Home » Why The Cadillac ATS-V Uses A Twin-Turbo V6 Over A Naturally-Aspirated V8

Why The Cadillac ATS-V Uses A Twin-Turbo V6 Over A Naturally-Aspirated V8

Why The Cadillac ATS-V Uses A Twin-Turbo V6 Over A Naturally-Aspirated V8

Back in 2013, we were tipped that the impending Cadillac ATS-V was testing with a 6.2L V8 LT1 engine, the very same growler that serves as the beating heart for both the Corvette Stingray, Corvette Grand Sport and Camaro SS. Output varies from 455-460 horsepower and 455-465 lb-ft of torque, depending on the application. Near and far, the LT1 V8 has been praised for its robust power delivered in a naturally-aspirated fashion, compact design, and Americana engine and exhaust notes.

But upon its reveal, the Cadillac ATS-V introduced a twin-turbocharged 3.6L V6 LF4 engine rated at 464 horsepower and 445 lb-ft of torque. Somewhere along the way, the plot changed.

The LT1 seemed like a safe bet for the ATS-V. As an American car competing in a segment dominated by German rivals, it would have entered the fray with a unique character, as it would have been the only OHV (pushrod) V8 engine in the segment, and one of the only V8 engine offerings in total.

Comparison - Potential Cadillac ATS-V Engines

EngineLF4LT1
Displacement & Layout3.6L V6 DOHC6.2L V8 OHV
AspirationTwin-TurboNaturally-Aspirated
Power (hp / kW @ RPM)464 / 343.3 @ 5850455 / 339.3 @ 6000
Torque (lb-ft / Nm @ RPM)445 / 603.3 Nm @ 3500460 / 621.0 @ 4600
- LF4 is the engine used in the ATS-V during its lifecycle
- LT1 is the engine used in the seventh-gen Corvette Stingray and Grand Sport and sixth-gen Camaro; power/torque figures used are for Corvette

Even more, very few buyers poo-poo the supercharged 6.2L V8 LT4 engine in the $100,000 Cadillac CTS-V. Coincidentally, the LT4 is a direct descendant of the LT1, as both motors are derived from the same GM fifth-generation push-rod block. Maybe that’s because the CTS-V remains the lightest and most engaging car to drive in its respective segment, while delivering an exhaust note that can trigger an avalanche. Or perhaps because it’s an American car in a German segment, and not an American car trying to be German in a German segment. Either way, the CTS-V remains a powerful winning formula that has worked for the CTS-V, both today and in the past. In fact, the CTS-V had more demand than it could supply in 2016. Meanwhile, the ATS-V has gone unloved, despite being the best-handling car in its segment.

So, what happened? Two words: Bob Ferguson.

The Washington D.C. lobbyist served as the highly-unqualified Cadillac chief from 2012 to 2014, and was around just long enough to derail the engineering strategy for the ATS-V, along with who knows what else. Sources confessed to us that the reasoning to use the boosted six was based on copycat tact of the BMW M3 and M4 utilizing a twin-turbo six cylinder engine, making the false correlation that, because the BMW is the sales leader in this space, a twin-turbo six must be used to have the winning formula, and therefore, the Cadillac ATS-V needed to have it.

Now, that’s not to say that the LF4 isn’t a good engine, or isn’t cherished by ATS-V owners. However, compared to an LT1, which weighs nearly the same as the LF4 while being more compact in overall dimensions, despite having two more cylinders, it’s difficult to claim the twin-turbo six as the superior option to the brawny eight. What’s more, the LT1 would have arguably given the Cadillac ATS-V better engine and exhaust notes by far, and a more favorable powerband that delivers power and torque in a swell all the way to redline. Adding even more credibility to that line of thinking is the fact that the V8 in the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG was recently voted the best engine in the class in a recent comparison test by Motor Trend, outclassing six-cylinder engines from BMW and Cadillac.

