With perseverance anyone can move mountains ― or so the old Chinese saying goes.
Take the compact luxury sedan segment, for instance. The BMW M3 has dominated the competition for what seems like forever, resting on its throne like an immovable object. Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, and Audi have all attempted to unseat the German king over the years, but each of them has more or less succeeded.
What about the Americans? Only Cadillac could dare to take on the most athletic of all 3 Series models. Its CTS-V put up a good fight, but ultimately couldn’t defeat its rival. However, the latest addition to the brand’s V lineup seems to have everything it takes to finally move the mountainous M3.
How good is the new 2016 Cadillac ATS-V? How big a threat does it pose to the Bavarian star? I spent a few days behind the wheel to find out.
A strong performance statement
With the ATS, Cadillac decided to firmly grab the bull by the horns. No more approximations and compromises: This U.S.-born, Nürburgring-tested sports sedan pretty much has the same exact dimensions as the BMW 3 Series, and so does the ATS-V in relation to the M3.
Obviously, the German sedan maintains a very traditional look, while its American counterpart is all about edgy styling with sharp lines and creases, even more so on the muscular ATS-V. The latter’s front fascia incorporates larger openings next to an exclusive dual grille crowned by a wide, functional hood vent injecting fresh air into the engine bay.
Since my tester came with the carbon fibre package ($5,755), that portion of the hood was trimmed with the precious material. Don’t worry, though, your five-plus grand will also earn you a full carbon fibre body kit including a functional diffuser in the rear.
The 2016 Cadillac ATS-V makes a strong performance statement from behind, as well, with quad tailpipes, a rear lip spoiler, and beefy 18” tires. This is one special Caddy.
Is the interior up to hype?
When Cadillac introduced the CTS in 2003, interior plastics were cheaper and build quality was unimpressive. More than a decade later, fit and finish is much improved, as evidenced by the 2016 Cadillac ATS-V.
Admittedly, the combination of leather, brushed aluminum, and carbon fibre is extremely well executed. Other than the CUE infotainment system forcing you to take your eyes off the road more often than you’d like, the dashboard is definitely worthy of praise.
The ATS-V was designed to keep drivers grinning, and on that front it does not fail. The driving position is excellent, particularly with the optional Recaro seats (a wisely spent $2,645) that do a superb job of holding your body in check. The steering wheel also feels great in the hands. The paddle shifters on it may seem cheap, but in the grand scheme of things this is pretty negligible.
Six cylinders, twin turbos
The old-school BMW M3 features a twin-turbocharged, inline 6-cylinder engine that produces 425 horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque. Meanwhile, the new 2016 Cadillac ATS-V houses a 3.6L V6 that also uses twin turbos, but generates more power and torque at 464 horsepower and 445 lb-ft, respectively. The American sports sedan is heavier, though.
Performance purists will be disappointed to learn that this Caddy relies on a conventional 8-speed automatic transmission (as tested) instead of a quicker-shifting, dual-clutch unit. If you want better feel, stick to the standard 6-speed manual gearbox. On the plus side, power is distributed the proper way ― to the rear wheels.
Just how capable is the ATS-V?
The Cadillac ATS-V starts with a deep growl that’s pleasant to the ear thanks to the luxury brand’s refined ways (even more so with the windows up). After the first few corners the weight of the steering becomes evident. You can even make it heavier by pressing a button near the shifter on the console. This will also increase throttle response and firm up the Magnetic Ride Control suspension.
Hats off to Cadillac engineers for preserving good ride quality. In fact, I never felt any discomfort while driving the ATS-V. Meanwhile, acceleration is exhilarating with a V6 that sounds even sweeter at higher revs and an autobox that responds very quickly to throttle input. On the other hand, downshifts are not as immediate as if they were performed by a dual-clutch transmission.
Handling is remarkable as the car’s tires stick to pavement like flies on, well, flypaper. The Brembo callipers energetically bite the large discs when you need them to.
This new pocket rocket from GM is most certainly a direct rival of the famed BMW M3. Engineering and technology match the sleek, muscular exterior despite the conventional transmission choice and perfectible CUE system. It remains to be seen whether consumers embrace the latest product on the shelf or go with a sure thing instead.
The 2016 Cadillac ATS-V may not yet be a household name in performance circles like the M3, but with a starting price of $65,750 (plus freight and taxes), it delivers incredible bang for your buck. My generously equipped tester amounted to $86,630, which is far less accessible for sure, although in this market segment that’s the sort of price you expect to pay.