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2016 Cadillac ATS-V Test Drive

Gary Gastelu says the high-performance 2016 Cadillac ATS-V coupe is money. A lot of it.

 

Cadillac wants you to stop thinking of it as an SUV company, despite how much you love your Escalade. That goes for you SRX owners, too, including the 56,000 who have joined the ranks this year.

Together, the two models account for well over half the automaker’s sales, and its boss admits it needs even more crossovers in the lineup to keep pace with the import luxury brands that have co-opted this very American type of vehicle to great $uccess.

But instead of owning and driving that bandwagon, Cadillac has been busy loading up its showrooms with good old-fashioned cars, a segment that is in decline both industrywide and at the automaker, where they’re down a combined 23 percent through October. Nevertheless, despite the recent truck takeover, the idea of the “luxury car” persists.

Of course, luxury alone isn’t good enough for the power brokers of today. You have to deliver ridiculous amounts of performance with it. That’s why there is now a large Cadillac sedan, the CTS-V, that can go over 200 mph. I’m not even sure my dad does the speed limit when he’s cruising around in his vinyl-roof, white-on-white 2006 DTS that he’s still very happy with.

But all the cool kids are in on the game, and the cheer captain of that clique has long been the compact BMW M3, now known as the M4, unless you get the sedan, which is still the M3. Regardless, Cadillac has them all covered.

The 2016 ATS-V builds on the company’s excellent ATS lineup, which launched to much-deserved acclaim three years ago. The coupe and sedan were designed with driving, not cruising, in mind. Their shared platform is so performance-minded that it serves as the basis of the new Chevrolet Camaro.

To step things up many notches from the mainstream models, the ATS-V gets a 3.6-liter twin-turbocharged V6 rated at 464 horsepower. That’s nine more than the V8 in the Camaro can muster, and it’s delivered in a quieter, more sophisticated manner, as is the tendency for turbos.

You can channel it through an 8-speed automatic, or six-speed manual transmission, which is the fun way to go. The stick has a few automated tricks, however, including a simple clutch-drop launch control; a rev-match that blips the throttle to smooth out downshifts; and a no-lift shift feature that lets you keep your foot on the floor while changing gears under acceleration. The first two work well all the time; the last not as much. I remember being more impressed with it on the 2008 Cobalt SS, but it’s also not very necessary.

The ATS-V goes like stink pretty much regardless of how you approach it. 60 mph? Gone in under four seconds. The quarter-mile follows in just over 12. Those were six-figure supercar times not too many years ago.

Cadillac says the ATS-V is good for a top speed of 189 mph, and though the track I attacked in an ATS-V coupe didn’t have a stretch long enough to confirm that, I found no reason to doubt it. But fast in a straight line is easy stuff. The turns are where a sports car needs to work its magic.

The standard ATS already feels solid as a cold stone, but the ATS-V’s engineers added bracing above and below the engine to help the chassis even better resist getting twisted. Adjustable, active shock absorbers trim out the ride and make it more than bearable in Tour mode, but it’s always a little on the stiff side – and that’s the first thing your passengers will mention to you.

Actually, they’ll probably remark on the looks of the ATS-V. Order it with the carbon fiber track package (that’s not a suggestion, it’s a must) and the very edgy body extensions combine with the slight wedge profile of the car to give it a kind of 1980s over-the-top supercar style. This was confirmed by the stroller-bound toddler whose head twisted like an owl when he was unable to remove his eyes from the ATS-V as his mom pushed him past the car and down the block.

The flair is also functional; it improves aerodynamic downforce. Those holes in the hood? They’re less about heat and more like a pressure release valve that helps keep the front of the car from lifting off the road, while the prominent chin splitter digs into the airflow from below.

Fast or slow, the ATS-V’s steering is quick, responsive and perfectly-weighted, though its electric assist does numb things a bit. The seat of your pants knows when the front tires start losing grip before your hands do.

You have to try hard to make that happen. The ATS-V has tons of grip and is incredibly neutral. Its world class Performance Traction Management system gives you as much or as little assistance you need to take it to the limit, which is on par, if not beyond the M3/4’s. It's mechanicals are just missing that extra layer of lanolin German cars always seem to be drenched it.

As for the luxury bit, the interior is a gorgeous collection of leathers and microfiber suede, and optional sport seats with their adjustable bolsters really dial up the cool. The only letdowns are the dated, frustrating touch controls on the center stack and a flat, plain-Jane instrument cluster that doesn’t look even as good as the one in that Cobalt SS I mentioned earlier.

This is not a superficial criticism when you consider that, along with the view out the windshield, it’s the thing you spend the most time looking at in the ATS-V – and especially since Cadillac has a very cool digital instrument cluster available in its parts bin. You deserve more for the $63,660 you pay for the ATS-V before you start adding options, which easily push the price over 70 grand.

So while the ATS-V is about as far from an Escalade as you can get, it turns out that it costs just as much. Seeing as Cadillac won’t sell nearly as many of them, it almost makes you wonder why it bothered going to the trouble of making it.

But as long as they keep their eyes on the road and their foot the floor, the people who buy one will be satisfied it they did.

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2016 Cadillac ATS-V coupe

Base price: $63,660

Type: 4-passenger, 2-door coupe

Engine: 3.6-liter turbocharged V6

Power: 464 hp, 445 lb-ft torque

Transmission: 6-speed manual

MPG: 17 city/23 hwy

Gary Gastelu is FoxNews.com's Automotive Editor.