2018 Cadillac ATS-V Test Drive Review: Flawed For Some, Fun For All

Test Drive

Despite a few quirks, the ATS-V is a wonderful sports car.

The plan was to drive the Cadillac ATS-V sedan with an automatic. But after announcing the ATS sedan would be killed off after the 2018 model year, Cadillac told me the sedan was no longer available, and that I would be getting a manual coupe instead. Coincidence? Perhaps, but I didn't mind. Shoving suitcases and people in and out of the car would be a nuisance but at least the car would be a bit more fun to drive.

Aside from the obvious difference of having two fewer doors, the ATS-V Coupe has a few styling tweaks to help differentiate it from the sedan. I still prefer the look of the sedan, but it mainly comes down to personal preference and how heavily the back seat needs to be used. Fortunately the coupe still has a spacious trunk with 10.4 cubic feet of storage. With some discomfort, I was able to fit four adults in the car for long distances, though getting in and out of the back seat was more difficult than it should have been. Once in the rear seat, the 33.5-inches of legroom is useable, but a bit cramped. If you value back seat comfort, the sedan is the car for you.

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The ATS-V is aimed squarely at the BMW M3 and the rest of its competitive segment which includes the Audi RS5, Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio, Lexus RC-F, and Mercedes C63 AMG. With a starting price of $63,795 for the coupe, the ATS-V comes in as the cheapest in its segment. My test car did have a fair bit of options bringing the price up to $78,185. $5,000 came in the form of a Carbon Fiber Package - which includes a splitter, hood vent, rear diffuser, black rocker extensions, and a body-color spoiler. There is also copious amounts of carbon fiber trim on the inside to differentiate the V from a normal ATS.

The $2,100 Luxury Package rolls in several options, including: aluminum pedals, navigation, HID headlights with LED running lights, a power outlet, and Bose audio. Cadillac's navigation is simple to use, even if the CUE infotainment system is a bit annoying. I'd definitely recommend this package for the excellent Bose stereo alone. The $1,800 security package is good value, as it includes a power steering column, rain sensing wipers, lane keep assist with departure warning, forward collision warning, HUD, and rear-cross traffic alert. My test car also came fitted with the $2,300 Recaro seats, which were comfortable even on long journeys.

The seats bolsters can be electronically adjusted, so even large occupants can be comfortable for several hours. Toss in a Performance Data Recorder and some gold brake calipers for the massive Brembo brakes, and the price rockets to nearly $80,000. If that number seems a bit scary, skip the $5,000 Carbon Fiber Package and rest easy when you pilot the ATS-V over steep driveways. No matter which options you select, all ATS-V models come with a 3.6-liter twin-turbo V6 under the hood. We thought it was a surprise when Cadillac first unveiled this car without a V8, but the LF4 engine is a very nice motor. It's closely related to the engine found in the lesser CTS V-Sport, but with titanium connection rods and more power.

Cadillac rates the ATS-V at 464 horsepower and 445 lb-ft of torque. That's good enough for a 0-60 mph sprint of just 3.8 seconds if you get the eight-speed automatic. With the six-speed manual I had in my test car (a no-cost option), you'll take a bit longer at around 4.3 seconds. Take my advice, opting for the manual is worth the half second disadvantage. GM's eight-speed works great as a comfortable automatic, but it can be lackluster as a performance tool. The Tremec TR6060 has been refined, and it is now slick and joyous to use. The clutch is fairly light, and the throws provide a connection to the car that can't be matched on the automatic.

It even delivers rev-matching and no-lift-shift. Likewise, the ZF electric steering rack is one of the best I've driven in a luxury sports car. The BMW M3/4 felt too heavy, and the RC-F was too vague. The ATS-V is just right - comfortable enough during daily driving, yet precise when the roads get twisty. And when the roads do get twisty, the ATS-V is ready for the occasion with sport and track modes. Place the ATS-V into sport mode, and the car instantly becomes more alert. The throttle sharpens up, and the standard magnetic ride suspension stiffens. You also hear a noticeable change in the engine noise as the ATS-V shifts from a docile kitten to an angry cat. The steering also becomes a bit tighter and more involving.

Track mode takes things to a whole new level. Everything gets even stiffer, and the engine growls like a mad hyena. While the LF4 engine sounds good enough, it lacks the sense of drama that its competitors offer. Though it rides on the same Alpha platform, the ATS-V is more than just a Camaro with more leather. It is the embodiment of the pure European sports car that many of its competitors have left behind. Cadillac seems to have bottled up everything that made the E43 M3 special and applied it to the ATS-V. In terms of pure driving joy, the ATS-V may possibly be my favorite to drive on a winding road, though the Alfa Romeo Giulia is tough to beat.

Even when the curvy roads ended and the tattered streets of Los Angeles began, the ATS-V remained composed as a street car. I'm not going to say it has a cloud-like rides, but no car in this segment does. The magnetic ride control did an amazing job of soaking up the pot holes of Los Angeles, but the stiff chassis did cause a handful of spine-shattering knocks. Meanwhile, the leather-wrapped Recaro seats may be the most comfortable sport seats I've ever tested and are a must-buy on the ATS-V. Unfortunately, Cadillac's CUE infotainment system comes standard on every ATS-V, with no other system offered as an optional upgrade.

My complaints about CUE aren't as negative as some other reviewers, but the new system in the new XT4 SUV can't reach the ATS soon enough. It seems pretty self explanatory - a basic touchscreen, what could go wrong? The issue arises with the type of screen GM used. It's glare-filled, and if you're wearing sunglasses it discolors the screen as if someone put out a cigarette in the corner of it. The touch controls require a heavy push, feeling less like a modern smartphone and more a Nintendo DS from 2004. The whole thing is surrounded by black gloss trim, so be ready with a cloth and some cleaning spray because this surface attracts everything.

There isn't a fingerprint or dust molecule that won't be left on the dash, so neat freaks better ask their passengers to wear white gloves when trying to adjust anything in the car. Simply adjusting the volume or tuning the radio is also a challenge because all of the controls are touch sensitive. Why GM thought this was a good idea is beyond me, but it loses its charm very quickly. Your passengers will love the touch sensitive volume control when they first use it, but after accidentally bumping into other controls they'll wish for an old-fashioned volume knob.

Some of these issues can be averted using voice control, but during my attempts to input addresses using voice, the system struggled to even come close to my destination. I may as well have been speaking German. Luckily, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are both present to make life easier. However, if a decent infotainment is a low priority, the ATS-V could be your perfect car. Even though I found the controls annoying, even a technophobe could hop in the car and figure out how to plug in a destination easily. Once you learn to avoid it's faults, CUE is actually a simple system to use.

Aside from some weak infotainment, the ATS-V remains a standout in its segment. If you are the type of diehard enthusiast who won't buy a car with fewer than three pedals, your options are becoming increasingly limited. The BMW M3 and M4 still offer a six-speed manual, but the Audi, Alfa Romeo, Lexus, and Mercedes-Benz are all automatic-only. The BMW have nicer interiors and a slightly nicer sounding engine, but the ATS-V is less expensive and more fun to drive. Even though the ATS-V is about 300 pounds heavier than the M4 at 3,800 pounds, it feels incredibly nimble thanks to a well-sorted chassis and excellent steering.

The engine doesn't deliver a spine-tingling snarl, but the BMW S55 doesn't either. The ATS-V has plenty of weak spots that can be annoying to some, but anyone can hop behind the wheel and enjoy driving the baby V.

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