NEWS

What's the Best Luxury Performance Coupe?

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There’s a small group of cars that are as at home on the track as on the daily commute and they won’t break the bank. Our goal here was to test three of them against each other — on the street and on the track — and find out which one carried the day. The BMW is an established contender, but the other two are new.

Luxury Performance Coupe Challenge
Results | Performance Numbers | Mileage Test

The contenders:

  • 2015 BMW M4
  • 2016 Cadillac ATS-V
  • 2015 Lexus RC F

We put the three coupes through a week’s worth of testing:

  • We drove them on a 162-mile real-world mileage course.
  • We had our judges drive them back-to-back-to-back on the same pavement to evaluate ride, handling, comfort, acceleration and more.
  • We brought in an in-market shopper to test for street manners and more.
  • We took them to the Byron Dragway in Byron, Ill., for zero-to-60-mph testing, quarter-mile time and speed testing, and 60-to-zero-mph braking distance tests.
  • We took them to the Autobahn Country Club in Joliet, Ill., for a day on a road course, so our experts could feel how they handled under pressure.

From all of that, we found our winner. Our judges were:

  • Joe Bruzek, road test editor for Cars.com
  • Mike Hanley, senior editor for Cars.com
  • Joe Wiesenfelder, executive editor for Cars.com
  • Brian Robinson, producer for PBS’ “MotorWeek”
  • And Tim May, our in-market shopper, who is 40 and an equipment operator from Naperville, Ill.

The scoring broke down this way:

  • 60 percent from the judges’ scoring
  • 30 percent from the quantitative tests on the drag strip
  • 10 percent from the mileage drive

Here’s how they finished:

  1. 2015 BMW M4

    844 points

  2. 2016 Cadillac ATS-V

    803 points

  3. 2015 Lexus RC F

    692.2 points

1. 2015 BMW M4 844 points

The verdict: “The M4 is the priciest of the three by a considerable amount,” Bruzek said, “but it delivers all the go-fast goods an enthusiast should expect.”

What They Liked

Acceleration: “Right off the bat, this feels like a racecar,” May said. “This thing belongs on a racetrack; I don’t feel like I could over-drive this car. It’s so good.” This was his favorite of the three, and he wasn’t alone in handing out praise. Bruzek applauded its “throw-you-back-in-your-seat acceleration,” and found that its “aggressively tuned suspension and steering are the most rewarding of the group.”

Ride and Comfort: “It has all of the track performance without too harsh a ride penalty,” Robinson said.  And Hanley found that its “supportive front sport seats are also quite comfortable.” Wiesenfelder praised the M4 for the roomiest interior and trunk of the bunch.

Braking: Brakes are expensive on this M4, but so what? “I love big brakes, and I cannot lie,” Robinson quipped, while Wiesenfelder said it more plainly: “Great braking, on the track and off, with its grip linearity, pedal feel and fade resistance.” For May, he “didn’t care if these brakes don’t stop as well as the ATS-V’s, they just look cool.”

What They Didn’t

Noise and Exhaust Notes: “It doesn’t have the runaway advantage over the rest of this class like it used to,” Robinson said. “The tires and suspension allow a fair amount of road noise into the cabin,” Bruzek found, and even though he said that the M4 sounds great on the inside with its augmented engine sounds through the stereo, “the natural exhaust is buzzy and wheezy with the windows down.”

Steering: “The steering setup’s modest feedback is disappointing,” Hanley said, “isolating you a bit from the driving experience. And the dual-clutch transmission occasionally makes the car lurch forward when starting from a dead stop.”

Transmission: Wiesenfelder said that the “transmission’s automatic mode isn’t up to track duty,” and “even the relaxed stability mode is a complete buzz kill.”

Price: Robinson asked the key question about the M4’s price premium over its competition: “Can I really get $10,000 of additional performance out of this, or would I be just as happy with the RC F or ATS-V and use that money for track days?”

Research the 2015 BMW M4 | Search Inventory

 

2. 2016 Cadillac ATS-V 803 points

The verdict: “The ATS-V is a stunningly well-realized performance car with above-average aptitude for performing double-duty as a livable street car,” Wiesenfelder said.

What They Liked

Acceleration: The ATS-V and RC F are both newcomers to this scene, and the Cadillac won over the judges with its oomph. “The acceleration is terrific, and of its type, the manual transmission is a very good one with modern enhancements like rev-matching and no-lift shift,” Wiesenfelder said. “Unlike the M4, the variable stability system doesn’t sap the power or the fun.” “The engine’s twin-turbocharged power comes on fast and strong with great turbocharge noises from under the hood,” Bruzek said.

Handling: Hanley liked that it was “easy to approach the car’s track-handling limits thanks to the communicative chassis.”

Value: “All things considered, the ATS-V is the value choice here with standard features like the adaptive suspension, backup camera, and front and rear parking sensors,” Wiesenfelder said. “All of that helps mitigate the baffling lack of a full navigation system.”

What They Didn’t

Driving Modes: “The predetermined driving modes are pretty well executed,” Wiesenfelder said, “but drivers still want the kind of independent control over suspension, steering and powertrain that the M4 offers.” Bruzek agreed, and said that the ATS-V is “almost too stealthy in comfort-oriented modes.”

Space: Bruzek noted it has “the tightest interior of the three that doesn’t give much room for rear passengers or extra room for drivers.”

CUE System: Just about every judge disliked the Cadillac User Experience entertainment system. “It remains an imperfect way to operate the car’s features,” is the diplomatic way Hanley put it, while Wiesenfelder called it a “misfire” and Robinson sighed: “I’ve come to terms with the CUE touch-screen, but audio and climate touch-panel controls still bring me much frustration.”

Research the Cadillac ATS-V | Search Inventory

 

3. 2015 Lexus RC F 692.2 points

The verdict: “As great of a first effort as the RC F is, it still falls a little short in a few crucial areas,” Robinson said. “But, for the money and for most people’s driving plans, it’s more than capable. Being a red-blooded (possibly rednecked) American, V-8s are in my DNA, and that just makes me love the RC F even more.”

What They Liked

Street Manners: The Lexus had a “sporty, yet well-controlled ride quality for not having an adjustable firmness suspension” that won over Bruzek.

Seats: Hanley said that the “great sport seats are very comfortable.”

Exhaust Note: Both Bruzek and Wiesenfelder were fans. “It sounds the best of the three outside the car,” Wiesenfelder said, “though that’s the only advantage I’ve found for the extra two cylinders.”

Driving Fun: Hanley enjoyed “the drivetrain’s eagerness on the street in Sport S mode.” Bruzek noted, “The rear end likes to slide, yet it’s reasonably controllable.”

What They Didn’t

Sluggish Response: The Lexus suffered from being “saddled with a few hundred extra pounds and an engine that doesn’t wake up even when it’s revved to the moon,” Bruzek said. “It’s not as quick off the line as I thought it would be,” May said. “I expected better throttle response, too.”

Interior Quality: It’s “my least favorite due to inconsistency,” Wiesenfelder said. “I can’t get past the multimedia controller, which would absolutely be a deal-breaker.” Wiesenfelder wasn’t alone in that opinion.

Handling: Bruzek found it “prone to oversteer,” making it not as “confident as the planted M4 and ATS-V.”

Value: For Wiesenfelder, “many of the RC F’s shortcomings can be seen in the spec sheet: lowest torque, smallest interior, no adaptive suspension, no folding backseat, no manual transmission option, leather upholstery as an option only,” he said. “It’s not a question of value so much as deprivation of features for which you might be willing to pay extra.”

Research the Lexus RC F | Search Inventory

 

How They Scored

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