by Adam Lynton
The Cadillac ATS-V was designed to be a rival to the long-standing champions in the luxury sports car segment, chief among them being the BMW M3. Benchmarked in development against what Cadillac engineers considered the best handling car of its type, the E46 M3, the ATS-V certainly set high standards to meet, and with a twin-turbo V6 developing 464 horsepower and enabling a 3.8-second 0-60 mph sprint, the numbers the ATS-V puts down seem competitive. Despite offering outstanding performance and handling, it lacks the kind of refinement that comes from decades of polishing a model that has already made a name for itself in the market. But when you take into account how much this Caddy gets right, straight out of the gate, it's a sign that perhaps Cadillac might be capable of making the proverbial gods bleed after all. Your next hot performance sedan needn't be European after all.
There have been no mechanical changes to the Cadillac ATS-V for 2018, with upgrades purely of the stylistic and functional persuasion. Radiant Silver Metallic paint has been removed from the palette and replaced with Satin Steel Metallic, while inside, the infotainment system has been upgraded to CUE version 3.0 in the hopes of shoring up one of the vehicle's weak spots. The Carbon Black Package has also been removed as an optional add-on.
The ATS-V draws on decades of Cadillac's design experience to create a car that looks as beastly as it boasts to be. The sedan's bold stance promises performance, complemented by 18-inch performance-oriented alloy wheels supporting Michelin sports tires. The quad stainless steel exhausts hint at the powerful engine lurking beneath the hood, which can be built from light-weight carbon-fiber to enhance performance. The grille that takes up the majority of the Caddy's front optimizes airflow around the engine to feed the two turbos and is framed by halogen headlights designed to trademark Cadillac style. These are supplemented by LED daytime running lights and an LED center-mounted rear stoplight. A sunroof is available.
The Cadillac ATS-V is slightly more conservative in size compared to rivals in the segment, such as the imposing Mercedes-AMG C63 or BMW M3, but it still manages to look pretty burly. With a length of 184 inches, a low-riding height of 55.7 inches, and a sleek width of 71.3 inches, the ATS-V doesn't believe in excess, and in sedan guise is actually smaller than the coupe. But this small frame belies a hefty 3,812 lb curb weight, exceeding the M3 by several hundred pounds. Despite this weight, the chassis boasts a 49:51 weight distribution.
The ATS-V offers a fair number of choices when it comes to color, with six flashy hues that are sure to turn heads, making it easier for this sports car to showcase its impressive performance. The palette is comprised of the standard Black Raven while Crystal White Tricoat, Red Obsession Tintcoat, Velocity Red and three metallic options, Phantom Gray, Satin Steel, and the ATS-V-only Vector Blue, which are available for an extra charge. The classic Crystal White Tricoat and the sporty Red Obsession Tintcoat will set you back the most but look exceptional.
Cadillac has put plenty of thought and work into ensuring that the ATS-V impresses in terms of performance and, for the most part, they've succeeded. The 3.6-liter twin-turbo V6 engine throws out an impressive 464 horsepower and 445 lb-ft of torque, launching the ATS-V from 0-60 mph in a class-competitive 3.8 seconds with the smart shifting automatic transmission. Equipping the available six-speed manual sees this figure slow to 4.2 seconds. Similarly, the ATS-V reaches the quarter-mile in 12.1 seconds in the automatic, and 12.6 seconds in the manual, on its way to a top speed of 189 mph. Aiding the performance is a rear-wheel-drivetrain, ensuring not only an abundance of grip off the line but superior dynamics when straight roads end.
The Cadillac ATS-V offers a single engine to counter the V8 and inline-six options of Mercedes-AMG and BMW M respectively. The twin-turbo V6 engine displaces 3.6 liters to produce 464 hp and 445 lb-ft. This makes the engine one of the strongest in the segment, but it still manages to underwhelm, sounding rather uninspiring compared to the big V8s Cadillac is renowned for.
