A Cadillac is for driving slowly down your town’s main drag, showing off your wealth with an ostentatious V8 soundtrack. Either that or it's the American marque that's been losing a battle with the Germans for the past 30 years. Most people’s opinions regarding Cadillac fall into this dichotomy, leaving the brand’s identity (and its sales figures) in limbo. Cadillac hopes the company's new ATS-V, a sports luxury car aimed squarely at the BMW M3 and M4, will be the weapon to silence Munich.
The ATS-V is an American brute. Of course, it has to play by the same rules that the Germans (and to a lesser extent, the Japanese ) do, but it’s going to make a lot of noise when no one’s looking. Even in Touring mode with the exhaust on its quiet setup, the ATS-V will burble and grit its teeth through city streets. Switch to Sport and the active exhaust opens, producing a very guttural sound. Not particularly pleasant -- just loud. It certainly makes a statement.
As do the looks. The ATS-V is menacing, with a stolid face and well-creased shoulders. The hard angles may not be to everyone’s tastes, but for once I’ve found a Cadillac that's desireable. The so-called Arts & Science design language has been around for a little more than a decade now, but it never pushed any of my buttons. The late CTS-V coupe was onto something, but it was just big. The ATS-V coupe definitely shares the same ideas, but it's compressed into a slicker and much more compact package. Plus, it stands out in a sea of Audis, BMWs, and Mercs.
“How big is the V8 in that?”
‘Actually, it’s a V6.’
“In a Cadillac? That’s weird.”
This is the kind of conversation you’ll have with everyone who asks about the car. Americans are used to seeing smaller engines in European and Japanese cars, but many still think American cars rely on eight cylinders of pomp and circumstance to make power. The ATS-V, instead, uses a new 3.6L V6 with two turbochargers shoved onto it, making enough power to embarrass some American traditionalists: 464 horsepower and 445 foot -pounds of torque. Or about the same as the Corvette Stingray.
That’s good for a 0-60 mph time of 3.9 seconds (in the faster-shifting automatic) and a claimed top speed of 189 mph. The twin-turbo V6 may not be the most pleasant engine to listen to, but turbocharging is here to stay, folks, even in American cars. The bad news is that not everyone will be happy to hear you coming. The good news is that you won’t bemoan the lack of V8: the ATS-V’s motor has power literally everywhere in the rev range, and it wants you to use it.
Our car came with the eight-speed automatic, though the default offering is a six-speed manual. Normally I’m the first to cry, “Save the manuals,” when a car has a manual option, but honestly I don’t think I’d really miss it here; the automatic is so good that I’d genuinely recommend it. It’s definitely a bit busy at low speeds, but generally it predicts what you want, when you want it, with surprising skill.
Handling is equally superb. The ATS-V’s ride does border on stiff (it’s a sports car, to be fair), but it’s never uncomfortable. GM’s magnetic ride control is composed on neglected city streets, exceptionally communicative in corners, and old-school-Cadillac comfortable on interstates. The chassis itself is wonderful as well, somehow managing to haul the ATS-V’s chunky 3,700 pounds around tight mountain roads and switchbacks with genuine alacrity.
It’s a seriously comprehensive package, though it does have a flaw: brakes.
Brembo supplies the brakes for the ATS-V, and while they are massive, they’re the weak link of the ATS-V’s street capabilities. They do shine in harder driving, getting better as heat builds. But if you’re not working them hard, they may as well be standard ATS brakes. The pedal travel is super long and super soft, and I’d hoped the V would have a harder initial bite. They’ll still stop the car, but I never granted much confidence.
The inside of the ATS-V is ... if I’m being kind, just OK. Some of the design choices are baffling -- there’s a large bar or bump running along the door card that severely restricts the motion of your left arm, so you’re locked into one or two positions. The whole cabin feels a bit claustrophobic, and the black and grey there exacerbates matters.The optional Recaro leather and suede seats are nice enough (and provide a much needed splash of color in such a dark palette), but the suede inserts trap body heat too well. For some reason, there are seat heaters but no coolers, which just seems like an oversight for a luxury brand.
Don’t have any delusions of fitting just anyone in the back seats either, unless they’re children.
The flowing center stack, finished with piano black plastic, is an interesting idea and the secret hideaway storage compartment is brilliant, but I’d trade all that for a comprehensive set of buttons. Even after a week, the majority of the controls are nearly impossible to use without looking and double checking what you’re actually hitting -- instead of buttons, the ATS-V relies on a touch board with haptic feedback. It doesn’t work well. And it’s attached to Cadillac’s Cue infotainment system.
I gave Cue a fair shot. I can say that, when it comes to text entry, it’s decently quick. Otherwise, it’s a decidedly infuriating experience. Scrolling is slow, voice commands are unreliable at best, and the system can’t handle two things simultaneously. The navigation map will disappear if I take an incoming phone call. The screen itself is nice, though anything on the right third of the display will be fuzzy if you’re wearing polarized sunglasses.
The ATS-V is compatible with Apple CarPlay, and while I’ve heard good things about it in the real world, I couldn’t verify them (current Android user). Even sight unseen, I’d bet it’s better than Cue.
There’s also a nifty HUD (Heads Up Display) that shows your current speed, engine rpm, gear number, and other things like navigation highlights and song information.
The ATS-V coupe starts around $63,000, the same as competitors like the BMW M3/M4, Mercedes C63 AMG, and Lexus RC-F, but depending on what equipment or features you’re looking for, the Cadillac may wind up costing you far less than the Germans. Our test car was $73,000. For the record, I managed to average 20 MPG.
Other cars might be technically better (and have nicer interiors), but in the end I don’t think that matters. The ATS-V has presence -- every time I parked the car, I couldn’t help but stare back at it a few times before I walked away. It doesn’t have the personality of a German car, but you know what? That’s good. Cadillac should do its own thing.