Track Test: 2017 Cadillac CTS-V and ATS-V at the Ron Fellows Driving Experience

A frantic orange light on the dashboard catches my attention briefly, milliseconds later, I hear the brrrz of the tires touching ripple strip and find my attention thrust sharply back to where it belongs… the circuit.

Electronics, they tell us, make better catch fences than Mosport’s concrete barriers.

Not just any circuit, either, Canadian Tire Motorsport Park – one of Canada’s best and most iconic tracks. And not just any car, this is a 2017 Cadillac CTS-V. That orange light? The traction control light, going ballistic in the background. We were in Track mode, sure, but we’d been given strict instructions not to turn off any of Cadillac’s ultra-clever safety nets. Electronics, they tell us, make better catch fences than Mosport’s concrete barriers.

The 640 hp and 630 lb-ft of torque erupting from the supercharged 6.2L V8 is far too much for the tires, even in fourth at 100-plus km/h, and even with my timid foot pressing gingerly on the throttle. The Ron Fellows Driving Experience instructor leading is calmly calling the corners for us at speeds that to him are pedestrian, but to me are more taxing.

The school has 18 cars, a fleet of Chevrolet Corvette Z06s, a handful of Chevrolet Camaros, and a smattering of Cadillacs – some ATS-Vs (including one in manual), a few CTS-Vs, and an AWD ATS Coupe 3.6L Premium Luxury AWD.

The CTS-V

The CTS-V is menacing in both aesthetics and on-track presences. I was almost (almost) grateful for the eight-speed automatic, given that this 640 hp assault weapon is packing, rear-wheel drive and a limited slip diff. It is capable of hurtling the 1,878 kg forward in such a fashion it does the same to your last meal.

The alcantara-wrapped steering wheel is perfect in my hands, and the bucket seats firm, supportive, and yet also comfortable.

For those of you who like to record your exploits, there is a data recorder built into all ATS-V models – simply plug an SD card into a slot in the glovebox and you can record all your car’s data – including throttle percentage and even when the traction control kicks in.

Fair warning – it also records your voice inside the car. Something I didn’t realize until much later.

The whole brutish unit combines for one of the most exhilarating cars I’ve driven, the engine howls with intake and exhaust noise, the chassis dances fluidly. If prodded, the CTS-V will ignite in power oversteer that would make Ken Block blush.

It’s a rocket ship, as intimidating even at moderate lead-follow speeds as you might expect. Even parked, the CTS-V looks and feels like it might leap forward and eat you. On the track, it’s just plain silly. In the best possible way.

But the CTS-V is not as well-balanced a package as it's smaller sibling, and it ended up being the junior of the Caddies I most appreciated.

The ATS-V

Poise, balance, and almost-perfectly-meted-out power: That’s the ATS-V in a nutshell.

Line up all the boxes you want ticked in a sports sedan and the ATS-V leaves a dirty big skid in all of them. I cannot adequately express how well-balanced this ride is.  

The joyous six-speed manual is well-weighted, well-geared, and feels great. It’s existence is a gift, one squandered by the 98 percent of people who we all know will buy the eight-speed auto box instead.

Those people will be rewarded with a rapid-shifting, ratchet-tight box that makes the ATS-V’s sporting potential even more accessible. The manual, though, allows you to feel that much more connected to the car.

I chirped the CTS-V for being heavier than the ATS-V – and that wasn’t entirely fair. The 2017 Cadillac ATS-V is still 1,725 kg for the coupe and 1,729 for the sedan – so goodness knows what magic trickery the folk at Cadillac have used to make the thing feel so much more agile and energetic than its big brawler of a brother. The ATS-V turns in eagerly, holds its line with precision, and responds to subtle inputs like an Olympic dressage horse.

We also got some bonus time in the 2017 Cadillac ATS 3.6L Premium Luxury AWD Coupe. Hustling that car back to back with the V-Sport editions was eye-opening. For one, it’s down on power by a long margin. With only 335 hp and 285 lb-ft of torque to play with compared to the 464 hp/445 lb-ft of the ATS-V, it needed to be hustled hard to make up for lost time on CTMP’s long, glorious back straight.

While the power gap from CTS-V to ATS-V is bigger than the gap from ATS-V to ATS 3.6L, it’s the latter that is the most noticeable on track.

Hustling it showed up the increased stiffness and stability in the ATS-V – where the ATS-V was a willing dance partner, the ATS was merely acquiescent. As the dashboard lights flickered at me, the seatbelt kept tightening, as if in admonishment at the very slightest hint of yaw angle.

The regular ATS pitched and dived and moved around underneath me, the ATS-V was by comparison a rock. They felt like two totally different cars.

If you were going to throw your money at a sports sedan, and didn’t need too much interior volume, the ATS-V should be high on your list.

The Ron Fellows Driving Experience

The driving experience itself is open to the public. It’s a chance to come out, experience the iconic Canadian Tire Motorsport Park circuit, and to drive a fleet of the most capable and spectacular rigs the General makes.

Programs consist of in-class instruction, plus up to four lead–follow sessions with professional race car drivers. Participants also get to meet Canadian motorsport royalty Ron Fellows.

On rare occasions, participants also get to experience hot laps with the professional drivers when the sessions are all ended.

This is one of the most fun things you can without having your hands on a steering wheel, but there is caveat: those with delusions of grandeur and/or fragile egos will be humbled by the pace of the pros. If you think you’re going quick in the lead-follow session, be prepared to be smacked down seven or eight pegs in the passenger seat.

Luckily, I’m already comfortable and secure in the knowledge that as a racer, I make an excellent passenger, so was able to relax and enjoy the fun.

That’s a lie. I actually thought I’d sit in the passenger seat and absorb the lessons from the master on my left – but I was too busy praying and holding onto my lunch to absorb anything. I had to dedicate some of my effort to making sure the seat had no absorbing to do too, if I’m honest.

Maybe that could be the new CTS-V marketing slogan: “A little bit of wee will come out.

V is for vicious. 8/1/2017 6:30:00 AM