The Strange Joys of Engine Noise

The Strange Joys of Engine Noise

Wall Street Journal, “Cadillac ATS-V and the Strange Joys of Engine Noise,” Dan Neil, May 9, 2015

(Photos courtesy GM Media)

Like a lot of performance cars, the ATS-V features in-cabin audio enhancement, whereby various pleasing sonic and subsonic strains of the engine—induction roar, the thrill of high rpm, the crackling on a trailing throttle—are electronically gathered, filtered and piped through the Cadillac’s awesome stereo that no one knows how to turn on.

This in an effort to, what, exactly? The ATS-V packs a 464-hp twin-turbo V6 with dual exhausts with driver-selectable bypass valves and dual pipes; that would seem like sufficient sonic excitement. But these audio systems sweeten the soundscape in subtle ways: a touch of subsonic presence to the idle throb, a hint of bright plashing at high rpm, more general storminess. Meanwhile, the audio’s cabin-noise cancellation function is trying to wash unpleasant frequencies from the aural spectrum.

In the case of the ATS-V, the 3.6-liter twin-turbo makes a rated 464 hp and 444 pound-feet of torque. That’s 128.9 hp per liter of displacement, which GM says is the highest output of any six-cylinder in class. But as I hauled the mail up the back straight edging over 140 mph, where were the fiery trumpets of doom that one might hear from a big-cam, naturally aspirated V8? The horn section didn’t show up.

With the manual transmission, Cadillac reports the ATS-V will barrel to 60 mph in 3.8-seconds (4.1 for the automatic), as quick as a garden variety BMW M3/M4’s.

Speaking of horses: This is Cadillac’s smallest car packed with a brute of an engine, an intercooled twin-turbo V6 with 464 hp and 444 pound-feet of torque at 3,500 rpm, pumping through your choice of the supersmart, slick-shifting eight-speed automatic or (the curtain pulls back, crowd goes ahhh…) the TREMEC TR-6060 six-speed manual transmission.

The option of an honest-to-god manual transmission in a 464-hp, rear-drive luxury sport compact makes the ATS-V an interesting commodity, if not a bell-jar curiosity. The six-speed stick includes computer assistance such as no-lift upshifting—you stay on the throttle when you change gears—and automatic rev-matching, which means you don’t have to manage the delicate heel-and-toe footwork as you downshift for a corner. But you certainly can. I find these systems a good way to practice my heel and toe, to see how near I can come to the computer’s rev matching. I had a hard time not lifting the accelerator during upshifts, though. Decades of habit to overcome.

With the manual transmission, Cadillac reports the ATS-V will barrel to 60 mph in 3.8-seconds (4.1 for the automatic), as quick as a garden variety BMW M3/M4’s. The ATS-V’s top speed is listed at 189 mph and I was topping 140 mph on the track without much drama.

What others are saying:, “Making BMW drivers mVious,” Colum Wood, April 26, 2015

Two Performance Transmissions

The eight-speed unit can be a touch jerky on the street and feels more tuned for high-performance driving where it wowed me by seemingly always being in the right gear.

The real gem, however, is the six-speed manual.

Any stick-shift on a domestic car, no matter how luxurious, is often criticized for having long, clunky throws with a clutch pedal seemingly designed for the dual purpose of doubling your calf muscles and operating a bellows. Not here.

The throws are reasonably short and are impressively slick. The clutch is entirely forgettable in the sense that it’s so natural you’ll never even think about it.

A rev match feature lets you do some of the work, without having to worry about the heel-toe. And while the no-lift shifting is strange to experience, having zero interruption in power between shifts lets you make the most of the engine’s boost.

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