2016 Cadillac ATS-V

Not Quite There Yet

When I think of Cadillac, I picture two things: One, a blue-haired grandmother, sitting two inches from the steering wheel of her Seville driving below the minimum speed limit, on her way to the beauty salon.  And two, a hip hop artist with chrome, twenty two inch rims on his Escalade, ghost riding the whip, while blasting his latest album at top volume capacity.  Neither example is a desirable stereotype for General Motors’ luxury brand.  So, it’s no surprise that in the last ten years Cadillac has transitioned from a luxury brand for grandmas and rappers, to a performance luxury brand catering to the sophisticated consumer with a lead foot.

This desire for a shift in brand perception is evident by Cadillac’s driving experience tours and new, Cadillac V-Performance Academy at Spring Mountain Motor Resort and Country Club.  Once open, the school will utilize the CTS-V and ATS-V, Cadillac’s race inspired performance vehicles.  Until then, you will have to take these mentioned race track worthy rides for your own test drive, which is exactly what I was lucky enough to do.  For a luxury, performance vehicle, it’s only apropos to take it for a city drive and track test.  When running about town, the ATS-V Coupe drives like you would expect, a comfortable ride made even more comfortable by the upgraded, 16-way adjustable RECARO seat.  I have never seen so many variables in a seat before.  Perhaps one might need to adjust their seat to accommodate their empty wallet and inflated ego after purchasing such an upgrade; impressive but unnecessary.  Nestled into my seat, I took my new chariot to dinner in Dallas.  On the way there, the ATS-V got to stretch its legs.  The car is completely comfortable and stable while cruising at 95 mph.  The best part is that if your lead foot causes you to creep past the triple digits, there is plenty of torque to plant you in your seat.  With my travel time cut almost in half, I quickly arrived in the Knox/Henderson district.  The valet, who sees a plethora of exotic vehicles on any given evening exclaimed, “Why did you pick this car?”  “Because it’s fast!” I replied.  He laughed and said, “It’s beautiful, I’ll park it up front.”  If this car can earn the respect of a man used to luxury vehicles, I knew I was off to a good start.  While the ATS-V doesn’t cause “double takes” like an exotic would, it has a respectable stature.  Behind the classic, Cadillac grill is a 3.6 L, 464 horsepower twin turbo engine.  That, combined with its 8-speed automatic transmission, gives it a 0 to 60 mph time of 3.8 seconds.  This comes in handy while merging on and off Texas’ endless tollways.  For the true gear head, the ATS-V is available in a 6-speed manual transmission.  Yes, you read that correctly.  A car manufacturer has decided to produce a manual transmission and not sell out to the paddle shifting, dual clutch loving, lazy-bone drivers of today.  Unfortunately for me, the manual was not made available for my review.  But, with the confident, approving nod of the valet, I knew it was time to put this self-proclaimed “track capable” coupe to the test.

And so it began, I enjoyed a morning of fun at Motorsport Ranch in Cresson; a 1.7 mile road course, most popular with the Porsche and MX-5 crowd.  The ATS-V starts track ready with Brembo brakes and Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires (a favorite among racers).  Yet, the most important feature for a car that weighs 3,803 lbs is the stability control.  According to Cadillac, the suspension, including a magnetic ride control system, reacts to the road up to 1,000 times per second.  As most vehicles today, the ATS-V offers five different driving modes: Wet, Dry, Sport 1, Sport 2, and Race.  The magnetic ride control coupled with the track mode setting resulted in a car that did not drive like a Cadillac.  It definitely surpassed my expectations for how grandma’s favorite car brand would perform on a race course.  However, I came to realize, I was only impressed because it was breaking my perception of the brand, not because empirically it is impressive as a track car.  Yes, the magnetic ride control prevented a lot of body roll.  Yes, the Brembo brakes offered a lot of bite.  Yes, the torque was impressive.  And yes, race mode did help.  But, even with all the technology and all of the race inspired performance parts, the car was still lethargic in challenging turns.  The off camber chicane, deemed the “rattlesnake” was throwing the CPU for a loop.  As the traction control cut power, I was forced to sluggishly accelerate out of the turn complex lap after lap.  In the high speed turns the car performed beautifully.  But try to force a low speed turn after a heavy braking zone and the car reacted with chirping understeer.  It is worth noting that I was able to pass a Porsche 996 race car in the ATS-V.  Although the 996 is much older, I found it remarkable that a street car could withstand me tossing it about in extreme Texas heat.  That achievement brought a smile to my face, which is really what a performance vehicle is all about.

In essence, the Cadillac ATS-V is like a little girl who put on her mother’s lipstick, pearls, and high heels.  She’s dressed like a woman, but she’s still a little girl.  The ATS-V tries really hard to be a sports car.  The seats are modeled after race seats, with openings for a racing harness that’ll never be installed because there is no roll cage to attach it.  The MOMO inspired steering wheel even has the thumb notches carved out.  The cockpit is surrounded by carbon fiber finishes.  And the “shoes,” Michelins, are the best of the best.  Nevertheless, the ATS-V still feels like she’s playing dress up.  She’s dressed like a track car, but she’s not quite there yet.