We have spent extensive time with the Cadillac ATS-V. And we recently tested the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio Verde (QV) as well. With both vehicles fresh in our minds, notes jotted down, and feelings still lingering, we figured it to be a strong opportunity to compare the two. They are both, without question, the driver’s choice in their segment, thanks to their incredible chassis tuning, rear-wheel-drive dynamics, and relatively light weight for the class. Let’s begin.
At an SAE-rated 464 horsepower and 445 lb-ft of torque, the LF4 twin-turbo V6 engine was the most powerful vehicle in its segment, for a while. A 4.2-second 0-60 time also comes at the rush of being sucked through a vacuum tube. At least, that’s what the engine noise suggests. The LF4, more than any other GM engine before it, sounds like a pissed-off Dyson at full chat from the inside. The sound coming out the BMW-mimicking exhaust pipes is crisp and raspy, if not a little restrained. Power delivery, sent through either through the 8L90 8-speed automatic or a six-speed manual transmission is strong down low (peak torque starts at 2,400 rpm) in the power band, and hearty through 6,000 RPM. Then it just… runs out. The lack of power between 6,000 and the 6,500 rpm redline does dilute the driving experience a bit, as the fun of running out a gear is minimized. The LF4 would rather have its user shift early. On the flip side, the six-speed manual transmission is a definitive unique selling proposition that the ATS-V offers here in North America, unlike the Giulia QV. This matters.
Then there’s the Italian Alfa Romeo’s purely paisano powertrain panache. Paisano because of the brotherly benefits the Giulia QV receives from Ferrari. The engine is a Ferrari V8 with two cylinders missing, and the whole vehicle program was developed by an elite handpicked team led by Ferrari 458 Speciale chief engineer Philippe Krief. There’s a seductive push-button start right there on the flat-bottom steering wheel. And the soundtrack is nothing less than a mechanical interpretation of the Biscione growl before it swallows up cowering men as if they were Ciauscolo sausages. But that can only be unlocked in “Race” mode. Why there isn’t a simple button to open up those exhaust valves is one of those quirky head-scratchers that Alfa exhibits seemingly with every car they’ve ever offered. The 505-horsepower punch coming from that snarling 90-degree 2.9L twin-turbo V6 is also delivered in a different way than how the Cadillac provides thrust. Blessed with a 7,250 rpm redline, the crescendo builds and builds, all the way to the redline finale, where a swift flick of the massive (appropriately column mounted) upshift paddle directs the transmission to swiftly claw into another gear. Sheer joy and satisfaction are guaranteed every time, even if it’s only available in automatic.
Winner: Alfa Romeo.
The driving dynamics are incredibly close here, but the Alfa Romeo does every single thing with more gusto, more power, and a completely different personality than the Cadillac. But the Alfa Romeo is also far more on the edge. The very character of the Giulia QV is that of initial defiance, especially in Race mode. And at times, it feels like domesticating a wild horse. The process turns into a hard dance of figuring out how the car likes it, rather than what the driver thinks it wants. And in this dance, Giulia is the lead. Only when the driver can earn the respect of Giulia will they ever find control. Finding this space can be both equal parts challenging and rewarding, as the assertive telepathy from the steering wheel, the damn fine suspension, and the adhesive Pirelli P Zero Corsa Asimmetrico 2 tires will gladly communicate with the driver to achieve a visceral enlightenment. The result is a memorable accomplishment.
Alfa Romeo’s DNA driving modes offer varying flavors of spice, with “Race” highlighted red on the rotary dial as a bonus track. Race mode is the only mode where the exhaust is fully activated, so it’s the only mode the Giulia QV needs to be driven in. Race mode also gives the ride a supercar firmness, disengages the stop/start function, and overboosts the turbochargers to amplify throttle response (and erotic mechanical noises). For more pedestrian days, the Dynamic or Natural modes are impressively compliant, especially for how stiff Race mode is, even without the magnetic dampers enjoyed by the Cadillac. The brake-by-wire system makes the pedal feels overboosted and firm, which can feel abrupt at lower speeds, but does negate pulsing sensations. More spirited driving and corner carving reveals the reasoning for such a firm bite. The Brembo carbon ceramic disc brakes, measuring a generous 360 mm in the front and 350 mm in the rear, can withstand Nurburgring-levels of punishment, and can wash speed off from 60-0 in just 100 feet, basically even with the Cadillac. Like we said, this car is a dancer.
