First drive: 2016 Cadillac ATS-V at Yas Marina Abu Dhabi
The Cadillac CTS-V has been around for about a decade, but GM never quite figured out whether it was a compact or a midsize, and by their own chief engineer Tony Roma’s admission, couldn’t hack it as a rival to either the BMW M3 or the BMW M5, given its compromises to straddle the line. But things are much more focused this time around, with the latest CTS-V growing into a proper midsizer, leaving the compact super-sedan market to the ATS-V, which comes as a coupe too. We drove the company’s little new bruisers at Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi this week.
Both the ATS-V versions, the sedan and the coupe, are great-looking cars. With more aggressive bumpers, bonnet vents and an oddly-upright rear lip spoiler, it looks sufficiently unique in this segment dominated by the Germans.
Inside, there’s optional sports seats and not a whole lot other differences from a regular ATS. The trim materials remain decent for the most part, the gauge-cluster remains unsightly and rear legroom remains cramped. We did like the optional “PDR” dash-cam that can record a track session on an SD card, complete with speed, rpm, steering-angle and other data.
Utilising a rear-wheel-drive that will underpin the next-gen Chevy Camaro as well, the ATS-V is powered by a 3.6-litre twin-turbo V6 that produces 464 hp and 603 Nm of torque. Available only with an 8-speed automatic for our GCC market, and supposedly good for 0-100 kph in just over 4 seconds, it certainly looks like a compelling case on paper.
On the track, it’s clearly an impressively fast car when accelerating out of the pits as well as on the straights. The engine sounds strong and grunty, although it’s not the best exhaust note you’ll ever hear.
We put the driver-selectable settings in “track” mode, which apparently sharpens its responses but clearly doesn’t loosen its stability-control nannies.
As soon as we started hitting corners, it was clear that the chassis was extremely capable, with great body control and grip as well as a certain level of playfulness, except that we were not exploiting its full potential thanks to its overly-conservative ESP that kept on holding back the power at the slightest hint of understeer or oversteer. Generally, the ESP in cars such as BMWs and Jaguars allow a fair bit of slip before throttling back on the fun, but not in the ATS-V, which allows almost no play. Turning off the ESP wasn’t allowed, and we wouldn’t recommend doing that anyway if you aren’t a professional racer.
With a negligible difference in dimensions, there isn’t any perceptible difference in handling between the sedan and the coupe, despite some of our savant-like media colleagues claiming that the coupe is better.
Cadillac has retained the good steering feel of the regular ATS, and it is well-weighted and responsive, although it doesn’t feel quite as sharp on-centre. Still, it’s good enough for public roads.
Cadillac also gets a 8-speed automatic gearbox, and it’s just as unlikeable as the automatics in the regular ATS. In automatic mode, it’s not always in the right gear, upshifting early at times while downshifting slowly on hard braking before corners. In paddle-shifting manual mode, it responds with a slight delay that could feel like an eternity compared to dual-clutch automatics.
They did get the brakes right though, with good pedal feel and strong stopping power. We did lap after lap without smelling any smoke from the Brembos.
With prices starting from a relatively-reasonable Dhs 265,000, the ATS-V is the most affordable in this genre, undercutting even the underwhelming Lexus RC F, and while it’s a very entertaining car in its own right, to assume that it’s a bargain BMW M4 would be wishful thinking.
For UAE prices and GCC specs, visit the Cadillac buyer guide.
Photos by Cadillac.