There are options to be had when it comes to the transmission, though. The six-speed manual gearbox comes standard, appreciated for its promotion of deeper driver engagement and a greater sense of control. An eight-speed automatic transmission is available, too, and offers smoother gear shifts than the sometimes-clunky manual. Luckily, the manual comes with No-Lift Shift, which allows the driver to switch gears on the fly, without needing to disengage the gas pedal. However, both of these transmissions feel unsophisticated compared to more veteran luxury sports sedans.
While we would suggest opting for the automatic gearbox if you want to optimize performance over a hands-on experience, you can meet in the middle by adding the magnesium paddle shifters to the steering wheel, which allows you to control gears manually on the automatic transmission.
While the powertrain and engine on the ATS-V seem unrefined, the handling is anything but. The front suspension delivers quick responses while the rear manages to maintain everyday comfort even though it is designed to ensure track performance. The incorporation of Cadillac's magnetic ride control further enhances the suspension by allowing it to adjust to changing conditions automatically.
This amazing suspension works alongside pinpoint-accurate ZF steering to deliver a driving experience that is hard to beat. Taking turns at pace allows the well-balanced chassis to reveal its talents, leaning on the suspension without being easily unsettled. The steering is equally as impressive, offering enough feedback and resistance to instill confidence and boasting enough communication to ensure proper driver engagement. While the vehicle lets you know when you are approaching its limits, thanks to its electronic traction control, it doesn't fight you as hard as the C63 when you push against these limits. This makes executing daring maneuvers extremely satisfying, making even the average Joe feel like a superhero.
And should you push the V or yourself too hard, you can rely on the sport-tuned Brembo brakes to bring the fun to a swift but safe end. With impressive stopping power, 60-0 mph occurs in just under 100 feet, with superb brake modulation and pedal response.
While the ATS-V handles like a dream sports sedan, the joy this brings is somewhat hampered by conversely poor levels of comfort. While the suspension is great for handling, the ride feels far too stiff. Minor abrasions are absorbed relatively well, but drive over anything larger, and you can expect to feel it rather harshly. Comfort Mode helps to mitigate this somewhat, but don't expect the ride ever to feel as luxurious as it would in an M3. Similarly, the V fails to dampen noise with any real success, with road and uninspiring engine noise being constant unwelcome companions.
With its focus on performance and speed, the ATS-V doesn't achieve stellar fuel efficiency, but it no worse than segment leaders. When equipped with the six-speed manual gearbox, the V achieves EPA estimates of 16/23/19 mpg city/highway/combined. The eight-speed automatic transmission gets slightly better 17/25/20 mpg ratings thanks to its smarter shifts. With an average-sized 16-gallon premium gasoline tank, the ATS-V Sedan gets an estimated total range of 320 miles on the more efficient automatic.
The interior of the ATS-V is where you can really see how unrefined the vehicle is compared to class-leaders. Cadillac has tried to give the sedan features that rival segment leaders, but the delivery of these features seems poorly thought-out. The controls around the cabin are haphazard, and even if you can find what you're looking for, operating the features is anything but easy. When competing with other luxury sports cars that perfectly combine style and function, focusing purely on style won't win you any awards. The touch-sensitive buttons are a hassle, and you will spend far too much time looking at what your hands are doing rather than the road. The CUE infotainment system also feels behind the times compared to the more sophisticated BMW and Merc systems. With leather upholstered seating and carbon fiber trim on the dash and doors, the cabin promises a refined and advanced experience that it simply can't deliver on.
The ATS-V sedan can seat five on its leather-upholstered seats. Those up front can enjoy 37.6 inches of headroom while those in the rear only get 35.1 inches. However, neither of these dimensions are impressive for the class, and above-average-height drivers won't be particularly comfortable. Luckily, legroom is more forgiving, with the front seats offering 42.3 inches, with the rear seats provide a pitiful 33.5 inches. At least the seats are comfortable, although they can be significantly more so if you opt for the Recaro seat upgrade which offers huge amounts of support and just as much comfort. With 18-way power-adjustable front seats with two-way lumbar adjustment, finding a comfortable driving position isn't difficult, and the wide-opening doors of the sedan allow for easy ingress and egress for all passengers.
