The Cadillac ATS-V is America’s BMW fighter

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Hollis Johnson

For much of the past 30 years, the BMW M3 has been the gold standard for performance sports sedans and coupes. Countless newcomers have attempted to challenge the dominance of the Bimmer. Although a few have gotten close, none have been able to topple the king.

The latest challenger to the Bavarian performance car is the Cadillac ATS-V. If you’re surprised to find the byword for soft American luxury mentioned in the same sentence as the ultimate driving machine, you haven’t been paying enough attention to the Cadillac’s evolution.

For the past decade, Caddy has been infusing its products with more edge, performance, and quality in an attempt to shake the hangover of all those boat-like examples of the wreath and shield from the 1970s and ’80s – right down to the lush velour interiors, throwback whitewall tires, and pretentious names like “Fleetwood Brougham” and “Deville.” Ask Caddy, they’ll tell you that driving dynamics and engineering excellence have put those days in the rearview. It’s no accident that the automaker, which recently moved its sales and marketing to New York City, talks a talk that echoes what you hear coming from Stuttgart, Ingolstadt, or Munich.

With its current generation of ATS, CTS, and CT6 models, along with its performance oriented V-Series cars, Cadillac has been mounting a series charge at Germany’s sporting automotive supremacy. The ATS-V coupe and sedan are the latest performance offerings from Caddy’s “V-Series” aimed directly at the BMW M3. (The M3 Coupe has been renamed the M4.)

Business Insider spent some time with a 2016 Cadillac ATS-V coupe. It starts at $62,665, but our highly optioned test car came to $76,035.

Photos by Hollis Johnson unless otherwise credited.


For 30 years, the BMW M3 has been the gold standard for compact sports sedans.

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BMW

Today, the stunning M4 continues that tradition of automotive excellence.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Sportiness hasn’t really been a big part of Cadillac’s tradition. However, since the late 1980s, Caddy has become more and more interested in incorporating “sportiness” to its cars.

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Cadillac

From 1986 to 1993, Cadillac offered the stylish Pininfarina-designed Allanté convertible. It was supposed to compete with Mercedes’ SL convertible rather than BMW’s road racing M3. The Allanté was front-wheel-drive, and until the addition of the fantastic Northstar V8 in its last year of production, it wasn’t all that quick.

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Cadillac

In 1997, Cadillac tried again with the Catera sedan. From the beginning, Cadillac hoped the rear-wheel-drive sports sedan would be able to compete against Germany’s Big 3. It was even marketed as the “Caddy that zigs.”

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Cadillac

The Catera was based on GM’s German-market Opel Omega sedan. In fact, the Catera was built in Germany alongside the Omega. Unfortunately, the Catera wasn’t the critical and sales success Cadillac had hoped for. But it was certainly a move in the right direction.

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Opel

The Catera spawned the first-generation CTS sedan. It was the first Cadillac in a long time to be available to with rear-wheel drive and a manual transmission! The company even launched its first BMW M3-fighting CTS-V sedan.

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Cadillac

Cadillac pushed even further into the performance realm with the Corvette-based XLR. It looked cool and was powered by Caddy’s highly capable Northstar V8 engine, but wasn’t particularly well received. It was killed off after a couple of years.

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Cadillac

For the second-generation CTS and CTS-V, Caddy added a coupe and Batmobile-esque styling. With a 556-horsepower supercharged small-block V8 under the hood and more polished packaging, the second-gen CTS-V was a critical success.

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Cadillac

By 2013, Cadillac launched the compact ATS series.

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Cadillac

As a result, the third-generation CTS-V got bumped up a weight class and is now set to take on the BMW M5.

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Matthew DeBord/Business Insider

Which means the Cadillac ATS-V has now taken over the company’s BMW M3-fighting duties.

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Hollis Johnson

Cadillac let us borrow this Crystal White ATS-V Coupe for a few days. We escaped Manhattan as soon as we could to search for some open road. Looking at the car’s spec, I knew this thing had some serious performance hardware, but I didn’t expect it to come together this well.

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Hollis Johnson

First, the engine. It’s a 3.6-liter, twin-turbocharged V6 that pushes out 464 horsepower. It’s mated to either a 6-speed manual or an 8-speed automatic. Our test car came with the stick. Working in tandem, the ATS-V’s powertrain and transmission performed like champs.

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Hollis Johnson

We found an open stretch of road, dropped a down a couple of gears and let the ATS-V stretch its legs a bit. What emerged was a confident beast of a sports car. Power delivery was smooth and immediate. Stomp on the gas pedal and acceleration just happens. It’s a highly enjoyable sensation.

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Hollis Johnson

The 6-speed’s crisp and precise shifts effectively tapped into the V6’s meaty torque band with no whiff of turbo lag.

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Hollis Johnson

Then there’s the suspension. In the corners, the ATS-V felt planted and perfectly at home. Thanks to Caddy’s magnetic fluid filled dampers, advanced traction management system and stiffened body structure, our test car remained confident even when equipped with winter tires, which provide less-than-ideal grip.

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Hollis Johnson

Cadillac spent plenty of time putting this car through its paces at the Nürburgring track in Germany. And it shows.

