This frenetic Nineties arcade unleashed unbridled automotive chaos
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What’s this, then? The car, potentially, to put an end to all those hilarious jokes about American muscle machines being designed for the ‘strip, and unable to navigate corners. Driven here in its slinkiest coupe form (a four-door saloon is also available), the ATS-V is the smallest and nimblest Cadillac ‘V’ series model ever, and the first with a twin-turbo engine – a 3.6-litre V6, no less. At 1,693kg all-in, the ATS-V is around 100kg heavier than the BMW M4, but with 463bhp it’s got 38bhp more in its locker. It can’t outgun the 1,800kg, 503bhp Mercedes-AMG C63 S with its big burly V8, but the Cadillac can match its 0-62mph time of 3.9 seconds and doesn’t stop until 189mph. Yup, no cop-out 155mph limiter here, a fact confirmed as we hit 170mph on a quiet piece of autobahn. Purely for scientific reasons, of course.
It’s got a potent engine, then. Anything else? Quite a lot, as it goes. The entire body is 25 per cent stiffer than the standard ATS, courtesy of several braces straddling the car’s underbelly and engine bay. To counteract the lardiness that brings, there’s a carbon-fibre bonnet and lightweight 18-inch aluminium wheels, plus an optional full carbon fibre aero pack. A track pack adds a ‘Performance Data Recorder’ that let you film your greatest/most embarrassing moments via a built-in forward-facing camera, and overlays them with 150 possible streams of driving data to let you identify what went right/oh so wrong. Does the V6 deliver? Emphatically, though the turbo engine has a very different character to its bigger brother, the 640bhp CTS-V with its supercharged 6.2-litre V8. Especially the sound. Whereas the V8’s rumble is drowned out by the supercharger’s whine, the V6 makes a rawer, more metallic rasp, apparently subtly enhanced by the speakers. Pin the throttle and there’s a moment of lag, but nothing more than you get with an M4, before it picks up sharply then bolts past 4,500rpm.
A GT3-spec version of this ATS-V is currently competing successfully in the US-based Pirelli World Challenge, and there’s a whiff of that racing DNA in the way it gets better the harder you attack. There’s a problem, though, and it’s Cadillac’s in-house eight-speed auto. It’s an odd one: every so often a manual upshift will slot home instantly and without any interruption in the torque, but then it’s followed by a slurred cog swap that impedes your progress. Downshifts are a beat behind the twin-clutch ‘boxes fitted to its German rivals, too. So does it grip in corners, or just leave a pair of smoking black 11s? With maximum grunt available from just 3,500rpm, such loutish behaviour is only a push-and-hold of the ESC button away, but smooth your braking, steering and throttle inputs and there’s real depth to the ATS-V’s dynamics. The steering offers weight without much feel, but is direct enough, while the chassis stays flat, poised and balanced in fast sweepers. It’s impressive stuff (and had us longing for a track to explore the envelope further) but hardly surprising given the suspension is 50 per cent stiffer, there are wider front and rear tracks, and the Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres are bespoke, with three different compounds merged across their surface. An electronic diff can change from fully open to fully locked in just 100ms, so you’re always confident the rear grip is where you need it the most. Can it do the comfortable Caddy thing, too? To an extent. Magnetic adaptive dampers are standard, so you can feel the car’s fibres tensing as you toggle through the modes – Tour, Sport and Track. However, there’s a firmness even with the chassis in its full lazy-boy settings that mean it’s always more at home being hustled flat-out than in school-run mode. The interior is a revelation though – still not up to BMW’s exacting build standards, but about as close as any US manufacturer has come. You’ll even cram a couple of adults in the back, and 295 litres of twinkies in the boot. Can I actually buy one in the UK? Not yet, but soon. The price is TBC, but expected to be around £55,000 – only a few thousand less than the M4, which makes it a hard sell. Cadillac only shifted 400 cars in total in Europe last year, so is being realistic about the ATS-V and CTS-V’s chances in the UK. It admitted to double digits aspirations, no more. It’s a shame, because the ATS-V is a car that’s worth serious consideration alongside the more obvious candidates, if you can live with left-hand drive. The step-change for Cadillac will come in five to six years, when it hopes to have eight all-new models with a fresh line-up of petrol, diesel and plug-in hybrid powertrains. All will be offered over here with the wheel on the ‘right’ side…