That the 2016 Cadillac ATS-V deftly communicates an imminent slide at 90 mph on a racetrack belies its ability to be a perfectly reasonable daily driver.
This competitor to BMW's M3 and M4 is available in coupe and sedan body styles with either a six-speed manual or eight-speed paddle-shifted automatic transmission. The only available engine is a twin-turbocharged 3.6-liter V6. It's good for 464 horsepower and 445 pound-feet of torque and sends its power to the rear wheels.
How Does It Drive on the Track?
Saying that the ATS-V is fast is obvious. Saying that it's enjoyable is somewhat less so. Being fast isn't hard. GM has a long history of making fast cars. Making them enjoyable, Corvette Stingray aside, has been a trouble spot — even relatively recently. It's the details, the rare mix of rewarding feedback, speed and sound that earn this dual-merit badge of honor. And the ATS-V, in most arenas, is successful.
Certainly its biggest achievement comes in balancing stunning on-track abilities with the requirements of no-compromise daily use. On track the ATS-V is an instrument of rapid precision.
Its steering redirects the machine without hesitation, provides ample feedback about front grip and is quick enough for track duty. Its engine, brakes and transmission manage the heat generated by a car this powerful and weighty. And it's got tricks up its sleeve like Performance Traction Management and no-lift shifting, which make it both faster and more clever than many of its competitors.
Which Transmission Is Right for Me?
Both transmissions work well but each serves a different buyer. The eight-speed, though highly competent (naturally, manual downshifts are rev-matched), is less involving. Leave it in Drive and the brainpower otherwise reserved for shifting is free for steering and braking, which makes the experience different but not necessarily better. It's potently effective, though. If going fast is all that matters, this is your transmission.
The manual transmission, however, isn't just your average gate rower. We're always skeptical when anyone tells us that no-lift shifting is a good idea on a road course, so we approached the advice this time with equal suspicion. Then we tried it. Careful calibration has produced a system capable of midcorner flat shifts that won't upset the chassis. It works, it's not abusive and there's no reason to avoid it. Auto rev-matching on downshifts also works remarkably well.
Though it lacks a carbon-ceramic rotor option, braking is an ATS-V strength. This, says Cadillac, is a case of wanting the car to be track-ready in base form. Competitors add carbon brake packages for about $8,000. In case repeated slowing from 145 mph to 35 mph isn't enough to convince you, consider that we never once witnessed a change in pedal feel or response over extended lapping sessions.
On track, the ATS-V works right. It's clear track use was a huge component of its development process. Only higher ambient temperatures will wring potential shortcomings from this otherwise competent package.
How Does It Drive on the Street?
Like its Magnetic Ride Control forebears, the ATS-V is strikingly serene in street use. Touring mode (one of four driver-adjustable settings — Touring, Sport, Track, Snow/Ice) produces well-controlled body motions without being jarring. It's a satisfying compromise that feels neither too soft nor too busy. Sport and Track modes increase throttle and transmission response as well as ramping up steering effort and suspension damping rates.
The eight-speed transmission makes few compromises in either environment, and on the street when demands are light, it glides seamlessly between gears in a way that makes most dual-clutch transmissions seem utterly gratuitous.
Optional 16-way-adjustable Recaro seats manage to be both supportive and comfortable. The trick is suede inserts, which hold occupants in place without the need for massive bolsters.
What Technologies Make It Work?
Standard magnetorheological dampers are the real magic in the mix. They manage to smother potholes on the street and still provide track-capable damping. This strategy, because of its latitude and rapid response, is among the most effective adjustable suspension options available today.
Another key to the ATS-V's do-it-all character is the standard electronic differential's ability to precisely control its locking rate in specific situations. A tight differential isn't what you want in the mall parking lot, and an open differential paired with this much power is worthless on the track. Accordingly, the differential's calibration changes with each driving mode.
Performance traction management, the ATS-V's configurable stability and traction control system, provides a huge range of control over the car's chassis. Its most aggressive setting, PTM 5, only intervenes when powerslides are big enough to slow the pace.
What About the Weight?
Hotshot hardware comes with a cost, however. In the ATS-V that cost is sheer heft. At about 3,750 pounds, the ATS-V is at least 200 pounds heavier than the last BMW M4 we tested. This despite a standard carbon-fiber hood.
Only a back-to-back drive with the M3/M4 brethren will discern exactly how detrimental the weight actually is. But since the M3/M4 twins were the primary benchmark in the ATS-V's development, it seems unlikely that they would wind up faster around a track, even if they are lighter.
Part of the weight over the standard ATS comes from significant chassis bracing — including a substantial aluminum shear panel that spans the gap between the front crossmember and the footwell area of the chassis. The result is a 25 percent increase in stiffness over the standard ATS body. There are also 16 new or redesigned bushings, plus two spherical bearings in the suspension.
What's the Interior Like?
Though it shares its basic design with the standard car, the ATS-V's interior is a step up in materials. Carbon-fiber trim and stitched seams give it a higher-grade feel, too.
CUE, Cadillac's infotainment and connectivity interface remains, along with the standard ATS's haptic-feedback buttons. Though the overall design is attractive, it lacks the simple, effective usability of most competitors.
On the upside, however, the optional Performance Data Recorder, which overlays the car's vitals and performance data on 720p video, is a genuinely engaging toy and a valuable learning tool for track driving.
How Much Does It Cost?
The base price for the ATS-V sedan is $61,460, with the coupe starting at $63,660. This pricing undercuts the M3/M4 twins by about $1,500 in both cases, but it's close enough to be insignificant when options are considered. Though there's no arguing with the ATS-V's comfort, luxury and track ability, it's chasing a proven competitor with a loyal constituency.
What Competing Models Should You Also Consider?
It's no secret that the 2015 BMW M3 and M4 are the ATS-V's primary targets, so to ignore them in this equation would be a massive mistake. Both BMWs combine speed, comfort and luxury in a way no other car has ever matched in this segment.
Though it's a very different sort of hot rod, the 2015 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG sedan deserves an honorable mention here as the tire-smoker of the bunch. Its twin-turbo 4.0-liter V8 makes the most torque in the segment at 479 lb-ft. The C63 is also available in coupe form with a 451-hp 6.2-liter V8.
Lexus' 2015 RC F Coupe is available only with two doors and lacks the performance focus of the others in the group. Still, it's a strikingly smooth operator with real performance capability.
Why Should You Consider This Car?
Maybe you're a patriot, maybe you like to see the home team win or maybe you just like to be different. The ATS-V gets you all three in a no-compromise package that's every bit as capable and comfortable as the German offerings.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.