First things first: yes, this newfangled V car is better than the Germans. For me, anyway. Maybe for you, too.
Already half of you are flabbergasting and chuffing, the disbelief—or is it disdain?—like a fine haze of saliva in the air.
Well, tough. The 2016 Cadillac ATS-V is that good.
First there’s the light, stiff chassis that gives it a base of operations that’s a match for both the BMW M3/M4 and Mercedes-AMG C63 S in terms of rigidity and suitability for this level of performance. Both the M3 Sedan and C63 S are lighter than the ATS-V (by 160 lbs and 45 lbs, respectively), but the difference is very slight in practice—the only place the ATS-V feels just slightly less certain than the others is on the brakes.
The ATS-V delivers, especially in seat-of-the-pants feel for what the car is doing, a sensation enhanced by the Recaro seats co-developed by Cadillac. Paired with steering feel that easily tops the M3/M4 and C63 S the ATS-V’s driver input-feedback system is informative, engaging, and enjoyable.
2016 Cadillac ATS-V
Then there’s the magneto-rheological dampers. They’re not just great equipment, they’re expertly tuned, and it shows. Reflexes and ride quality both match or beat either the C63 S or the M3/M4 duo, whether on track, in the canyons, or cruising the strip. All three of these cars are impressive in both ride and handling, the ATS-V is just slightly more so, offering a wider range of both comfort plush and race-ready firm.
Plus there’s the Performance Traction Management (PTM) system, with its five base modes, plus additional track modes. For the experienced enthusiast, the decision to leave the PTM system in the last mode before completely off is the right one, to start. It may even be the position you leave it in after you’re comfortable with the car. Unless you’re scraping off seconds against hired shoes, it’s more than fast enough. The PTM never gets in your way with power-reducing or traction-altering interventions, and allows you to get power on early, driving hard—with just a touch of slip angle. It’s fun, genuinely, and you can still bork it, but there’s an expert guide riding along with just the nudge you need, almost so you won’t even notice it.
And then there’s the electronically controlled limited-slip differential. Working in concert with the PTM system not just to deliver power but to control and alter the car’s yaw, under both acceleration and deceleration, it performs like a finely tuned carbon-clutched mechanical differential—because it is—but it has smarts behind that and a fully variable computer-controlled engagement mechanism controlling traction to the rear wheels. It’s brilliant, but also confidence-inspiring: you’re able to go firmly to the gas and get a completely predictable, hooked-up feel, even when at the outer edge of the traction circle.
And all of that is before you get to the 3.6-liter twin-turbocharged V-6 under the hood, banging out nearly 40 more horsepower than the M3/M4 and about 40 less than the C63 S. But the throttle response of the ATS-V is linear, and nearly as instant as a normally aspirated engine—not that that’s a serious problem for either of the Germans. They’re all very good, and the M3 is a bit smoother than either.
A six-speed manual with automatically rev-matched downshifts, no-lift shifting, and launch control built in makes the purist both happy and high-tech, grabbing a bit from each bucket in the best of all worlds: three pedals, race-ready features, driver enhancement—all on call but none required. There's also an eight-speed automatic that rips shifts off almost as satisfyingly as PDK, and every bit as well as M-DCT, or AMG SPEEDSHIFT MCT, and it's name is even more comely: Hydra-Matic.
2016 Cadillac ATS-V
But—and there always is one—none of this is to deride the German cars competing with the ATS-V. In fact, they’re both brilliant. They’re also different—from each other, from the ATS-V, and from what each was just a few years ago.
The BMW is no longer the purer performance car, the more performance-centered perspective. The AMG is no longer the portly, rich uncle. And the Cadillac is no longer the in-betweener, mastering no trades.
Instead the BMW has grown more luxurious, more high-tech, and more refined. It’s a very civilized place to be, for the most part, and quite the capable sports car, too, if grown larger and less nimble than it once was. At speed, it is a fearsome weapon, capable of great pace, but it is largely devoid of the joy of speed.
The Mercedes has come up on its performance chops, and remains just as fun as the ATS-V to drive. It’s not quite as on-the-limit as the ATS-V, and unlikely to be quicker around a track, but it has character, a playfulness, that is very rewarding. And yet it boasts one of the most impressive interiors in the business, too.
The Cadillac is no longer aiming somewhere between 3 and 5, or C and E, and it’s hitting its new mark perfectly—if you’re of a certain mind. Performance is the bread and butter of each of these cars, to be sure, but each also has to balance its ferocity with civility, and therein lies the magic.
While BMW and Mercedes have shifted their targets eying each other, Cadillac has taken both into account, and hit right at the vulnerable underbelly: sheer flat-out ability. Fueled by a racing program that works closely with V series development (as are M and AMG) and being willing to push as close to a four-door Corvette as we’re likely to come (or a rather more luxurious Corvette coupe, if you choose) they’ve nailed the power, handling, and driver feedback elements—the very core of the thing—while doing a fine job on all the rest, too.
For a comfortable, capable, high-tech car that’s utterly satisfying and massively capable when pushed to the limit, the ATS-V is my pick of the three every time.
2016 Cadillac ATS-V