Car and Driver came down to the land of milk, honey, hipsters, and money, Austin, TX, to test the all-new V variant of the ATS. They spent some time carving up the asphalt that makes up the fabled "Three Sisters" in the hill country.
They had a lot of good things to say about the new car, so without further adieu, I present you with the review:
Finally armed with the power to match its chassis, Cadillac's coupe shines.
The eccentric tenor of Austin, Texas, goes so far beyond the stereotypes that it could pass for parody. In the city’s South Congress neighborhood, for example, you get your kale juice, fried chicken, and breakfast tacos not from a food truck, but from food Airstreams and food shipping containers. The local thrift shop shares a wall with American Apparel, and everybody pretends not to notice that the hipster counterculture is funded by Range Rover drivers quaffing $20 cocktails.
The off-kilter atmosphere is so pervasive here that it’s normal. What is truly strange in Austin is brash, unashamed indulgence and capitalism without the pretense of keeping Austin weird. Like a $63,660 sports coupe from a brand so tragically unhip that it’s relocating people to New York City with the hope that speeding taxis will splash them with trendiness and relevance.
If you place more stock in what’s good than what’s trending, though, you need to know about the 2016 Cadillac ATS-V, a 464-hp BMW challenger that finally captures what Cadillac has chased for 13 years with varying success. With the ATS-V coupe and sedan, Cadillac has mastered the complete package of performance, style, and driving bliss. To arrive at that conclusion, we pointed the ATS-V coupe into the heart of Texas Hill Country, 180 miles southwest of the state capital by way of Sabinal, population 1695, where we missed the annual Wild Hog Festival and Craft Fair by just one day. The billboard showing a grown man midflight as he’s bucked from a hirsute swine was a reminder that the truly weird parts of Texas exist well outside of city limits.
The ATS-V is the product of a small team with speed encoded in its members’ genes. On weekends, you can find several development engineers racing third- and fourth-generation Chevrolet Camaros against each other in local SCCA competition. Chief engineer Tony Roma previously served as program manager for the Camaro ZL1. It’s no surprise then that the ATS-V borrows a handful of tricks (and parts) from GM’s Corvette and Camaro speed shops, including an electronically controlled limited-slip differential, magnetorheological dampers, and the Performance Traction Management system.
Tour, sport, and track modes massage steering calibration, throttle mapping, and damper behavior. There are more settings for the stability control than there are cylinders in the engine. Launch control, no-lift shift, and rev-matching logic give the six-speed manual a fighting chance against flappy paddles with shift times measured in milliseconds.
Top right: V-specific gauges are an improvement that leaves room for improvement.
Left: Optional Recaro seats grip as well as the Michelin tires.
Hill Country’s world-class topography is compromised by third-world pavement best described as coarse gravel suspended in a tar adhesive. These roads don’t support the 0.97 g of grip we measured on the skidpad, though you can still marvel at the obedient chassis, the gentle breakaway, and the easy catch of slides at the lowered limits of the road. PTM’s third-most aggressive mode (of five total settings) is the perfect safety net, leaving you just enough rope to tie a noose, but not so much that you can hang yourself.
On roads this coarse in a car this connected, you feel the texture of the surface change in your hands at the same moment your ears register a pitch shift in the thrum of the tires. In small wiggles and twitches, the steering wheel telegraphs the groove where an overloaded truck creased the pavement and the bulge where the earth has never stopped settling.
So how does Cadillac conjure more steering feel than BMW using the same system? To compensate for the additional lateral stresses transmitted by the Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires, engineers stiffened the structure that was originally optimized for weight savings in the base ATS. An aluminum shear plate now connects the front subframe to the body structure, and a pair of diagonal braces ties that cradle to the front longitudinal members. Spherical bearings replace six bushings in the lateral suspension links to enhance wheel location.
Unfortunately, these reinforcements also mean that the Alpha platform’s weight advantage evaporates in V spec. At 3760 pounds, our test car weighed in 204 pounds heavier than the comparable M4, though you wouldn’t know it without driving onto the scales. The ATS-V maneuvers as if it’s the lighter, smaller machine.
Left: A large aluminum shear plate ties the front subframe to the body structure for increased rigidity.
Right: The twin-turbocharged LF4 engine keeps plumbing runs short with liquid-to-air intercoolers straddling the throttle body and exhaust manifolds integrated into the cylinder heads.
The 3.6-liter V-6 minimizes turbocharger plumbing runs with exhaust manifolds integrated into the heads and liquid-to-air intercoolers perched on top of the engine. Titanium-aluminide turbine wheels cut the inertia inside the turbochargers by 51 percent while the optional eight-speed automatic uses a torque converter that locks up slower than in the Corvette to mask any whiff of turbo lag.
In an age where boosted engines typically churn out max grunt below 2000 rpm, the torque peak at 3500 rpm sounds suspiciously high. But the net effect is one of linearity rather than lag. The transition from rising boost to the 445-lb-ft plateau is less abrupt than in most turbo engines, and the revs climb as if delivered by a torque-rich, naturally aspirated engine rather than a boosted powerplant.
At the test track, the ATS-V launches like a cat out of a bathtub, clocking 4.2 seconds to 60 mph and 12.6 seconds through the quarter-mile. The automatic should do the run even quicker, though we wouldn’t trade the satisfaction of the Tremec’s short, firm throws for those tenths.
The ATS-V’s few blatant flaws are squirreled away inside the cabin. The V-specific instrument cluster is more legible than the regular ATS’s, though it hardly looks upscale. The V treatment doesn’t address the ATS’s tight rear seat or the maddening CUE infotainment system that becomes even more difficult to use when combined with a firmer ride and higher speeds.
From the snug hold of the optional Recaros, it’s easy to excuse these missteps. The ATS-V marks the culmination of Cadillac’s concerted efforts to redefine the brand as a leader in driving dynamics and performance. Amid an increasingly competent product range, the ATS-V still stands out as the one astonishing success that manages to pull the whole enterprise together. From a brand that has been closing in on excellence for years, the ATS-V shines as the single star that can guide the rest of the lineup. At least until the CTS-V arrives.
More photos below.
Source: Launches like a Cat out of a Bathtub