DALLAS, February 14, 2015 — The 2016 Cadillac ATS-V is part of a salvo of fire across the bow of the performance lines of European/Japanese luxury brands. This is not Cadillac’s first performance effort by any means, but it is certainly a spectacular one. The ATS-V is part of Cadillac’s V performance line, not to be confused with the V sport models. The latter is the equivalent to a sport trim level and a bit of extra fun. The full V line is for serious performance fanatics only. Will it take the already competent ATS, the smallest car in the lineup, to new levels of perfection? To see if Cadillac has gotten their performance V brand in order, they loaned us a 2016 ATS-V coupe to drive around. The grin on our faces hid the concern for losing our licenses with every press of the accelerator.
The description “stealth fighter,” when describing Cadillac’s art & science design, has been thrown around more than a Muhammad Ali opponent. That being said, the current ATS-V truly reminds one of the F-117A airplane. The F-117A shocked with its angular design, much like Cadillac’s first look at this design language. The masses are used to the angular Cadillacs now, but this may be the pinnacle of the look. The functional air extractor on the hood is both functional and aggressive. The dark gray wheels fit well with our Phantom Gray metallic paint. Modern, aggressive, and pleasing is our overall take. The only nose crinkling part is the rear side of the vehicle, which is awkwardly proportioned without a door. I will say it looks much better than the last generation CTS-V coupe.
The motivation for the ATS-V is the twin-turbo, direct injection 3.6-liter V-6. This high-tech beauty produces 464 horsepower and 445lb-ft of torque. It truly is a magnificent technical achievement. The only reason to miss a V-8 at this point is to hear a rumble a 6 cylinder cannot possibly produce. The quad exhaust has baffling to keep things quiet at lower or cruising speeds, but really growls when your mood turns subdued into a four letter word. Although we would have loved to try out the 6-speed manual transmission, our car was blessed with one of the better automatics around, a well-tuned 8-speed.
Slip into the optional Recaro seats and one will find a perfectly adjustable, comforting grip, thanks to the power side bolsters. The leather and sueded microfiber combination is exactly what one dreams of in a sports coupe. It is even comfortable for tall people, a rarity in sport coupes. The steering wheel is just the right thickness, and the rest of the interior has the right amount of sporty carbon fiber and fine leather.
The back seat in a coupe always has questionable use for human beings, but the ATS-V coupe back seat is extra difficult for inserting oneself. If you have a child safety seat to install, as we did, it may just barely squeeze past the door opening. Removal of our test seat was no breeze either. We did not have the pleasure of driving the sedan version, but highly recommend it. It is the much more practical and better looking sibling of the fraternal twins.
Cadillac’s infamous Cue infotainment system is front and center in this ball of lightning. The graphics on the Cue a prettier version of what is other current GM vehicles, which is a good thing. The screen in the Cadillac is capacitive though, which means no using it with regular gloves on. One can get used to the touch functions, but we found ourselves using the volume on the steering wheel before bothering with the center console. The latter is more responsive and less lag prone. What do I mean? One example was using the heated seats. Touching the button twice often resulted in a delay, making the user wants to touch it again. The problem is the system actually took all inputs, and will overshoot the desired setting after it finally executes the commands seconds later. Infuriating was the most common thought in our heads.
There is an added bonus in the ATS-V, the Performance Data Recorder (PDR). Enabling the PDR uses a camera and various data to record a session, mostly useful at the track. It can overlay data such as speed, engine revolutions per minute (RPM), and time onto the video and audio recording. The video can be played back when stopped, or even downloaded to an SD card to load into a computer.
Press the remote start button on the ATS-V Coupe, and one is immediately greeted with a growl, whic places a mischievous smirk on the driver’s face. Is it the same smirk of a V-8 driver? No, but it is still quite satisfying. This is not a typical Cadillac for AARP members, but one infused with the fountain of youth. Once securely strapped in, place the car into drive and ease into the throttle. Why ease into it? 464 horsepower on tap means exceeding the speed limit on most city streets, or squealing the tires as the stability control desperately tries to save them. This vehicle was meant for the track or high speed twisty roads out in the country, which show off the impressively tuned electric power steering. If somebody had not told me it did not have hydraulic steering, I might not have known. It is that good. The 6 water and oil coolers will help the ATS-V stay cool and collected on those hard drives.
We did not have the ability to get to a track, but it certainly has the grip and accompanying stiff ride available to hug those curves. The electronic limited slip differential and plethora of traction management settings (wet, dry, sport1, sport2, and race) mean every surface can and will be conquered. Using launch control, one has the ability to hit 60mph in 3.8 seconds, then travel up to 189mph on a track. Trust us when we say we believe it will pull strongly up to that mark, only reached by V-12 supercars 2 decades ago.
All of this performance does not mean this vehicle does not do well in the city. After all, the magnetic ride control shocks are adjustable. Just set the car in tour mode (sport, track, and snow/ice modes are also available) and all is right in the world. The ride is better than competitors such as the Lexus RC-F and really makes it comfortable for daily driving. It is in city traffic where we did not miss the manual. Helping matters is a transmission smart enough to quickly discern the driver is intending to drive in a sporting manner. Once it realized the driver’s intentions, it somehow always ended up in the right gear, and holding it at the right second. It was a brilliant moment, which dimmed the light on the hopes of manual transmissions around the world. If you want control, there is always the manual mode with magnesium paddle shifters, which is always a thrilling option.
Stopping the ATS-V is an excellent way to test out the safety belts, as one is pressed up against them. The Brembo brakes behind those 18-inch wheels and sticky Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires elicit a “Wow!” feeling at every fast stop, while the car stays as level as a slab of granite. The pedal feel is perfect and outdoes many BMWs. It is the secure feeling the brakes bring which allows one to push the limits of the car. Take off again and the bi-modal exhaust opens up, before settling down to luxury quiet level at normal highway cruising speeds. It is a nice split personality most adults can appreciate.
When pulling into the gas pump, one will be glad to know the ATS-V is slightly more miserly than V8 powered vehicles. It is rated for 19 miles per gallon (mpg) city and 24mpg highway. We averaged 19 in spirited, mostly city driving.
It takes the optional safety and security package ($1,500) to get beyond the safety devices found on most cars, but it is surprisingly not standard on our car, which stickered at $76,940. Granted, some money could be saved by not getting the $6,195 track performance package, but why skip such pleasure? The optional safety package offers forward collision alert, lane keep assist, lane departure warning, lane change alert, and more. However, there is no mention of forward collision avoidance. These features were not on our test vehicle, so we are unable to describe their performance. Come on Cadillac, you can make advanced safety standard in the year 2016.
The Cadillac ATS-V Coupe is no doubt the best small American performance luxury coupe in existence. This is admittedly a small class, but it also holds its own against the likes of the Lexus RC-F and BMW M4. Its ability to offer quiet indulgence on a highway cruise and grunting beauty on the curves is a fine balance Cadillac seems to have achieved. The Achilles heel of the V is the same as its lesser siblings, Cue. We are not luddites saying a capacitive touch can never perform as well as the old standards, but maybe Cadillac should hire some Apple engineers to make things work properly. Is the ATS-V too much performance for every day driving? Quite possibly, but we do not think the even the Performance V-6 model would satisfy a person lusting for the ATS-V. We do wholeheartedly recommend any owner invest in some track events to really get the most out of the vehicle. The limits just cannot be reached on the street. If one has the bank balance to afford it, we recommend the ATS-V. If it were our money, we would look into the more practical sedan version.