Which coast is better? East? West? Where the sun rises or sets? Where the weather is painfully consistent or painfully fickle? To find out, we staged a duel. The fighting tools? Barbaric weapons of mass deviousness: Cadillac’s muscle car V-Series. We duelers — I, Nick Caruso, Gear Patrol Editor and New Yorker; and Hayden Coplen, journalist, musician and Los Angeleno — mapped out an itinerary of bicoastal analogues to see where these heathen hot rods felt most at home. We each had a CTS-V and an ATS-V on different coasts at different times and, after driving similar but city-specific situations, compared notes remotely. What follows is a civil discussion between two gentleman drivers from decidedly different locales that determines one overall coastal champion. — NC
Hayden Coplen, Los Angeles: I like my burritos with fries inside and I have a strong aversion to Sperrys. I think Kendrick Lamar is the hip-hop voice of our generation and I’m prone to saying “gnarly” if you catch me in a moment of weakness. For my part, I snaked my way through Angeles Crest Highway and tried to catch the attention of hipster rubberneckers in Venice. I also braved the tourist-clogged PCH.
Nick Caruso, New York City: I pay 150 percent of my parents’ monthly midwest mortgage for one bedroom in an outer borough, and the only vehicle I own is a single-speed bicycle. I eat one-dollar “slices” of “pie” for dinner. Most of the cars in my city are painted an offensive yellow color. But I took these cars for a ride through Harriman and Bear Mountain State Parks. I spent a lot of time roaming hipster-thick Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and even dared a midnight run straight through Times Square.
CTS-V: General Impressions
Engine: 6.2-liter supercharged V8
Transmission: 8-speed automatic; rear-wheel drive
Horsepower: 640 horsepower
Torque: 630 lb-ft
0-60 mph: 3.7 seconds
Top Speed: 200 mph
MSRP: $83,995 (base)
HC: “Could this be my midlife crisis car?” my Mom, currently on the hunt for a new vehicle, asks as I pull up in a black-on-black CTS-V. Minutes later, I tell her to hold off applying mascara as we merge onto the 405, climbing 0-60 in about 4 seconds. “Uhh, maybe a little too much car for me,” she hollers as the g-forces pin her head against the headrest. Sorry Mom, but I’ll take it. The CTS-V is a brute, maximalist in a very wonderful way.
NC: Hayden texted me after his first drive in the CTS-V; the message read, “The CTS-V is mental.” There is something so goddamn wrong about this car. There are cars with a lot of power and cars with too much power; this is several steps beyond the latter. Easy burnouts from every stoplight. Steroidal, carbon-fiber-adorned looks. Road feel and handling prowess that truly don’t belong in a car shaped or sized this way.
ATS-V: General Impressions
Cadillac ATS-V Coupe & Sedan
Engine: 3.6-liter twin-turbo V6
Transmission: 8-speed automatic or 6-speed manual; rear-wheel drive
Horsepower: 464 horsepower
Torque: 445 lb-ft
0-60 mph: 4.2 seconds
Top Speed: 189 mph
MSRP: $61,460 (base)
HC: While the burly CTS-V carves corners like a chef’s knife, the ATS-V handles them with the precision of a scalpel. It’s sharp and direct, endlessly entertaining on the right roads. This thing is a turbocharged go-kart. (That’s supposed to be a compliment.)
NC: I drove a beautiful Vector Blue sedan with a six-speed manual, so our impressions are admittedly a bit skewed — Hayden’s was a coupe with an automatic. But if I had the money (and the balls), this is the exact car I would get. Not a BMW or Benz; not a high-power Mustang or even a Corvette varietal. This sedan is the right size and tautness; its power and delivery are downright silly yet somehow practical; its looks, comfort and tech are everything I’d want in a daily driven mutant.
Sussing out the V-Series in three locations, each with a different vibe.
Location 1: Crowded Tourist Traps
HC: I piloted my CTS-V north on PCH from Orange County, earning nods of approval from the hordes of BMW and Benz drivers that normally colonize the Newport Beach roads. By the time I hit Malibu, I’m stifled by traffic and a police officer stops me just to check out the car. I needed to stretch my legs anyway. 4 out of 5, for uniqueness.
NC: I parked the CTS-V outside a restaurant/bar and raved to a few friends that I had a giggle-inducing lunatic machine out front. Afterward, I amazed a friend on a blitz through Brooklyn, but come midnight I wasn’t done. Stone sober but high on look-at-me fumes, I cruised (okay, crawled) solo through Times Square. My black stealth bomber drew a few head turns and side eyes from cops, but sitting still is not this beast’s forte. 2 out of 5, because it couldn’t stretch its legs or draw attention.
Location 2: Hipster Meccas
HC: The Venice locals, with kale juices in hand, can’t be bothered to check me out in the ATS-V. One woman even laughs at me as I approach the driveway into Whole Foods at an angle, going less than 1 mph, to protect my carbon fiber bumper. 2 out of 5, for practicality.
NC: Aside from a couple scowls, the ATS-V or CTS-V garner hardly a notice. These cats are way too cool; too wrapped up in their farmer’s/flea market, post-brunch, sneak-booze-into-the-park weekend vibes. But mine were the most powerful and capable cars in the ‘hood. The revving, the dirty looks, the fact that I was off-putting in a purposeful way made these sleepers with no parallel. 3 out of 5.
Location 3: Twisty Roads
HC: The ATS-V feels like it was born on the sweeping, pristine roads that make up the Angeles Crest Highway. I take laps back and forth until dark, blasting “No More Parties in L.A.” with the windows down in the 70-degree dusk. 5 of 5, for the adrenaline rush.
NC: North of the city, the “highways” are really just old, twisty two-lane limited-access roads in many places, with multiple stoplights at which I nabbed the front spot — and then quickly left in my dust. Blasts from a standstill; curves through the wooded, empty forests; Track Mode the whole way: this is what roads, cars, gasoline and weekends were meant for. 5 out of 5 — 6 out of 5 if I could.
The West Coast, by a Single Point
HC: 11 out of 15 for Los Angeles. It feels good to be a champion. And let this victory be a note to out-of-towners: Yes, there is traffic, but there are also some of the best roads in the country on this coast — if you know where to look (and know what to drive).
NC: NYC and its environs earned a respectable 10 out of 15. In my fair metropolis these cars can’t reach their full potential in everyday driving. They can look and sound the part, and truly even feel the part if you opt for the right settings and drive “correctly,” and that’s a huge part of owning an unhinged car. But the biggest thrill should come from extracting performance, and New York City just doesn’t allow for that sort of unbridled fun. Congrats to you, California. I’ve always loved your avocados.
One Final Word
Cadillac has taken the most outrageous parts of their GM bloodline and infused every drop into these two demons. The CTS-V is the definition of “outrageous,” if only because its power somehow outshines the rest of the car in a delightful way — unless you’re on a track, where the whole package dominates. The ATS-V may be the perfectly-sized performance car. Optioned well, it will satisfy every taste — especially if you’re maniacal. But regardless of your locale, if it’s performance, establishment-ruining looks and a permanent smile you’re looking for, you have to drive either — or both — of these cars. Now.