This story, in a nod to Charles Dickens, is the story of two transmissions: a six-speed manual and a 10-speed automatic. Both are available in the Best 10 winner Cadillac CT4-V Blackwing. As we constantly promote the joy of shifting your own gears—gear engagement engagement—and caring about cars that should offer manuals but don’t, this particular sports sedan gives us a rare moment of self-reflection.
Are we correct in our hidden belief that, just as clothes make a man or a woman, a manual gearbox makes a car? Could a brilliant all-round performance sedan like the CT4-V Blackwing be nearly as lust-worthy with an automatic transmission as it is with a DIY gearbox? We ordered an automatic Blackwing CT4-V to explore this complex emotional conundrum.
We already know the Blackwing CT4-V with manual transmission like an old friend; we have one for long-term testing and it has driven over 10,000 miles. It was a lot of shifting and gripping, and we don’t regret it. The Blackwing’s six-speed manual is one of its best, reminiscent of the sweet units fitted to various BMW 3-series models over the years. The Caddy’s gearbox has the same direct feel, is well oiled, and the gearshift relationships are solid, which makes it a pleasure to row. The clutch pedal retrieval is intuitive and perfectly weighted. And of course the manual transmission works in one of the best sports sedans in the world.
Same for the automatic Blackwing. The CT4-V Blackwing, apart from the 10-speed automatic gearbox, is almost identical to the manual model. It has the same 3.6-liter twin-turbocharged V-6 muscle under its hood that produces 472 horsepower and 445 pound-feet of torque. For the record, manual transmission Blackwings get lightweight titanium connecting rods to help their V-6s spin faster, but it’s not a difference you can feel from behind the wheel.
The essential performance equipment is otherwise identical, starting with rear-wheel drive (AWD not available) and including sticky summer tires—255/35ZR-18 front and 275/35ZR-18 Michelin Pilot Sport 4S rear—plus big Brembo brakes and adaptive magnetorheological dampers. . There are a dizzying number of ways to fine-tune ride, handling and traction control between the four drive modes, two adjustable modes and five steps in the Performance Traction Management system. Regardless of the transmission, the CT4-V BW is a virtuoso both on the road and in the racecourse.
Our $84,715 auto tester has more options than our long-term cars. Beyond the extra $2275 for auto, getting auto forces $900 for additional driver assistance technology. Our car also has performance data and video recorder settings ($1600) and a Technology package that includes an air ionizer and head-up display ($725). But the only addition that could potentially impact performance—beyond the automatic, of course—is the Carbon Fiber 1 package ($6,150), which slaps a larger spoiler on the trunk lid and adds a splitter, dive fuselage, and front-wheel air deflectors. to the front fascia. The car also has the Carbon Fiber 2 cosmetic package ($4450) which adds carbon rocker panel skirts and rear valence extensions.
These aerodynamic helpers undoubtedly increase downforce at higher speeds, but they also almost certainly increase drag, which we think shows in the performance results. Even with its added equipment, the 3904-pound automatic car weighed only 25 pounds more than the manual model, meaning that the difference in weight was barely a factor on the test track.
Over the years, our instrument tests have consistently shown that auto-equipped models almost always outperform their identical manual-transmission brethren. This Blackwing automatic too, but not as wide a range as we thought.
Against the clock, automatic stop time 60 mph 4.0 seconds; manual stops at 4.1 seconds. The automatic fired forward from there, reaching 100 mph in 9.4 seconds to the manual’s 9.9 seconds. But then the manuals started closing the gap, trailing the automatic’s 12.4-second quarter-mile time by just 0.2 seconds, with both cars traveling at an identical 114 mph. At 130 mph it was scorching hot, with both cars taking 17.2 seconds to get there. That may be the result of the automatic car’s additional aerodynamic drag working against it as speeds climb into the triple digits. Gear differences may also play a role. But the numbers don’t lie: The two transmissions deliver nearly identical performance.
There’s not much difference in fuel economy either. The Blackwings CT4-V automatic boosts the EPA rating to 16 mpg city/24 mpg highway, while the manual car has just over 1 mile per gallon less in both sizes. Not that a mile per gallon matters when you’re driving the 472 hp sedan with the manufacturer’s claimed top speed of 189 mph.
