2016 Cadillac ATS-V Has BMW M3s in Its Sights

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The 2016 Cadillac ATS-V Coupe continues the automaker’s all-in commitment to produce America’s premiere performance luxury cars. However, that’s not the real purpose behind this new model.

It is a car built for a single purpose — to fire a red, white and blue shot across the bow of the king in its automotive class, the BMW M3. The M3 is (and has been) considered the best luxury sports coupe since it powered onto the European automotive scene in the mid-1980s.

Known for its power, precision, handling and in-car tech, the M3 is the absolute go-to car for the mass market luxury buyers — the yard stick by which other automakers test their upscale sports cars (super cars aside). The market tilts so strongly toward the M3 that the only car considered its rival around its price class so far is BMW’s own M4.

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The other automakers try to rattle the M3 with any numbers of would-be rivals. Lately, Lexus tried the IS F – a great car with a true V8 that Lexus phased out this year. Toyota’s sister company is trying again with the RC F with mixed results. Across Germany, Audi takes its shot, too. But the M3 keeps its iconic status.

Now, Cadillac accepts the challenge with the ATS-V Coupe. During the recent Midwest Automotive Motoring Association Spring Rally at Wisconsin’s Road America racetrack, Cadillac gathered automotive journalists along the Milwaukee lakefront for a day with the ATS-V. Suffice to say, if Cadillac can get the word out, they have a puncher’s chance to denting the M3’s self esteem.

For the uninitiated, the V in the coupe’s name refers to Cadillac’s sport tuning system — just as the M in the BMW signifies the performance engineers got hold of the 3 Series. On the Lexus end, they use the F Sport badge to significant the same upgrade. You get the idea.

So, the ATS-V is intended as a sports coupe the owner can run hard at the track before driving home in comfort. That’s the M3’s identity, too — hence the potential rivalry. To equip itself for the battle, the ATS-V gets a 3.6 liter twin turbo, 464 horsepower engine married to a six speed manual or eight speed automatic transmission with sport shivers. Sadly, I didn’t get a shot at driving the manual, but I still applaud Cadillac for offering it as an option — adding another great driver’s car to the world.

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The driving experience in the automatic is every bit the on-road equal of the M3. Enhanced by an angry exhaust note that announces the car’s presence, the ATS-V applies ample, smooth acceleration up to a reported 185 mph. Most importantly, to elevate the Cadillac above the class of mere American muscle cars, the ATS-V uses temperature adapting magnetic ride control suspension to create a more nimble sense of power on the track or en route home. Four driving modes adjust the engine, braking and suspension to match the surface and purpose.

The driving experience is comfortable enough to serve as a Grand Touring trim, but tight enough to perform on track. Power is ample enough to push you away from lesser mortals, and the engine noise is entertaining — even if it’s artificially enhanced.

The build quality and interior features are all commiserate with its $61,400 price tag. Finding differences between its crafting and the forging of the M3 would amount to little more than overkill.

It’ll be interesting to see what might happen if rumors prove true and Cadillac pushes into the European market in the near future. The ATS-V packs enough quality to offer some reverse cache on European roads. In other words, the U.S. drivers who reach out for that BMW badge to assume the heightened prestige of driving an import might equate into Euro owners who’d want that Cadillac emblem to stand out from BMW and Audi owners out on the Autobahn.