2016 Cadillac ATS-V Review

Tony Roma’s secret sauce has nothing to do with babyback ribs.

The Tony Roma we’re talking about is an engineer at Cadillac rather than the man behind the barbecue restaurant chain. This Tony takes cold metal and raw data and turns them into saucy, soulful machines. He’s had a hand in all of the V-Series cars and is the chief engineer of the second-generation CTS.

2016 Cadillac ATS V Front Three Quarter In Motion

Fittingly, I get a sense of this otherwise quiet and unassuming guy—born and raised in Ohio—over a massive plate of barbecue in Austin, Texas. (This Tony can also tackle a formidable serving of meat. Just sayin’.) Roma has been with GM since 1993, but most of his stories are about the claptrap race cars he’s owned. “I’ve spent too many holiday weekends underneath a car in the pits, trying to get it running for a SCCA club race,” he tells me between bites. Most of the engineers who work on the V cars, it turns out, have humble racing backgrounds. “The guys who work on the V cars have to truly understand performance,” Roma says. That level of understanding is actually quantifiable. To get on the V engineering team, you have to achieve a “Level 6” certification from GM, meaning you can only be tenths of a second off a pro driver’s pace around a track.

Tony’s one of the Level 6 guys. And the love of speed and precision guys like Roma bring to the table is the ATS-V’s secret sauce. It’s baked into the details.
And so it is the next day, at Austin’s Circuit of the Americas, that I all too easily pry him out of the pits and into the left seat of a manually equipped ATS-V coupe.
As soon as his helmet goes on, Roma’s body relaxes. He slides into the car like a man who has spent more hours in a bolstered seat than any Aeron chair. By the time we’re up and over Turn 1 and into the esses, the Michelin Pilot Super Sports are warm and the throttle is buried. This man can drive.

Jason Harper

The author, left, with engineer Tony Roma.

I’d already taken a fair measure of the cars, both coupe and sedan, six-speed manual and eight-speed automatic, and had come away relieved. A Caddy is by definition a soft and livable space. Draw your fingertips around the interior of the ATS-V and that still holds true. But the car’s details show that it’s not a luxury cruiser with a few bolt-on performance parts; it’s a carnivore crafted from the inside out, performance always in mind. The cushy bits are the things that seem to have been added on last.

To the buyer mulling whether to buy a M-something or a V-something or just something else, this is a significant point. A lot of carmakers have been introducing performance badges, and some have as much legitimacy as an attendance prize at a kids’ three-legged sack race. At best it can seem glib and at worst predatory: an opportunity to add thousands onto a sticker in return for glossier wheels and an ineffective spoiler. Even BMW and Cadillac could be called into question for their respective M Sport and Vsport lines. Only careful consumers will realize they aren’t quite the real things.

2016 Cadillac ATS V Cockpit 01

Possibly the least informative aspect of the 2016 Cadillac ATS-V are its specs. Like seemingly every new sports car these days, a twin-turbo has been bolted on to the ATS-V’s 3.6-liter V-6. It may sound suspiciously similar to the one found under the CTS Vsport’s hood, but the ATS-V version gets all manner of turbo-centered innovations, as well as an all-new crank, titanium rods, and pistons.
2016 Cadillac ATS V Tire Burnout 01

In light of constant spec creep, the output of 464 hp and 445 lb-ft of torque may just sound average. Even a sub-4 second 0-60 is a “whatever” these days. (The ATS-V takes 3.8 seconds.) But brute force is not the ATS-V’s forte. Leave that to the forthcoming CTS-V. Says Roma: “The new CTS-V will be all about maximum aggression, while the ATS-V is more focused on precision. It’s the sledgehammer versus the scalpel.”