Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Auto review: Cadillac re-energizes brand with performance V-series

(TNS) Cadillac is the second-oldest American automaker behind Buick and has the third oldest average age of car buyers, according to a 2014 IHS Automotive report. Lincoln has the oldest. At 59 1/2, Cadillac's average buyer is nearly eight years older than the average car buyer.

While older car buyers remain the most significant demographic, Cadillac has been shedding its stigma of serving up stately sedans to septuagenarians since 2004, when it launched the race-inspired V-Series.

Comfort keeps customers happy on the road, but high-performance cars pump fresh blood through dealer doors.

For 2016, Cadillac is pumping out a whole lot of power with the 640-horsepower CTS-V midsize sedan, which is the most powerful Cadillac in the brand's 113-year history, and the smaller ATS-V performance coupe and sedan.

Every bit of press material for the redesigned CTS-V boasts that its all-new 6.2-liter supercharged V-8 engine, slightly modified from the Corvette Z06 supercar and churning out a whopping 640 horsepower and 630 pound-feet of torque, outperforms the engines standard in the BMW M5 and Mercedes-AMG E63.

Cadillac aims to outperform — and outsell — the German makes that have long dominated the low-volume but high-appeal luxury performance segment.

The last iteration of the CTS-V couldn't quite measure up to the competition because it straddled the compact and midsize performance sizes. The ATS-V starts at just under $63,000, while the CTS-V comes in under $84,000.

Cadillac's distinct performance duo is the best value in a segment that doesn't seem concerned with value. Yet nothing about the Caddies feels budget-driven or sparse. It only makes you scrutinize why you're paying 10 to 20 percent more for the Germans.

After brief track drives in the spring, we had a chance for weeklong back-to-back tests.

The pair share several design elements with slight modifications. The hexagonal grille is smaller on the top half of the ATS-V, and lower air vents aren't flanked by the boomerang daytime running lights that run up the side and over the wheel well of the CTS-V. Both have the raised carbon fiber hood that is cut by a heat vent, which distinguishes it from the competition and adds an element of cool.

The ATS-V is about a foot shorter and over 400 pounds lighter. The coupe is a few inches lower in height and comes with 18-inch wheels that are half an inch wider in the rear. Under the hood is a direct injection 3.6-liter twin-turbo V-6 that kicks out 464 horsepower and 445 pound-feet of torque. It's deceptively powerful and benefits from an electronic limited-slip differential to keep the rear wheel drive planted and more able to squeal out of turns.

Our model came with a six-speed manual transmission, though a paddle-shift eight-speed auto is available. The manual is smooth — with a short stick and shorter throws — and seems to know its place better than the driver. The cupholders are pretty much useless unless you can shift without using your elbow. The clutch pedal is firm but never too springy, so driving hard feels like good fun work, yet dull work like commuting doesn't fatigue the driver.

The ATS-V is a blast and includes a soundtrack of the V-6 firing and popping, underscored by the whirring of the twin turbocharger. On the base of the gearbox is a button to shift among touring, sport and track, which is only needed on the track. Sport mode provides plenty of street thrills.

Touring mode returned an impressive 25.8 mpg in a pair of commutes averaging about 30 mph.

The interior is cramped by coupe proportions and a thick center console. There isn't much space in this segment, and Cadillac tries mightily to inflate the inside with a 2+2 seat configuration where the rear seats are split by cupholders. The Recaro performance seats ($2,300 option) are snug with high shoulder bolsters that feel great when driving but make getting in and out of the rear seats a narrow operation. That's why there's a sedan, whose doors fit four just fine.

Both the ATS-V and CTS-V come with the CUE interface that uses haptic soft-touch controls for climate, radio and other functions. It's a better system than previous iterations, though I prefer a control dial such as Audi's MMI system over the touch screen. Fortunately, there are redundant steering wheel controls on the meaty three-spoke wheel, and some of the best voice command recognition on the market, as long as you speak the language. If you want to speak Siri, Apple CarPlay is on both cars.

While the ATS-V has plenty of advanced safety features, the CTS-V is a showcase of everything new and exciting at Cadillac. The "driver awareness" package, including all the vibrating pinging dinging alerts you can imagine for blind spots, lane assist, forward collision and more, comes standard.

Our time in the CTS-V was muffled by a heavy early season snowstorm, providing less than ideal conditions for the rear-wheel-drive midsize beast. At one point, a downed tree blocked our road, and we had to make a U-turn that required some tricky rocking for all that torque to carve out a foothold.

Most drivers will avoid the CTS-V in snow, but the car is beautiful enough to tempt better judgment.

While the ATS-V has the agility of a slot receiver, small, nimble and explosive, the CTS-V carries the load out of the backfield. It has a power running back's wide wheelbase and low center of gravity, and sculpted shoulders that taper down the body into explosive but well-balanced power.

The balance of grace and power carries over to the inside. Our model came with Recaro performance seats ($2,300) in a tan-on-black peanut butter cup combo that was polarizing for passengers. I loved the color contrast and the hugging seats. The "sueded microfiber" ($300) steering wheel felt great and matched the suede headliner and other soft touches everywhere.

While the ATS-V had a more traditional, performance-oriented instrument cluster, the CTS-V is much more customizable, dynamic and in line with the luxury price.

The few dry hours we had with the CTS-V were a thing of unbridled joy, as there's no better way of leaving behind a day of office work than by mashing a 6.2-liter supercharged V-8 beast that rips down the road with the wild thrill of youth in the guise of sophisticated luxury. Loyal fans won't be turned off, and just about anyone who appreciates the ripsnort howl of a supercharged V-8 will take notice.


2016 Cadillac ATS-V at a glance

Vehicle type: Performance compact coupe

Base price: $62,665

As tested: $68,940 (excluding delivery)

MPG: 17 city, 23 highway

Engine: 3.6-liter twin turbo V-6

Transmission: 6-speed manual in rear-wheel drive

Parting shots: Giddyup.


2016 Cadillac CTS-V at a glance

Vehicle type: Performance midsize sedan

Base price: $83,995

As tested: $90,390 (excluding $995 destination)

MPG: 14 city, 21 highway

Engine: 6.2-liter supercharged V-8

Transmission: 8-speed automatic in rear-wheel drive

Parting shots: Giddyup again.


Robert Duffer is the editor of the Chicago's Tribune's auto section. Readers may contact him at Chicago Tribune, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Fifth Floor, Chicago IL 60611 or


©2015 Chicago Tribune

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.