When you finally get the OK from a manufacturer to test one of their most hardcore models, it is hard not to be filled with excitement. When you hear that you get to test the two most hardcore models, you are filled with an uncontrollable urge to foam at the mouth. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the most exciting two weeks of my life.
Cadillac has aimed two screaming hellfire missiles directly at the big wigs in Deutschland. For many years, the luxury performance model has always been a quarrel that remained in Germany. Friendly competition produced compelling examples from Audi and Mercedes-Benz, with the crown jewel and performance benchmark always being the BMW M3 and M5. But after 30 years, Americans finally have not just one, but two hats in the ring, and Cadillac has a pretty good shot at the winning title.
First up is the Cadillac ATS-V. Its 464-horsepower twin turbo V6 engine not only outclasses the benchmark in power, but it also sounds better. That power plant combined with the sticky Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires results in a 4.2-second 0-60 mph (and tops out at 189 mph). The performance goodies do not stop there! Throw in a ZF eight-speed paddle shift auto with launch control, huge six-piston Brembo® brakes, GM’s fantastic Magnetic Ride Control, carbon fiber aero trim, five different levels of Performance Traction Management, Recaro® performance seats and an electronic limited slip differential, and you can see this is one heck of a track monster.
One thing that took me by surprise was the lateral grip. The initial bite on the front end is so fierce and is maintained through the whole corner. The ZF-tuned electric power steering lets you control the grip with amazing precision, diving apex to apex, while communicating just enough about the tires’ limits. If you are an average driver, I can promise you that you will lose your lunch before the front tires lose their grip. The best part of all is this car’s duality. The ATS-V is a track-tackling, tire-smoking hooligan one moment then a comfortable, poised, exquisite-looking luxury car the next, thanks to its selectable driving modes and Magnetic Ride Control. It honestly is the perfect automotive representation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
The interior, however, is slightly perplexing. It feels slightly overdesigned in some places and too bland in others. The instrument cluster, for example, is pretty much the exact same as what you get in the base model, and aside from different trim pieces and Alcantara®, the dash and doors are essentially identical. If I am buying a car that costs twice as much as a base model, I want to feel like my car is built twice as well. With the design and price differences aside, the feel of everything is par for the course. Cadillac’s CUE system is a little slow and glitchy at times, but as long as you use Apple CarPlay or Android Auto you will never need anything else. Available Bose® Premium Surround, 4G LTE hotspot and live weather radar make it a solid companion for light road trips, popping around town and daily commuting.
If the ATS-V is like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, then the CTS-V is Mr. Hyde … and a slightly less Mr. Hyde. The supercharged 6.2-liter V8 engine from the Corvette Z06 in the CTS-V rips through gears like you have never seen before, rewriting what I thought I knew about acceleration. I am talking “I-had-tunnel-vision” speed; “It-makes-all-the-blood-rush-to-my-head-and-gives-me-a-headache” speed; “I-need-to-check-my-pants” speed. Unless you are an actual racecar driver or have an exotic supercar worth somewhere north of $300,000, there is nothing you can do to prepare for the sensation. The car squats, the supercharger’s whine and the V8’s bellow sing in harmony as the transmission grabs second and third gear. 650 horses hurl you toward the horizon, and before you know it, you are doing jail time. That raises the double-edged sword of cars of this caliber. You only get to experience it for such a short while. How short? Just more than three-and-a-half seconds to 60 mph. If you are puttering along the access road and see an on ramp to the highway, you better not stab the gas for more than a second. The only real way to get a grasp of the immense grunt is on a closed course.
This handsome brute shares many of its design cues with its younger brother, the ATS-V. Both, frankly, look excellent, but the CTS-V really does it for me. It is like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson at a black tie event. It can easily pass as formal and upscale, but you might not want to test its patience. The appearance can be a deceptive since the CTS-V seemed slightly firmer and edgier than the ATS-V, despite being a higher-end model. Nevertheless, the ride quality was exactly what you would expect from the same Mag-Ride system, delivering cross-country smoothness or track-ready stiffness with the touch of a button.
I am happy to report that the CTS-V does not suffer as much from the same interior drawbacks as the ATS-V. With its fully-customizable, 12.3-inch LCD instrument cluster, 20-way adjustable heated and vented seats and every sensor and camera you need to help you park any way, it remains at the top of its class. Also, they have included what they call a “Curbview Camera,” which helps you protect your precious front splitter from high curbs. It does, however, have the same pitfalls in the infotainment department, but again, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come to the rescue.
Quite frankly, anything you could possibly dislike about the CTS-V is run over and beaten to a pulp by how amazing the drivetrain is. You think the seat is uncomfortable? It does not matter … you will forget about it when you put your right foot down. You think the sound system could be higher quality? It does not matter … Were you even listening to the active exhausts? Honestly, this car could stab you every time you touched the accelerator and I would still gladly floor it every chance I got. It is that addictive.
Both of these cars share many features, but have slightly different results. Both have sporty, multi-way adjustable seats with air bladders for side bolsters, but the ATS-V feels slightly more comfortable, while the CTS-V holds you down better. The CTS-V’s ride feels more planted, while the ATS-V feels more compliant. I think you see where Cadillac is going with this. Both vehicles are triumphs in their own right, but no one vehicle can please everyone. If you like speed, but also are concerned with comfort over longer periods, I would recommend the ATS-V because the twin turbo V6 engine is quieter than the beastly V8 engine. It is better on gas and has less road fatigue, in my experience. If you want all-out speed in a beautifully-wrapped package, you have to go with a CTS-V. Where else can you get a car capable of being modified to have 1,200+ horsepower and still look at home in front of the nicest steakhouses in town? If it were my money, I would go with the ATS-V sedan. As much as the thought of that 6.2 Liter V8 engine roaring makes my hands tingle, the ATS-V is more of a balanced package in terms of speed and comfort, in my opinion.
It is hard to go wrong with a new Cadillac. Now, it is your turn to get behind the wheel and decide which vehicle is the most intriguing to you!