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Alpha-betical: 2019 Cadillac ATS-V Test Drive Review

In the automotive industry, one small thing can make a big difference. A tiny paint blemish can keep a finished car from leaving the factory. One incorrectly tightened little bolt can lead to a massive nationwide recall.

At certain companies, a single letter separates high-performance models from their regular counterparts. BMW’s M division makes fire-breathing, track-inspired versions of its coupes, sedans, and sports activity vehicles. Cadillac uses a different letter, but it gets the same message across. A Cadillac with a V badge is a delivery system for weaponized horsepower. It’s been re-thought, re-tuned, and re-engineered to make those who dare challenge it regret their decision.

The ATS-V is Cadillac’s ballistics-grade version of its ATS coupe. It has most of its more everyday sibling’s striking lines, but features several cosmetic and mechanical upgrades that make it less relaxed cruiser and more race car.

In January, Cadillac gave me the chance to experience the 2019 ATS-V coupe for a week. It had been several years since I had driven the regular ATS coupe, but just a few minutes behind the wheel of the V model made it clear just how much a difference that one letter makes.

2019 Cadillac ATS-V

2019 Cadillac ATS-V Exterior

A Cadillac makes a statement. It normally tells people you’ve arrived. The ATS-V tells them you’re ready to go. Large, unpainted vents in the bulging carbon fiber hood let hot air out of the engine compartment while prominent mesh upper and lower grilles route cool air to the powerful twin-turbo V6, radiator, and heat exchangers. An aggressive carbon fiber front splitter helps keep the ATS-V’s nose planted during high-speed maneuvers.

Cadillac outfitted the ATS-V with wider fenders to house its 18” X 9” front and 18” X 9.5” rear wheels and Michelin Pilot Super Sport summer tires. They topped the trunk with a pronounced body-color spoiler that pushes the ATS-V’s rear end closer to the ground when it’s going flat out. A carbon fiber diffuser partially frames a quartet of exhaust finishers that emit a basso threat.

2019 Cadillac ATS-V

2019 Cadillac ATS-V Interior

The ATS-V’s cockpit is much softer around the edges, but just as performance-focused as its angular exterior. There isn’t an inch of diamond quilting or wood veneer in sight. My test car’s cabin was trimmed with suede-like microfiber accents, alloy pedals, and carbon fiber trim. The heated 16-way Recaro front seats with adjustable bottom and side bolsters offered a combination of cold-weather comfort and go-fast grip.

2019 Cadillac ATS-V

Although the Cadillac User Experience (CUE) system’s lack of traditional knobs and buttons frustrated me, the ATS-V’s other tech features made up for it. The 8-inch touchscreen had crisp graphics and made using the navigation system nice and easy. I often found myself cranking up the volume on the powerful 12-speaker Bose Centerpoint Surround Sound audio system – by using a button on the steering instead of the touch-sensitive right arrow on the center stack.

2019 Cadillac ATS-V

Given the ATS-V’s dramatically sloped roof line and the fact that many “four-seater” coupes are effectively two-person cars, I expected its back seat to be suitable for only children or bags of groceries. Once I climbed behind the driver’s seat and pulled it back into place, I found headroom was just as limited as I expected it to be, but I was stunned by the fact that I had a comfortable amount of legroom (I’m 5’10”).

2019 Cadillac ATS-V

2019 Cadillac ATS-V Performance

The ATS’s “Cadillac-ness” survived its transformation from comfy coupe to high-powered hot rod. My ATS-V press loaner was quiet and its Magnetic Ride Control suspension made even rough roads feel smooth, whether I had the drive mode set to Snow/Ice, Tour, Sport, or Track. But don’t mistake its civility for sedation. The ATS-V has the power to back up its racy looks.

The powermongers in Cadillac’s V division had two main goals in mind for the ATS-V’s engine: low inertia and high output. They installed lightweight titanium connecting rods in the 3.6-liter V6, then added on a pair of turbos with titanium-aluminide turbines that enable them to spool up to a maximum of 18 psi and boost the engine’s power more quickly. That peaks at a stout 464 horsepower and 445 lb-ft of torque, which my test vehicle kept under an optional carbon fiber engine cover. It processed that substantial output through its optional eight-speed automatic and standard rear-wheel drive aided by an electronic limited-slip differential. Six-piston front and four-piston rear Brembo brakes reined in that power when I needed to bring the ATS-V to a stop.

2019 Cadillac ATS-V

My week with the ATS-V was largely filled with cold, drizzly weather. Those weren’t exactly the ideal conditions for driving a powerful, rear-wheel-drive car. Luckily, I happened to be behind the wheel one chilly morning when the roads were dry. I waited until the indicator in the main gauge cluster told me the tires were warm, engaged Sport mode, and put my foot down hard. Even in a straight line, the ATS-V’s rear tires were trying to break loose. It was a savage in a sharp suit, a well-dressed boost addict that turned into a snarling beast once it huffed its drug of choice.

On curvier roads, the steering had a substantial weight to it that instantly brought driving the current Ford Mustang GT to mind, especially when I had the ATS-V in Sport mode.

2019 Cadillac ATS-V

2019 Cadillac ATS-V Safety

The ATS-V has been on the market for a few years, but it still offers a substantial amount of safety tech. My press loaner’s optional Safety and Security Package added features such as a head-up display, IntelliBeam automatic high beams, rain-sensing wipers, and an array of warning and alert systems. Those ranged from Forward Collision Alert to Lane Change Alert with Side Blind Zone Alert to Lane Keep Assist with Lane Departure Warning to Rear Cross Traffic Alert.

2019 Cadillac ATS-V

2019 Cadillac ATS-V Overall

Cadillac managed to pack a lot of power and fun into one little letter. To experience all of it yourself behind the wheel of Cadillac’s high-performance coupe, go to an AutoNation Cadillac dealership…and zoom away in a 2019 ATS-V. Prices start at $67,795*; one equipped just like the car I tested will have a final price of $80,775.

*MSRP excludes tax, license, registration, destination charge and options. Dealer prices may vary.

**Based on EPA mileage ratings. Your mileage will vary depending specific vehicle trim, how you drive and maintain your vehicle, driving conditions, and other factors.

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