Rolling down the Monticello Motor Club pit lane, I keep my eye on the track marshal — the gatekeeper to the track. I wait for him to give me the go-ahead, but not before a high-pitched whine comes over the hill and down the front straight. A track-prepped Porsche Cayman fires past, ratchets through its gears, threads through turn one and two, heads up over the hill into turn three, then out of sight. With the traffic clear, the marshal gives me the go-ahead and I head onto the track in the new 2016 Cadillac ATS-V Coupe ($62,665).
The driver of the Porsche is one of Monticello Motor Club’s members, and we’re sharing the track with them on club day. I’m staying out of the members’ way, trying not to ruin any hot laps. The Caddy, though, has other plans. By the time I get to the uphill-downhill, right-left-right chicane at the end of the back straight, the lightweight Porsche is back in sight. A few more turns, and the Porsche is about to ruin my hot lap. If anyone ever needed proof America can build a world-class car, I’m piloting it.
After Cadillac moved out of the parents’ basement, in Detroit, and into a new SoHo spot in Manhattan, the American luxury brand needed to show immediate success. The move may have been a superficial one, but the blue-collared aura of GM was cramping the refined style Cadillac is trying to cement. Cadillac has made a few attempts to contend with the world’s current crop of performance luxury brands, but the new line of V-Series cars is the first from Cadillac where the rest of the world has actually started to worry, and for good reason.
Rounding Monticello’s never-ending right-hander, Carousel corner, playing with the throttle, tires on the limit, the ATS-V never shows signs of faltering. Though the big brother CTS-V could take a sweeping corner in stride, the ATS-V doesn’t have the extra weight to make you second-guess the car’s road-holding limit. So every turn I lean into the throttle earlier, the ATS-V keeps pulling, mid-corner confidence climbs. And the 464 horsepower twin-turbo V6’s sound only entices me to get on the gas earlier. It’s by far the best-sounding turbo engine this side of eight cylinders. And it’s not a car that bites back, so when you do get gutsy in the turns, the ATS-V communicates perfectly not just where your limit is, but when you’re approaching it. It’s a true driver’s car.
Engine: 4.2-Liter Twin-Turbo V6
Transmission: 6-Speed Manual/ 8-Speed Automatic
Torque: 445 lb-ft
0-60 mph: 4.2 seconds
MSRP: $62,665 (base)
But “performance” is only half of the segment name. Cadillac had to deliver desirable looks and then back them up with an interior comprised of nothing but pure refined luxury. It wouldn’t matter if the ATS-V could outgun a Ferrari around Fiorano if it looked like a Seville Elegante and borrowed an interior from the Chevy Sonic. But the ATS-V coupe looks even sexier and better proportioned than the old CTS-V coupe and has just as much leather, carbon fiber and suede covering just as much cutting-edge tech as the newest CTS-V. It’s one of the most well-rounded cars to hit the market in years.
In the performance-luxury segment, there’s no bigger cliche than to call a car an “M3 killer”. BMW’s crown prince has spent the better part of 30 years as the segment’s benchmark, and rightfully so. Up until recently the M3 has always been one of the leading performance cars on the market. So many manufacturers (including Cadillac) in recent years have announced they’ve made an M3 killer, taken a swing at the title, and failed. But recently, BMW seems to have lost focus, lost that balance and lost sight of what made past M3s so great: They were no-bullshit driver’s cars. Now, they’re electronically convoluted status symbols. And the ball that BMW has dropped, Cadillac has expertly picked up with the 2016 ATS-V. By doing so, Cadillac has made an instant classic, not only because they’ve finally knocked the Bavarians off the top spot, but because this is the first- and last-generation ATS-V before Cadillac overhauls their nomenclature (see CT6). For now, though, before the name change, the one-and-only ATS-V can enjoy its reign as king.