2019 Cadillac ATS-V vs XT4 Review: The Evolution of Luxury

Pitting a high-performance coupe against a high-tech crossover results in some interesting findings.

2019 Cadillac ATS-VAaron Miller/Capital One

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On paper, the 2019 Cadillac XT4 and ATS-V aren’t comparable vehicles. One is a small crossover SUV just entering its first year of production, the other’s a sports coupe in its last. One has a 236 hp turbocharged four cylinder designed to get up to an EPA-estimated 30 mpg, the other has a 464 hp, twin turbocharged V6 with an exhaust note that begs for attention. One coddles driver and occupants alike with massaging seats and offers a wide array of advanced driving aids designed for navigating rush-hour traffic, while the other is meant for weekend fun on back roads and race tracks, and shares much of its chassis with its corporate cousin Chevrolet Camaro.

Then, there’s the price differential: The XT4’s base is MSRP $34,795, and can climb as high as the $60,000s, while the ATS-V starts at MSRP $67,795 and runs into the $80,000 range.

So why compare them? Since the ATS-V’s introduction in 2016 as Cadillac’s answer to the BMW M3 and M4, it is virtually unchanged. Some of those who bought or leased one when it came out have since moved on to other vehicles. Translation: you can choose between a new ATS-V, or a pre-owned one that’s already gone through the worst of its depreciation.

What that means is that for roughly the same cost, you can buy a shiny new XT4 or a pre-owned ATS-V.

Deciding whether to buy a new vehicle or one that’s slightly used (but originally much more expensive) is a common dilemma. That’s why, when Cadillac tossed us the keys to an XT4 and an ATS-V for a week each to test out, we took it as an opportunity to investigate a question that will vary from person to person: with price no longer a factor, which offers more Cadillac for the money: the flashy high-performance coupe, or the brand-new luxury crossover that comes with the latest and greatest in advanced tech?

The answer, as it turns out, is entirely dependent on how you define luxury.

2019 Cadillac XT4Aaron Miller

The XT4 is the epicenter of Cadillac’s new direction

The new-for-2019 XT4 is more than just Cadillac’s smallest crossover. It’s Exhibit A of Cadillac’s own evolving definition of luxury.

A century ago, Cadillac was arguably America’s premier luxury carmaker. It competed head-to-head with the Rolls-Royces of the world and earned its place at the center of the superlative expression, “The Cadillac of _____.” After all, Cadillac was the first to offer innovations like high-beam headlights, climate control and night vision.

More recently, Cadillac moved its headquarters from Detroit to New York and back again, in an attempt to recapture some of the brand’s former glory and shake an image of being your grandfather’s Cadillac. It adopted a European-influenced alpha-numeric nomenclature, and began producing cars and crossovers aimed at a much younger set.

Enter the XT4.

From any angle, the XT4 is instantly recognizable as a Cadillac. The signature front and rear LED lights have become a design staple on every Cadillac, but the XT4 boasts possibly the best execution of them to date. As with other modern Cadillacs, the body angles are sharp, but the traditional crossover SUV shape that results is clean and sophisticated instead of loud and angry looking.

Inside, Cadillac’s renewed emphasis on technology as luxury is inescapable. Start checking option boxes, and heated, ventilated and massaging seats help take the edge off of an evening commute. So does a head-up display (HUD) and a suite of advanced driving aids that includes low-speed forward automatic braking and lane keep assist. For those seeking a more open-air experience, the available panoramic moonroof slides open to reveal one of the largest openings of anything on the market that isn’t a convertible.

2019 Cadillac XT4 CrossoverAaron Miller

Lest you forget that you’re surrounded by tech features, the suite of parking-assist cameras is one of the most comprehensive on the market, and the center display shows a highly accurate 3rd person representation of the vehicle so you can know exactly how much room you have left when trying to squeeze into a tight spot.

The party trick, however, is Cadillac’s second-generation Rear Camera Mirror, which as the name implies, is a rear-view camera that is both clear enough and quick enough to supplant your regular mirror; simply flip the tab on the bottom, and it converts from a normal mirror to an LCD screen. It tends to over exaggerate headlight glare at night, but at the same time, helps reduce eye strain.

Performance isn’t what the XT4 is built for, but it’s among the lighter vehicles in its class, and the handling benefits as a result. The turbocharged four cylinder engine ensures that acceleration isn’t a concern, and the variable shock absorbers allow you the choice of a softer cruise or a more crisp drive.

