Two years ago, I fell hopelessly in love with the Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing. No other four-door on sale today offers as much performance and joy, whether you’re driving it to work or caning it around a racetrack. It’s such a standout experience that finding a worthy rival required returning to the past.
This story originally appeared in Volume 18 of Road & Track.
It’s easy to see why the E39-generation BMW M5 of 2000–03 has long been the benchmark for sport sedans. Its well-tuned chassis was paired with a muscular 394-hp V-8 and a six-speed manual transmission, all wrapped up in one of the most elegant four-door shapes of all time. It was when desirable new and has become even more appealing as modern performance cars seem to have lost something essential.
From design to finish, the E39’s wheels are as handsome as ever.
The Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing arrived for 2022 like a lightning bolt. With expertly honed dynamics, an absurdly powerful supercharged V-8, and a throwback six-speed manual transmission, the CT5-V Blackwing was, and is, a revelation—a big-hearted, laugh-a-minute, yee-haw revelation . Finally, after more than 20 years, a worthy challenger to the E39 M5’s throne.
Before this hot May day in upstate New York, I had driven only one E39 M5, and it was a deferred-maintenance nightmare. The example you see here is a 33,000-mile Oxford green beauty from 2000 that has instantly infected me. It’s engaging while offering modern levels of comfort, refinement, and plenty of speed. The 4.9-liter S62 V-8 isn’t as high-strung as other BMW Motorsport engines. Its character is not manic or aggressive but surprisingly subdued. It’s still a gem.
There’s a ton of torque as low as 1500 rpm and a healthy kick around 4500 rpm that continues all the way to the 7000-rpm redline. Individual throttle bodies produce pin-sharp response, and while the exhaust note is surprisingly muted, there’s a lovely bark inside the cabin that changes based on engine load. The shifter feel is typical BMW, light and rubbery. Still, the engine’s quick response to a throttle blip inspires shifting for the sake of it.
The M5 exemplifies the appeal of cars of this era. It involves the driver in a way so many modern cars don’t, yet it’s no antique. You can use it like it’s just a car, not some old toy that needs coaxing into life for special occasions. Still, it represents a very different time.
Sliding behind the wheel of the Cadillac makes the last 20 years of technological progress obvious. After a drive in the M5, the CT5-V Blackwing feels far more taut. Aside from the M5’s excellent throttle response, every major control feels sharper in the Cadillac. The steering and brakes have an immediacy that isn’t there with the M5, and there’s less suspension travel. The CT5-V Blackwing has excellent body control, with GM’s MagneRide dampers filing smooth the sharp edges on the street while letting the driver romp over tall road-course curbs like a touring-car champ. This car has more track prowess than any other four-door on the market, easily shrugging off its 4092-pound curb weight. It’s also wonderfully exuberant. The supercharged 6.2-liter small-block V-8 is all torque all the time, accompanied by the snarling soundtrack of a Trans-Am car. Roll on the throttle in fifth gear at 45 mph, and the Cadillac pulls like the BMW does in third. The Cadillac feels more like a pure sports car than a compromising sports sedan.
Yet, in a modern context, the Cadillac’s performance doesn’t seem quite so extreme. Carmakers hone today’s super sedans for bleeding-edge dynamics. Drive a CT5-V Blackwing and a new M5 back to back, and while the two have their differences in feel, the E39’s Bavarian descendant is quicker than the Cadillac.
The CT5-V Blackwing shows just how much the sports-sedan game has changed since the E39 M5. In its day, the BMW was a big four-door that rivaled Chevrolet Corvettes and Porsche 911s. Hell, the M5 packed as much power as a Ferrari 360. This was a luxury sedan taken to an unexpected extreme. With the CT5-V Blackwing, extreme has become the expectation. It’s a surprising realization since it doesn’t feel like that much time has passed.
The BMW still feels contemporary, even though Bill Clinton was president when it debuted at the Geneva auto show in 1998. But there’s a lifetime between these two sport sedans. The Cadillac reflects leaps in automotive technology—this despite its pushrod V-8 and manual transmission creating an old-school feel—and enthusiastic taste. There’s more capability on both the road and track here, a requirement for today’s sport-sedan customers.
There is, however, another important connection. What makes the Cadillac feel so special is not only its speed and technology but also the way it involves the driver. The funny thing about cars from the end of the “late analog era,” the early Nineties to mid-Aughts, is that they were very high-tech for their time. The V-8 in this M5 was among the most advanced powerplants of its day. It’s just that driving engagement came for free because technology hadn’t yet diluted the connection between driver and machine.
Today, driver engagement has to be a specific engineering priority. The CT5-V Blackwing has all the blistering speed of a modern performance car, yet it’s still fun to drive in almost all scenarios. I never came close to approaching its limits in my time with it, yet I had a blast.
Holding up the E39 M5 as the gold standard for so long is, of course, a recognition of its excellence. But it’s also an indictment of the sport sedans that followed. Until this Cadillac arrived, no car of the type gave so much back to the driver. Sports-car-baiting performance wrapped up in four-door luxury isn’t enough by itself.
The Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing proves itself the equal of the longtime benchmark sport sedan by remembering to love the driver back.
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A car enthusiast since childhood, Chris Perkins is Road & Track’s engineering nerd and Porsche apologist. He joined the staff in 2016 and no one has figured out a way to fire him since. He street-parks a Porsche Boxster in Brooklyn, New York, much to the horror of everyone who sees the car, not least the author himself. He also insists he’s not a convertible person, despite owning three.