I had the chance to drive the 2016 Cadillac ATS-V sedan and coupe while I was covering Pebble Beach and Monterey Car Week 2015. Coastal California and its winding roads and picturesque scenery are the perfect proving ground for this rear-wheel-drive luxury sports car.
Engine: Twin-turbo 3.6L V6
Horsepower: 464 hp at 5,850 rpm
Torque: 445 lb-ft at 3,500 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed auto or 6-speed manual
Fuel Economy: 16/24 MPG city/hwy (auto), 17/23 MPG (manual)
U.S. Pricing: $61,460 (sedan), $63,660 (coupe)
Canadian Pricing: $69,855 (sedan), $67,550 (coupe)
Here are 9 things I learned during my drive:
1. People are really impressed by its looks
Driving around Carmel during the prestigious Monterey Car Week in California, a handful of people stopped to tell me how “sick” the ATS-V coupe and sedan looked. Keep in mind that Lamborghinis and Ferraris are as common in these parts as Hondas and Toyotas are here, so any praise for anything that’s not a supercar carries more weight.
And people aren’t wrong for thinking the ATS-V is sexy. In coupe or sedan form, the car is a head turner, and many people were surprised to find out that it was a Cadillac. The car’s sharp lines and aggressive, strong profile look athletic without being tacky or over the top. The whole package looks classy yet unmistakably sporty. The hood vents and big mesh grille also give you a quick hint that there’s something sinister lurking underneath that bulging, sculpted hood.
SEE ALSO: 2016 Cadillac ATS-V Review
2. The engine is darling and this car is friggen fast
The ATS-V is powered by a twin-turbo 3.6L V6 that puts out 464 hp at 5,850 rpm and 445 lb-ft of torque at 3,500 rpm. This engine is a beast, and you’ll never be able to exploit its full potential unless you’re at a track. The speed in this car is borderline crazy. Everything seems normal when you first turn it over, but the moment you bury the throttle, you will be surprised by how strongly the car pulls and how dramatic the power feels. Power is immediate, there is barely any turbo lag, and the engine feels like it will never stop pulling.
Mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission, the car delivers the power smoothly, although in Sport mode in traffic, the shifts can be a bit jerky — the car seems to want to be driven hard. In Touring mode though, shifts are pretty smooth. The transmission never seems to be searching for the right gear, and it seems to intuitively know where the sweet spot is. You don’t even need the paddle shifters. The ATS-V can also be had with a manual transmission! Rejoice!
3. It handles amazingly
The ATS-V has spectacular handling and driving dynamics. The car feels tight, composed and agile and it loves corners. The steering feels precise and gives the driver great feedback. In a fast turn, the ATS-V stays miraculously flat and stable, yet at the same time, the ride isn’t punishing in traffic or over rough pavement. The handling and responsiveness exudes confidence and coaxes you into driving the ATS-V even harder.
Thanks to some GM magic called Magnetic Damping Control, the ride is always what you need it to be: stiff during an enthusiastic drive, and comfortable when just cruising. The system scans every inch of the road a thousand times a second, and sends data that adjusts the car’s damping according to the conditions. It really works and becomes very evident in the drive.
4. The driving modes make a huge difference
The ATS-V has three different driving modes: Touring, Sport and Track. In Touring mode, the car is calm and quiet, perfectly OK with relaxed cruising. Ramping things up in Sport mode, the ATS-V takes on a different personality. The car gets angrier, it snarls more, and it sounds fantastic. In Sport mode, everything gets sharper and the transmission isn’t afraid to redline the engine to get the most out of that darling V6.
Track mode is just bonkers. Don’t do it unless you’re actually at a track or you’re going to get in some serious trouble.
5. Head-up displays are great
So many cars have head-up displays these days, but Cadillac’s works even better than most I’ve seen because it has a tactile button to adjust the height of the display. I’m short (5″7), so I always have to adjust the display to be higher. Yes, this adjustability is usually available in all cars with HUDs, but Cadillac’s is great because it is changed using an actual button on the left side of the dash. Other cars make you adjust the height through the infotainment screen, which is annoying because the correct menu is always hard to find.
HUDs also make the car feel special, and makes you feel like you’re piloting a fighter jet. Cadillac’s HUD projects so that the information appears to be a hologram a few meters in front of your car, which is a nicer setup than the cheap-looking systems that project info onto a tiny screen in front of the steering wheel. Cadillac’s HUD shows speed, navigation directions and safety warnings.
6. It has really comfortable seats and a great interior
The driving position in the ATS-V is spot on, and it was really easy to find a comfortable setup with the 16-way adjustable Recaros. My photographer, who stands at 6″2, was delighted by the generous legroom in the front seats (the rear seats are a bit cramped, though). He has giant German legs, so that means his knees are usually hugging the steering wheel. Not so in the ATS-V. Even for a shorter driver like me, I often find myself having to sit like I’m in a kitchen chair, but the ATS-V’s driver seat is so adjustable that I didn’t have this problem. This is really helped by a telescopic steering wheel and generous bolstering, which hugs you tight during enthusiastic drives.
That leather-wrapped steering wheel is thick and meaty, feeling very substantial when gripped. It also feels very connected and doesn’t have that vague, floaty feel so many cars have these days. Fit and finish aren’t at Audi levels of quality yet, but it’s getting close.
ALSO SEE: 2016 Cadillac CTS-V Review
7. But CUE still sucks
I don’t know why Cadillac has such a hate on against tactile buttons. I understand the need for a smooth, clean-looking dashboard, but the lack of buttons is infuriating here. Drivers need to be able to operate controls without taking their eyes off the road for too long, and this setup is too distracting and not very intuitive. Something as simple as changing the volume becomes a potential safety issue; there’s no volume knob, so drivers have to take their eyes off the road to find the touch-capacitive slider. Plus, the piano black trim attracts way too much dust.
The touchscreen helps things a bit, but it doesn’t respond quickly enough to touch and I find I had to push way harder than in other similar systems. An interesting thing it does to keep the screen clutter free is that it hides menus until a sensor sees a hand approaching the dashboard. When it senses a hand, the system brings up the various menus. CUE would definitely benefit from being more user friendly and having real buttons.
8. If it came down to it, I’d pick the ATS-V over an M3
Hear me out. The M3 is the obvious choice. “Everyone” has a BMW, so I’m always an advocate for the underdog. Also, if you compare specs for the two side by side, you’ll see that they are pretty equally matched, so the comparison isn’t as crazy as it used to be. But even on the drive, the ATS-V holds its own.
The ATS-V is about $2,000 less expensive, but is actually more powerful. It has a 39 hp and 39 lb-ft of torque advantage over the M3. The M3’s torque curve is more linear than the ATS-V, and peaks earlier in the rev range, but the ATS-V’s power feels much more manageable. The M3 feels a bit too frenetic for my tastes; the ATS-V has comparable performance, but it just feels less hyperactive.
I also prefer the ATS-V’s styling over the M3. The BMW looks like a bro car, where the Caddy looks much more classy and refined.
9. This is the beginning of a return to greatness for Cadillac
Cadillac is finally starting to break free of its old-man image with sporty, serious cars like the ATS-V and CTS-V. The cars look fantastic, they drive even better, and they cost less than their German counterparts. If you’re shopping for a luxury sports car, Cadillac should be on your top contenders list, right up there with BMW, Merecdes and Audi.
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