The seating and steering wheel in the Cadillac ATS-V Sedan are upholstered in Jet Black leather with suede microfiber inserts by default. The optional Recaro seats feature slip-resistant, breathable suede inserts and can be upholstered in either Jet Black or Light Platinum, with standard Jet Black accents and optional Saffron accents around the cabin. Regardless of the leather/seating choice, V-Carbon Fiber trim adorns the dash and doors, but the abundance of hard plastics surrounding the carbon make the cabin feel far less refined than other luxury sports cars. While the cabin is sturdy, it just doesn't feel well-built.
The ATS-V was not designed to be a cargo carrier, but a sports sedan needs to cater to all walks of life, and to this end, its 10.4 cubic foot trunk can manage minor day-to-day tasks such as grocery shopping. You could fit around eight shopping bags in this small space, but the dimensions and small access point make even this much trickier. The rear seats do fold down in a 60/40 split to give at least a little more space, but it's still lacking compared to rivals.
Inside, the V offers less storage space than you might want from a sedan, with smaller-than-average door pockets, cupholders, a central compartment. Cadillac decided to add a smartphone storage bin with a charging port behind the climate controls, but accessing it can be more trouble than it's worth.
As a luxury performance vehicle, the ATS-V comes equipped with a suite of standard features including dual-zone climate control, cruise control, power accessories, a rearview camera, front and rear park assist, keyless entry and ignition, a wireless charger and magnetic ride control suspension. Optional add-ons include adaptive remote start, a power sunroof, a performance data and video recorder, and the Driver Awareness Package, which comprises lane-change alert, lane-keep assist, lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, forward collision alert, rear cross-traffic alert, and rain-sense wipers. The Safety and Security Package includes all the features mentioned above, as well as a following distance indicator, and a head-up display.
Infotainment on the ATS-V isn't lacking, although it isn't up to par with rivals such as the BMW M3 despite updates for 2018. Standard features comprise AM/FM stereo and SiriusXM paired to a Bose ten-speaker sound system with active noise cancellation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth, 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, three USB ports, and Cadillac Connected Access. All this runs through the eight-inch CUE touchscreen infotainment system, while a 5.7-inch three-window driver information center displays vehicle information. The CUE can be upgraded to include navigation and a 110-volt power port.
J.D. Power gives the ATS-V a high reliability rating of 84/100. There have been no notable complaints about the sedan, although this is partly due to it being an extremely low-volume vehicle. There have also been no recalls of the ATS-V specifically since 2016. Standard warranties include 50,000-mile/48-month bumper-to-bumper, 70,000-mile/72-month drivetrain and roadside assist, and 36,000-mile/36-month maintenance.
The NHTSA has rated the ATS-V four out of five stars for overall crash safety. The IIHS, meanwhile, has only evaluated the sedan for frontal crash prevention, where it received a superior rating when equipped with automatic emergency braking, but a basic rating with forward collision alert only.
The standard safety features on the ATS-V are somewhat limited. These include a high-strength steel safety cage built into the chassis and eight airbags – dual front, front knee, front side, and side curtain. Other features comprise automatic belt-tightening, a rearview camera, front and rear park assist, an electronic parking brake, electronic stability control, and safety alert seats. Available features include forward collision alert, a following distance indicator, rain-sense wipers, lane-keep assist, lane-departure warning, lane-change alert, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and a head-up display.
The ATS-V is, without a doubt, a great car. Its chief problem is that its competitors are also great cars, arguably greater ones. The potent engine allows it to keep up with top rivals in terms of acceleration and even top speed, but it's the in-between where it struggles, with power seeming to taper off after the initial burst of speed. It cannot be faulted for its handling, however, where it offers a driving experience that is hard to beat. But, once again, it manages to disappoint in terms of comfort, being loud in all the wrong ways.