Far more important than the automatic’s minuscule advantage in 60 mph acceleration or fuel economy is the way it drives. The transmission may have 10 speeds, but you’d never know that given how smooth it goes through in normal driving. Thankfully, it never lets the engine go into the lazy zone, is close-to-idle, and is ready with an instant multi-gear downshift the moment you press even halfway to the throttle. Quickly drop your right foot at any speed and the Caddy slides; fast passes in two lanes or through traffic holes made easy. When you want to play Lewis Hamilton, shift the gearbox to manual mode and the 10-speed responds quickly to the call of the paddles to upshift and downshift. It can’t match the lightning speed of the best dual-clutch automation, but it’s not far off.
On the one hand, it automatically expands the already very large bandwidth of this car. You can be lazy and refuse shifts at city speeds and in bumper-to-bumper rush hour cruising, and then indulge in the fun of swapping gears, shifting paddles when you want to play backroad hero. The CT4-V Blackwing is so perfect that it would take a very poor automatic to change our minds about its high-wattage brilliance.
But stepping back into our long-term manual transmission quickly reminded us of the reason we worship at Holy Scepter Church: the relationship between the driver and the car. You feel the vibration of the engine through the gear lever. You have to pay more attention to traffic and anticipate what equipment you will need next, so you are more at one with the driving process, more involved and in control. And there’s an uncanny sense of mastery to deftly drive the manual gearbox, executing well-coordinated upshifts and smooth, turn-adjusted, heel-and-toe downshifts — without the aid of electronic spin matching. You don’t have to grind gears and try to pull the gear lever off the floor; You can enjoy manual engagement at any speed.
All of this leads to one simple conclusion: We’d still like the Blackwing CT4-V if it only came with an automatic transmission. But we like it more with manual.
Cadillac CT4-V Blackwing 2023
Vehicle Type: front engine, rear wheel drive, 5 passenger sedan, 4 doors
Basic/As Tested: $61,890/$84,715
Options: Carbon Fiber Package 1 (carbon fiber front splitter, wheel deflectors, dive planes, rear spoiler), $6150; Jet Black leather seats with Jet Black accents, $4900; Carbon Fiber Package 2 (carbon fiber rocker extensions and rear fascia diffuser), $4450; 10-speed automatic transmission, $2275; performance data and video recorder, $1600; Driver Assist Package (adaptive cruise control, front and rear automatic emergency braking), $900; Technology package (air ionizer and head-up display), $725; Argent Silver Metallic paint, $625; 18-inch aluminum wheels with satin graphite finish, $600; Climate package (heated and ventilated front seats with massage, heated steering wheel) $600
twin-turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 24-valve V-6, aluminum block and head, direct fuel injection
Displacement: 218 inches33564 cm3
Power: 472 hp @ 5750 rpm
Torque: 445 lb-ft @ 3500 rpm
10 speed automatic
Suspension, F/R: struts/multilink
Brakes, F/R: 15.0 inch vented disc/13.4 inch ventilated disc
Tires: Michelin Pilot Sport 4S
F: 255/35ZR-18 (94Y) TPC 3164 Specification
R: 275/35ZR-18 (99Y) TPC 3165 Specification
Wheelbase: 109.3 inches
Length: 187.6 inches
Width: 71.5 inches
Height: 56.0 inches
Passenger Volume: 90 ft3
Trunk Volume: 11 ft3
Restraint Weight: 3904 lb
CD TEST RESULTS
60 mph: 4.0 seconds
100 mph: 9.4 seconds
1/4-Mile: 12.4 seconds @ 114 mph
130 mph: 17.2 sec
The above result removes 1 foot launch from 0.3 seconds.
Rolling Start, 5–60 mph: 4.4 seconds
Top Gear, 30–50 mph: 2.2 sec
Top Gear, 50–70 mph: 2.6 sec
Top Speed (mfr claims): 189 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 158 ft
Braking, 100–0 mph: 303 ft
Road hold, 300 ft Skidpad: 1.04 g
CD FUEL ECONOMY
Observed: 15 mpg
Driving on the Highway 75 mph: 25 mpg
75 mph Highway Range: 430 miles
EPA FUEL ECONOMY
Combined/City/Highway: 19/16/24 mpg
CD TESTING EXPLAINED
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