Versus the competiton:
The high-performance 2016 Cadillac ATS-V fits nicely into the low-$60,000 price range previously occupied by the Cadillac CTS-V — but make no mistake, the ATS-V is a very different car from its spiritual predecessor.
With a Jekyll and Hyde personality, the 2016 Cadillac ATS-V is the most dedicated track car Cadillac has ever produced, yet it’s able to maintain everyday drivability.
Cadillac joined a long line of automakers attempting to dethrone BMW and its venerable 3 Series when it introduced the compact Cadillac ATS sedan for 2013. (Car enthusiasts will recall the same talk from when Cadillac introduced the CTS, but that car was always larger and is now priced markedly higher.) The ATS-V sedan and coupe go after the high-performance part of that equation — the BMW M3 sedan and M4 coupe — with full-steam potential, given the ATS is one of the only compact luxury cars that matches BMW’s signature driving dynamics. The V treatment for the ATS uses a heavy hand to pack the car with performance parts, making the ATS-V a legitimate threat to the M3/M4.
I drove sedan and coupe variants of the ATS-V with both the eight-speed automatic transmission and, yes, the six-speed manual that half the segment (the Audi RS 5 and Lexus RC F) seems to have forgotten to offer. An ATS-V sedan with a manual transmission starts at $61,460, while the coupe starts at $63,660.
Cadillac accomplished the ATS-V’s menacing looks through a number of functional designs for thermal and aerodynamic management. The enlarged grille openings in front have room for the turbochargers’ intercoolers and the engine radiator. The fenders, rear spoiler and rocker moldings are all V-specific, and the carbon-fiber hood has a heat extractor that also releases incoming air from the engine compartment to flow over the car instead of under, which reduces lift.
The overall effect transforms the already attractive ATS into a muscular, punchy-looking sedan and coupe. That’s especially true with the optional, must-have Carbon Fiber Package, which adds a carbon-fiber front lip spoiler, a rear carbon-fiber valance, a larger rear spoiler, a carbon-fiber hood heat extractor and a gloss-black side rocker splitter. The package is functional for increasing downforce and adds a “gotta have it” look to the car; it’s also expensive, at $5,000.
My introduction to the ATS-V’s track performance came at one of the premier racetracks in the country: the Circuit of the America’s Formula One track in Austin, Texas. The track is a highly technical, 3.4-mile circuit with 20 turns and a straightaway that was long enough to let the ATS-V stretch its legs to 145 mph and then punish the brakes coming down into a tight corner. The V’s brakes passed the test with flying colors.
Braking power comes from the previous-generation CTS-V’s front brakes and the latest Corvette Z51’s rear brakes. The brakes work to spectacular effect, given the ATS-V is about 500 pounds lighter than the retired CTS-V. Our test cars received higher-temp brake fluid and racier wheel alignment settings than standard ones will, because of the repeated abuse they’ll see on the track. Cadillac outlines these track-specific recommendations in the owners manual.
The ATS-V stops well, but there’s a lot to like in the “go” department with the ATS-V’s 464-horsepower, twin-turbocharged 3.6-liter V-6 that can propel an automatic-equipped ATS-V to 60 mph in 3.8 seconds, a tick faster than the M3/M4’s times with automatic transmission. That matches the M3/M4’s time with an automatic transmission. The Cadillac’s crisp boost response is one of the most immediate kicks you’ll get from any turbocharged engine. The M3/M4’s 425-hp, turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six-cylinder offers comparable responsiveness with a slightly more refined finished product.
Still, I’d like a few more ponies under the ATS-V’s hood, considering the old CTS-V had 556 hp (even with more weight) and this is its spiritual successor now that the upcoming version of that car is all grown up — likely in price, too. The ATS-V’s chassis definitely feels up to the task of handling more power. Maybe I’m just getting greedy — or I just really miss the seat-of-the-pants kick of the 556-hp, supercharged V-8.
The ATS-V is more about handling than straight-line acceleration, and it exhibits wonderfully precise, planted handling with its standard Magnetic Ride Control adaptive shock absorbers. A healthy dose of chassis-strengthening gives the ATS-V lightning-quick reflexes. Quick maneuvers don’t faze the firmly planted ATS-V, which consistently puts power to the ground while exiting corners thanks to the standard electronically controlled, mechanical limited slip differential.
The combination of brakes, handling and limited slip differential is a winning combination, and there’s not much you can throw at the ATS-V that it can’t handle. The ATS-V ate up the fast, sweeping corners of Circuit of the Americas with nary a flinch of uncontrolled body roll. For this car not to feel out of place at that Austin track was admirable, considering the course was purpose-built to challenge drivers in the world’s premier racing series.
Leave the track and the ATS-V’s multiple driving modes hide its track prowess by adjusting suspension firmness, steering effort, throttle response and transmission programming. The first tier of adjustability is Tour, Sport, Track and Snow/Ice. Within the Track mode are five sub-settings that help the car corner faster, with varying usage of the traction and stability systems: Wet, Dry, Sport 1, Sport 2 and Race. You’d better be on your game in Sport 2 and Race, because they relax the electronic stability system and let the front and rear ends swap.
In Tour mode, the ATS-V rides surprisingly compliantly, but you can tell that the stiffening of the chassis and the high-performance bushings and tires have increased road noise and feel compared with the regular ATS. If there’s one area in which the ATS-V doesn’t hit its marks as well as the BMW M3/M4, it’s steering feedback. BMW’s signature steering feedback blends perfectly boosted steering with ultra-quick, precise movements. In comparison, the ATS-V’s steering is slightly more vague, and that takes away some of the fun factor, both on and off the track.
