The 2023 Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing Loses Something With an Automatic
Cadillac is killing it. The CT4- and CT5-V Blackwings are two of the best performance sedans on sale. The CT4 Blackwing is the perfect size with chassis tuning to die for, and the CT5 Blackwing, though slightly larger, has that 662-hp monster of a V-8 linked to a six-speed manual gearbox.
It’s the last of the great sport sedans, the only one with a big V-8 and a manual. That’s not all that makes it great, of course. It has Magneride, killer brakes, and GM’s PTM traction control system. It’s a shame that it’ll be the end of Cadillac’s gas-powered performance cars, because this is the one the company has gotten the most right. The CT5-V Blackwing is shockingly good, in the running for the best performance sedan of all time. That's not hyperbole.
Something you may have missed in the hullabaloo surrounding just how wonderful these cars are is that they are both available with automatic gearboxes. The Blackwings offer GM’s 10-speed torque-converter automatic, like the one offered in the Camaro ZL1 1LE. You read that right, it has 10 different forward gears. Crazy to think that four-speed autos were the norm just a moment ago.
Like any car with this much power and an automatic transmission, there are benefits. It’ll help fuel economy, though optioning the automatic with a supercharged V-8 because you want more miles per gallon signals that you may have some odd priorities. There's no clutch, so your left leg won’t be miserable in traffic. And, on a race track, lap times will be noticeably quicker, the reduced shift times and added ratios keeping it in the powerband at all times.
But if you’re using this as an enthusiast family car and care about engagement on the road, buy the manual.
That’s not to say the automatic Blackwing is a bad car. Not even close. Most everything that is so great about the manual version sticks around in the auto. It’s still a handsome thing, squat with excellent proportions. This one didn’t have any of the extraneous aero or carbon fiber add-ons that other track-focused builds have, either. That made it fly under the radar.
Also like other Blackwings, the interior is fine. The seats are great, if a little hard. But otherwise it’s fairly forgettable, and can appear a little dated. You don’t buy a Blackwing for the interior, you buy it to drive.
Chassis tuning, even on this car that was running winter rubber, was fantastic. GM has tons of experience with Magneride, and it shows. The ride is controlled and firm, yet compliant. The steering similarly is direct, well-weighted, and perfect around town. I’m not saying anything that hasn’t already been made clear about the Blackwing. I love it.
But I love it a little less with an automatic. It just doesn’t feel as cool to drive a big fast sedan with an auto. I was actually a little disappointed every time I sat down and noticed the auto selector, and even tried to push in the non-existent clutch to start the thing numerous times. Even my subconscious wants the stick.
This gearbox, GM’s 10-speed, can be confusing. At slow speeds, it feels lethargic as it shifts, seemingly slipping between gears. It shifts early and often to keep revs low and fuel economy high. Pop it in manual mode, and you’ll see that there are simply too many gears, considering most of your driving can be done in the first six. When you get on it, the gearbox responds. Shifts slam home, nary a gap between cogs. The engine comes alive and this feels like the fastest car in the world. It gets rid of the drama that the manual offers, but there’s no arguing that this is easily one of the fastest ways to get from point to point.
The real issue is that the automatic saps the specialness out of the Blackwing. The manual makes it a unique proposition beyond how good it is to drive. Any manufacturer can make a V-8 sports sedan with an automatic gearbox. Many do. But none have dared in recent years to make one with a manual. Cadillac stepped up and gave us the car that we've lusted after. Buyers have noticed, too, with early reports saying 50 percent of CT5 V Blackwing buyers are choosing the manual. That's great news.
With the automatic, this is a great car. With the manual, it’s one of a kind.
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