Cadillac is the quintessential American car company.

Born in the USA to compete against the finest luxury cars in the world, it remains the crown jewel of General Motors.

But it has to fight tooth-and-nail with its imported competition as the modern American consumer isn’t as patriotic as they once were. So in order to give Cadillac its best chance to compete with Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz, especially in the cut-throat sedan and coupe segments, GM turned to its experts in rear-wheel drive sedans - Holden.

That’s right, the team at Holden’s Melbourne base and Lang Lang proving grounds help fine tune Cadillacs. The primary role of the Holden engineers is powertrain calibration, making sure the engine, transmission and driveline are all working in harmony.

So to see what influence Holden has on the most American of cars, we recently sampled a Cadillac ATS-V Coupe in the US.

What is it?

The ATS-V Coupe is America’s answer to the BMW M4 and Mercedes-AMG C63 Coupe. It’s a compact two-door with a powerful engine under the bonnet.

The ATS is the brand’s mid-size sedan and coupe offering that is available with a range of engines to compete more broadly against the BMW 3-Series, Mercedes C-Class and Audi A4. V-Series is Cadillac’s performance brand, with both the ATS and the larger CTS sedan and coupe getting major upgrades to make them drive faster and look tougher.

The ATS-V certainly looks and feels the part as a serious rival to the M4 and C63 with Cadillac’s geometric design language helping to give the car a sharp edge to its kerb appeal.

Cadillac ATS-V Coupe first drive review What is it?

Why don't we get it in Australia?

Cadillac doesn’t build any of its current range - including the ATS - in right-hand drive so the Australian market remains untapped.

The brand did come extremely close to starting here in 2008, even getting as far as ordering the cars, printing brochures and appointing a model as brand ambassador, only to cancel its launch as the global financial crisis hit.

Cadillac ATS-V Coupe first drive review Why don't we get it in Australia?

What's under the bonnet of the ATS-V Coupe V?

The important part from an Australian point-of-view is the engine. While there is Australian input in its final tuning and calibration the majority of the work is carried out by General Motors.

Cadillac developed the 3.6-litre twin-turbo V6 which makes 346kW of power and 600Nm of torque. It’s paired to either a six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic transmission that sends the power to the rear-wheels.

That’s why Holden was called in to assist the program, specifically because of its knowledge and understanding of performance rear-wheel drive vehicles, having developed the Commodore and HSV range. Holden’s experts had already been involved in the development of the previous generation Chevrolet Camaro and other engines, so GM was familiar with its capability.

Holden engineers have spent the last two years working on what the brand calls “high feature V6” engines as well as the 10-speed automatic transmission for the brand’s flagship sedan, the CT6. The same team also works on the V6 petrol engine for the Chevrolet Colorado ute.

Which might explain why there’s a level of familiarity to the ATS-V, because from the driver’s seat it could be mistaken for an SS-V Commodore or even an HSV. Obviously it's very different though, being a twin-turbo V6, but the way it delivers its performance and gels with the six-speed manual transmission in our test car gave this reviewer clear memories of driving Holden’s own performance cars.

It’s a great engine too, with loads of pulling power from low down in the rev range and a strong mid-range kick when you need it. Punch it out of a corner and the ATS-V feels as quick as anything Europe has to offer.

The manual transmission may seem a touch working-class for a Cadillac, but American’s still love to shift gears themselves in performance cars. This is a nice gearbox too, with a direct and mechanical action which also reminds of HSVs of years previous.

What's the Cadillac ATS-V Coupe V like to drive?

The American idea of performance has traditionally been more focused on the dragstrip than the racetrack, but that’s been changing in recent years. Cadillac has developed the V-Series to be fast no matter where it goes.

Having said that, American roads are very different to what you find in Australia (think lots of concrete highways and less flowing country roads) so the ATS-V is tuned to handle its natural habitat. That means it is softer than what BMW, Mercedes and Audi produce, in order to soak up the joins in the highway better and pamper its American driver. But the 18-inch alloy wheels are wrapped in Michelin Pilot Super Sport summer tyres so there’s good grip when you do throw it at a corner.

The steering has genuine weight to it, giving the driver meaningful feedback but it lacks the same sharpness you find in its German competition.

What's the interior and space of the ATS-V Coupe V like?

The angular styling of the exterior is carried over inside, once again giving the ATS-V a unique look and feel that really separates it from its Euro rivals.

Overall it presents well with plenty of Alcantara to underline its sporty character, although it must be said some of the minor switchgear doesn’t really live up to what you expect in a luxury car, feeling more like it has been lifted from the Chevrolet parts bin.

The seats are a highlight, as they not only look great but that are comfortable and supportive. Being a coupe the rear seats are on the tight side but that’s not unexpected.

There’s a generous boot too that can swallow a surprising amount of luggage - so it should have no trouble fitting your golf clubs.

Cadillac ATS-V Coupe first drive review What's the interior and space of the ATS-V Coupe V like?Cadillac ATS-V Coupe first drive review What's the interior and space of the ATS-V Coupe V like?

Would it work in Australia?

The ATS-V would be an ideal candidate for Holden showroom, giving the brand something special to replace the locally-built Commodore muscle cars. Sadly that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen anytime soon though, with Cadillac unlikely to change its outlook on right-hand drive markets.

But we should be proud that there’s a little piece of Aussie know-how inside some of Americas most prestigious cars.

Cadillac ATS-V Coupe first drive review Would it work in Australia?
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18 COMMENTS
shoot the messenger — 24 Apr 2019 17:40

That's one damn ugly car. America has never had the plot to lose, so it's as expected. Corvette, Stang and Camaro are only decent looking cars they& ... VIEW ALL

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