2016 Cadillac ATS-V First Test


Beating the Germans is never easy ? just ask the French ? yet automaker after automaker sets its sights on what's become the holy grail of German sports cars: the BMW M3. Many have tried to unseat the king, but thus far the likes of Cadillac, Lexus, and Volvo have yet to definitively succeed. Where others have failed, General Motors hopes the new 2015 Cadillac ATS-V provides the magic bullet. After spending a couple weeks with an automatic-equipped ATS-V Sedan and a manual-equipped ATS-V Coupe, I think it's safe to say that the General is on to something.

I imagine most are already intimately familiar with the ATS-V, Cadillac's hot new thing (along with the related CTS-V), so I'll offer up a quick refresher of Caddy's M-fighter. Built on GM's lightweight, rear-drive Alpha platform (which Cadillac will share with the next-generation Chevrolet Camaro), the ATS-V is powered by a 3.6-liter, twin-turbo V-6 that produces 464 hp and 445 lb-ft of torque. A V-8 will probably fit under the hood, but sadly none is offered. Buyers have the choice of a six-speed manual or a quick-shifting eight-speed automatic in addition to the choice of two- and four-door body styles.

Having already sampled an automatic-equipped ATS-V Coupe at Texas' Circuit of the Americas, we focused our efforts on two versions that we haven't touched: a manual-equipped ATS-V Coupe and an ATS-V Sedan automatic. Identically equipped save for the transmissions and the doors, the ATS-V Coupe was the lighter of the two, weighing 3,754 pounds to the sedan's 3,788. Lighter but not faster. The manual-equipped coupe runs to 60 mph from a standstill in 4.2 seconds and through the quarter mile in 12.6 seconds at 114.2 mph. The eight-speed-equipped ATS-V Sedan does the deed quicker, hitting 60 mph in 3.7 seconds and blasting through the quarter mile a half-second quicker ? 12.1 seconds at 116.2 mph. Where does the extra speed come from? Likely the sedan's fast-shifting automatic. As much as we love shifting our own gears, the ATS-V's somewhat notchy manual transmission just can't hold a candle to the slushbox when it comes to going quickly. The heavier sedan also manages to outbrake the coupe, the four-door needing 99 feet in the 60-0 mph stopping test to the two-door's 101.

The ATS-V Coupe makes up some ground when corners get thrown into the mix, but not much. On the skidpad, the ATS-V Coupe shows its potential, netting a 1.04g average, and the ATS-V Sedan musters up a 1.03g average. But again, the manual sadly proves to be the Coupe's undoing; its best figure-eight run was 23.9 seconds averaging 0.86 g, and the sedan managed an impressive 23.7-second time averaging 0.89 g.

For reference, the ATS-V Sedan essentially matches our long-term 2015 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Z51 in all performance metrics, and it does so with an extra 400 pounds in tow. Our long-term 'Vette does 0-60 in 3.8 seconds, goes through the quarter mile in 12.1 at 117.8 mph, and can lap the figure eight in 23.5 seconds while averaging 0.91 g. Outside the test track and out in the real world, the ATS-V in either form is a remarkable car. Its German rivals often feel like they were built as luxury cars first and sports cars second, but the ATS-V is the opposite. It's a sports car that just so happens to have a supple ride, leather interior, and a comfortable-for-its-size back seat. Already small, the ATS-V does what good sports cars do best and shrinks around the driver once it starts being pushed. The ATS-V is telepathic, becoming one with your body as it gets flung from corner to corner. The small-diameter steering wheel offers up the perfect amount of heft and feedback, and the magnetic shocks do their job and keep the V cornering flat.

Both transmissions are pretty good. From a driver's engagement perspective, the manual can't be beat. Its throws are notchier than I'd like, and the clutch has a vague engagement point, but it's ultimately a rewarding gearbox to row. The automatic is pretty good, too. As my cohort Scott Evans says, "It isn't PDK-perfect, but it does a pretty good imitation." Even in Track, the most aggressive of the ATS-V's driving modes (the others are Weather, Tour, and Sport), the automatic can be a bit too eager to upshift on partial-throttle applications and a little slow downshifting on heavy braking, though those are issues easily fixed by using the flappy paddles. Of the two transmissions, I'd probably opt for the automatic.

If there's anything to take issue with, it's the ATS-V's engine. It's not that the twin-turbo V-6 mill is a bad engine ? it's actually anything but. It's just that it's lacking in personality. It's too quiet. Cadillac V-cars are supposed to be loud and in-your-face ? the Guns N' Roses to BMW and Mercedes' Scorpions ? and this one just isn't. On its own, the new Cadillac ATS-V is another mighty step forward for the Cadillac brand and its V division. Each Cadillac V car has been better than the last, and the ATS-V deserves to be taken seriously. Although the ATS-V might not win any exhaust note battles (at least in stock form), it does represent a significant threat to BMW and Mercedes-Benz's factory sports cars. As for how the new ATS-V stacks up against its German counterparts in a Head 2 Head competition, well, stay tuned.


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