Expert Reviews

First Drive: 2016 Cadillac ATS-V

How many years must go by before tradition becomes dogma? The 2016 Cadillac ATS-V approaches the sport sedan segment like the great theological reformers of old seeking to shake the foundations of the society free from the shackles of the past, replacing stunning oratory with a twin-turbo soundtrack, and nailing its own scripture to the doors of Bavaria's and Stuttgart's factories. The word that shall set performance fans free is written not in ink, but in the still-smoking cursive of Michelin Pilot Sports that have been sacrificed for this asphalt litany.

The word that shall set performance fans free is written not in ink, but in the still-smoking cursive of Michelin Pilot Sports that have been sacrificed for this asphalt litany.

Cadillac's revelation that one cannot merely pay one's way into automotive heaven by way of a BMW M3 lease agreement is the ATS-V's communion, and a day spent self-flagellating around the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, provided ample evidence that the spirit of righteousness does indeed ride with this interloper from Detroit. To suggest that the Cadillac ATS-V is the new king of the sport sedan set might be heresy in the minds of some, but that doesn't change the fact that it's God's honest truth.

As Bad As It Wants To Be

The days of Cadillac's V Series models being defined primarily by the brute force of their intimidating powertrains are over. At first blush, this might seem like an unreasonable statement, as the 2016 Cadillac ATS-V's 3.6L, twin-turbo V6's 464 horses and 455 lb-ft of torque push the car past its BMW M3/M4 and Audi RS5 antagonists on paper.

Breaking that science of speed out into the real world further reveals that the ATS-V smokes all comers (even the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG) with a 0-100 km/h sprint of just 3.9 seconds and a top speed of 302 kilometres per hour. The 1.2-km back straight at COTA – so long you could conceivably land a 747 on it in an emergency - saw me pegging the speedometer at 237 km/h, and a pair of drag sessions had me within 0.2 seconds of the car's claimed acceleration time with no need to let any air out of the rear tires to improve traction.

The Human Connection

Impressive as these numbers may be, our modern era has managed to distill the essence of straight-line speed and endless cornering stability into ones and zeros that are easily digested by an automobile's software and then spat out again in the form of electronic driver's aids. It's here that the Cadillac ATS-V makes the biggest break from the pack of would-be hi-po luxury contenders by bridging the digital divide between the human heart and the car's computerized brain in order to strengthen the connection pilots feel with the road rather than distance them from the world as it zips by underneath the Cadillac's sticky rubber.

It all starts with GM's excellent magnetic ride control suspension system, which has been upgraded to respond even more quickly to changes in both road conditions and driver inputs, following in the footsteps of the similarly sharp setup available with the recent Corvette Z06. The adaptive design works hand in hand with a chassis that has been stiffened by 25 percent as compared to the standard ATS, as well as Cadillac's five-stage Performance Traction Management (PTM) system, which calls down stability and traction control orders from the pulpit with a surprising degree of leniency: mid-tier, track-oriented menu selections allow you to keep the tail sideways through a corner without arrogantly ordering me back in a straight line, while “full off” and “hold my hand” settings are also available. Both manual (six-speed) and automatic (eight-speed) transmissions offered with the ATS-V also come with a launch control feature linked to PTM, and the traditional gearbox offers no-lift-shift capability as well as automatic rev-matching on downshifts.

The end result is that the 2016 Cadillac ATS-V is not just a willing partner in posting up lap times that would qualify you for the front row at Indy in the 80s, but it's also a car that makes you feel like you're actually part of the process as you sweep past every apex and barrel down whatever stretch of road might open up past each bend. This is a sharp contrast to the numbing distance that has crept into the platforms of once-engaging European options in the ATS-V's class, vehicles that increasingly make you feel like freight rather than Fernando Alonso by way of their clinical, post-perfect engine and chassis management philosophies.

Everyday Lover

For all its on-track prowess, the 2016 Cadillac ATS-V makes no sacrifices whatsoever when it comes to day-to-day comfort. That same magnetic suspension that waves its magic wand over the car's cornering capabilities also pastes over potholes and butters up washboard roads to create a smooth and luxury-worth ride when traveling at sane speeds. Steering effort is reduced when the ATS-V is set to Tour mode and the interior is acceptably quiet, with only the growl of the twin-turbo V6 to remind you that you're at the wheel of the most fetching edition of the ATS.

In fact, there's a little too much collegiality between the standard ATS cabin and that of its V sibling. Aside from trick 16-way adjustable Recaro sport seats on the options sheet, and a red background for the car's gauge cluster, there's very little to indicate that you're driving something special - a not uncommon affliction amongst luxury performance cars. This is unfortunate given the decidedly aggressive exterior styling of the Cadillac, which features wider fender flares, front and rear splitters (available in carbon fibre), a trunk-mounted spoiler, and an air extractor carved into the hood. The only other real pitfall of the ATS-V's overall package is its rear seat, which remains as small as ever in both coupe and sedan form.

A Deal Is A Deal, Even When It's Just Barely A Deal

Despite its superiority on track and off in terms of driving feel, fun factor, and comfort, the 2016 Cadillac ATS-V is still in tough to attract well-heeled customers into showrooms in the face of its established European competition. Priced at $65,055 for the base model, the ATS-V undercuts the BMW M3 by a small margin but doesn't offer the kind of underdog discount that would no doubt catch the eye of a larger number of buyers.

And yet, it may not matter. Having the gall to stand tall amongst those that would claim superiority of character is the same attitude that saw those devoted to the cause of progress endure excommunication while preaching a new path forward to the open-minded. The Cadillac ATS-V may line up shoulder-to-shoulder with the M3, the RS5, and the C63, but it's clear that it's got its gaze radar-locked on a point just out of the reach of the rivals it's in the process of leaving behind.

Audi RS5
Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG
Jet-Powered Popemobile