I just put more than 1,000 miles on a Cadillac ATS-V, driving in a spirited fashion (read: ripping burnouts) around Michigan’s upper peninsula, and maybe off-roading in the forest a little bit. I made the V work hard, but it just laughed at me and begged for more. And I finally answered a burning question we’ve had for months: can it go camping?
Yes, yes it can. Furiously.
Last week, Cadillac sent my boss a frantic, worried email describing how imperative it is that I, Jalopnik’s only Detroit correspondent, drive an ATS-—a car I have been told “eats M3s for breakfast, M4s for lunch and M3/M4 convertibles for dinner.”
So, concerned about the ATS’s lack of a balanced diet, I agreed to take the car in for a week and feed it with a heavy dose of USDA prime-choice hoonage. And camping.
I had no plans for my weekend; all I knew was I was going to get the most from that twin-turbo 3.6-liter V6, and if there was any hope of a young punk like me not getting pulled over thrashing a bright red $77,000 Cadillac, I’d need to get the hell away from the suburban sprawl that is southeast Michigan.
So on Friday night at about 8:30 p.m., I set out from a friend’s house in Pontiac, and headed “up north,” the setting of every single Here’s What I Did Over The Long Weekend story ever told in the break rooms of Detroit-area office places.
After over four hours of highway driving, we had made it just past the Mackinac Bridge and into the upper peninsula. It was 1:30 a.m.., and I was in a 464 horsepower automobile with the best manual transmission I had ever used, and in the middle of Podunk, Nowhere.
I looked into my rearview: not a single thing in sight. I looked ahead: pitch black. So I brought the car to a standstill, gave her a few revs, let out the clutch and launched using the car’s Performance Data Recorder to gather footage.
Acceleration in the ATS-V was addicting. I was terrorizing an otherwise peaceful, quiet wooded highway, but I didn’t give a single shit: that sound (which is, admittedly, amplified through the speakers) and that acceleration—I needed more. I stopped and I launched. Stopped and launched. Only fatigue would end my reign of terror.
And it did. In short order, my brain went into a sharp derate, as the five hours of driving hit me like a heavy-duty truck. I pulled off into a camping area and popped the trunk to grab the tent, only to realize that I had left the thing sitting on my driveway. “Looks like we’re sleeping in the Cadillac!” I told my friend in a cheerful manner, trying to trick him into not getting pissed at my stupidity. Unsurprised, he just rolled his eyes and leaned his seat back.
After waking up in Cadillac’s supremely comfortable Recaro 16-way adjustable seats (it’s the war of the “ways” among luxury automakers, it seems), we pulled out of the campsite and were greeted with this:
Pure, wide open road. Over the next three hours, I must have consumed an entire oil tanker worth of fuel. And the fault wasn’t the ATS-V’s—no, it could score in the low to mid 20s on the highway—the fault was purely my right foot’s.
After the hoonage, and after stopping by Pictured Rocks—a beautiful coastline filled with cliffs along Lake Superior—for a little hike, we headed to Marquette to find an old iron ore dock.
It sounds like a weird thing to go out searching for, but iron ore docks are fascinating things. They’re gigantic, majestic structures stretching far out into lakes or rivers. A big train coming from a mine, filled with iron ore pellets, drives onto a bridge and to the very top of the tall dock.
Each car on the train has a hatch at the bottom, which can be opened, sending ore pellets into the dock’s “pockets.” Then, a large freighter comes along side, opens its hull, and huge steel chutes (the black things in the image above) are lowered via electric motors (you can actually see the motors at the top of the dock above each chute), showering iron pellets into the freighter.
The ship then hauls the pellets off to steel mills, which turn the pellets into steel rolls that can be used by automakers to stamp the fender for your Cadillac. It’s a beautiful system, really, even though few ore-docks are still in use today.
After watching five-year olds play football in the world’s largest wooden dome (hey, there’s not much to do in Marquette), Brandon and I left the small college town on Lake Superior, and drove down to the lower peninsula to our favorite spot, Wilderness State Park, to go camping.
After four hours of smooth, comfortable highway driving, we arrived in Wilderness at about 1 a.m. on Sunday, and were greeted by a nice big “No Camping” sign.
And because we’re cheapskates and too chicken to break the rules, instead of paying to use one of the nearby designated campsites or just disregarding the sign, we decided we needed to find a national forest, where camping is free.
That proved harder than expected. The nearest national forest, Huron National Forest, was over an hour away, and I was already getting tired. But we pressed on, arriving at an ungodly hour, with me driving in a very fragile mental state, and immediately getting lost in the dense woods.
We had no cell phone reception, and the WIFI in the Cadillac couldn’t make contact with the cell towers, either. We were driving blind, almost literally.
All we were looking for was a good, flat place to pull the car and to pitch the new tent we’d purchased from Walmart. But everywhere, there were dense woods and dirt mounds that would claim the ATS-V’s front fascia, and leave me looking like a complete nimrod.
After a half an hour, I found something sort of resembling a road. Okay, really, it was probably just some slightly flattened grass from a truck that drove through one time a few months ago, but I was desperate. I scouted the path, decided it looked flat enough, so I drove the Cadillac into the deep, dark unknown.
The V felt very unusual on soft terrain, with its wide 255-section front tires and 275 rears floating above sand and dirt instead of cutting through, and that sharp chin spoiler acting like a reaper, leaving beautifully-trimmed high grass in its wake.
We parked after driving about a hundred yards into the sticks, set up a tent using the car’s headlights, and passed out.
We woke up the next morning to a Cadillac well out of its element, surrounded by trees and covered in bugs. But my god was that a beautiful sight:
On Sunday morning, as Brandon and I drove back to the Detroit area, we talked about the Cadillac’s faults. And we really didn’t come up with much.
The only things I didn’t like about the car really don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. Sure, the sunroof is uselessly small, the CUE infotainment system is janky, the capacitive buttons on the dash are a bad idea, there’s not a great place to put my right elbow, and I wish the thing sounded more like a Hemi. Everyone knows that by now.
But the ATS-V is a hell of a machine. It handles amazingly well, accelerates like a dog that’s just seen a squirrel, the brakes could stop an Australian Road train, and the steering—my god, the steering.
I could write an entire dissertation about how good the ATS-V’s steering is. It almost feels like the wheel is physically connected to the wheels via a thick metal pipe, and that the only lag at all is just the elastic deformation in that pipe—that’s a pretty random analogy, but if you drive it, you’ll understand. The transient response time between steering input and response is incredibly minute.
Today, Cadillac comes to take away their machine, and I’ll admit: I’m a bit sad. I just did my best to drive it hard for over 1,000 miles on northern Michigan roads, even taking the thing off-road a bit.
And the ATS-V shrugged it off with aplomb.