Can a twin turbo V6 replace a naturally aspirated V8? We have been asking ourselves that question since Cadillac announced this highly anticipated version of the Alpha series. Now that big brother CTS-V is the size of a Nimitz Class aircraft carrier, the ATS-V is the latest in small & fast American cars. Built on the same platform as the CTS and the Camaro, ATS-V is offered as a coupe or sedan but without the option for V8 power.
For full disclosure: my primary means of transportation is a 2004 CTS-V powered by the Z06’s 5.7L V8. The first generation CTS is the closest in size to the ATS, separated by a decade of innovation this new sedan is the spiritual successor to my daily driver. Cadillac sent us a fully loaded example for a week of thrills and six speed shifting. The V Series has been an attempt to compete with the Germans by fine tuning on the ‘Ring. A quick look at the parts suppliers reads like an import car shop. Companies like Sachs and Bilstein aren’t heard much at Muscle Car meets, but they should be.
GM stuffs the 3.6L V6 into almost every product, and it doesn’t disappoint. Built to exacting tolerances at the Opel engine plant in Austria, it features the latest in turbo technology to offer 464 hp and 445 lb-ft of torque*. The caveat is that those numbers are only available on 93 octane sans ethanol. Cadillac ships the cars with 87 octane fuel that should only be used in lawn equipment. The bean counters won the first round.
Our first few days were spent wondering where the power was. It makes all the right noises and has fancy moves in the corners, but my left leg was tired in the hunt for speed. Clutch action is light and predictable, but the light weight of the V6’s crankshaft could use a heavier flywheel. My CTS has a 40 pound cast iron boat anchor for a flywheel, and it trades acceleration for comfort. Side stepping the clutch on the ATS is a recipe for instant tire smoke. Cadillac has really upped the fun factor with this car.
Tremec’s latest TR-6060 transmission is a lighter version of the T-56 found in previous V series cars. The previous model offered triple-cone synchros on all forward gears, but I guess that was too expensive. ATS-V only offers triples on 1st and 2nd gear, because who races Cadillacs? The shifter itself is a very short throw, with 5th and reverse being too close for comfort. Covered in the finest alcantara it took a few days to become acquainted. You might wonder why a manual car has shift paddles, but they are an on/off switch for active rev matching. Maybe I could eventually allow a computer to match my engine speed for the next gear, but it was a major annoyance on the highway.
In order to get the turbos spinning its necessary to jump from 6th to 4th, which the computer doesn’t anticipate. So if you don’t disable the system, multiple gear downshifts require a double-clutch (revving the car in neutral between gears). I don’t want to work this hard for acceleration. Even in 6th gear, a V8 has enough power to overtake most opponents, and our friend Jeremy Formato had some insights for us. His company FasterProms is a GM tuning company based in Tampa, FL and he owns both an automatic and manual version of these sedans. In factory form, the turbos only produce 7 psi of boost, but are capable of much more. Don’t misinterpret us, this car is fast but it is hampered by torque management programming that limits boost a lower RPMs. Every manufacturer does this because it helps their cars run reliable past 200,000 miles.
After our week of daily driving, we have a few items unrelated to the powertrain that you should be aware of. The rear seats are fine for 3 children, but two large adults would find it cramped. Recaro seats are a nice touch for front occupants, but the lack of an adjustable headrest is not becoming of a luxury brand. If you were to place M3 badges on the nose and tail, you would be hard pressed to realize it was American. Cadillac has copied every feature of a modern German sedan, and we can’t fault them for that. If you enjoy riding in a machine as precise as a razor with plenty of power in the upper RPMs, this is your next car. If you need the incredible platform with the torque of a V8, the Camaro is a sensible choice. ATS-V has leveled the playing field between Germany and the US, so we can’t wait to see how they respond.