2018 Cadillac ATS-V Review – From Golf Bags To Helmet Bags

Let’s not go too deep into history here. Until a decade and a half ago, Cadillac’s efforts at competing with European sports sedans have been lackluster at best, and positively shameful at worst. But in 2004, the wreath division of General Motors discovered the alphabet’s 22nd letter, and everything changed.

Those first CTS-V models harnessed Corvette power wrapped in a sinister Art and Science sedan body, immediately making enthusiasts take notice. Now the V is available in a more compact package. Though it doesn’t have majestic V8 goodness, the 2018 Cadillac ATS-V Coupe makes for a properly American alternative to the Teutonic stalwarts.

When the ATS-V arrived, I was thrilled to see a trio of pedals and the excellent Tremec six-speed manual transmission, rather than the typical eight-speed automatic. I’m sure the auto is fine, but a proper sports sedan still needs a manual. I’m looking at you, Audi.

One little thing I struggled with in the pedal box – the dead pedal seems a bit too close to the clutch. I found myself catching the edge of my shoe on the dead pedal, leading to occasional lurching from a stop as I released the pedal awkwardly. It’s likely not an issue if your shoe size has fewer than four letter E’s, or you can be a bit more precise in placing your left foot on the left pedal than I am. I’m sure that with practice, I’d be fine – after all, nearly every car I drive anymore has but two pedals. My left foot needs more training.

When you do get the clutch drop right, look out. Traction control and the electronic limited-slip differential still allow a bit of wiggle and squirm from the rear wheels – and the no-lift shift system allows full-throttle upshifts with a bang. As that left foot isn’t practiced with dragstrip launches – and I don’t have a plethora of deserted roads on which to test – I couldn’t get repeatable test figures. Car and Driver, however, was able to test 0-60 in 4.2 seconds, with the quarter mile coming in 12.5 seconds at 117 mph.

I live in Ohio, where the police are more aggressive than most in speed enforcement – especially when driving something with Michigan plates. I don’t feel like going to jail for TTAC readers, sorry. But I can attest that this drivetrain combo is magic, and those numbers seem right.

My only real issue with the 464 hp twin-turbo V6 is the soundtrack – it’s not particularly melodious. The aftermarket has picked up the slack as always – I’d be certain to add something with a deeper tone were I to invest my imaginary money in the turbo Cadillac.

I’m seriously impressed with the ATS-V’s handling – especially considering the heft. It weighs 3,809 pounds – but that size isn’t as noticeable when hustling through the backroads. The electrically-boosted power steering is direct, with incredible feel one would expect from an old-school hydraulic rack. When I got a little stupid with the right foot coming through a second-gear roundabout in light rain, allowing the rear to step out, a flick of opposite lock caught the slide before traction control intervened.

The ride is definitely sports-car firm. The wide Michelin Pilot Super Sports have minimal sidewall deflection, allowing bumps and potholes to transmit their terror through the cabin with a muted thump. The magnetic ride control suspension does a nice job of minimizing the impact to the passengers, but you can feel the bumps through the steering.

I really want to get the ATS-V on track. The massive 14.5-inch front brake rotors are clamped by six-piston Brembo calipers, which I’m certain would stand up to repeated track use. The brakes were firm and confidence-inspiring on the street, with no real noise coming through to the cabin.

My wife was not especially impressed by the interior. Some of the materials are indeed cheap feeling, and the controls below the touch screen for the heating, cooling, and audio volume lack tactile feedback. It was a challenge to know if the buttons were responding to input without taking eyes off of the road. Further, the volume needs to be controlled by a knob, not a chrome touchpad thingy.

I’ve heard complaints about Cadillac’s CUE infotainment system. In this ATS-V, however, I didn’t see any issues – beyond the volume control. Pressing buttons on the screen triggers a bit of feedback – as if the entire screen is moving inward with the button push. It’s pleasing, and you immediately know that you made the system do something. Scrolling through menus is intuitive, with quick responses.

When you order your ATS-V, you must spring for the Recaro sport seat package. At $2,300, it’s not cheap, but these are some of the best chairs I’ve ever experienced in any car. Adjustable bolsters on both lower and upper cushions, as well as meaningfully-adjustable lumbar support means I quickly found a perfect seating position. Further, my youngest, when she was able to ride up front, found the seat so comfortable that she fell asleep within five minutes.

Once they got back there, the kids were happy with the rear seats. However, the typical two-door coupe struggles mean getting in and out can be a slow process. The seat belts for the front seat, especially, can hinder egress, and the slow power seat slider – thankfully accessible from the rear  – can be a challenge for a nine-year-old who really needs to pee NOW.

Barely 10 minutes into my drive, I was struck by an odd revelation – this ATS-V is a modern-day Mercury Cougar. No, not the flabby ‘70s personal luxury coupe fitted with curb feelers and opera windows – the original Cougar from 1967, based on the Mustang. Bear with me here – that first Cougar was a plush, lux version of a pony car. Beneath the bones of this ATS-V lies – you guessed it – GM’s Alpha platform, which similarly underpins Chevrolet’s pony car, the Camaro. They’re built in the same Lansing factory.

It has a similar pony-car character behind the wheel, too – completely out of character if all you recall of Cadillac is a bustleback Seville or the like. Steering is beautifully weighted and direct. Power is plentiful. Handling is excellent for such a heavy, wide car. It makes loud noises and can turn the finest rubber into smoke with an impolite poke of the foot.

Yet, the 2018 Cadillac ATS-V can be a civilized commuter car when needed. A golf bag does fit sideways in the trunk. The styling, while somewhat showy especially with the carbon-fiber bits on my test car, looks right at home at the conservative country club.

But those massive brakes, the happy engine, and the stellar handling mean the ATS-V will make an incredible track-day toy. While I’ve spent plenty of time with my TaylorMade driver, I’d rather drive something a bit louder – and burn down a few sets of Pilot Super Sports.

a version of this review first appeared on thetruthaboutcars.com

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