2016 Cadillac ATS-V First Review

By Matt Degen on April 28, 2015 2:37 PM

When Cadillac introduced the ATS compact sports sedan in 2013, it signaled a fresh direction for the luxury automaker. Rather than rely on stodgy land yachts like the DTS to build volume, the division was looking to go right at the heart of the entry-level luxury market with a credible rival to the benchmark BMW 3 Series. This stylish, cutting-edge model's mission is to attract a far younger generation of buyers. 

Fast-forward two years and the automotive attitude adjustment is in full effect. That initial ATS sedan garnered critical acclaim and led shortly after to a stylish coupe variant. On a larger scale, the ATS not only asserts itself as an alluring entry to the luxury brand, but also foreshadows other models with a similar mission to prove the new Cadillac is as much about power and style as its legacy models were about comfort and quiet. Sure, the new-gen Cadillacs can still be serene, but when called into action they will dance with the best European rivals.

V-Series is about performance

Proof of this is nowhere more evident than the all-new 2016 Cadillac ATS-V, which goes on sale in the coming weeks. Though in moniker it differs by only one letter from the standard ATS, in reality the two are worlds apart. As even a casual Cadillac fan probably knows, the V-Series represents the brand's performance line. Similar to BMW's M or Mercedes-Benz's AMG, V-Series models have always been the wild ones of the Cadillac clan, fitted with Corvette-derived engines and performance parts.

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Yet even here the ATS-V goes its own way, and it's the better for it. For example, whereas the past CTS-V could feel like an edgy brute, the new ATS-V is a balanced performer with an excellent blend of track-ready skills and commuter-friendly everyday drivability. Key among the reasons why is the ATS-V's heart, a twin-turbocharged 3.6-liter V6 that cranks out V8-like horsepower.

Don't let that displacement number mislead you. Though it shares that liter figure with the naturally aspirated V6 in the standard ATS sedan and coupe, this turbo V6 is specific to the ATS-V. The potent powerplant is Cadillac's first use of a twin-turbo engine in a V-Series car, and it packs even more bite than the twin-turbo V6 used in the current Cadillac CTS. In the ATS-V, the engine is good for 464 horsepower, 44 above the variant in the CTS. The 445 lb-ft, torque is equally impressive. In both track driving and around town, this engine was just one part of a wholly exceptional driving experience.

Track star

To prove the car's mettle, Cadillac invited us to Austin. In addition to terrific music and food, this Texas capital is home to the Circuit of the Americas, a 3.41-mile, 20-turn track where the only Formula 1 race in the U.S. is held. Suffice to say, it would do for fleshing out the new Cadillac ATS-V sedan and coupe. 

And true to the hype, Cadillac's smallest V-Series sedan and coupe is indeed "track-ready." From its specially developed 18-inch Michelin Pilot Super tires to its standard Brembo brakes and aerodynamic front splitter, the ATS-V is built for the kind of performance that far exceeds even the most spirited commute. At least, we're assuming that you don't hit 189 mph on your way to the office, this baby Caddy's top speed.

But it's the way the engine, transmission, suspension and chassis work together that make the ATS-V so capable -- and fun -- on a track. The 3.6-liter twin-turbo is a marvel, spitting out nearly as much power as the V8 used in the latest Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG, and 39 more than the turbo-6 in the BMW M3 and M4. It adds up to a high-performance Cadillac that's as capable in a straight line (the ATS-V can go 0-60 mph in 3.8 seconds) as it is clinging to the tarmac in hairpin turns. 

Electronic aids and choice of transmission

Like the best traction-management systems, the ATS-V offers multiple modes and settings to keep the car in check. On the conservative end, the rear-drive Cadillac ATS-V's Wet mode keeps a tight leash on traction if you have to drive in inclement weather. On the other end, it will let you slide to your heart's content. For our purposes, we put it in Track mode and from there chose a middle-traction setting. This allowed us to slide the car around COTA's hair pin turns just enough to have fun before the system intervened.

Both the 5-passenger sedan and 4-passenger coupe can be had with an 8-speed automatic transmission or a 6-speed manual. Both perform very well. The 8-speed is utterly smooth; elect to shift by paddles, and you may not even perceive what's happening below. Credit also must be given to the manual. Whereas the clutch pedal in the old CTS-V could give your leg a workout, the one in the ATS-V is light, and shifts are crisp. In addition to offering rev-matched downshifts, the manual offers "no-lift shifting." This lets you keep your foot firmly planted on the accelerator when shifting. It's a neat feature that enables higher speeds, but definitely takes some getting used to.

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And we must mention the Performance Data and Video Recorder. Similar to the one introduced on the latest-gen Corvette, this system records your drive in high-definition video, complete with data overlays, to view and learn from later. If you've had a particularly good lap, you can even share it with soon-to-be-envious friends on social media channels.

It's worthy on the road, too

The ATS-V is significantly stiffer than the standard ATS, but it's not punishing in everyday driving conditions. We suggest selecting Touring mode for the most pleasant ride. Tire noise was pronounced on rougher sections of Austin's roadways, but far more subdued in highway driving. One warning about the power: You'll want to go easy on the throttle when accelerating from a full stop. There's so much that it's easy to do an inadvertent burnout. At higher speeds on Texas' 80-mph toll roads, the ATS-V was all too eager to accelerate even at that clip. 

As with the standard ATS --especially the coupe -- sightlines are compromised due to exterior styling. If you're going to plunk down the $61,460 it takes to step into the ATS-V sedan (the coupe starts at $63,660) we recommend spending the extra $1,850 on the Safety and Security Package that includes blind-spot monitoring.

Our first road-going exposure to the 2016 ATS-V left us more than impressed. Cadillac has finally created a compact sports sedan that can more than hold its own with the best of what Europe offers. In fact, we dare say that rivals may just find themselves playing catchup to Cadillac. 

More Small Luxury Sedans...

Check out our Small Luxury Sedan Buyer's Guide to see what's new and what's next.

 

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