My first taste of the Cadillac ATS-V came two years ago in a soggy mid-western cornfield. There, among the crows and wet roads, the Euro-fighter’s poise and power wowed me. Months ahead of the ATS-V’s launch, Cadillac teased a car ready for war, but many didn’t believe it had the right ingredients. It was after all a company still in flux as it attempted to shed its geriatric persona. To my surprise and delight, Cadillac succeeded and delivered a “Made in America” giant killer. Two years later, it’s still the best driver’s car in the company’s lineup.
The 2017 Cadillac ATS-V sedans’s heart and soul is found in the car’s brilliant Alpha platform chassis. The lightweight aluminum and high-strength steel architecture is extremely rigid — 25 percent more rigid in V application — enhancing the car’s dynamics in terms of handling and coping with power delivery from its 3.6-liter V-6. It gives the ATS-V, and indeed the driver, the ability to outmaneuver most other sports cars on the road. You can easily place the ATS-V exactly where you want. The car dances on its toes, railing from corner to corner, weaving an intricate ballet.
Aiding the ATS-V’s prowess are Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires. Although now outdated by the Pilot Sport 4S, the grip from these road-legal race-inspired tires is phenomenal. Combined with the ATS-V’s chassis, the car becomes a titan among its peers, hitting a whopping 1.03 g average around a figure eight. But up here above Los Angeles, it feels even more impressive. As tight twisty sections fall and give way to long, drawn-out drags, there are few cars that can keep up with the ATS-V. Where a lot of cars would push toward the gravel embankment or cliff wall straddling the road, the ATS-V tracked out without fuss.
The magnetorheological suspension soaks up bumps, gravel and rocks, and everything else that litters the road. Set the ATS-V in Touring mode though, and you’re transported back to Cadillac’s of old, relatively soft and squishy. Flip the switch into Track mode and it becomes more like its beast of a brother, Cadillac’s ATS-V.R GT3 race car. Note the system is calibrated so that it sends precise feedback to the driver in every mode.
The engine is based on the 3.6-liter V-6 engine also found in the CTS and CT6, Cadillac’s newest flagship sedan. Yet, in ATS-V guise, Cadillac replaced or reengineered almost every part. The upgrade was so all-inclusive that Cadillac renamed the ATS-V’s engine to LF4, (formerly LF3). Making 464 horsepower at 5,850 rpm, and 445 lb-ft of torque at 3,500, the ATS-V is no slouch. Though it makes less horsepower than some of its rivals (Mercedes-AMG C63, 476hp; Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio, 505 hp) it can pop off lightning-quick 4.2-second 0-60 runs in the manual version we have here, 3.9 seconds in the eight-speed automatic.
The car’s soundtrack comes as a letdown, though. While some engine sound is piped in through the ATS-V’s speakers, the aural rasp from the car’s turbocharged engine isn’t what you’d call “exquisite.” Like many other V-6 engines, there’s a lack of fidelity and crispness to it. Instead, you’re left with something that sounds more grating, less refined. A V-8 soundtrack would be appreciated, but retuning the ATS-V’s exhaust might improve its vocal range — and there are a few aftermarket companies that offer such products.
Inside, the ATS-V is luxuriously appointed with faux-Alcantara-wrapped everything. The dash, steering wheel, headliner, shifter, seats — the fabric covers everything. For much of the interior, the feel of the Alcantara material makes the car seem more opulent and more in-line with Cadillac’s race efforts. However, the fabric’s slippery feel on the steering wheel and its size make it difficult for me to maintain a good and confident grip when pushing hard through a set of switchback roads. It’s not that the wheel feels like it will slip out of my hands, but I can never get a comfortable grip.
Dividing Cadillacs of past and present, the ATS-V forgoes a cushy and over-indulgent cabin for a confidently sporty interior, complete with bucket seats that brace you tightly as you rotate the car through tight corners. On the other hand, while Cadillac’s CUE user interface isn’t quite the nightmare many have reported, the capacitive touch screen is clumsy and too slow to respond to inputs. The biggest letdown, though, is the gauge cluster. Both tachometer and speedometer give the impression they were an afterthought. It’s a missed opportunity for the V sub-brand, which deserves something as driver-focused as the rest of the interior.
Compared to its competition, however, the ATS-V feels as if it turns-in harder and more confidently. Given the choice, I’m not sure I’d choose any of Germany’s offerings over the Cadillac. Nor would I choose the LT4-powered, 640-horsepower CTS-V. The ATS-V is extraordinarily focused, distilled down to the nitty-gritty of Cadillac’s goal of American performance-car excellence.
2017 Cadillac ATS-V Specifications
|PRICE||$60,695/$73,800 (base/as tested)|
|ENGINE||3.6L twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve V-6/464 hp @ 5,850 rpm, 445 lb-ft @ 3,500 rpm|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, RWD sedan|
|EPA MILEAGE||17/23 (city/hwy)|
|L X W X H||184.0 x 71.3 x 55.7 in|
|0-60 MPH||3.8 sec|
|TOP SPEED||189 mph|