2019 Cadillac ATS-V Coupe Review: A Six-Speed Manual Turbo Swan Song

When news of Cadillac’s decision to eliminate all forms of the ATS and CTS reached my ears, I was left feeling both depressed and disillusioned. Unsettling times call for drastic choices, and with the end in sight, I hastily booked loans of the supercharged CTS-V sedan, twin-turbo CT6, and ATS-V Coupe from Cadillac.

I have driven all three of these vehicles and have enjoyed them immensely over the years, both on and off the track. It only seemed fitting that I would revisit them one last time before they vanished forever. While awaiting their arrival, I found myself reading an entertaining anecdote published by Hemmings Motor News which served as a historical foray into the evolution of the Cadillac emblem and its entitlement, significance, extinction, rebirth, and the continuous change found within the brand and badge itself. Could there be a subliminal message hidden here? And if so, what does it mean for the ATS-V and the future of performance Cadillac vehicles?

When Cadillac first introduced the world to the ATS Coupe in January of 2014, it referred to the chassis as “a quicker and more personal addition” to its product line. Engineered to be far lighter, agile, and engaging than its competitors, the two-door ATS marked Cadillac’s first foray into compact luxury coupe creationism, a venture that will not see another generation cycle.

Like the CTS-V Wagon and the recently retired V sedan itself, the ATS-V is one of those hyper-focused GM forays into the extreme. It serves as power and performance for the person who doesn’t want a naturally aspirated Camaro 1LE, but prefers the rush of boost over flat-out V8 belligerence. The ATS-V is a smooth sailing V6 luxury sports coupe with not one, but two snails, all reinforced with titanium internals, intelligent traction settings, sharply tuned suspension and brakes, and one hell of an over-engineered bottom end.

While the ATS Coupe features many of the same wheelbase and chassis structures as its sedan twin, in addition to many of its internal touches, that’s pretty much where the similarities stop. Sheet metalwork, fascias, fenders, track width, and overhangs are all unique to the coupe, and in V trim things genuinely do get turned up a notch or two… or ten.

Upon its release within the American market, the 2016 ATS-V won instant praise for being the first V-Series to receive Cadillac’s twin-turbo 3.6-liter V6. While the CTS V-Sport would also rock this same powertrain, how this engine performs within the ATS-V is particularly impressive.

Delivering a hefty 464 horsepower and 445 pound-feet of torque to the ground, the ATS-V thrilled enthusiasts right out the gate not only with its potency but with its standard six-speed manual and its paddle-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission as well. In stock trim, the eight-speed automatic manages a 3.8-second zero-to-sixty time while the manual gearbox alternative clocks in just a fuzz behind.

Marketed as “another large step forward in the product-driven expansion of Cadillac in the compact luxury segment,” the ATS-V was slated to be the spiritual successor to the CTS-V Coupe, and dammit if we weren’t excited. Much like the two-door version of the old CTS and the defunct XLR, the excitement seemed to fizzle when the ATS-V hit showroom floors as more and more luxury coupe buyers gravitated toward Japanese and European automobiles. The days of owning a kick-ass Caddy coupe seemed obsolete, and with them, so too was the ATS-V.

Drive one for a week and you’ll see why people didn’t flock to this 2019 Cadillac ATS-V Coupe. Outside of something like the ferocious and equally expensive, Audi TTRS, you would be hard pressed to find a more impractical high-performance two-door vehicle. Even by coupe standards, the ATS backseat space is atrociously tight, and since the front seats don’t slide very far forward, accessing this row is a significant chore, even for small children. You also get a trunk opening the size of a tissue box, so shopping trips tend to fill up the front seat and the floorboard beneath it with anything larger than a paper grocery bag.

Cadillac ATS-V interior touches and center console wireless phone charging storage

Inside, the ATS-V lacked Cadillac’s signature illuminated door handles, and 360-degree camera views as seen in previous year models. The wireless charger in the center console is too small for a vast majority of standard sized phones, but the tech missteps don’t stop there.

