First Drive: 2016 Cadillac ATS-V coupe and sedan

Apr 27, 2015 11:30 AM EDT | Jeff Jablansky

Performance cars cycle through our testing garage as frequently as minivans and family sedans do, but rarely do we have the chance to really explore any car's capabilities on public roads.

That's why we jumped at the chance to try out the 2016 Cadillac ATS-V at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. After attending a professional race at the circuit just weeks ago and watching motorcyclists attack the tarmac with superhuman precision, we were overjoyed—and a bit frightened, to be honest—to try out the track for ourselves.

Here are five things we learned while subjecting the 464-hp ATS-V to a hearty round of drifting at the skidpad at Circuit of the Americas and a couple of laps around the world-class track:

Plenty of smoke, no mirrors.

Let's get the numbers out of the way: biturbo 3.6-liter V-6, 464 horsepower, 445 lb-ft of torque, Brembo brakes, 6-speed manual or 8-speed automatic, automatic rev-matched downshifts, optional Recaro front seats. A decade ago, this description would have barely described a bespoke, high-performance supercar, much less a compact Cadillac coupe or sedan.

Unlike some sports cars that are artificially amplified with ultra-heavy steering and engine sound piped in through the speakers, the ATS-V is pure in that regard. Both the sedan and coupe will reportedly hit a top speed of 189 mph. (Sorry, officer.)

The BMW M3 and M4 are in its sightline...

On more than one occasion, Cadillac engineers openly volunteered that their benchmarks for the ATS-V were the BMW M3 and M4 duo. That explains its rear-wheel-drive bias and turbocharged six-cylinder engine, as some of the competition has moved to four-wheel-drive and V-8s. Having spent time with the M4 and the previous-generation M3 sedan, we conclusively argue that the ATS-V offers a much more engaging drive experience.

Some have argued that reading the ATS-V's spec sheet to understand its performance is doing it a disservice, and we agree: Both the coupe and the sedan's characters exceed the sum of their respective parts. It definitely doesn't hurt that the Cadillac has a higher horsepower rating on paper, though.

...and it's RWD for a reason.

Those same engineers explained that they considered powertrain alternatives like all-wheel drive and a dual-clutch transmission, but felt that the rear-wheel-drive character of the ATS-V—and the V-series models that precede it—made the most sense. On the track, the chassis is unflappable, even with most stability systems turned off. Turn after turn, the ATS-V was a track-killing powerhouse. A cheerful surprise was the telepathic shifting by the 8-speed automatic, which seemed to know corner-in and out speeds more precisely than its operator did.

Makes good drivers look great, and great drivers shine.

We overheard someone utter an adage to that effect, and it only took a few laps on the track with a novice track driver behind the wheel to ring true. Unlike some performance cars with unusable performance on the road and scary tendencies on the track, the ATS-V is almost always balanced and polished. Add a slick wire-mesh grille and an optional carbon-fiber front splitter, and the ATS-V makes itself look even better. The only area where advanced driver training is involved is in the operation of CUE, Cadillac's infotainment system.

You will want one.

As performers, the ATS-V coupe and sedan make a powerful first impression. Our verdict after several punishing hours around the track? That positive impression fails to fade. Sure, the Lexus RC F is more unusual, the Audi S5 is subjectively classier, and the interior of the Mercedes-AMG C63 is sublime, but the ATS-V is a fantastic all-rounder among performance luxury cars. The M3 and M4 will henceforth be the safer choices in the segment. We'll have a silver ATS-V coupe, please.

By the numbers: 2016 Cadillac ATS-V sedan and coupe

MSRP: $61,460 (sedan, including $995 destination fee) / $63,660 (coupe, including $995 destination fee)

Power / drive wheels: 3.6-liter, 464-hp biturbo V-6 engine / rear-wheel drive

Transmission: 6-speed manual or 8-speed automatic transmission

EPA fuel economy: N/A

In showrooms: Spring

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