There may be no better sign that Cadillac is officially in the big leagues than the automaker's ATS-V.
A direct rival to the BMW M3/M4 and Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG, the segment's longstanding German heavyweights, the ATS-V brings plenty of vigor and enthusiasm to the table—not to mention Teutonic pedigree of its own.
It earns a 7.3 overall on our new ratings scale thanks to its supreme performance. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
MORE: Read our 2017 Cadillac ATS review
At first glance, the 2017 ATS-V—offered in both coupe and sedan form—has a visual presence that clearly marks it out as something more special than an ordinary ATS. Already a rather athletic, sinewy design, the ATS' flavor is enhanced with a more pronounced front fascia and the expected performance touches like large alloy wheels wrapped in low profile tires, dual exhaust pipes, and a more muscular, domed hood design. Wider fenders and a more aerodynamic body kit further set it apart to remind shoppers that Cadillac isn't really in the business of building plush rides for Grandma any more.
The standard ATS' nicely outfitted interior is complemented with optional race-inspired Recaro sports seats, available carbon-fiber trim, and sueded leather accents.
Of course, this is a performance model, so what is under the ATS-V's hood may matter the most. In this case, that motivation comes from a twin-turbocharged 3.6-liter V-6 engine rated at 464 horsepower and 445 pound-feet of torque. Although the V-6 shares its displacement with optional, range-topping engine for the standard ATS, the two don't have much more in common.
As an additional performance credential, the ATS-V is available with either a 6-speed manual with rev-matching or an 8-speed automatic, the former of which is increasingly becoming a rarity among even the sportiest compact luxury sedans. Although there's nothing quite like the snick-snick feel of a terrific manual transmission, the sophisticated 8-speed automatic provides ultra-fast shifts for even quicker acceleration.
Intriguingly, the automatic is a tick more poised on track thanks to its sophisticated performance shift algorithms and a pair of steering wheel-mounted paddles that offer additional control.
ATS-Vs send all of their power exclusively to their rear wheels and they make use of an electronically controlled limited-slip differential that helps distribute power between each wheel to give the sporty sedan and coupe more poise and control at the limit. Cadillac's Performance Traction Management stability and traction control system allows drivers to tailor the amount of electronic intervention to the type of terrain they're encountering—not to mention their skill level.
Advanced magnetic dampers combine with an ultra-stiff aluminum bracing and steel chassis to deliver a stellar balance between ride and handling not typically seen in such a performance-oriented model. Much of the ATS-V's fine tuning was completed at the vaunted Nürburgring race track in Germany, a facility that's not only one of the toughest in the world but also is figuratively in BMW and Mercedes-Benz's backyards. The result is a 464-hp car that is remarkably easy to drive at the limit yet rewards with a decidedly alive feel lacking in some rivals.
Hidden beneath the ATS-V's angular body are structural enhancements over the standard ATS that endow it with a far stiffer body—think a shock tower to plenum brace, a beefed up rocker bulkhead, heftier subframe bracing, and additional light weight braces under its hood. In other words, the ATS-V certainly doesn't follow the traditional model of more power without the behind-the-scenes improvements to back it up.
Although the ATS-V's big Brembo brakes endow it with excellent stopping performance in the city and on your favorite winding country byway, but they have been criticized for their ultra-high speed prowess. The rotors size in at 14.5 inches up front and 13.3 inches out back, meaning they provide great power, but there is a mildly squirmy feel evident with full on braking from speeds in excess of 120 mph on a race track. Critics have largely blamed the ATS-V's relatively narrow 255-millimeter front tires more than they have its relatively average for the class 3,700-pound curb weight.
Braking aside, the ATS-V still excels on a race track and is befitting its near-competition-grade exterior. Off track, the ATS-V is still a luxury car and isn't wholly punishing on the road.
Front seat occupants are treated to excellent accommodations including the aforementioned optional Recaro-designed seats that hug passengers with their ample bolsters, but won't prove uncomfortably firm or constricting after hours behind the wheel—a relative rarity among genuine sports cars. The ATS-V's rear seat, on the other hand, will prove a tight fit for those significantly over 6 feet thanks to limited knee and head room.
The ATS-V's interior isn't especially notable for its imaginative design, but its excellent visibility and intuitive control placement certainly make up for that. Materials throughout the cabin are properly suited to the ATS-V sedan and coupe's price point, although some trim details come up a little short against the Mercedes-Benz C-63 AMG. Up against the BMW M3 and M4, however, the ATS-V's leather seating surfaces and mix of metal and plastic trim feels a genuine step ahead.
Cadillac's CUE infotainment system comes standard, including Bluetooth and voice recognition as well as a text-to-voice converter to read incoming text messages out loud. Support for Apple CarPlay requires only that the user plug in his or her iPhone to the car's USB port. Additionally, parent company General Motors' OnStar system comes standard and includes 4G LTE data connectivity with a wi-fi hotspot antenna.
Setting the ATS-V apart is a trick 5.7-inch display with unique V-series graphics and performance gauge readouts. Cribbed from cousin Chevrolet Corvette's options list is an available Performance Data Recorder system that lets the driver record video, audio, and a wealth of data during high performance driving like a track day or a drag strip. With acceleration, grip, steering angle, braking pressure, throttle input, and much more data recorded, the PDR can also overlay laps from session to session or driver to driver to help improve driving habits, analyze performance, and gain speed during a post-track analysis.
Fuel economy may not be the foremost concern for many ATS-V buyers, but the sports sedan isn't a bad pick. With the 6-speed manual, the ATS-V returns 17 mpg city, 23 highway, 19 combined. Opt for the 8-speed and those figures change slightly to 16/24/19 mpg.
- 2017 BMW 3-Series
- 2017 BMW 4-Series
- 2017 Mercedes-Benz C Class
- 2017 Lexus RC
BMW's 2017 M3 and M4 are the most closely matched rivals to the Cadillac ATS-V sedan and coupe, respectively. If anything, Cadillac has a bit of an edge for those looking for a more raw, pure driving experience, but the BMWs provide robust acceleration and a more refined appearance. Opt for the voluptuous Mercedes-AMG C63 and you'll net a more luxurious interior. Though the latest C63's handling and performance compares favorably to the ATS-V and BMW's M3/M4, it offers only an automatic transmission. For now, Lexus doesn't offer a small sedan with ATS-V-rivaling performance, but its RC F luxury coupe delivers thrilling acceleration and eye-catching style inside and out—albeit with much less of a performance heritage.