Whie the larger XT5 gives Cadillac as strong a foothold in midsize luxury crossover SUV sales as BMW and even Land Rover, the XT4 delivers a smaller, more affordable and, at least until the XT5 gets a refresh, more modern-looking package. It competes with the likes of the Audi Q5 and Lexus NX 300, and as Cadillac’s first foray into the small luxury crossover class, it’s fairly critical to Cadillac’s lineup.

2019 Cadillac ATS-V CoupeAaron Miller

The ATS-V Coupe is a Sports Coupe in a Business Suit

The sedan version of the ATS-V was confined to the history books after 2018 (along with the base ATS sedan)—and the two door will join it soon—but for 2019, the ATS-V coupe soldiers on for one last hurrah. It may be a lame duck from a production standpoint, but from the driver’s seat, the ATS-V Coupe remains the most exciting Cadillac made—possibly ever.

In many respects, Cadillac’s attempt to go toe-to-toe with the premium sports coupe establishment resulted in something completely unique. It’s part European sports coupe, part All-American pony car in a business suit. It’s simultaneously brutish and refined, youthful and mature. It presents itself as a luxury car...provided your definition of luxury is an emphasis on design and engineering.

Cadillac’s designers went very aggressive with the ATS-V. They created a look that’s angular, angry and at the same time, clearly a Cadillac. From the outside, the most obvious giveaways that this isn’t your average luxury coupe are a carbon fiber rear spoiler and hood vents that let heat escape from the engine bay. Inside, it’s a very different car to its more benign, comfort-oriented, non-V ATS sibling. Dressed in layers of microsuede, carbon fiber and leather to highlight the car’s performance vibe, it’s essentially a pony car in a business suit.

All that style comes at a cost, however. That rear spoiler can look glorious when the light picks up the texture of the carbon fiber, but it also takes up a substantial percentage of real estate in the rearview mirror. The back seat is, as with most of the ATS-V’s competition, not intended for tall people on long road trips—nor does it make getting in and out particularly easy.

The key to the ATS-V, however, isn’t how luxurious the back seat area is, but the emotion the car instills when you’re driving to nowhere in particular. It’s as visceral a machine as any in its class, and that includes some of the best-known names in the automotive world.

There’s almost always power on demand to push your back up against the seat, and such enthusiastic use of the throttle results in an exotic-sounding snarl from the quad-tipped exhaust. Think of it as a soundtrack to acceleration that sees the car hit 60 mph in 3.8 seconds—almost exactly in between the 4.1 second marker of an M4 and a Challenger Hellcat’s 3.5.

Head to the sort of twisty road for which the car is designed, and it excels. The ATS-V features GM’s Performance Traction Management System, an advanced and highly tunable control driver assist, first developed for the Chevrolet Corvette and Camaro, that’s meant to inspire confidence and help maintain control on all manner of roads and conditions. The ride is every bit as stiff as you might expect from a car with this level of performance, but it’s aided greatly by an adaptive suspension that offers settings for comfort, sport and even a track-oriented mode that’s well-suited to its intended purpose...which is decidedly not Monday morning rush hour.

In the sense that the ATS-V is a small, high-performance coupe that handles well and makes its presence known, Cadillac essentially distilled everything that makes its GM stablemate Camaro a fun-to-drive car, refined it with a copious helping of Cadillac DNA, and created something that stands out no matter what you compare it to.

Combining the Past and the Present is Cadillac’s Future

At face value, there’s so little overlap between the ATS-V and the XT4 that taking price out of the equation does little to alter their relative value proposition: given a choice, gearheads will flock to the visceral experience of the ATS-V, while those looking for a comfortable daily driver will likely find themselves in the XT4’s massaging seats.

But both of these vehicles have one key ingredient in common: they’re both uniquely Cadillac. They represent two different definitions of luxury from the same brand. If Cadillac could combine the two to create an exhilarating and engaging drive that coddles occupants with a tech-forward philosophy, it could give rise to a new era of Cadillac luxury.

Can it be done? Stay tuned. The CT5 sedan arrives in 2020 with what may just be the next step in Cadillac’s forever-evolving take on luxury.

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Aaron Miller
As a veteran automotive journalist, I have been fortunate enough to drive some of the most desirable cars on the planet and get to know some of the most important people in the industry. Before joining Capital One, I served as the Cars Editor for a major national website, and covered industry news and analysis for well-known automotive-specific sites. I also wrote feature articles and reviews for niche enthusiast websites. I’ve been obsessed with cars since—literally—before I can remember, with my collection of die-cast and slot cars taking center stage during my formative years. Simply put, for me, working isn’t really “work.”