Like the old CTS-V and M cars, the ATS-V can be had with a six-speed manual transmission, and here it’s the standard unit. The six-speed is a riot and a half, with a few ancillary features added to the manual experience. For starters, launch control lets the engine rev and the stability system do the work after a clutch drop. No-lift shifting provides extremely fast shifts, with flat-floor accelerator shifting that will easily lay rubber into 2nd gear, and the car’s automatic rev-matching provides worry-free matching to engine speed for smooth downshifts. All these extras add to the inherent entertainment factor of a manual transmission. The ATS-V’s six-speed is the same style as the one used in the previous CTS-V, though this car’s shifter and clutch pedal have reduced effort – the old CTS-V’s stiff clutch pedal was a workout and a half.
The ATS-V’s $2,000 automatic option is an eight-speed unit borrowed from the 2015 Corvette — most of it, anyway. The tight gear ratios keep the engine speed and boost in their happy range, and in Track mode the eight-speed’s telepathic ability to pick the right gear made navigating the extremely technical COTA track slightly less intimidating. Automatic cars are rated 16/24/18 mpg city/highway/combined, while manual cars are rated 17/23/19 mpg. That’s not far behind the 17/24/19 mpg that the M3/M4 is rated with its automatic and the 17/26/20 mpg rating for the M3/M4 with a manual transmission.
One of the standout features of the V treatment is the optional Recaro seats. They’re finely crafted and as pleasant to look at as they are to sit in. Plus, because the side and thigh bolsters are power-adjustable and not fixed, like some high-performance seats, you can make it as relaxed or as snug a seat as you’d like. The seating position and comfort make you feel a part of the car, not just along for the ride.
The ATS-V also adds suede-like microfiber and authentic carbon fiber trim on the door panels and dashboard. Even decked out, the ATS-V is still clearly an ATS, which in its base version offers competitive interior materials and styling. Rack up the price tag to $70,000, though, and the ATS-V comes up short against the M3/M4, Lexus RC-F and Audi RS5. The capacitive-touch-button-laden center console cheapens the experience. Apart from having mechanical buttons, the ATS-V’s competitors provide matte and aluminum materials, where the ATS-V’s center console is mostly piano black. To me, it looks cheaper.
Like the regular ATS, the ATS-V is a compact luxury sedan — as opposed to the CTS-V, which straddles the line between compact and midsize. Backseat room is tight compared with the rest of the entry-level luxury segment, and rear passengers will just have to hope their front-seat companions aren’t more than 6 feet tall. The backseat is narrow, with minimal legroom.
The Cadillac User Experience multimedia system is standard, including Bluetooth, voice recognition and text-to-voice SMS messages, as well as a USB input and 4G LTE connectivity with a Wi-Fi hot spot function. It’s just as finicky here as it is in the regular ATS, though I could live with CUE in every car if they all came with the optional Performance Data Recorder.
PDR can be had as either a $1,300 stand-alone option or as part of a $6,195 Track Performance Package. In the ATS-V, PDR pairs a 720p high-definition video camera with telemetry acquisition to create recordings of the driving experience, with overlays of speed, a racetrack map, engine rpm, steering angle, selected gear and much more. The system debuted in the Chevrolet Corvette, and Cadillac’s version brings enhanced color balance and audio recordings. After a lap on the track, you can park the ATS-V and watch the recordings through the color touch-screen, or take the SD card and upload it to your computer and YouTube later on.
Cargo room is unchanged compared with the non-V coupe and sedan, which is to say there’s not much. Sedans and coupes come with 10.4 cubic feet of cargo space. An M3 sedan has 12 cubic feet, while the M4 coupe has 11 cubic feet with a split, folding backseat standard. The ATS-V sedan’s folding backseat is optional.
The Cadillac ATS had not been crash-tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety at the time of publishing. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash tests rated the standard ATS highly, with an overall score of five out of five stars. The ATS-V’s standard safety features include front and rear parking assist and a backup camera; see more safety features listed here. The ATS-V’s available forward collision warning system alerts drivers through visual and audible cues but won’t autonomously brake in a potential collision situation.
The ATS-V has its sights set squarely on the BMW M3. It’s hard to tell for sure without a back-to-back comparison, but the ATS-V feels every bit as capable as the M3/M4, if slightly less confidence-inspiring because of steering tuning that needs more road feel and feedback.
The ATS-V comes in $1,490 under the M3’s starting price while including standard equipment the BMW lacks, like a Magnetic Ride Control suspension, smart keyless access, parking sensors, a backup camera and satellite radio. The ATS-V starts at $61,460 for a sedan and $63,660 for a coupe.
What the M3 does include standard is navigation; a split, folding backseat; high-intensity-discharge headlights; and a roomier, higher-quality interior. It’s not hard to spec out a $70,000-plus M3, and it won’t be difficult to make an ATS-V cost that much, either. Its must-have $6,195 Track Performance Package includes the Carbon Fiber Package and adds the Performance Data Recorder; throw in the $2,300 Recaro seats and a $2,000 automatic transmission (which costs the same as the automatic in the M3) and you’re already at $71,955.
The ATS-V’s standard backup camera and parking sensors, however, mean you at least get to spend your extra money mostly on fun stuff, instead of expensive packages just to get a backup camera, as you’d have to in the M3/M4. If you go without the Track Performance Package, the ATS-V undercuts the cost of most of its competitors and gets you a sports sedan that is still undeniably one of the most track-capable in the segment.