Today, the ATS-V Sedan has been discontinued after the 2018 model year and 2019 will likely be the last model year that the ATS-V Coupe is in production prior to being replaced by the upcoming Cadillac CT5. All this brings us to the question: did Cadillac miss out by not having a V8 in the ATS-V, or is the ATS-V better off with the twin-turbo V6 LF4? Let us know in the comments section.

21 Comments

  1. Good scoop. Bob Ferguson might be a good DC guy but he has zero business doing anything outside of lobbying at GM, including being in charge of Cadillac.

    I wonder who picked him for the role in the first place, but pretty sure it was Dan Akerson, another questionable leader at GM, just like “the penny pincher” Dan Amman who wants to make money but doesn’t want to sell any actual cars to do it all in the name of increasing the stock price to please the greedy GM shareholders as well as line his own pocket. At least Cadillac is now under Reuss and not under Amman.

    I’m hoping that Ferguson and Ammann both follow Akerson out the door in the near term, before either one can do any more damage to Cadillac.

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  2. I would think the LT1 would also have a lower center of gravity than a OHC 60 deg V6 with turbos.
    Cadillacs should have V8’s even if it means a reduction in performance or fuel economy. Pedigree and prestige.
    Why some people want Cadillac to imitate BMW escapes me.

    Reply
    • I don’t think it’s as much about “imitating” BMW as it is about being better.

      The reality of the luxury automotive space today is that people generally want and expect a modern luxury vehicle to be on par with the experience provided by BMW, Mercedes, Audi, and Lexus. Cadillac should be on par with the offerings from those makes, but where Cadillac can excel and be unique is by doing the details better – delivering unique styling, (much) better technology (the Germans are generally very weak here), (much) better reliability, and a more “American” persona with unique character.

      The opportunity to do the latter was there with the LT1 in the ATS-V. Unfortunately, Ferguson decided to imitate BMW by using a twin-turbo V6, rather than by using the powerhouse that is the LT1 – which would have delivered on the promise of a more unique vehicle.

      Reply
  3. Like that Old Commercial said, Should’ve had a V8… 😉

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  4. Cadillac needs to do their own thing and show who they are and establish their own benchmarks. No question this should have had a V8 at a minimum as an upgrade to the 6 but this is clearly an opportunity missed and they need to not miss “any” more opportunities. This platform is stellar and an 8 could have punched it to the legendary status the CTS-V enjoys. Each new vehicle needs to push the envelope in terms of styling, interior quality and performance. The money these cars are costing, and the intensity of competition means get it right the first time and make your statement or risk obscurity or worse…

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  5. I’ve never been a big fan of the ATS, but I’ve been a Cadillac enthusiast for many years. I’ve owned 17 new ones since 1980 and currently own a 2017 CTS and a 2017 XT5. In my opinion the ATS-V would have been a much better car with the LT1 V-8. I would even go a step further and say, I wish Cadillac would have offered the LT-1 in the current CTS, as the
    CTS/S model or V Sport, which is a dumb name, and hope they will make it available in the upcoming CT5 as a “sub-V Series” model. Call it CT5/S or CT5 Sport.

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  6. My ATS -V is a dream to drive in any style you want. I have had big V8’s and love them but in this car Cadillac nailed it. The LF-4 is a great motor in this application.Other than sound I don’t think a LT1 would be that much of an improvement. I no a couple of chevy ss and they do not want any of my car on the track. Cadillac hit a bullseye!!!

    Reply
    • Brian – it’s great that you enjoy your ATS-V, but I think the question is whether the ATS-V range would have been better off with the 6.2L V8 LT1.

      Compared to the LF4, the LT1 is a better engine in terms of:
      – Sound (both engine and exhaust), delivering the viscerally aural experience that the ATS-V calls for
      – More even and expectedly progressive power delivery throughout the RPM band
      – Significantly more refined
      – Shorter (in terms of the physical height dimension), thereby contributing to a lower center of gravity and delivering an even better handling experience (perhaps not necessary, since the ATS-V already handles extremely well)

      The Chevy SS (4000 pound curb weight) is heavier than the ATS-V (3800 pound curb weight)… so the Caddy should out-perform it. But even so, the SS doesn’t use the latest LT1 Small Block, instead using the last-generation LS3 that is less powerful, less refined and less efficient.

