Review of: 2016 Cadillac ATS-V Sedan 4dr Sdn
2016 Cadillac ATS-V: A whole new world of performance
By Dan Heyman
Jun. 27, 2016
If nothing else, you have to hand it to Cadillac for not only stepping out of its comfort zone, but actually taking a sojourn in a whole new galaxy.
I mean, where in the heck did they get the idea that they could take the legendary Corvette, drop some Arts & Science on it, and create a rear-wheel drive, V8-powered roadster of their own? One that was built in the exact same place the ‘Vettes were? Enter the Cadillac XLR.
Then, not satisfied with that, they turned their guns to the luxury performance sedan sector, so long a staple of the German brands that General George Patton himself couldn’t help you if you stepped up to the plate. The CTS-V, however, now in its third generation, rose to the challenge and actually managed to beat the Germans – and the Japanese – in certain aspects of their own game.
How could these two model lines exist? Especially when the sportiest Caddy most can think of before the XLR arrived was probably the Opel – I mean Cadillac – Catera and the front-wheel drive – front wheel drive! — Allanté roadster. But it had styling by Pinifarina! And a V8! It had to be good! Well, I’ve got news for you: It was not.
Yes, Cadillac had some minor success back in the day on the stock car circuit and I guess the Northstar Le Mans prototype effort deserves a notch on Caddy’s performance belt. Still, though: this was a company known for building Eldorados in which to cruise down Sunset, not sedans with which to lay rubber on the Nurburgring.
Which brings us to this next frontier of the performance luxury game: the compact sedan or coupe. Usually rear-wheel driven and with V6 or V8 power up-front, and with a German port of origin. An even tougher nut to crack, perhaps, than the mid-sizers because they were more affordable, and often provided a more involved drive. They’re also more approachable than the bigger cars; those are usually driven by VPs and CFOs. The compacts could be afforded by account managers.
Ladies and gentlecars: I bring you the Cadillac ATS-V Coupe.
Pros & Cons
- + Styling
- + Sharp handling
- + Smooth, strong engine
- - Automatic transmission
- - interior materials not as nice as the Germans'
- - Rear seat access
Aces, really. Properly muscular thanks to the big hood bulge (topped with a functional carbon-fibre cooling vent), billeted grille and fat wheels and tires, but with a little European flair – necessary, considering the competition – courtesy of touches like a carbon fibre front splitter, short-of-subtle trunk spoiler and skinny, drag-reducing wing mirrors. It’s proportionally sound, looking just different enough from its lesser endowed ATS siblings. The “V” logos on its doors and rear deck are well-deserved from the exterior styling perspective.
If I had a complaint, it mainly boils down to the fact that the available colour palette is a little timid. Yes, we all know that a silver or white colour will always do better at re-sale, performance cars like these would do well to provide something; have you seen BMW’s Yas Marina Blue? What about Lexus’ Solar Flare Orange? The Caddy’s Velocity Blue option isn’t a bad compromise, but it will cost you a $575 premium.
The interior is pretty much what you’d expect from a car in this segment: deep bucket seats (the ATS-V model gets a special set of Recaros up front as standard) finished in a mix of suede and leather, a smattering of carbon fibre inserts and a set of aluminum sport pedals (those come as part of the $2,595 Luxury Package, however). It truly looks the part, and those sports seats are fantastic, falling a few adjustment options (the side bolsters, for example) short of being the best in the biz. Plus, they look awesome with their Recaro and “V” inscriptions.
There is one important difference, however, unique to the ATS-V in this segment: the all-touch Cadillac User Experience (CUE) infotainment and climate interface. It’s finished in all piano black, and while a touch of that is OK in small doses, I find that when you see this much of it, it tends to cheapen the interior. For starters, the material is on the plasticky side in general, and it attracts dust like a magnet. That’s not a good combo and while it’s not the ATS-V’s fault – most Cadillacs have it – a new version has appeared in the all-new XT5 crossover, and I’d love to see it make the transition over here.
Aside from that, though, the seating position is very nice thanks to those deep Recaros, and even though the car gets a bit of a chopped-top look, headroom didn’t take a huge hit in my car as there’s no sunroof; I’d save the $1,395 it takes to get one, and keep it that way. The back seats are indeed a bit of a squeeze, but you can always opt for the sedan version if you want a little more back there, although even it is a little snugger for rear passengers than the Mercedes-Benz C63 or BMW M3 sedans.
