High octane and stick shift: standout cars as an era begins to end
For speed monsters—or monsters married to hellish fossil-fuel power—the Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing pretty much checks off the list. A supercharged, 668-horsepower V-8. Top speed above 200 mph. The full-day track adventures demonstrated on my endorphin-rushing test laps at Virginia International Raceway will leave any EV feeling exhausted and gasping.
Another feature pushed the Blackwing into too-good-to-be-true territory: a manual transmission. That optional six-speed keeps these supersedans (there’s also a smaller Blackwing, the CT4-V) in rare company. Less than 1 percent of American cars are sold with the stick.
The Blackwings are also among models that have a gasoline engine and manual transmission, a pairing that increasingly appears to be the last dance of technology. There is no driver-selectable gear in the Showroom EV. And Cadillac says the Blackwing model will be the last of its ultra-high-performance cars to employ internal combustion.
All future V-Series models will be electrified. Whether General Motors and Cadillac can deliver on their electric promises remains to be seen. But if they can, these Blackwings — and models like them — may be the last chance for Americans to mount stick shift in a new car.
Blackwing fans have gotten the message: Tony Roma, Blackwings chief engineer, said that about 70 percent of early adopters are choosing the manual, though it should be closer to 20 percent. This is despite the fact that years ago automatics left manuals in their dust. Whether General Motors’ faster 10-speed or Porsche’s dual-clutch PDK gearbox, automatic transmissions make cars faster, more durable and more fuel-efficient.
Porsche spokesman Luke Vandezande said, “Even for top racers and factory drivers, “the fastest thing to do is to shift the car for you and not even worry about shifting with the pedals. “
“A human cannot overcome it, all things being equal,” he said.
Those facts don’t dissuade Manuel loyalists, who prefer a human touch and sense of dexterity that comes from smartly lined gear. A manual transmission, Mr Roma said, infuses a car with soul and personality.
“The driving dynamics we see are about that,” he said. “You feel a lot more connected to the car and the powertrain. It’s a pleasure.”
If this is the end, Cadillac is going out with a bang. Mr Roma and his team have been developing electric vehicles like the Celestiq sedan and Lyriq SUV but they are proud of their groundbreaking engineering effort at Blackwings, a love letter to a waning age.
I recently pulled out three of the hottest manual holdouts in the world. All are expensive. But fans can still enjoy DIY on a budget, including the Mazda Miata, Ford Mustang and kissing-cousins Subaru BRZ and Toyota GR86.
2022 Porsche 911 GTS
Porsche actually sells a much higher percentage of manual-transmission cars in the United States than in Europe—including almost one in four 911 models that offer a stick, and its track-killer 911 GT3’s. up to 70 percent. The latest is the 911 GTS, whose silky, seven-speed manual is a no-cost option on five versions, including the Carrera GTS, which starts at $138,050, and a sexy, open-roofed Targa 4 GTS, at $158,150 .
I drove those GTS models through the mountains of North Georgia on roads that rival Europe or California for Tilt-a-Whirl entertainment. Every new 911 is a quirk of technology that includes electronic anti-roll bars, a torque-vectoring rear differential, and a twin-turbocharged, flat-six engine that’s boosted to 473 horses on the GTS model.
Yes, that tech includes the vented PDK automatic, which is objectively fast: The PDK’s automatic launch control sends the all-wheel-drive Carrera 4 GTS to 60 mph and 193-mph apogee in under three seconds Is. But you have to get the manual out of my cold, dead fingers.
Porsche’s algorithmic-crunching brain and pairing my shifting arm with the chassis reminded me of “The Empire Strikes Back,” when the R2-D2 plugs into the Millennium Falcon to crush Imperial followers. Next stop: Hyperspace.
And one can only foresee the eventual demise of polluting, inefficient gasoline engines, tearing up for the loss of their wonderful analog sound and soul; Especially complex, Swiss-watch engines like Porsche – or BMW, or Cadillac. This thundering crescent of finely engineered parts, whispered from racing and road thrills for more than a century.