Misreadings plague the outside temp gauge, temperamental haptic feedback controls don’t always sense fingertips and the gauge cluster appears dated with analog dials. The shift knob is entirely too lightweight, cheap plastic bits impersonate many switches, and rounding out the list of interior issues is for $2,300 a set, Recaro and Cadillac somehow were unable to retain ventilated seat functions.

But for the elite few, an icy posterior means little when compared to the driving pleasure one gets from a car like the ATS-V – something this coupe delivers in massive amounts. We’re not just talking about powerband numbers or zero-to-sixty times either, but everything from the size of the steering wheel to its finish, and how it feels when thrown hard into a corner.

It’s the perfectly proportioned spacing of grippy alloy sport pedals and how the one on the far left pushes back with just the right amount of weight that matters. For drivers who genuinely enjoy driving, it isn’t just about numbers, but how their car sounds upon start-up and how it behaves sideways when wet with no one else around. These are the tasks that the ATS-V does exceptionally well, and the more you drive it, the more you will notice how well it does all of these things.

Compared to the smooth sailing 3.0TT, the ATS-V feels a bit unrefined in the powertrain department, but it hauls ass and slices down winding roads like a forged sashimi knife through fatty tuna, and then some.

Relying upon Cadillac’s outstanding Magnetic Ride Control suspension for decisive, yet sensationally smooth cornering, and a series of competition spec traction and stability controls, the ATS-V becomes a potent performer once prodded. Steering feedback and weight are right on the money, both braking and launching off the line are V-grade respectable, and the sensation of manually shifting gears in a Caddy Coupe is damn near inexplicable.

While buyers can obtain a paddle-shifting Hydra-Matic 8L90 eight-speed automatic outfitted with specialized traction settings and unique gearing algorithms, the manual stick shift alternative remains downright delightful. Pulled from the old supercharged CTS-V series, the TREMEC TR6060 manual comes equipped with a dual-mass flywheel and a twin-disc clutch, making throws feel just as surefooted as the brakes and suspension beneath.

Much like the six-speed Camaro 1SS 1LE we tested last year, the manual ATS-V features no-lift shifting for constant acceleration, as well as GM’s outstanding Active Rev Match toggle setting. Buyers also receive a Performance Traction Management system for more confident launches and superior grip under pressure, which translates to more boost down low when wheel-slip is detected causing the twin titanium turbines to throw all 445 pound-feet of torque to the rear wheels in controlled amounts.

Unlike the 640-horsepower supercharged Cadillac CTS-V I drove the week prior, the ATS-V favors a set of twin-turbos that are reinforced with lightweight, low-inertia titanium turbines. It’s worth noting that by filling them with lightweight titanium turbines, Cadillac’s engineers have increased spooling exponentially, in turn making turbo lag almost impossible to detect once all 18 pounds of boost is applied. This car also utilizes a pair of vacuum-actuated wastegates for each turbocharger for higher boost pressure responsiveness, coupled with vacuum-actuated re-circulation valves to eliminate turbo co-surge.

The 3.6-liter V6 also receives reinforcement from titanium connecting rods, and a water-to-air charge cooling system for denser boost air and higher combustion. This last feature is a patented, manifold-integrated, low-volume creation that helps eliminate many of the boost headaches associated with heat-soak. By reducing the distance between compressor and intercooler, Cadillac’s engineers have developed a way to increase torque response significantly.

From a daily driven perspective, you feel the power from the moment the charged air hits the throttle body resting atop the engine. Furthermore, Cadillac claims that these modifications translate to 90-percent of the vehicle’s peak torque becoming available from 2,400 rpm to 6,000 rpm, thus allowing a far broader torque curve and a much more exhilarating drive.

