Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2016 Cadillac ATS-V

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This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car

Telling your German car enthusiast pals about the Cadillac ATS-V is just the best thing.

Oh, you German sport sedan fanboys. If you’re one of them, you’ll want to go grab your stress-ball before reading the rest of this. Go on, I’ll give you a moment.

“Oh, the Cadillac. So, how is it?” they grin. All smirking, looking off of their noses, and all convinced that their so-called superior German posh-rockets are all that and a bag of Tostitos.

Fabian, with his M3. Ryan, with his C63. Eric, with his 135i. Mikeal, with his A4. Gino, with his S4, who nearly collapsed into a quivering heap, when I lit up, explaining how joyous a thing the ATS-V is to drive.

I was asked, often and vigorously, by everyone I know with a German sports car, how the ATS-V “is”. Hilariously, explaining that it’s excellent, one of the most thrilling machines in its segment today, and that it feels perfectly calibrated and dialed in, often resulted in wincing, poorly disguised surprise-faces, discomfort, disbelief, and rapid changing of the subject.

Oh, you German sport sedan fanboys. If you’re one of them, you’ll want to go grab your stress-ball before reading the rest of this. Go on, I’ll give you a moment.

Time’s up, and I’ll get to the best part of the ATS-V first: the steering.

Oh my goodness, the steering. It’s perfect. Perfect!

Engage SPORT mode, and the steering does various things that are very good. First, it gets heavy. Not a little heavier, or slightly stiff, but locked-on heavy. Bolted, glued and laser-welded to its on-centre position. Last time I drove something with on-centre feel anywhere near this massive, it was a $175,000 Porsche 911 GT3 RS. So, really heavy.

But also fast, and precise. Not quick. Not sharp. But so precise, within the bounds of its extreme heaviness, that drivers need only tighten the muscles in one side of their palm, or the other, to effect a change in direction. Movements at the wheel that your average sports car doesn’t even register will send the ATS-V darting about. It has the best steering in its segment, and many others too, and it makes numerous competitor steering systems feel like they’re made of lasagna.

So, dial up the speed, and the results speak for themselves: you feel a car that’s locked onto the road, and all the while, directed by a steering system that requires loads of effort, but a mischievously small amount of actual movement, to send it flitting one corner to the next. And with all of that heaviness, it’s easy to be smooth. Gentle. Precise.

Delicious, perfect steering.

And the suspension: also remarkable. It’s called Magnetic Ride Control, and it sees the V’s shock absorbers filled with a magical space fluid that can be thickened or liquefied as quickly as the current through an electromagnet can be changed, or, let’s say, instantly.

Result? In TRACK mode, the ATS-V feels like a little import tuner car, riding on a set of aftermarket coilovers: bouncing and rebounding tightly and aggressively over its wheels, twitching and squirming with glee when drivers steer via the throttle, and all with a thin veil of softness at the edges for comfort. In TOUR mode, that layer of softness expands greatly: it’s still sporty-taut, but hours-long cruising friendly. In any mode, the suspension actively works its magical space-shocks to keep the ATS-V’s body stable and under full control.

Magnetic Ride Control does for the ATS-V’s ride and handling what an image stabilizer on a pro camera lens: keeps things stable and steady, in conditions where it’s tricky to keep things stable and steady.

The steering and suspension are two highly effective variable systems that showcase a broad spectrum of adjustability, and a considerable, marked difference between the feel of each, depending on which drive mode is presently engaged. It’s almost like having 3 or 4 cars in one: heck of a deal, for the $68,000 starting price.

Do you like being comfortable? Do you like staying in your seat while ripping through high-speed corners like a bandit? The ATS-V’s hugely-adjustable Recaro seats are up to the task:  thick and chunky, leather edges make sliding in and out easy, and suede inserts adhere to your clothing, locking you in. Bolsters, lumbar and more can be adjusted, forming the perfect high-performance hug for your backside, and releasing it when you’re cruising gently.

Front seat space is adequate for two adults, though a curious lump in the passenger footwell floor chews up some space. Rear seats can fit smaller adults or kids, though they’re typically best left for luggage, and are difficult to access. A four-door ATS-V is available, if you need it.

