Recently, much of the GM Authority staff attended the 2015 Midwest Automotive Media Association Spring Rally at Road America, in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. We spent two days with dozens of vehicles, but we made it a point to collectively drive the 2016 Cadillac ATS-V and ATS-V Coupe. Here’s what we think:
Before driving the 2016 Cadillac ATS-V, I had very high hopes. Sometimes, when you hype something so much, your experience feels lackluster to what you were expecting. The 2016 ATS-V is not one of those experiences. After driving the ATS-V on the track and on the road, it’s clear Cadillac had more in mind than just outgunning the BMW M4.
It’s tactful, responsive and powerful in all the right ways. Driving the ATS-V on the streets is a peach with either the eight-speed auto or six-speed manual gearbox, with plenty of comfort and dampening. But when you’re ready, moving the car into track mode creates an entirely different animal. It burbles louder, and feels tighter. Not to mention, the rev-matching downshifts with the manual make the ATS-V a breeze to whip around the track while increasing the feeling of engagement.
Sure, materials and design could be better inside, the gauges are plain-jane (why is the tachometer not front and center?) and there is little to identify beyond the Recaro seats and red gauge font that one is sitting inside a V-Series. But the feel of this car will have you begging for another lap. And at the end of the day, it’s all about the feel.
Yours truly was only able to drive the 2016 Cadillac ATS-V on the track, equipped with the 8L90 8-speed automatic. I’ll count my losses; it’s an absolutely tremendous car regardless. Through the corners of Road America, the Cadillac ATS-V is quick, poised, and predictable. No, it’s not as direct and unfiltered as a dedicated track star like a Corvette or some of the high-performance Camaro variants – nor should it be. Cadillac has managed (somehow, by the grace of God and science) to engineer a product which is both plush and comfortable enough for a luxury road car, and yet able to inspire absolute confidence on the race course. No engineering compromises necessary.
The only aspect of the 2016 Cadillac ATS-V with which one could possibly take umbrage is that it utilizes forced-induction, instead of having a larger-displacement normally-aspirated mill. In practice, that’s truly a non-issue. The ATS-V is simply never wanting for more torque, regardless of where you are in the RPM range, and the 8-speed auto is a perfect partner-in-crime to the powerplant. And sure, you do perhaps lose something in terms of the quality of the exhaust note, but it’s quite likable regardless.
Cadillac’s Alpha platform has received no shortage of praise for its driving dynamics, and it feels as capable as ever in the 2016 Cadillac ATS-V. The steering is direct, and the car just begs you to keep pushing it harder on the track. There were a lot of good performance cars at the MAMA Spring Rally, but if I had to pick one to thrash lap after lap, it would probably be this composed and capable Cadillac. The amount of feedback provided by the chassis and steering makes it easy to drive on the track, whereas more numb-feeling cars like the BMW M4 can be a bit difficult to drive fast. It should also be noted that the M4 and ATS-V use the same ZF-sourced steering rack, but the Cadillac’s steering feels noticeably better. A hat tip to the engineering team, to be sure.
The ATS-V also feels more direct and less soft than the M4, giving way to a more planted and rigid ride on the road. I also felt the ATS-V had a bit more interior noise than the BMW, as well. But thanks to the selectable driving modes, the ATS-V can loosen up a bit by simply dialing the selector into Tour mode. There is good, strong stopping power from the Brembo brakes and they will be more than enough for most buyers, but I wish there were slotted rotors, or at least an option for them. I’m sure the standard Brembos are more than enough for most consumers, but the M4’s base brakes are drilled and slotted and there is also a carbon fiber ceramic option. For a similar price, consumers may wonder why the BMW’s brakes are slotted and the Cadillac’s brakes aren’t.
When I first drove the ATS-V, I actually hopped directly out of the BMW M4 Cabriolet and into the Cadillac. Immediately I noted the ATS-V’s interior simply wasn’t as detailed. The BMW had shiny carbon fiber, which looks much more high-end than the matte carbon used on the ATS-V. It had blue ‘M’ stitching on the wheel, and M-branding everywhere you look. It felt special inside, whereas the ATS-V felt mostly like a standard ATS. There’s a bit of a lack of V- badging and of special stitching (Cadillac’s badge colors include gold and red. How cool would gold and red stitching be?). The tachometer and speedometer are a slight improvement from the downright bland gauges found on the standard ATS, but compared to the C63 and the frankly awesome LFA-style gauges in the RC-F, they feel way behind. It wouldn’t be so bad if the HUD was standard. Yet, it’s possible to overlook this thanks to its intoxicating performance.
Owners of the outgoing 556 horsepower CTS-V may miss having that supercharged V8 soundtrack if they replace their car with the 2016 Cadillac ATS-V, but they won’t be saying the 464 twin-turbocharged LF4 V6 in the ATS-V is slow by any means. The turbo lag is nearly non-existent and the engine pulls hard all the way through most of the rev range. One could even say it’s beautifully violent. There is an onslaught of torque, and just when you think it’s all done, you pull the paddle on the 8L90E eight-speed automatic or select another gear with the six-speed manual and the bombardment of performance and power continues. Makes you feel alive.
My conclusion is that I think Cadillac and General Motors enthusiasts will love it, but the interior doesn’t feel like the standard of what the BMW and/or Mercedes-Benz performance driver is used to. Though for the waves of German luxury enthusiasts that have been alienated by the plushy direction their cars have been going, the ATS-V will deliver solace.
There has never been a true American rival to the BMW M3. The Cadillac CTS-V in the past has represented the best effort put forward over the past decade or so, but its first two iterations came in the form of a tweener model, with proportions and power numbers close to the BMW M5, for M3 pricing. And, while a great driver’s car, the CTS-V was compromised, whether it was its tubby curb weight when compared to the M3 or sub-par luxuries in the cabin when compared to the M5.
With the 2016 Cadillac ATS-V Sedan and ATS-V Coupe, such compromise was shredded to pieces. Because the BMW M3 was supposedly the only one car Cadillac had in mind when the first-ever ATS-V was in development.
Mechanically, the two follow a very similar recipe. Twin-turbo six: check, RWD: check, similar curb weight: check, ZF steering rack: check. Yet the ATS-V benefits from more power, highly-responsive magnetic ride control, brakes from Brembo and what feels like a more dialed in steering calibration. As a result, the ATS-V hugs curves with gusto and the 464 hp LF4 twin-turbo V6 blasts the car forward on corner exit like a private jet.
I have driven the latest-generation BMW M3, M4 and M4 Convertible, making it easy for me to draw comparisons between the Bavarian standard and the American ATS-V. To summarize, the BMWs today are cold, calculated machines that numbingly comply with its driver’s actions. Sensation from them, frankly, is lacking. And while the ATS-V also boasts isolated driving characteristics, it still feels degrees more lively and engaging than the BMWs do. Especially with a six-speed manual transmission with the Active Rev Matching algorithm.
A mixed-material American knife.
However. As a preference — and I’m far from alone here — I will continually feel that the 2016 Cadillac ATS-V should trade in its pair of turbos for two more naturally aspirated cylinders. I left the ATS-V wanting more howl, more burble, and more aggression with every precise downshift, every redline and every green light I came across. The LT1 V8 is nothing short of a stellar engine; one that’s linear, lightweight, packages well, is extremely powerful and surprisingly fuel efficient. Not to mention, it would put the ATS-V in a more unique offering space, differentiating itself positively from the M3. And if you’re already Daring Greatly to be different from the status quo by considering the Cadillac, you may appreciate that as well.