nurburgring – the renowned German racetrack that serves as the ultimate test of a vehicle’s dynamic acumen – and revels in the notion the new CTS-V, as well as the ’09 Corvette ZR1 that lends the Caddy much of its blown 6.2L V-8, is one of the fastest vehicles in its class around the “Green Hell.”

While the ZR1 strives to be the quickest production street vehicle around the daunting circuit, the CTS-V unofficially claims to be the swiftest production 4-door.

Like the ZR1’s 638-hp LS9, the CTS-V’s LSA V-8 is epic in its power delivery, yet remains docile until its full 551 lb.-ft. (747 Nm) of torque is summoned. Much of the engine’s heady power curve is the result of the intercooled, 4-lobe blower, which helps deliver more grunt at cruising speeds than the M5’s 5.0L V-10 does at redline.

Even the E63’s thundering 507-hp 6.2L V-8 holds only a more-authoritative exhaust rumble over the LSA.

New for the CTS-V this time around is an optional 6-speed automatic transmission with Performance Algorithm Shifting software, as well as manumatic and paddle-shifting capability.

The conventional automatic doesn’t swap cogs as quickly as a dual-clutch or sequential gearbox, but its clever programming (the Nurburgring record lap was done in full automatic mode) affords greater appeal for luxury buyers occasionally wanting to step back from the excitement.

Bucking the trend of removing the driver from the equation, GM also offers as standard a proper, nicely-gated 6-speed manual setup, which includes no-lift shifting for banging through the gears with the accelerator welded to the floor.

Regardless of transmission choice, the CTS-V accelerates like a freight train to 60 mph (97 km/h) in 3.9 seconds and through the quarter mile in 12-flat at 118 mph (190 km/h) –seriously quick for a 4,200-lb. (1,905-kg) luxury car.

’09 Cadillac CTS-V
Vehicle type front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, 5-passenger sedan
Engine 6.2L supercharged OHV V-8
Power (SAE net) 556 hp @ 6,100 rpm
Torque 551 lb.-ft (747 Nm) @ 3,800 rpm
Compression ratio 9.0:1
Transmission 6-speed manual/6-speed automatic
Wheelbase 113.4 ins. (288 cm)
Overall length 191.6 ins. (487 cm)
Overall width 72.5 ins. (184 cm)
Overall height 58.0 ins. (147 cm)
Curb weight 4,200 lbs./4,300 lbs. (1,905 kg/1,950 kg)
Base price (est.) $60,000
Fuel economy (est.) 13/18 mpg (18/13 L/100 km)
Competition Audi RS6, BMW M5, Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG
Pros Cons
Big V-8 pull Could be louder
Great CTS interior Steering a tad slow
Stellar poise, control No green award

However, as the CTS-V has global intentions, it may meet its match in Europe in the form of Audi AG’s new RS6 sedan, which puts its twin-turbocharged 5.0L V-10’s 580 hp to the ground via Quattro all-wheel-drive.

But as Cadillac does not abide by the German gentlemen’s agreement of 155-mph (249-km/h) speed limitation, the CTS-V’s top speed with the automatic comes in fifth gear at 175 mph (282 km/h), while those who can shift for themselves can reach 191 mph (307 km/h).

Spurred into action around the Monticello Motor Club’s brand-new 4.1-mile (6.6-km) road course here, the CTS-V hardly seems like the same car that lazily toured us through the countryside earlier in the morning.

The improved and adjustable Magnetic Ride Control suspension instantly irons out bumps in the road, yet keeps high-velocity body motions well in check. The unique, 19-in. Michelin Pilot Sport PS2 tires are amazingly sticky, predictable and feel well-suited to the car.

The huge Brembo dual-cast brakes aren’t slouches, either, but stepping up to the sport package’s optional 2-piece front rotors (distinguished by red calipers) gives the CTS-V even greater neck-straining stopping power.

The V feels planted through the track’s 22 switchbacks, hairpins and fast sweepers at speed, yet can quickly change direction. Dramatic powerslides only are a prod of the throttle away, but multi-stage stability aids step in gently and the chassis quickly forgives ham-fisted steering corrections.

The only significant complaint is the steering ratio is a tad slow in the twisties, requiring more wrestling with the wheel than we’d like.

For the full effect, the optional sport package also includes wonderful Recaro buckets that should be standard, metal pedals and grippy, microfiber trim on the steering wheel, shifter and seats.

Other extras include a heavy-duty, dealer-installed differential cooler, the automatic transmission, navigation and a sunroof. All told, a loaded, self-shifting CTS-V should come in just shy of $70,000, yet well under anything that comfortably can take the whole family out for a track day.

As good as this newest V-Series car is, expect even better performance from the CTS-V coupe appearing later next year, as well as more practicality from a V-badged CTS Sport Wagon Cadillac is contemplating.

It took a few tries, but the new Cadillac CTS-V succeeds in elevating America from an also-ran in the luxury-performance sector to a force to be reckoned with.

msutton@wardsauto.com