There are two kinds of oversteer: there’s the kind that’s fun and there’s the kind that signals Code Brown.
(Full Disclosure: Cadillac and Mazda lent Jalopnik an ATS-V and a Miata, respectively, for us to get around Monterey during Pebble Beach week. As it turns out, the house Jalopnik rented was located right off of Carmel Valley Road. Every night we had free, video guy Mike Roselli and I took a car out for a drive.)
And there are two brand new cars on the market that typify each kind: the 2016 Mazda Miata and the 2016 Cadillac ATS-V. I know this because I drove these two rear-drive performance cars back to back on the same twisting country road out in the foothills of Northern California. One wanted me to enjoy myself. The other did not care if I lived or died.
First, let me explain the joys of the new Miata, a car I wasn’t really that crazy about until I took it out on this stretch of pavement.
It took three corners. That’s all. Three corners before I was happily, joyously, safely sideways.
The new Miata doesn’t exactly have the one trait that I liked most out of the original Miatas I’ve driven. I mean, I was spoiled. The first Miata I drove was an NA with updated suspension, updated wheels, updated tires, and completely manual steering.
This new ND has nothing like the feedback of its predecessor. It’s accurate, sure. It has no slop or delay, sure. But it doesn’t exactly talk to you and tell you all about the surface of the road or the load on the front tires.
The funny thing about the new ND Miata is the chassis itself makes up for everything the steering lacks. The chassis immediately gives you the sensation of how hard you’re leaning on the Miata’s tires, and how much grip you have left before they give out.
The suspension, too, gives you huge amounts of confidence that the car will do exactly what you want it to. It’s soft, very soft, but it doesn’t wallow. This was a totally broken up, rough road. There were lots of places where the pavement had been torn up and re-patched, lots of bumps right in the middle of corners, lots of ruts leading into them that would unsettle a stiff car. The Miata completely handled it all.
There’s a clear sensation of control. Of ease.
And that’s why it only took me three corners before I was completely comfortable dipping a bit deeper into the gas pedal midway through a long, even turn and let the back end slide out.
And when the road was clear and the corner was well-sighted, I had no problem slipping wide again and again out there in the descending sun.
The pavement turning cobalt blue, the foothills turning blood orange.
The next evening I took out a Cadillac ATS-V on the very same road at the very same time. Moss hanging from the oak trees in the slate grey shadows. Cows wandering out from under trees in the fading summer heat.
I will say that joyful, predictable oversteer was very much not a part of the Cadillac experience. The ATS-V was happiest when I kept things within the limits of traction and sanity and the road’s extremely generous 55 mph speed limit.
Like the Miata, the ATS-V was hugely comfortable on this busted road. I mean comfortable both in that it kept Roselli and I nicely cushioned, and it maintained its composure through all of the rough stuff. The magnetic ride in this car very much feels like the best suspension in the world. While the Miata handled every bump, the Cadillac erased them. It’s like the roads imperfections weren’t even there.
More than the car feeling happy on the road, I was happy. I didn’t expect the car to feel as alive as it did. I wouldn’t say the ATS-V was nimble, but it felt eager. Willfull. Like the Miata. That was a huge surprise for the Cadillac, which is both big and heavy and also did I mention it’s a Cadillac?
When I was only beginning to peer into performance envelope of the ATS-V, it was hugely enjoyable. Things only got horrifying when I pressed further.
The Cadillac did not want to slide; it wanted to liquify its rear tires.
At this point I should mention the ATS-V has a bunch of different traction control settings that range from “Take grandma to church in the snow” to “Leave me alone, I know what I’m doing.” Out on that road, I had traction control off. All the way off. So much off. None more off.
I distinctly remember going around the exact same left hander in the ATS-V as I did in the Miata the evening before. In the shadows of the oaks, it was a clear, uphill, even-radius turn leading in a blink of a straightaway to an equally-even right.
The Cadillac clearly communicated how hard it was pressing itself to the road, just like the Miata. And the Cadillac appeared to tell me how ready it was to slip its rear tires, just like the Miata.
Only when I goosed it in the Cadillac, I did not get spritely, happy oversteer.
The ATS-V went into muscle car mode, and it started painting the road black with a pair of 275mm wide paintbrushes. The car didn’t exactly go sideways, it was more like it did a rolling burnout from the end of one corner until I calmed it down for the next. Suddenly those 464 horsepower started to feel very real, very potent.
It was not the kind of experience that I wanted to replicate. Trees started looking closer to the road. In my mind’s eye I imagined a car coming the other way. Everything turned panic. My skin broke into snaps and needles.
It’s not that the Cadillac is a psycho kind of car; it’s more like an old lathe with no safety guard. A robot arm with no security cage. When you do everything right, it’s fine. When you press a bit too hard, it does nothing to keep you or guide you away from killing yourself and your passengers. It’s fun below it’s limit, but you need a lot of room (like a race track), a lot of confidence, a lot of brutality to get it into smokey drifts. If that’s too much for you, consider dialing up the traction control.
The ATS-V does not play with its limits. It shreds them in turbo boost.
That’s really the difference between a Miata and an ATS-V. The Miata is a car that you drive and you press and it rewards and encourages. You want to take the long way home. Hell, the Miata wants to take the long way home.
The ATS-V is a car you drive and you press and it thrills and frightens. You enjoy it for a bit, until you get a little foolish and the car reminds you of your failings. It is not here to help. It is here to go fast. It is here to wreck shit.
One car you love, another you respect. One car is your companion, another is a shock therapy device.
On a gorgeous evening on a deserted California two lane, I know which I’d rather drive.
Photo Credits: Raphael Orlove
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