2016 Cadillac ATS-V: First Drive of Caddy's War Against Germany


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Cadillac has been producing some stellar performance cars over the past few years, but outside our geeky gearhead walls, the general consensus - rather unfairly - is that Cadillacs are still for old, withered gentleman with hips that beep every time they go through airport security.

It remains a long road, then, to educate the uneducated, and it's cars like the 2016 Cadillac ATS-V that must turn the tide.

This is a machine that rivals Mercedes' C63 AMG and the all-conquering BMW M3/M4. The BMW, in particular, defines the performance sedan/coupe segment. It's the benchmark from which we must all judge.

At our pre-drive briefing for the new ATS-V in Austin, Texas, at the Circuit of the Americas, Cadillac - worryingly - talked about how the ATS-V was its precise V-Series offering while the new CTS-V will be the blunt sledgehammer. I say worrying because the M3/M4 is a precision instrument, forgoing emotion in the quest for raw performance. Mercedes' C63, on the other hand, scores because it isn't precise at all, opting for a booming soundtrack and muscle car-like dynamics. It's perhaps not as capable as an M3 on track, but it's a proper riot to drive - and people like to have fun.

I feared Cadillac had attempted to take on BMW by being BMW.

Thankfully, after just a couple of laps, it was clear that wasn't the case: The ATS-V's character differs substantially, both from the Bimmer and the Merc. It straddles the lines between the two, offering buyers a worthy alternative. It's also bloody fast.

The 3.6-liter twin turbo V-6 - which features almost entirely new components when compared to the 3.6 from Caddy's V-Sport line - boasts 464 hp and 445 lb.-ft. of torque, a jump of 39 hp over the M3. It hits 60 mph in 3.8 seconds before topping out at 189 mph, but at 3,700 lbs., it is roughly 100 lbs. heavier than the BMW; while Caddy may say that the ATS-V is ?precise,? in comparison to the M3, it really isn't.

But it's also no brute. Some of that is down to the engine; weirdly, while it - like the BMW - features turbochargers, its additional lag while spooling up adds a bit more character. It's not seamless like other turbo motors, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's worse. Where it misses a trick, however, is in the sound. Cadillac had a real opportunity to put one over BMW and its fake-sound-nonsense by making the ATS-V roar like Shaq riding a demented buffalo, wooing disgruntled E90 M3 lovers in the process. Instead, it just sounds pleasant.

Behind the wheel, though, there's nothing mundane about it. You find yourself working like a pizza chef on a Saturday night - the car is loose on corner entry and exit, with a minor dollop of understeer in the middle. The exit oversteer, specifically, means you need fast hands to truly push the car to its limits.

I like that. I felt I earned my lap time - if I cocked up, I cocked up. If I nailed it, I savored that moment knowing I'd done my job correctly. The car won't do the work for you.

With the Magnetic Ride Control suspension set to Track mode (other modes are Touring and Sport), you're gifted five additional settings to fine-tune the traction/stability control. I chose the most aggressive setting, which removes all traction control but keeps just a smidgen of stability. I didn't switch it off entirely (which is a first for me) because having some computer assistance to limit the big snaps on corner exit was preferable. The system did intervene in some areas I wish it wouldn't, but being more confident on power down seemed like the preferred compromise. (In the M3/M4, you have to turn everything off when on track. It's just too intrusive.)

The ATS-V features the same clever electronic differential from the Corvette Z06 (as standard, I should add). It can vary between fully open, to help the car rotate into the turn, and practically fully closed (up to 2,000 Newton meters of preload), to help power down. Traction is, therefore, good; the back tires stepping out feels more like a lack of rear camber under heavy load.

Cornering grip is immense. The ATS-V actually produces net downforce at speed (with the optional Track Pack), something few sedans can claim. Compared to the outgoing CTS-V, which has the identical brake package despite being a heavier car, aero force at the end of the straight under braking is up 150 lbs. And that's likely why I didn't miss the carbon ceramic brakes you can often option with ze Germans. The steel Brembos shed speed plenty well, although the ABS does kick in a tad too soon.

From the base ATS, the toe links have been replaced with ball joints and every bushing is new. Lateral stiffness is up 25 percent thanks to things like a carbon fiber hood, and much work was done to the cooling to ensure us track-rats don't get too toasty; despite a bit of brake fade if I neglected a cool down lap, the ATS-V out lasted the Michelin Pilot Super Sports with ease.

Part of that may have been down to me doing one-too-many skids. In my defense, it's hard not to drift the ATS-V: A). The back end wants to come around whether you like it or not, and B). It's awesome at it. What's a fella to do?

Enter turn one, give the electric steering - which boasts reasonable feel, by the way - a slight tug to the right to initiate some weight transfer, and simply back it in to the left-hander. Mash the gas, the rear comes around and you can control the degree of sliding with ease. This car was built to go sideways, and I obliged. A lot.

Thorough testing, I'd say.

What else? The six-speed manual gearbox, with its rev-matching feature and no-lift-shifting, is a real charmer. That no lift shift enables you to keep your foot matted to the floor and simply stab the clutch while changing gear. It helps keep the turbos spooled up.

As for the eight-speed auto with its torque convertor clutch, well, it certainly saps some of the emotion from driving. Positives: It does a great job selecting the gears for a given corner when in auto mode, and it is quicker over a lap than with the stick. Negatives: When using the paddles the shift times simply aren't that fast, and there's no evocative snap, crackle or pop.

The auto isn't a dual clutch, which has become commonplace in most performance cars. Why? Caddy says that, without one in the current GM toolbox, it's too expensive to make, too heavy compared to the box they currently have, and not as fuel-efficient. The engineers would rather spend that money on creating a brilliant manual, and they believe there is a market for that.

I commend them, but there will come a time when GM needs to build an automatic gearbox that can rival the best dual clutches in existence - expensive or not. In fact, that time is probably already upon us.

Cadillac's V-Series line first arrived in 2004 with the debut of the CTS-V. Over the past decade, it's morphed into a highly capable performance sector within GM. Cadillac's new boss Johan De Nysschen made his feelings about the V-Series line decidedly clear in a recent Facebook post:

To the Germanmobile fanboys out there- your worst nightmare has arrived. I'm not referring to horsepower. I'm not referring to torque. I'm not referring to acceleration times. In these areas, you already know that you're whipped. No, I'm referring to driving dynamics. To handling, braking, steering, cornering. I predict there is a new Sheriff in town.
That's good news for us, and the ATS-V, the first V surfacing under his leadership, doesn't disappoint. Our test left us with little road time (what I did learn is that even in Touring mode the ride is quite harsh) focusing primarily on track work. While I'd say the ATS-V isn't as capable as the BMW, it remains more playful and, in some ways, more rewarding to drive.

Starting at $61,460 for the sedan ($63,660 for the coupe), the ATS-V is every bit the car it should be. It doesn't pretend to be German by wearing lederhosen and a silly hat. It stays true to America, continuing the automaker's push into a modern era.

And you don't need a fake hip to enjoy it.

Written By Alex Lloyd
I don't think you need to take a test drive, it's shape tells you everything you want. I love it's shape.

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