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Hollis Johnson

Ultimately, poor weather and road conditions prevented us from pushing the ATS-V’s performance as far as we would have liked, but what we did experience, we loved. Unlike many high-horsepower speed machines, the ATS-V doesn’t have to be driven at law-breaking speeds to be enjoyable. I had a tremendous amount of fun putting the car through its paces on winding roads at 40 mph.

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Hollis Johnson

Cadillac claims the ATS-V is good for a 0-60 mph sprint in just 3.9 seconds and can achieve a top speed of 189 mph.

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Hollis Johnson

For V-duty, Cadillac made some cosmetic changes to the ATS coupe to give it a more muscular and aggressive image.

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GM Media

Up front, Cadillac beefed up the ATS-V’s looks with a mesh front grille, redesigned air intakes and a carbon-fiber splitter.

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Hollis Johnson

The hood. That’s carbon fiber as well.

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Hollis Johnson

The headlights are stylish halogens.

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Hollis Johnson

The side profile is much less busy. The slab-sided look has long been a fixture in the Cadillac ATS/CTS design vocabulary.

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Hollis Johnson

The rear end of the ATS-V is punctuated by large quad exhausts, a carbon-fiber diffuser and a large deck lid spoiler.

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Hollis Johnson

These exhausts make quite a nice sound for a turbo V6.

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Hollis Johnson

Cadillac’s signature narrow vertical taillights are present as well. Just in case other drivers aren’t sure who makes the car that just blew past them on the highway.

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Hollis Johnson

Overall, the ATS-V’s styling is striking and aggressive. Not in a quiet, brooding manner like the M4. More like a refined take on the souped-up street-racer look, like the many of Mercedes’ AMG cars.

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Hollis Johnson

Open the door, and you are immediately met with a V-Series kick plate to remind you this isn’t just any ATS.

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Hollis Johnson

Inside our test car was black with black accents. Cadillac did not cut corners here. The materials look and feel top-notch. Carbon fiber and Alcantara dominate the interior.

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Hollis Johnson

There are rear seats. Don’t bother if you’re an adult.

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Hollis Johnson

Drivers get an intuitive and nicely weighted leather-trimmed steering wheel.

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Hollis Johnson

The instrument cluster features a 5.7-inch digital display.

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Hollis Johnson

The center stack is highlighted by Cadillac’s CUE infotainment system and haptic feedback climate control. Here’s where the Caddy showed some weakness.

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Hollis Johnson

First, the haptic feedback controls. Instead of buttons or knobs, occupants adjust the car’s climate control, seat heaters, and radio volume by touching various sections of a reactive panel. Notice the silver bumps on the panel below the screen? They aren’t buttons. They are meant to guide you to the area right above them.

Frankly, the user experience is too slow, too inaccurate, and plain irritating. Buttons and nobs may not be as sleek and stylish, but they work. And they certainly have a role to play in a world-class center console. Just ask BMW and Audi.


And then we have the CUE infotainment system. It didn’t work properly in our test car. The reaction time was too slow, the navigation rendering was confusing, and we had problems linking to Bluetooth. The CUE system has not exactly won critical acclaim in the industry, but we haven’t had such severe infotainment issues with any of our other Cadillac or GM test cars.

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Hollis Johnson

We talked to Cadillac to get some answers. As it turns out, our test car was an early-build example and was one of the few ATS-Vs to leave the factory with an older-generation CUE system. According to Cadillac, all ATS-Vs are now equipped with the company’s latest version of the system that’s 300% faster than the one we sampled. The new system also comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Also, owners of ATS-Vs with the older system have been offered a free upgrade by Cadillac.

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Hollis Johnson

Behind the maligned haptic feedback panel is a cool little smugglers box. It’s got a nifty wireless-charging feature for cellphones. Although it may be a snug fit if your phone is enclosed in a case.

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Hollis Johnson

The ATS-V’s Recaro performance seats were supportive when the driving got dynamic, but way too snug for comfort in daily driving. And don’t bother to jump in the car wearing a jacket or a coat. You’ll come to regret that decision.

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Hollis Johnson

The V-Series logo looks pretty sweet, and the leather upholstery was high quality.

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Hollis Johnson

The Bose premium sound system with active noise cancellation sounded pretty good. Although we didn’t use it much. The motor and exhaust sounds were too good to pass up.

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Hollis Johnson

As a driving machine the ATS-V is phenomenal. But where it falls down is its lack of a dual personality. The ATS-V isn’t a supercar. It likely won’t be just a weekend driver. It will be a car owners have to live with day to day. When a BMW M4 has its performance modes shut off, it drives and behaves with the politeness of a run-of-the-mill 4-Series coupe. With the ATS-V, you are constantly reminded of its performance aggression. At a certain point, it becomes tiring.

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Hollis Johnson

So, no. It’s not better than the BMW M4. But it’s also different — it lacks the M4’s ferocity, but it also lacks the M4’s ability to turn in on the charm. It’s consistently intense. And just because you aren’t better than Michael Jordan doesn’t mean you aren’t headed for the Hall of Fame.

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Hollis Johnson

And thus the final assessment of the Cadillac ATS-V. It’s a brilliant car, but I got hung on a couple of areas that need improvement. Cadillac should still be proud of the job it did. The ATS-V offers a driving experience on par with the best Germany can offer in its class.

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Hollis Johnson