On the infotainment and climate front, how you feel about the available tech pretty much boils down to how you feel about the aforementioned CUE interface. Me? I like the touch/button hybrid system found in the XT5 more. The ATS-V’s offers some haptic feedback when an instruction is revealed, but all too often it’s subtle to the point where I didn’t know whether the command was being processed, leading to overly-fast fan speeds, over-shooting what temp you want to set the climate control at and so forth.
You can modify the volume and adjust your trip computer via more traditional buttons on the steering wheel, which is a nice reprieve. The eight-inch touchscreen, on the other hand, is very good. The graphics are crisp and clear and it’s much more responsive than the touch panel below it. You also get nine-speaker Bose audio and satellite radio as standard, which is nice.
Power comes from a 3.6-litre, twin-turbocharged V6 to the (very nice sounding) tune of 464 horsepower and 445 lb-ft of torque, enough to propel the ATS-V to 100 km/h in a claimed 4.2 seconds. Activate either Sport or Track drive modes, and after a touch of turbo-lag, the ATS-V blasts forward with such ferocity that any thoughts you may have of the octogenarian-special STS or DTS models of yesteryear will be shot so far into the thermosphere that they would return only at risk of burning up in a fiery blaze upon re-entry. This is a compact Caddy like you’ve never encountered, and indeed gives the Germans something to think about. And that’s just upon initial acceleration.
Once you begin to dive into your favorite b-road – as we did – you get the second major part of the ATS’ “V” conversion, and that’s the fantastic handling package it offers.
It’s a four-wheel independent set-up with MacPherson struts up front and a five-link set-up at the rear, but the real stars of the show are the magnetic dampers. Tuned for sport at the outset, they automatically adjust themselves to whatever’s going on beneath you, making sure that all four wheels stay planted. They’re the same items you get on the star-spangled Corvette Z06, which goes to show you just how serious Caddy is about this car.
Left-right-left-right-straight-dip-left and on and on we go, the chassis remaining neutral with very little body lean, but not boring thanks to well-sorted traction and stability control systems. They allow just enough slip for a little tail-wagging as you leave a corner, making you feel like a track star as they subtly reign you back in. I’ve experienced similar systems in the Camaro ZL1 and the previous-gen CTS-V Coupe, and I was glad to find that even though the ATS-V is down a peg or two on the performance front, the nannies haven’t been let loose to curtail your fun anymore here than they were there.
What those two cars did have (and the C63 currently has), however, and the ATS doesn’t is a big ol’ V8 up front. Did I miss that option? I guess eliminating that turbo lag we talked about would be nice, and the growl of a V8 is hard to replace. That being said, it’s not that the ATS-V is quiet, necessarily. As I gave the ATS-V the beans, I tried to equate the sound it made with something more familiar and the best I could come up with was the metallic thrashing of a Porsche flat-six. Sound improbable? If I hadn’t driven it, I’d agree.
Also hurting the grade a little in terms of our tester was the fitting of an automatic transmission with paddle shifters. Yes, I know: GM has been very vocal about how its eight-speed is faster than Porsche’s PDK et cetera but I don’t care. At $2,345, it’s an expensive addition and presents a double-whammy in that it takes away from driver involvement, too.
This stands as another feather in Cadillac’s cap. With a starting price of $70,065, the ATS-V undercuts the German competition by over four grand in the case of the C63 – only available in sedan form at the time of writing — and over five grand in the case of the M4. Yes, it gives a little in the way of power to both and the Germans still edge the Caddy out in terms of interior fit and finish, but the ATS-V more than makes up for it on the dynamic front. Yes, you do have to pay a little extra for stuff like our tester’s red-painted brake calipers and sueded steering wheel, but the same goes for most of the competition, too.
On-road performance, really, is what a car like this is all about. If you want something a little cushier, maybe a little more refined, then go ahead and opt for an non-“V” ATS. That being said, while there are more refined cars out there, to get the kind of performance the ATS-V offers you either have to spend more, or go to the other end of the refinement spectrum and opt for something like the Mustang Shelby GT350 or Dodge Challenger. It provides a nice dose of both sides of the luxury spectrum, the ATS-V does, falling one proper infotainment system (and in my car’s case, one clutch pedal) short of being an absolute class leader.