Cadillac. It wasn’t that long ago when their vehicles were the transportation of choice for the elderly and Italian “businessmen.” With one of their main demographics “moving on,” and the other opting for Mercs, Cadillac needed something to drive sales. Something with presence. Something with attitude. Enter the Escalade. Launched in 1999, the Escalade showed that Cadillac was capable of building a car people under the age of 65 would want. Five years later, Cadillac built on this foundation and launched the CTS-V. Sure the 1st generation wasn’t perfect but it showed Cadillac had at least 1 eye towards performance. In 2009, Cadillac released the 2nd gen CTS-V and if the 1st one showed Cadillac had a pulse, the 2nd gen was a supercharged punch in the gut to the luxury car elite. It made the Germans take notice and Cadillac was now a serious player in the hot luxury sedan market. From that day onward I had been eagerly anticipating one car. Even before it was a glimmer in its designer’s eye, and had not yet come to fruition, I have been looking forward to driving the ATS-V; the M3 fighting, American brawler.
It’s not exactly a secret that I like a mid-sized luxury sports sedan. Hell, I own one. They are the grown up cousin to the hot hatch and much like a hot hatch, the luxury sports sedan has plenty of practicality, but is still capable of having fun when the moment moves you. Since the 80s, BMW and its M3 have been the luxury sports sedan benchmark. Audi and Mercedes have come close, but have never quite matched the M3 as an all-around performance machine. The RS4 was great, but a bit boring. The current C63 AMG is a hilarious assault on the senses, but lacks the M3’s sharpness as a driver’s car. Lexus, well, let’s leave Lexus out of this for the time being. So what’s left? Enter the ATS-V.
The knocks on American cars by their European rivals have always been the same: nice cars to drive, but not as refined and lacking the build quality of their European counterparts. They’re like a broken record. Just turn on any Top Gear review of an American car and you’ll see what I’m on about. The ATS-V’s interior is not the last word in luxury. If you want that, saunter on over to Mercedes. There is a bit too much plastic for my taste and as far as I can tell the door lock button is the same one GM used on the 2007 Malibu. It isn’t on par with its European rivals, but it isn’t awful either. The knobs and switch gear have a solid, quality feel to them. The seats are comfortable yet supportive should you decide you’re 18 again and want to drop the hammer. All told the ATS-V’s interior is a nice place to be.
Moving on to the real reason anyone buys a car with an M, AMG or V badge: performance. You buy one of these cars because you’re the type of person who may wear a suit to work, but you still have that 12 year old child inside yelling, “I wanna go fast!” Where the M3 separated itself from the competition wasn’t pure numbers. It didn’t beat you over the head with insane horsepower or crazy styling. It was in all the little parts only your mechanic would see that added refinement and feel that made all M3’s a fantastic daily driver and a track weapon. Intelligent engineering. Not numbers. Not the things salesmen go on and on and on about. Not the things idiots use as a measuring contest. BMW focused on what drivers actually wanted and have excelled at it since the 80’s. This is where Cadillac strived to get to, but always came up a bit short. That is, until now.
The word immediate was invented to describe the ATS-V’s steering. It manages to respond quickly without being twitchy. It feels firm without being heavy, relaying back to your hands exactly what the front wheels are doing. The brakes are Brembos and, surprise surprise, are fantastic. They’re all you’ll need for the commute and the hot lap. They took all the beating we could throw at them on and off the track at the IMPA Test days. This is more than can be said for the C63 AMG, which cooked its brakes halfway through the 2nd day. The magnetic suspension rounds out the sublime chassis. The system is firm and aggressive when you’re on the track and comfortable and for the drive home. All told, the ATS-V is an epic driver’s car and the handling is every bit as good if not better than anything out of Deutschland.
To be kind, ATS-V’s engine exhaust note was a bit underwhelming. Sure you hear it when you’re absolutely thrashing it, but I expected more from a 464 horsepower, twin turbocharged, 3.6 liter V6. Acceleration is linear and smoother than you’d expect from a turbocharged car. Weighing 3812 pounds ATS-V gets from zero to 60 in 3.9 seconds. The engine is great, but it could be so much better with more noise.
You have the option of 2 gear boxes here with a 6 speed manual or an 8 speed Automatic. Automatics are far from my preferred gear box and I’m rarely impressed by one. They may be faster and more efficient than humans now, but what can I say, they bore me. As long as they shift gears and don’t explode I suppose they’re fine. You do get paddle shifters, but if you want to change your own gears do it the old fashioned way and get the manual. Overall the 6 Speed Manual is a great piece of kit. Shifts are smooth and easy. If I had one minor complaint I’d say the clutch on the manual is a little light for my taste. That said, it’s something I could easily learn to live with. As appears to be the norm, this manual comes with an auto rev match feature and it is exellent. HOWEVER, the pedals are well positioned for a bit of heel and toe if you correctly decide to turn rev match off. Whether you’re on your daily commute, cruising you’re favorite back road or pounding around a track, the manual is absolutely the transmission to have.
It should be no surprise I love the ATS-V. I love the way it drives and I love the way it looks. I love how it’s American and we can finally hold our head up high as it takes on the best Germany has to offer. Sure some things need improvement, but Cadillac has come closer to matching the M3 then anyone else on their first attempt.