Piloting the ATS-V is less of taming a wild animal, and more of a tutorial. The multiple driving modes, both from the console-embedded selector as well as the initially-hidden PTM system, encourage gradual ramping up of one’s abilities and Dares Greatly to test the lateral grip of the Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires. In PTM Sport 2 or even Race mode, the Cadillac ATS-V is fully alive, and the layers of computerized systems that disengage the driver from sensation are as peeled back as they can be, and with the integrated Performance Data Recorder, drivers can log their progress in real-time. The gradual elevation in difficulty makes the ATS-V very approachable for the uninitiated, but comes short of satisfying the utterly desensitized among us. In contrast, the Alfa Romeo exposes and punishes all vulnerabilities of novices, and aims to please only the darkest of driving deviants.
Winner: Alfa Romeo
By no means is either vehicle an eyesore. Both are visually striking. The Cadillac ATS-V radiates with sharpened angles that Giorgetto Giugiaro would be proud of and is a design bound to age well into the next century, even if the rear exhaust pattern apes the BMW M3 too obviously.
The Alfa Romeo with its radical aerodynamics and iconic triangular grille. Just ignore people calling its somewhat beakish face the “Owlfa”. Of course, design is entirely subjective, and it’s hard to choose between these two distinct lookers. But if there was a Beretta pointed at our heads, we’re going to have to make a decision.
Anybody setting themselves within the cabin of the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio for the first time will quickly realize that the car means business. Obvious clues are the carbon fiber framed performance seats, vibrant stitching, more carbon accents, and the most inspired steering wheel and instrument panel in anything with four doors. The (column mounted!) gear selectors are large enough to resemble daggers, while the red push-button start is capable of turning on the driver before the ignition even fires. Are all of the materials perfect? No, not really. The electronic gear selector could have come from a discount store, and the cupholder situation can certainly induce an eye-roll. Regardless of the nitpicking, the interior of the Alfa Romeo sets new standards of athletic intent from all major components. Big paddles, a perfect steering wheel, a vibrant IP and a big-red-go-button all contribute to its paisano panache.
From the outside, general onlookers tend to understand that the Cadillac ATS-V is fast. Its wider stance, hood extractor, and quartet of tail pipes imply all of that. There’s not much on the inside to imply the same. The Recaro seats, sure. The minimal V-badging, yeah. But that’s it. That’s not to say we aren’t fans of mature and subtle looks – Alex himself drives an ATS and Sean’s gone the route of the even sleepier looking Chevy SS performance sedan. It’s just that the gauge cluster remains terribly uninspired, the CUE interface has not changed much, and we can’t say we’re that fond of the (optional) alcantara wrapped steering wheel. Its fuzzy texture can also be a tad slippery.
Winner: Alfa Romeo
A concerning amount of automotive outlets have reported buggy experiences with their Alfa Romeo Giulia QV media cars. Some for failing to complete a lap around a track without a Check Engine light emerging (this is a car that holds the Nurburgring record for sedans), and others completely broke down under simple highway driving. It’s obviously not a good first impression for a brand re-entering a rather commodified and extremely competitive segment. Italian brands have historically struggled with quality in high-volume, commodified segments. Exotic marques like Ferrari and Lamborghini have also been known to spontaneously combust for no reason, but they continue to be given a pass due to their sheer curb appeal. So the news that early Giulia QV builds are experiencing problems plays into a negative stereotype, while also coming in at an extremely inconvenient time. Alfa Romeo is crucial for the future of FCA because it’s where the future underpinnings of Dodge will trickle down from.
All of that said, we put 1,400 miles on one – likely more than just about any other outlet – and the experience featured none of the glitches that have been reported elsewhere. We were able to enjoy our road trip from Detroit to Montreal and back with a ride that was surprisingly comfortable with exotic overtones. Canadians loved looking at that car.
In the case of the ATS-V, the Cadillac has seemed to have mostly dodged any reporting of catastrophic failures in the hands of the press – unlike what recently happened with the Giulia QV at VIR in the hands of Car & Driver. Though it doesn’t take long to pull up serious powertrain failures on various forums. Our ownership experiences with an ATS 2.0T haven’t been entirely perfect, either. But it does seem that right now Cadillac is winning in initial quality over the Alfa. Which is a good thing, because nobody really wants to spend time in a rural GM dealership.
