High octane and change of direction: remarkable cars as an era begins to end

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For speed demons – or demons married to hellish fossil fuel – the Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing ticks a whole list. A supercharged 668 horsepower V8. Top speed exceeding 200 miles per hour. Thrills all day long that would leave any electric vehicle exhausted and panting, as demonstrated by my endorphins test laps at Virginia International Raceway.

Another feature has pushed the Blackwing into too good to be true territory: a manual transmission. This six-speed option puts these sedans (there’s also a smaller Blackwing, the CT4-V) in rare company. Less than 1% of American cars are sold with a stick.

Blackwings are also among the models with a gasoline engine and manual transmission, a pairing that increasingly comes across as a latest dance of technology. Electric showroom vehicles have no driver selectable report. And Cadillac says the Blackwing models will be the last of its ultra-high-performance cars to use 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 – could be Americans’ last chance to spin a shifter in a new car.

Blackwing fans got the message: Almost 70 percent of early adopters choose the manual, although that should come close to 20 percent, said Tony Roma, chief engineer of the Blackwings. This is despite the fact that automatics left manuals in their dust years ago. Whether it’s General Motors’ dynamic 10-speed gearbox or Porsche’s dual-clutch PDK gearbox, automatic transmissions make cars faster, more durable and more fuel efficient.

Even for the best racers and factory drivers, “the quickest thing to do is let the car change for you and even not worry about shifting gears with paddles,” said Luke Vandezande, a Porsche spokesperson.

“A human being cannot surpass that, all other things being equal,” he added.

These facts do not deter manual loyalists, who prefer a human touch and the sense of mastery that comes from expertly rowed gears. A manual transmission, Roma said, imbues a car with soul and personality.

“A lot of the driving dynamics that we obsess over are about this,” he said. “You feel so much more connected to the car and the powertrain. It is a joy.

If this is the end, Cadillac storms out. Mr. Roma and his team are actively developing electric vehicles like the Celestiq sedan and the Lyriq SUV, but they take pride in their engineering efforts on the Blackwings, a love letter to a diminishing age.

I recently drove three of the hottest manual brakes in the world. All are expensive. But fans can still indulge themselves on a low budget, especially with a Mazda Miata, a Ford Mustang and the kissing cousins ​​Subaru BRZ and Toyota GR 86.

Porsche actually sells a much higher percentage of manual transmission cars in the United States than in Europe – including about one in four 911 models that offer a stick, and up to 70% for its 911 GT3 track assassin. The latest is the 911 GTS, whose silky seven-speed manual is a free option on five trims, including a Carrera GTS, which starts at $ 138,050, and a sexy open-top Targa 4 GTS, at 158,150. $.

I’ve driven these GTS models through the mountains of northern Georgia, on roads that rival Europe or California for Tilt-a-Whirl entertainment. Every new 911 is a tech prodigy that includes electronic sway bars, a torque-vectoring rear differential, and a twin-turbo flat-six engine that’s boosted to 473 horsepower in GTS models.

Yes, that technology includes the much-vaunted Automatic PDK, which is objectively faster: PDK’s automated launch control sends the all-wheel-drive Carrera 4 GTS to 60 mph in under three seconds, and to a peak of 193 mph. But I would have to get the manual out of my cold, dead fingers.

Connecting my shifting hand to the brain and chassis of the Porsche, which prey on algorithms, reminded me of “The Empire Strikes Back”, when R2-D2 connects to the Millennium Falcon to abandon the Imperial pursuers. Next stop: hyperspace.

And one might hope for the ultimate demise of polluting and inefficient gasoline engines while shedding a tear for the loss of their incredible analog sound and spirit; especially in complex Swiss watch engines like those of Porsche – or BMW or Cadillac. This howling crescendo of roaring, finely crafted pieces has been inextricably linked to the thrill of racing and road for over a century.

No matter the pace or ingenuity of electric vehicles, including Porsche’s knockout Taycan, electric devices are silent automata by comparison. Many drivers would prefer quiet electricity. The rest must make peace with her.

BMW has been intimidated by enthusiasts who insist that it got fat on SUVs and drained the fun from its cars. The 2020 M2 CS could appease the scariest BMW troll.

This track version of the 2 Series Coupe plays like a cut from the past of big BMWs. That includes its available six-speed stick with automated rev matching; the modern edge of a 444-horsepower twin-turbo inline-six; adaptive suspension and a lightweight carbon fiber roof; and some of the stickiest road tires in the world, the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2.

Like the CT5-V and 911 GTS, the M2 CS offers carbon-ceramic brakes (for $ 8,500) to shed stupendous speed, reduce 55 pounds mass, and remove unsightly brake dust from its pretty steel rims. gold finish alloy.

The caveat is a starting price of $ 84,595, roughly $ 10,500 beyond a 760-horsepower Ford Mustang Shelby GT500, and only $ 400 less than the CT5-V Blackwing, to name just two. cars that will chew BMW for breakfast.

M2 CS meters with rarity: Only 2,200 will be built for the world, with production for US buyers ending in December. During a track test at the Monticello Motor Club in Sullivan County, NY, and over rustic curves in the Hudson Valley, this pint-sized Bimmer raged and roared like a dude with a Napoleon complex.

The BMW shifter feels a bit sticky, especially compared to the Platonic ideal of the Porsche. But it gets the job done, hitting 60 mph in four seconds. And unlike some bigger and even more muscular BMWs – extremely capable, yet cool to the touch – the hooligan spirit of the M2 CS rubs off on any driver with a pulse. It’s a bad influence. In the right direction.

Base price: $ 59,990 (CT4-V), $ 84,990 (CT5-V)

Jekyll, Meet Hyde: In a polished society, the Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing can drive like a doctor’s luxury sedan. But find a dark alley or a blazing circuit like Virginia International Raceway, and the killer comes out, with a manual six-gear cannon at his disposal.

With its 668 horsepower supercharged V8 the Blackwing is a wacky good time on the road or track, with a top speed of over 200mph I managed to around 152mph on the longest straight on this road course, thrilling lap after lap, before it’s time to squeeze the optional carbon-ceramic brakes and sneak into a curling right-hander.

I also tested the smaller, more affordable Blackwing, the CT4-V, which has a 474 horsepower V6, also offering a choice of a manual or a fast 10-speed automatic. The old-fashioned shifter receives elements of new technology like an automated launch control; a virtual unicorn in a manual car. As Cadillac engineers trade their in-depth internal combustion experience to enter the new world of electric vehicles, they are 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 could be their last moonlight in fossil fuels.

The uncompromising effort included the development by Michelin and Cadillac of a unique rubber compound for Blackwings tires; Caddy engineers tested and rejected 30 versions before being satisfied.

The things that make Blackwings work, Mr Roma said, would have seemed like science fiction even in 2008, when the brand’s CTS-V became the first production sedan to break the eight-minute lap record. on the reference circuit of the Nürburgring in Germany.

In one example, Cadillac presents the Blackwings’ magnetic suspension as the most responsive in the world: accelerometers and sensors monitor the behavior of the road and the car. The metal particles in the shock fluid react to computerized changes in their magnetic field, adjusting the firmness of any wheel in milliseconds. A sophisticated traction and stability system adjusts safety oversight for drivers of any skill level.

These skills can be enhanced with an on-board data logger that records video and audio of daily trips or GPS-based laps, with graphical overlays and software that allows drivers to analyze their performance in detail.

As for practical talent, each Blackwing engine is assembled by a single master technician, whose name is stamped on a plate on the engine. If General Motors transforms into a purely electric automaker, consider this internal combustion autograph and the accompanying car a future collector’s item.

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