The 2016 Cadillac ATS-V is the American answer to Germany’s luxury/sport sedans and coupes: the BMW M3/M4 and the Mercedes-AMG C63. While taking on established brands on their own territory is tough work, the ATS-V is armed to the teeth for just such a battle.
At first glance, the 2016 ATS-V, whether in coupe or sedan form, has a visual presence that clearly marks it out as something more than the ordinary luxury car. Wide, flared fenders, low, aggressive aerodynamics, and a high-flow, yet still very Cadillac grille all speak to its capability and market positioning. Inside, it’s more of the same, with the ATS’s already very nice interior enhanced with performance-themed touches, including race-inspired Recaro seats, available carbon fiber-look trim, and sueded leather accents.
It’s under the hood where the real magic happens with the ATS-V. A 3.6-liter turbocharged V-6 rated at 464 horsepower and 445 pound-feet of torque, mated to either a six-speed manual transmission or an eight-speed automatic. Rear-drive is the only configuration available, a choice that performance purists will relish. The transmissions are both fun to drive, and while the six-speed manual transmission is the more likely pick for the enthusiast, the eight-speed automatic is actually the quicker to accelerate, and, for most, easier and better to use on track thanks to Cadillac’s brilliant performance shift algorithms. At the rear end is an electronically controlled limited-slip differential that both applies power progressively and controllably, and also helps adjust the car’s rotational attitude.
Backing up that fierce powerplant and drivetrain is a stiff aluminum and steel chassis, advanced magnetic dampers, and the excellent Performance Traction Management (PTM) system. This combination of strong fundamental structure, computer-controlled damping, and computer-controlled traction and yaw result in a degree of driver-friendliness and approachability that’s truly rare in a car with this large a performance envelope. Even at well above 450 horsepower, the ATS-V is easy to drive near the limit.
Enhancing the ease of driving is a feature you’ll find in several other brands, as well: rev-matched downshifts, even with the manual transmission. While the shift motion of the six-speed manual is a bit ropier than we’d like (a short shifter and some bushings may fix this in the aftermarket), the combination of rev-matched downshifts, three pedals, and a stick make the ATS-V the best of all worlds to an enthusiast’s eyes—even without a dual-clutch offering.
Diving toward an apex, accelerating out of a hairpin, balancing on a knife’s edge through a rolling set of messes—whatever the task, the ATS-V coupe and sedan are more than up to the challenge of track use. They’re fun, able, and incredibly fast companions.
Some of the behind-the-scenes upgrades to the ATS-V that contribute to this world-class driving experience are things you might never really think about, but which matter nonetheless. The chassis is stiffer than the standard ATS thanks to a shock tower to plenum brace, a stronger rocker bulkhead, stronger rear cradle-to-rocker braces, V-braces for the engine compartment, and an aluminum shear panel at the front of the chassis.
Brakes are, perhaps, the one weak point of the ATS-V on track, though that’s more a matter of physics (and tire) than any fundamental failing. With large 14.5-inch Brembo brakes up front and 13.3-inch rotors in the rear, there’s plenty of stopping power—the ATS-V just feels a bit squirmy on full braking from speeds over 120 mph, a factor that’s likely down to the sheer weight of the car (about 3,700 pounds, on par for the class) and the somewhat narrow 255-mm front tires.
But you won’t always be on track in the ATS-V, and that’s the point. Underneath the race-bred and track-ready hardware, there’s still a very capable and enjoyable luxury sedan.
Like the standard ATS it’s based on, the ATS-V offers very good comfort and accommodation for the front-seat occupants. Custom-made race-inspired seats co-designed with Recaro embrace the occupants and hold them firmly in place with ample bolsters, but with a degree of comfort that is welcome—and uncommon—in such high-performance seats. The rear seat is snug, but serviceable even for taller adults, though knee and head room will be tight for those significantly over six feet.
Materials throughout the cabin are quality and suited to the low/mid-$60,000 price range of the ATS-V sedan and coupe. Leather surfaces feel both soft and durable, while the metal and plastic trim in the cabin feels solid and dependable—though compared to the likes of the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, especially the C63 AMG, the ATS-V’s materials do come up just a bit short on premium feel. It is, however, more or less on par with the BMW M3 and M4 cabins.
Features track right along the lines of the existing non-V-series ATS coupe and sedan: Cadillac’s CUE infotainment system with Bluetooth and voice recognition; a text-to-voice converter that reads incoming text messages aloud; USB, auxiliary input, and SD card reader; OnStar telematics support; and 4G LTE data connectivity with WiFi hotspot function. In the instrument panel, a 5.7-inch display offers unique V-series graphics and performance gauge readouts.
GM’s Performance Data Recorder is also available, enabling the driver to record video and audio as well as a wealth of data during high-performance driving, such as during track days or at the drag strip. With acceleration, grip, steering angle, braking pressure, throttle input, and much more data recorded, the PDR system can also overlay laps from session to session or driver to driver to help improve driving habits, analyze performance, and gain speed.