Whatever the speed or ingenuity of EVs, including Porsche’s knockout Taycan, the electrics are largely silent automatons in comparison. Many drivers would prefer peaceful electricity. The rest should make peace with it.
BMW M2 CS
BMW has been bullied by enthusiasts who insist that it has put the emphasis on SUVs and has taken the fun out of their cars. The 2020 M2 CS can pacify even the scariest BMW trolls.
This track-storming version of the 2-series coupe plays like a montage from the great BMW past. This includes a six-speed stick available with automated rev-matching; The modern edge of the 444-horsepower, twin-turbocharged inline six; an adaptive suspension and featherweight carbon-fiber roof; and some of the world’s most sticky street-legal tires, the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2.
Like the CT5-V and 911 GTS, the M2 CS offers carbon-ceramic brakes (for $8,500) that shed prodigious speed, trim 55 pounds of mass and on its beautiful, gold-finished alloy wheels Eliminates unsightly brake dust.
The caveat is a starting price of $84,595, about $10,500 less than the 760-horsepower Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 and just $400 less than the CT5-V Blackwing, to name two cars that will chug BMW for breakfast.
M2 CS counters with Rarity: Only 2,200 will be made for the world, with production for US buyers ending in December. On a track trial at the Monticello Motor Club in Sullivan County, NY, and on rustic curves in the Hudson Valley, this pint-sized Bimmer raged and roared like a friend with a Napoleon complex.
BMW’s stick shift feels a bit sticky, especially compared to Porsche’s platonic ideal. But it gets the job done, hitting 60 mph in four seconds. And unlike some bigger, even more beefy BMWs — wildly capable, yet cool to the touch — the M2 CS’s hooliganism rubs off on any driver with a pulse. This is a bad effect. Properly.
Cadillac CT4-V Blackwing and CT5-V Blackwing
Base Price: $59,990 (CT4-V), $84,990 (CT5-V)
Jekyll, Meat Hide: In humble society, the Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing can drive like a doctor’s luxury sedan. But explore a dark alley, or a blazing circuit like Virginia International Raceway, and out comes the killer, with six-gun manual gear at his disposal.
With its supercharged, 668-horsepower V-8, the Blackwing is having a great time on the road or track, with a top speed above 200 mph I’ve run for about 152 after the longest straight, thrilling lap of this road course. mph was managed. Time to squeeze the optional carbon-ceramic brake and ease into the curling right-hander.
I also tested the smaller, more affordable Blackwing, the CT4-V, which has a 474-horsepower V-6, which also offers a choice of manual or a faster 10-speed automatic. The old-school shifter gets new-tech stuff like automatic launch control; A virtual unicorn in a manual car. As Cadillac’s engineers trade their deep internal-combustion experience to enter the brave new world of EVs, they’re excited about the possibilities. But Mr. Roma and his team – with a few centuries of combined experience in internal combustion engineering – are proud of what may be their last moon in fossil fuels.
A no-compromise effort included the development of a unique rubber compound for Blackwings tires by Michelin and Cadillac; Caddy engineers tested and rejected 30 versions before being satisfied.
The material that made Blackwings work, Mr. Roma said, must have sounded like science fiction even in 2008, when the brand’s CTS-V became the first production sedan to break the eight-minute lap record at Germany’s benchmark Nürburgring circuit.
In one example, Cadillac bills the Blackwings’ magnetic suspension as the world’s fastest response: accelerometers and sensors monitor road and car behavior. Metal particles in the shock-absorbing fluid react to computerized changes in their magnetic field, adjusting the firmness on any given wheel within milliseconds. A sophisticated traction and stability system accommodates safety inspections for drivers of any skill level.
Those skills can be improved with an onboard data recorder that logs the video and audio of everyday drives or GPS-based track lapses with graphical overlays and software that lets drivers analyze their performance in detail.
For practical brilliance, each Blackwing engine is assembled by a master technician whose name is affixed to a plate on the motor. If General Motors turns into a purely electric automaker, consider that internal-combustion autograph, and the car that comes with it, a future collectible.
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