The smooth operation, lively personality and stellar looks makes the ATS-V a personal favourite of mine.
The year 2015 has marked the entry of quite a few important new contenders in the performance car world. SRT’s new Hellcat family means 700+ horsepower can be had for under $70,000, and the new Cadillac CTS-V packs nearly 600 horsepower from its Corvette Z06-sourced V8. Personally though, I’ve always thought of cars like that as overkill; my sweet spot is below 500 horsepower. Numbers in this range typically mean the car is easier to manage and live with on a daily basis, without having to deal with crazy fuel consumption. After the successor to one of my favourites, the Audi S4, has been officially revealed as going automatic-only, it seemed as though General Motors read my mind when coming up with their latest weapon.
And that’s just what the 2016 Cadillac ATS-V Coupe is – a weapon. Based on the already-sensational ATS, this coupé gets its own motor, unique chassis calibration, all-new body cladding, beefy brakes, and handling that’s legitimately unlike almost anything else on the road. Best of all; despite being new for 2016, Cadillac still offers a traditional manual transmission! The ATS-V looks quite similar to the regular ATS, but the styling fare includes unique front and rear lip spoilers, a full side skirt kit to help with aerodynamics, a functional hood scoop, and wider body cladding for a far more aggressive stance. The car is stunning from every angle, and I couldn’t help but turn around to look at it each time I parked and walked away.
Sitting under the hood is a twin-turbocharged 3.6L DOHC V6, a unit that is similar to the one in the CTS Vsport, but tuned to be far more special. This one is codenamed LF4 as opposed to LF3 in other applications. Output is 464 horsepower and 445 lb-ft of torque, which is more than enough for a car that comes in at a curb weight of 3,754 lbs. The weight distribution is 52/48 (F/R) and the result is one of the most dialed-in performance cars available today. Throttle response is as good as it gets in this segment, and the ATS-V happily runs to 100km/h in 4.3 seconds thanks to an included launch control feature. Turbocharger lag is virtually unnoticeable and the car feels significantly lighter on its feet than its weight figure would suggest.
I cannot stress enough that the Cadillac ATS-V is not just a straight-line car. Sure, it’s as fast as a bullet and will hold its own nicely against the likes of the BMW M4 and the now-defunct Audi RS5, but it’s the chassis tuning that makes it drive so well. The ZF electric steering may not have much in the way of old-school feedback, but the turn in is so sharp and effortless that it makes the M4 feel numb in comparison. There still is excellent heft to the meaty steering wheel, and there’s sufficient feedback to remind you of where the ATS has been pointed. Magnetic Ride Control does a phenomenal job of keeping the suspension balanced to minimize body roll, allowing you to push the ATS-V even further in corners.
The thing is, a V8 would definitely fit under the ATS-V’s hood, but Cadillac’s engineers opted to go with this twin-turbo V6 instead. During development of this car, the previous-generation BMW M3 was the benchmark, and in trying to exceed it, they somehow exceeded the driving dynamics of the current M3 and M4 too. The twin-turbo six is responsive enough, and helps keep the weight of the car down. Plus, the added efficiency helps too. It still sounds delightful, with the two-stage exhaust opening up when the drive mode is set to “Sport” or “Track”, but it’s nothing frantic or evil like a V8. If anything, the noise the ATS-V makes is reminiscent of the supercharged V6 in the outgoing Audi S4 – one of my favourite sounds out there.
Let’s get into what GM did to make the standard-fare ATS into this missile. They’ve increased the spring rate by 50%, and stuck on wide 18×9.5 inch wheels in the rear (18×9 in front). The tires are Michelin Pilot Super Sports, 275/35ZR18 out back and 255/35ZR18 front, for maximum grip. Those who intend to drive their ATS-V year round will need to opt for winter tires. An electronic limited-slip differential means exiting corners is bang-on with no hesitation or confusion from the car’s systems.
The beauty of the car’s adaptable characteristics is within the five-stage Performance Traction Management system. This gives the driver five selectable settings including competition setup for stability and traction control – this system is a class exclusive and not seen in any of the ATS-V’s competitors. The huge Brembo brakes will bring the car to a stop instantaneously, too. Our car had dark gold painted calipers to add some style to the function of the car. Surprisingly, Cadillac hasn’t included carbon-ceramic brakes onto the option list of the ATS-V. The engineering team at GM claims that this is in order to keep the car affordable while maintaining its competitiveness on the track.
