â€œPshhh, itâ€™s not that fast. Your car is faster,â€� the young man wearing the Alpha Gamma Delta shirt said to his blonde companion. We were in the parking lot of a stadium in Orange County, under the shade of a white tent with a Cadillac logo, beside a sign reading: â€œACCELERATION.â€� It was unclear which Cadillac he was disparaging, as both the ATS-V and CTS-V were available for full-throttle rips. He may have been trying to goad his girlfriend into driving, but the trash talk indicated this was no press junket.
Welcome to the Southern California edition of Cadillacâ€™s Truth + Dare summer tour across America.
Two weeks earlier, I was wondering how the hell I was targeted on Twitter by a Cadillac ad with an invitation to a ride-and-drive event. For financial reasons, â€œautomotive journalistâ€� doesnâ€™t fit the profile of a typical Cadillac customer. My BMW Z3 recently celebrated its 20th birthday. But they werenâ€™t asking for my tax returns and Iâ€™m fascinated by the Cadillac brand, so this seemed like an opportunity to see how they present themselves to the public. All I had to do was drive from Los Angeles to Anaheim on a Friday at 2:00 p.m.
Two hours later, drenched in sweat from my Z3â€™s insufficient A/C, I arrived at the stadium of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, cursing the whole idea of cars.
Thankfully, the Cadillac reps who checked me in didnâ€™t care. They found my reservation on a white iPad and handed me a white Cadillac hat that made me feel less like an outsider. I was transferred to a Cadillac â€œdocentâ€� who led me to join a group waiting under a tent that read â€œTECHNOLOGY.â€�
Within minutes, I found myself riding in the brandâ€™s flagship CT6 as its assisted parking system scanned a row of cars. When the sensor measured a spot large enough for the sedan, the system emitted a pleasant â€œbeeeepâ€� and the CT6 guided itself into place. The Cadillac rep still had to operate the brake. It hit me that we are currently in limbo: Most people believe that technological advancements will solve our traffic problem, but we donâ€™t even trust the current tech to parallel park by itself.
Our next stop was the aforementioned â€œACCELERATIONâ€� tent, featuring two of the fastest cars ever produced by General Motors. Impressive 0-60 mph times (2.9 seconds for the ATS-V, 2.8 for the CTS-V) didnâ€™t much impress the brother from AGD, but they felt fast to me. The setup mimicked a drag strip, with separate lanes for each V-Series sibling. Understandably, the Cadillac reps timed the takeoffs to discourage racing.
Once the other car reached the end of the track, we were given the go-ahead to â€œroll on the gasâ€� and â€œkeep it pinned to the floor until you see the orange cones.â€�
This was, as you might imagine, an absolute blast. I salute GM for allowing anyone with a driverâ€™s license and a Twitter account to stomp on its latest machinery. While I canâ€™t definitively say how the V-Series cars perform against their German rivals (comparisons between single manufacturers are oftentimes uninformative), I can now claim to tell the difference between GMâ€™s supercharged V-8 and twin-turbocharged V-6. Both are potent powerplants, but the booming noise and nonstop acceleration from the CTS-V makes for one hell of a product differentiator.
After that, the Cadillac docent ushered our group to a line of running cars for a short drive around Anaheim. The potential risk in putting us on public roads directly after teaching us how to drive as fast as possible was enormous. But there were no V-Series cars available and the roads around Angels Stadium were congested. â€œYouâ€™re gonna be moving like turtles across a lettuce patch,â€� the Cadillac rep said. He was right.
I drove a CT6 Plug-In Hybrid, the model I selected when I checked in. The CT6â€™s hybrid system is barely perceptible, and at times it seemed pushing the accelerator pedal only made the fan louder. The CT6â€™s gauges flashed green with eco-encouragement. It had a giant, fingerprint-collecting touchscreen and a rear-view mirror that looked like you were watching television (this carâ€™s audience loves television). When we returned, one of the participants said the CT6 Plug-In felt down on power. Another asked, â€œCan we go back to Acceleration?â€�
Last up was â€œNIGHT VISION,â€� an exhibit that I initially wanted to skip. It turned out to be fascinating technology, a modern-day update of GMâ€™s Autronic Eye of the 1950s. Instead of detecting oncoming headlights, the Autoliv-designed system scans for heat. In a darkened room, they sat us in two parked CT6 sedans, turned the fog machine and turned on the high beams of an XT5 pointed at us. We watched the dashboard peer through the fog and highlight first a â€œpedestrianâ€� and then a â€œdeer.â€�
Night Vision would be more useful in Northern Michigan than in Southern California, but I could see the pedestrian detection technology being incorporated into Cadillacâ€™s upcoming Super Cruise semi-autonomous driving system. I also got a picture of what the system â€œseesâ€� when it looks at me. Creepy.
After the event we were invited to lounge in the main tent. The groups who finished earlier were already there. Many of them gathered stacks of granola bars and were stocking up on the complimentary cappuccinos. So, not much different than journalists, then.
A Cadillac rep estimated they would see 1,200 people over the weekend, and that was just in SoCal. Cadillac has scheduled similar driving events across the country. (I can only imagine the cost.) However, if youâ€™re going to convince people that your brand is the next BMW, yo’re going to have to pay for it.
Cadillac dared to build a tech-heavy lineup that includes a pair of premium sports cars. Now it wants to take the new family on an expensive road trip, even though the reaction may be total indifference, as expressed by our friendly frat bro. As I eased my broken BMW onto the crowded freeway, I wished the people at Cadillac good luck. They’re going to need it.