The pragmatically named Alfa Romeo Information and Entertainment System utilizes a center-console-mounted rotary dial that controls the optional 8.8-inch infotainment screen. The dial could be tilted in each compass direction, flanked by a large Menu button on the left and an Option button to the right. These controls are supplemented by a separate radio control volume knob that also has the power to skip tracks or go back. Voice commands are also accounted for. There’s just a slight learning curve to it, but being able to rest the hand over the IES controls and pick up the muscle memory that’s quickly gained from a tactile knob quickly makes the experience seamless. However, the 2017 model-year Giulia family does not feature Apple CarPlay nor Android Auto, but will feature these traits for 2018. The Cadillac ATS family already does.
Cadillac has made strides to update its CUE system, as seen by a more user-friendly layout found in the much larger CT6 sedan and XT5 crossover, with a rationed amount of actual buttons and knobs. There’s also the latest version (CUE 3) in the 2017i CTS sedan, which immensely speeds up processing power, but still features nay a button nor knob. The ATS has yet to reap any of these benefits, although the third-gen CUE system reaches the ATS for the 2018 model year.
Winner: Alfa Romeo
This one, like the handling, is incredibly close. Both the Cadillac and the Alfa Romeo are optimized for the driver. The seating positions are optimal. The sight lines are track-ready. Both cars have floor-mounted pedals, both have metal shift paddles, and both have athletic seat bolsters. The Alfa just feels a slice or two sharper. The flat bottom steering wheel, wonderfully large paddle shifters, and infotainment controls all play to its favor here.
Winner: Alfa Romeo
The numbers don’t lie: The Alfa has 35.1 inches of rear legroom and 37.6 inches of rear headroom, while the ATS-V Sedan has 33.5 and 36.8, respectively. In fact, the Cadillac has the least amount of rear seat space in its class, for those that care. Normally, this vehicle segment tends to skew towards more personal use. The coupe even more so. It just was a surprise to find the Alfa Romeo’s backseat to be less cramped.
Winner: Alfa Romeo
As the entire segment continues to creep closer and closer to $100,000, both performance vehicles are unquestionably expensive. As tested, the Cadillac ATS-V comes in at$60,695 starting MSRP. But let’s talk about the options. There’s the $5,000 Carbon Fiber Package, $2,500 Luxury Package, the $2,000 8L90 8-speed automatic transmission option, and several grand more of various options, totalling $17,045. This blackened ATS-V was topped out with content, and tipped the scales with a $78,735 sticker price.
In the case of the Alfa Romeo, which starts at $72,000, the most expensive add-on is the $1,595 destination charge. Then comes the $1,200 Customer Preferred Package, yielding forward collision and lane departure warning alerts, automatic high beam control, and an infrared windshield (which deflects the rays of the sun). The Harmon Kardon audio system is listed at $900, the Montecarlo Blue paint job is $600, the 19-inch wheels are an additional $500, and the carbon fiber steering wheel is listed at $400. The total price for this 505-hp Italian predator? $77,195.
The ATS-V is underpowered to the Alfa, heavier than the Alfa, and is not as nimble around the track (despite being incredibly capable). Nevertheless, in this instance, it costs more. Yet, the Cadillac is perceived to be a more risk-averse option when the quality is considered. And there’s both the truth of starting at a lower MSRP, as well as the Alfa Romeo offering unfavorable lease deals.
Verdict: Alfa Romeo
We theorize that somewhere in development, it feels as if the ATS-V lost the plot of being a uniquely American offering in an import-dominated segment. It didn’t get a V8, and therefore it sometimes feels as if it suffers from copycat syndrome. At the end of it all, its European-inspired appeal tends to be eclipsed by actual European cars, while the remaining American features fall into negative stereotypes, like dealers struggling to sell them to their familiar customer base.
Meanwhile, the Alfa Romeo Giulia QV is representative of what has always made the brand so enchanting, even if the quality clichés suggest consumer caution. Regardless, the awakened emotions from driving an Alfa Romeo in any location, in any condition, shouts over any nay-say and doubts coming from the logical receptacles of the brain. It’s a passion play through and through, and both looks and plays the part, and serves as a reminder for brands to be themselves.
For what it’s worth, the ATS family is significantly older than the Giulia, and will be replaced by an all-new model likely called Cadillac CT3 in the not-too-distant future. Whether that model has a high-performance CT3-V derivative is currently unknown. But if it does, here’s to hoping that it addresses the weak points of the ATS-V.