All combined, this over-engineered 3.6-liter V6 specimen produces an experience that is thrilling from the moment you fire up the engine to the time you put the car in park. The quad exhaust pops and burbles under throttle, with a throaty purr at idle letting the person next to you at the light that you’ve got something sinister in store. It may not seem as extreme as the CTS-V on paper, but when you’re rev-matching your way around the base of a mountain, with the sound of turbo spool whistling in your ear, it’s hard to think of the ATS-V as the “lesser” of the two vehicles.

Appearances are a strength for the Cadillac ATS-V Coupe as well, what with its athletic stance, carbon fiber aero accents, centrally ported exhaust, sleek side skirts, and vented hood. Although the broadly split 18-inch “After Midnight” edition forged alloy wheels appear a bit small for the chassis, their design still looks sharp resting over those dark gold Brembo brakes. Throw in the optional black chrome grille upgrade and matching rear trim, and you’ve got a stealthy appearance package that is just flashy enough to catch the untrained eye.

Turning toward long-term reliability and maintenance costs, and the ATS-V suddenly turns from carbon fiber sports coupe to gaping money pit. Make no mistake, this is one hell of a machine, but there is also a lot that could potentially go wrong here as well. For instance, carbon fiber front lips and daily driving duties don’t always play well with one another, especially when large blind spots, urban environments, and the absence of 360-degree cameras come into question.

Mechanically, integrated exhaust manifolds residing within cylinder heads make a lot of sense from a power, efficiency, and space-saving perspective. But the moment a cooling jacket fails that means you’re cracking open a head to tackle a fix. Simply put, GM went to great lengths to give this coupe a virile twin-turbo V6, when all it really needed to do was plop the naturally aspirated LT1 from the Camaro SS into the damn thing.

While the base ATS-V starts at $67,795, my tester for the week came equipped with close to $10,000 in packaging options, which meant the metallic blue turbocharged test mule topped out at $78,755. Sure, safety package options are essential and being that this is a Cadillac, so too are luxury additions. But even with these tasteful options, it’s impossible to ignore that the ATS-V is dated and riddled with annoying inconveniences.

This leads us back to the inevitable demise of the ATS-V and all vehicles beneath it bearing the badge, sedan, and coupe alike. Performance coupe fans can buy a Camaro ZL1 for almost $6,000 less than a base ATS-V, or if an unusable backseat is not deemed necessary, a Corvette Grand Sport for about the same chunk of change. Does the ATS-V remain more luxurious than these two? Without a doubt. Has this unique turbo V6 powerplant alone made the car more appealing to potential buyers? Apparently not.

For as much potential as it possessed, the ATS-V is destined to be little more than a one-off automobile. Just another missing component within a badge that’s already seen its wreath and waterfowl fade away. I find it ironic that this chassis was the first production model to rock Cadillac’s most recently revised crest, yet it failed to resurrect buyer interest.

The ATS-V is an over-engineered sports coupe with frustrating cabin design flaws. A car packed with more performance perks than the average driver would ever require, and driving feels that remain superior to its supercharged CTS-V big brother. I hope to see someday the Cadillac coupe resurrected, but until that day comes, if ever, the car pictured here is your final buying option.

2019 Cadillac ATS-V Coupe 

Vehicle Type: Four passenger sports coupe, rear-wheel drive
Base Price:  $67,795       Price as Tested: $78,775
Engine: Twin-turbo 3.6-liter V6
Transmission: 6-speed manual with active rev matching
Overall Length/Width/Height: 184.7 L x 72.5 W x 54.5 H
Curb Weight: 3,803 lbs
Tire Size: Front: P255/35R18, rear: P275/35R18
EPA Mileage Estimates: 16 city / 23 highway / 19 combined
Assembled In: Lansing, MI

About the author

Micah Wright

Raised on LEGOs by grandfathers who insisted on fixing everything themselves, Micah has been a petrolhead in training since age four. His favorite past times include craft beer, strong cigars, fast cars, and culinary creativity in all of its forms.
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