The interior is severely lacking, where a comfortable seating position and excellent Recaro sports seats are the highlights in a cabin wrought with below-average build quality and odd ergonomics, as well as an infotainment system that doesn't live up to the standards set by German rivals.
If you are willing to overlook this sedan's shortcomings, you will find it an agile and athletic competitor with amazing track performance and adequate daily drivability, but it will never be a true luxury sports car until it matures and overcomes its growing pains to compete on even ground with the BMW M3 and Mercedes-AMG C63.
The ATS-V has a relatively low starting price for a luxury sports sedan. An MSRP of $61,595 will get you behind the wheels of the base ATS-V with no packages or additional features. This price excludes tax, registration and licensing, as well as the $995 destination charge. Equipping multiple packages can increase the cost to more than $70,000.
The Cadillac ATS-V comes in a single trim, although it can be customized with packages and add-ons. This sedan is powered by a 3.6-liter twin-turbo V6 producing 464 hp and 445 lb-ft, which is directed to the rear wheels only. A six-speed manual gearbox is standard, while an eight-speed automatic is optional. Performance and handling are guaranteed by the electronic limited-slip differential and Brembo brakes paired to Michelin summer-only performance tires on 18-inch alloy frames. Interior features include a quality Bose sound system, a sizeable eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system, smartphone integration, and Wi-Fi.
3.6-liter Turbo V6 Gas
There are only a few packages available on the ATS-V. Notable ones include the Luxury Package ($2,500), which upgrades the CUE infotainment system with navigation, gives the Bose system surround sound and add a 100-volt powerpoint. The Safety and Security Package ($2,150) adds multiple driving aids, such as forward collision alert, lane-change alert, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, rain-sense wipers, a following distance indicator, and a head-up display. The Track Performance Package ($5,995) adds carbon fiber body features and a performance data and video recorder, as well as the Bose Centerpoint surround sound audio system but comes at the expense of the Safety and Security Package features.
There is only a single model available for the Cadillac ATS-V, so there is no real choice here. However, if you plan to spend a lot of time on the track, then you should opt for the Track Performance Package, or at least the performance data and video recorder add-on. And if you plan to use the sedan for mostly town driving, then the Driver Awareness Package is a good investment, while the Safety and Security Package is nice if you want to splurge. A must-tick option is for the Recaro sports seats, which are more supportive and more comfortable than the regular items.
The BMW M3 features a 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-six engine that produces 425 hp and 406 lb-ft. While the numbers may be a bit below the ATS-V's, the M3's powertrain is more refined, as are both transmission options. BMW has opted for more subtle design choices when it comes to the exterior of the M3, knowing that they don't need to advertise how great it is, its performance speaks for itself. This simple elegance is just as present inside the cabin, too where controls are laid out in a stylish but practical manner, and the material and build quality feels better. The M3 may be beaten on driving dynamics - a big loss for the brand that pioneered the segment - but it's a better all-rounder than the ATS-V. It justifies the extra cost over the Cadillac by being a comprehensive sports sedan ticking all the boxes for performance and everyday refinement. Simply put, it's the better sports sedan, but the Cadillac isn't far off.
The Mercedes-AMG C63 is a beautiful car, standing out just as much as the ATS-V, although it does so in a more elegant manner. Where the V is aggressive and angular, the C63 is smooth and refined. This promise of luxury carries over to the interior with quality materials and design the ATS-V can't live up to. Powered by a 4.0-liter turbocharged V8 pushing out 469 hp and 479 lb-ft, the AMG not only delivers on performance but on the soundtrack as well, while the ATS-V sounds more like a hyped-up leaf blower. With no manual gearbox available in the C63, buyers may lament the supposed lack of involvement, but the auto deals with the power better, and the C63's demeanor is better suited to an automatic. The Mercedes is more luxurious but doesn't suffer much on the performance front, although the ATS-V is sharper and nimbler and more involving on the whole. For those seeking a purer driving experience, the ATS-V is superb, but those who want an all-round experience, and a more inspiring one at that, would be better off in the AMG.