      So as great of a car that the ATS-V is, I think it could have been even better and more unique if it were powered by the LT1.

      Cheers, Alex (fellow ATS owner)

      Reply
  7. What a shame! The LT1 car would have been killer and sold like crazy.

    Was Ferguson the ghost of Roger Smith? LOL

    Reply
    • Something like that. Or like the ghost of Washington lobbyists who are completely not qualified to run an automaker or an automotive brand or anything within an automotive company that is not lobbying.

      Reply
  8. Well, with the decision like that, it might be a reason why there are two Cadillac top managers, Carlisle over at Cadillac but reports to Ruess, to make sure shortsighted control don’t hurt Cadillac in the future.

    Reply
    • One can only hope. Problem is that Ammann and Barra are over both on top of Reuss.

      Ammann is a New GM version of a glorified bean counter calling the shots at GM, with Barra as his puppet.

      Reply
  9. Ammann is the puppet under Barra. Barra is CEO and chairman on the board.

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    • That’s what GM’s corporate org structure would tell you from a theoretical standpoint… but I’m not sure that this is reality.

      Though Barra is the CEO and chairman, Ammann as President (COO) has a significant amount of pull… perhaps even more than Barra.

      Reply
  10. As an owner of an ATS-V and previously an LS6 CTS-V, I can say it is a great engine and great car. The reason this car hasn’t sold is lack of marketing on GM’s part. The only thing this engine doesn’t have is the sound of a Chevy V8. It’s easier/cheaper to make additional power with the LF4 than it is with the LT1 (until you max the high pressure fuel pump). The article is also misleading about the car getting cancelled. XTS, CTS, and ATS are all getting replaced by next gen cars… CT6, CT5 and CT4/3.

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  11. I have owned a 2013 CTS-V for 5 years. My original plan was to trade it for a LT1 powered ATS-V, but obviously that never happened. I had no interest in the LF4 V6.

    Recently, I noticed that prices on used ATS-Vs are getting more reasonable, so I took one for a test drive. I was so impressed that I ended up buying a used ATS-V as a daily driver. It turns out that the LF4 is actually an excellent engine even by my V8 snob standards.

    One thing that also needs to be considered when comparing engines is their overall length. The LF4 is pushed all the way back against the fire wall so that the entire engine is behind the front wheels to improve front to rear weight distribution. This may not have been possible with the LT1.

    The LT1 may have made the ATS-V an even better car, but the LF4 is still a very impressive engine.

    Reply
  12. Unfortunately this is the norm at GM: ignorant managers over-rule experienced engineers or designers and thus compromise the end result.

    Reply
  13. I love my 2016 ATS-V. I would of loved it even more with a LT-1. One of the main reasons I bought the ATS-V over a CTS-V (besides price) was the fact I could get a 4 door American car with a 6 speed.

    Reply
  14. I actually called and emailed Cadillac last year trying to get a CPO LS7 ATS-V. I also asked them to install a manual in a 2018 CTS-V like my 2012 CTS-V. But they wouldn’t give the customer what they wanted. And that is poor business management.

    Reply
    • Let’s not confuse good decision making driven by business reasons with a decision that you personally don’t like.

      Refusing to make a one-off model specifically for you (and for an extremely small subset of other potential buyers) is not poor business. To the contrary, it’s management that aims to turn a profit.

      If you want one with an LS7, you’re more than welcome to buy the engine and swap it. But as far as real world demand goes, it’s minimal for what you’re describing… and to be profitable, the program would need to have been planned from the onset to include the equipment you’re referring to.

      Reply
  15. I owned a 2012 CTSV and liked it a lot. I now have a 2018 ATSV and like it more. Although the exhaust note is anemic, the car feels more agile and just as quick. Nonetheless, it likely would have sold much better with a V8.

    Reply

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