The cabin is typical ATS – mandatory lustrousness blends with metal and stitching, all blended and layered, while the CUE infotainment system takes center stage with its flip-up hidden storage compartment beneath, itself fitted with a wireless phone charger pad. Other bits of high-tech knick-knackery include a Head-Up Display and a digital driver computer beneath the main instrument set. The cabin doesn’t hit as hard as some will like in creating a unique performance atmosphere – in fact, much of what you see from the driver seat is the same as the standard car, including the low-budget instrument cluster. A nice cabin, but the comparable BMW is simply on another level in this part of the game.

But what ATS-V lacks in blow-your-socks-off cabin looks, it makes up for in noise levels: cruising the highway at the speed limit or beyond, it’s notably quiet. Quieter than the BMW, and requiring absolutely no raising of one’s voice for a conversation. You could whisper, even.

But delightfully, when called upon, the engine drowns out all else.

All ATS-V models get a 3.6L V6, featuring numerous motorsports-derived optimizations and twin-turbochargers for 464 horsepower, and nearly as much torque. That’s about 40 more of each than the BMW. You can get a six-speed stick, the tester got the eight-speed automatic with paddle shift. Look for 0-60 in four seconds or less, and a quarter-mile pass in about 12. With those numbers, the ATS-V is sort of like a four-seat Corvette.

And the torque-monster engine is as furious and relentless when pushed as it is civilized and quiet when driven gently. The power delivery is a funny thing: where many comparable turbo engines actually lag, nearly failing to respond for just a moment after the throttle is jammed, the ATS-V leaps ahead instantly, then leaps ahead again, even faster and harder, once the compressors get into their game a few revs later. A forward surge, then a forward leap. Yahoo!

This engine isn’t much for high revs, but a nearly explosive upper-rpm slab of thrust creates a daunting and provocative power curve, forward pull of a generous duration in each gear, and virtually no interruption as those gears swap, one for the next, in quick order. The ATS-V’s appetite for pavement, driven thusly, is nothing short of ravenous: BAM. Second. BAM Third. It never runs out of steam, even at engine speeds where many twin-turbo max out, and start huffing hot air. And all the while, you’re thinking, “This is pretty stupid, but I’m having a great time.”

The eight-speed transmission neither shifts with the same laser-precise rev-matching or instant response as the BMW, though it gets the job done nonetheless.

Two other notes. First, in SPORT or TRACK mode, the traction management systems allow power output to marginally outgun traction, keeping throttle-steer capability on constant standby, and generating little squirms and squiggles as the V goes wide-open in a straight line. Second, at full song, the engine sounds less artificial and more pleasing than the BMW: it’s a sort of quivering growl-turned-snarl, attenuated with a slight, reedy pulsation, that calls aural images of a meatier Infiniti VQ V6 to mind.

Let’s bring it all together. Endless, peaky acceleration. Steering that’s mischievously quick and exceptionally confidence-inspiring with its heavy weight. A suspension that keeps the body tautly positioned, in real time, over its wheels. Right-now throttle steering. Very responsive weight transfer. You feel like you’re driving something much smaller and lighter than you actually are.

Driven hard, there’s a sharp, eager, instantaneousness to the ATS-V, combined with a high-resolution feel of what the car is doing beneath you at all times. In some ways, driven on a track surface, it reminded your writer of a much more powerful Mazda MX-5. (That’s a good thing). Add in the potent brakes, which bite hard and fast and nearly match the BMW for precision, and you’ve got a car that puts on a hell of a show at track day, and, with a click, can cruise the highway home in quiet, relaxing comfort.

And so, the ATS-V exists at a crossroads between luxury and performance, Cadillac and “V”. Here’s a machine with the moves and hardware and fine-tuning to thrill even demanding enthusiasts, while working almost effortlessly as a comfortable, compliant daily driver or weekend long-haul cruiser.

A final thought: with pricing some seven grand cheaper than a comparable BMW M4, ATS-V drivers will have plenty of surplus cash for their tire, brake-pad and track-day admission fund. I’ll take one, in black, with the manual transmission, please.

4 years/80,000 km; 6 years/110,000 km powertrain; 6 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 6 years/110,000 km roadside assistance

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Model Tested 2016 Cadillac ATS-V Coupe
Base Price $68,055
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,950
Price as Tested $89,695
Optional Equipment
Carbon Fiber Package ($5,755), Recaro Seat Upgrade ($2,645), Luxury Package ($2,595), 8-speed automatic ($2,345), Safety and Security Package ($2,225), Performance Data Recorder ($1,430), Crystal White Tricoat Paint ($1,145), 18-inch wheels ($1,095), Red Brembo Calipers ($625)