The optional automatic transmission is an eight-speed GM unit (8L90), one that’s said to be nearly as quick as a dual-clutch box. However, as we’re enthusiasts, we were fortunate enough that Cadillac sent us our ATS-V with a six-speed manual. The last time I drove a Caddy with a stick, it was the first year of the ATS with the 2.0T, and the gearbox was actually a weakness of the car. This one is a Tremec gearbox, and features technology such as no-lift-shift and active rev matching.
Automatic rev matching is nice, engaged or disengaged via the paddles on the steering wheel, and results in flawless downshifts each time. I’ll argue though that half the fun of driving such an involving car is perfecting the shifts yourself. After trying the system and playing with it for a bit, I opted to disable it and experience the manual the old fashioned way. The shifter’s throws are a little bit on the notchy side but the clutch engagement is near perfect and the car begs to be driven quickly.
Of course, the single greatest benefit from the twin-turbocharged V6 is overall efficiency. Throughout our test, the car was driven as it was meant to be – spiritedly without exceeding the limits of our laws. We put a considerable amount of mileage on it because this is a car that you just want to drive day in and day out. Using a 60/40 split between highway and city driving, we averaged 11.7L/100km running on 91-octane premium fuel. It’s theoretically possible to keep the ATS-V under 11L/100km combined, but it would take a huge amount of restraint and particularly economical driving.
Cadillac’s approach to tackling the Germans head on is quite recent, but their name goes back over a century. One thing they have always been known for is the production of a high-quality, functional interior. Despite having lost their way a bit in the 1990s, Caddy’s interior game is back. The optional Recaro seats are adjustable in ample ways, and the leather they’re upholstered with is of excellent quality. Dash materials are sporty while maintaining the luxury of the brand, and subtle carbon-fiber accents throughout as well as strategically-placed “V” badges remind you that this isn’t your grandfather’s Seville SLS. The instrument cluster itself is a bit bland, with essentially the same gauges as the regular ATS, but with added red colour and a speedometer that goes up in increments of 30 km/h.
One thing I cannot stress enough is how good the driving position in the ATS-V is. The Recaros have plenty of adjustability including side bolstering and lateral support, and the steering wheel tilts and telescopes to create a bang-on seating position ideal for both spirited driving as well as comfortable cruising. The exterior mirrors are a little bit on the small side, so there are a few noticeable blind spots, but the shifter is positioned perfectly and the steering wheel controls have enough customization to accomplish most tasks without having to lean forward to deal with setup.
There is plenty of storage space in the coupé too, with the clever hidden compartment behind the touch panel on the center stack having its own USB port. The console is roomy and has plenty of space for your sunglasses, a GoPro, or even a small tablet. The biggest weakness in my eyes is still the CUE infotainment system. It’s gotten a lot better, especially with the new inclusion of Apple CarPlay, but it just doesn’t work well with iPods holding large volumes of music. I got it to work seamlessly by streaming my music over Bluetooth, but that results in hugely diminished sound quality. The haptic feedback is a bit on the slow side, and the system just needs a huge update overall.
Pricing for the ATS-V Coupe starts at $70,105 (the sedan starts at $67,800). Our loaded tester came with the extra Phantom Grey Metallic paint ($575) and the Recaro Performance Seats in Jet Black with Saffron inserts ($2645). Also on board is the $2,595 Luxury Package which adds CUE infotainment, Apple CarPlay compatibility, Bose 12-speaker premium sound system, sport alloy pedals, and adaptive HID headlights. The Track Performance Package is an extra $7,065, but adds the full Carbon Fibre Package with front splitter, rockers and rear spoiler, the Performance Data and Video Recorder, lighter battery, deletion of tow hooks, tire inflation kit, and carpet floor mats for weight reduction. An extra $625 adds dark gold Brembo calipers, and the heads-up display is $475. The total on our car was just under $88,000.
An all-new contender in this segment, the 2016 Cadillac ATS-V Coupe did considerably more than just win me over. My colleagues were gaga over the new BMW M4, and at first, so was I. As impressive as the new Bavarian is, driving it back-to-back with this ATS-V only reminded me of how dynamic and light on its feet the Cadillac feels. The chassis tuning is spot-on and the engine’s versatility is simply incredible. The smooth operation, lively personality and stellar looks makes the ATS-V a personal favourite of mine, and definitely a contender for my favourite new car this year. The only thing I’d do differently is opt for the more practical four-door sedan variant in Vector Blue Metallic.