Cadillac's Forgotten M3 Killer
We often talk about the fight between the M3/M4 and the C63, sometimes tossing in the Alfa or Audi, but often we forget that Cadillac was there too.
Just over 15 or so years ago, Cadillac gave us the first of its V-Series cars, the original CTS-V. The CTS-V was intended to be a fast American luxury sedan to take on AMG, BMW M, and Audi S-Line, but the fact that many of you will have forgotten that the CTS-V actually came out in 2004, with the LS V8 out of the C5 Corvette powering it, is quite telling about the overall success of that first generation. There were also the rarely mentioned XLR-V and completely forgotten STS-V in that first generation of V-Series, but I digress. The second generation of V-Series brought us the CTS-V sedan and coupe, as well as the often-coveted CTS-V wagon. But it was the third generation of V-Series that really had Cadillac fighting the Germans. During that generation we were given the twin-turbocharged V6 ATS-V – a car that had the M3, C63, and Giulia Quadrifoglio firmly in its sights.
The ATS-V was offered in both coupe and sedan variants, just as the base model was. The sedan was a decent enough looking car, though it certainly wasn’t as good looking as the Giulia. The coupe, however, was a different story. The sharp lines of the ATS-V coupe gave it a strong and aggressive look that, in my opinion, easily made it the best looking of the segment it competed in. Yes the C63 Coupe had very nice swooping body lines, but half the time they were ruined by the tacky matte paint with yellow accents of the edition one, and the other half of the time they had tasteless, awful wraps put on them by the sort of person paid $400 for a hoodie because it said “Supreme” on it.
On the interior things were less good. Yes, compared to previous generations of GM products the interior was much better, but that is hardly a high standard. I wouldn’t say there’s anything glaringly wrong with the ATS-V’s interior, but the general material quality is just better in the Europeans. By contrast, though, the ATS-V came with CarPlay as standard. I’ve never been one to complain too much about iDrive or the system in Alfas, but for some inexplicable reason COMAND in Mercedes just drives me insane. Of course, CUE (Cadillac User Experience) wasn’t the best system either, but the screen is by far the largest of the four and it’s the only touchscreen and the simple reality is nobody buying one would ever use anything but CarPlay anyway.
Where the ATS-V really shines though, is out on the road. The throttle response is good, but the turbo lag does tend to get quite in the way if you’re not careful about keeping the RPMs high. At times the gearbox was quite responsive and receptive to my inputs through the paddles, at other times it felt like I could have downloaded a movie through dial-up in the time it took to give me the gear I asked for. Thankfully, there is a solution to the gearbox issue that will also help with keeping the RPMs high enough to avoid turbo lag – the ATS-V was offered with a proper six-speed manual transmission as well as the less than perfect eight speed auto. I sometimes say in modern cars that they’re too quick to be any good with three pedals, but the ATS-V is right in what I think is the sweet-spot for a proper manual car: 450-550 horsepower, rear wheel drive, not too big.
There may be some faults with the powertrain, but I certainly couldn’t find any with the platform. Going through the corners the ATS-V felt sharp and precise. I felt the back-end start stepping out a couple times during pulls, but it was very easy to tell where the limit was to keep it from getting sideways mid-corner. The suspension was also was of the only adjustable suspensions that I’ve ever been able to actually discern a difference in between the softest and hardest settings. That’s not to say the ride is ever all that soft, but when you’re out of the canyons or off the track and you forget to take it out of track mode, you will notice it out on the road.
Given the choice, after having spent the day with the ATS-V, I’d have to say that it would be the one I picked of its rivals. In the past decades Cadillac may have lost most of the cache it built up during its first 70 years in business, but the ATS-V put up one hell of a fight against the Europeans and, in my opinion, gave them a bloody nose in the process. Today ATS-Vs are listed from $30,000 to $50,000, which is just about in line with the values of its original rivals, and here in the US at least, it’s certainly the one I’d be least worried about owning outside of the factory warranty. My only advice to prospective buyers would be to go for the coupe if they don’t absolutely need four doors, and to make sure that they only purchase one with three pedals.