General Motors has been working hard over the last decade to shed the stigma of the carpocalypse. As history has proven time and time again, some of the best innovations come when you hit rock bottom, and GM is no exception. Fighting their way back from bankruptcy, GM has come out lean and on their toes, punching above their weight with unexpected force.
(Full discloure: GM wanted us to drive their new cars so bad they gave us 5 of their sporting-est new models and cut us and eleven lucky members loose on the back roads north of NYC)
Glimmers of the new GM were present before the economic downturn in the epic C6 Z06 Corvette, the ZR1 and the game-changing Cadillac CTS-V. With earth-shattering power and handling to match, the performance variants of the C6 Corvette gave every contemporary supercar a run for its money. In 2009, the CTS-V dethroned the BMW M5 as the world’s fastest, mid-sized sedan and introduced the magnetic ride suspension that two years later would be used to transform the handling capabilities of the Ferrari 458. Fast forward four years and apply what they’ve learned about performance along with a relentless commitment to quality and design and GM’s entire lineup of new models are taking aim on the top contenders from Germany to Italy.
Five cars; four equipped with sublime magnetic ride suspension, three roomier and lighter than their predecessors and competitors, with a combined power of over 2,000 horses… this was going to be a good day indeed!
GM provided five 2014 model year vehicles, fresh off the assembly line. Cadillac ATS, Cadillac CTS Vsport, Chevrolet Camaro SS 1LE, Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Convertible and the much anticipated Chevrolet Corvette Stingray.
After our briefing on the route, GM’s Stephen Martin jumped in with one message, “while there’s a lot of power and performance here for to play with, take note of the handling, I think you will be surprised.”… noted Mr. Martin, lucky for us Jon would be serving up a full menu of asphalt spaghetti for our steeds to devour, so there would plenty of opportunity .
As the day unfolded opinions formed just as quickly as pre-conceptions flew out the window.
Here's the breakdown:
2014 Cadillac ATS
The least powerful of the group, and the only one without a performance badge affixed to its trunk lid, the ATS was expected to be the underdog of the day. The ATS unfairly took the bottom rung on horsepower (come on, it’s still 321 HP!), but where the ATS really shined was in the twisty bits. BMW has built it’s reputation as the “ultimate driving machine” based on the balance and exhilaration delivered through the steering wheel of the 3 Series sport sedan, but as BMWs have grown bigger, more comfortable and more loaded with technology, that pure mechanical connection to handling has been lost. Cadillac has been coming from the other direction, making it’s cars lighter and more nimble and as a result, in their first shot at a modern, compact sports sedan, they have surpassed BMW in their own game… and thanks to the magnetic ride, handling does not equal harshness, the cars corner flat, but remain compliant with the wheels glued to the road where you want them. It’s too late to warn BMW to watch out, it’s time to catch up!
2014 Cadillac CTS Vsport
As with most cutting-edge designs, the aesthetic of the new CTS seems to evoke feelings of love or hate, but nothing in between. One thing we could all agree on is that it’s clearly aggressive and with it’s low, sculpted nose and sweeping grille, the proportions are kept in check. Sporting Cadillac's newest and most powerful non-V8 motor (420hp twin turbo V6) and various "Vsport" chassis upgrades, this new CTS is aimed squarely at BMW again with it’s latest 5-series. The car delivered as promised, with sharp handling, practically no body roll, solid brakes and a fantastic burble/crackle out of the exhaust that summoned a smile every time. The interior is fantastic; roomy, posh and purposefully with beautifully folded planes across the dash… and real leather. Try to find a modern, mid-spec Mercedes with real leather and you’ll appreciate what a pleasant surprise it was to find the genuine article in our Cadillac.
2014 Camaro SS 1LE
I drove a standard SS for the first time a couple of years ago and in spite of the bad reviews, I was holding out hope that this would be the best of the retro-modern pony cars. It’s the only one that’s simultaneously paid homage to the past while looking forward to the future, it has independent rear suspension and has been breathed on by the same engineers that put decades of GT-class wins into the suspension design of the C6 Corvette. It couldn’t be bad, could it? Unfortunately yes, it was. Handling was wallow-ey and numb, I actually felt sick on my short drive in that base SS and crushed my dream of finding the perfect modern pony car. That is, until Chevrolet came up with the brilliant 1LE package. Taking all the suspension and brake bits out of the ZL1 and matching them up with the naturally aspirated, fire breathing SS is a stroke of genius. The car is transformed into something truly engaging, and in spite of it’s nearly 4,000lbs of girth, on the track, I actually found it “tossable” even after jumping out of a Spec Miata and an E30 M3! Lance picked this as his favorite which says a lot, seeing that his daily driver is a twin-turbo scalpel 996 Porsche GT2…. With competition seats and suede covered controls, the 1LE means business inside as well. Don’t worry though, being true to its muscle car spirit, the SS 1LE is still a car that scares you and that’s a good thing… look it in the eye, grab it by the scruff of it’s neck and hang on!
2014 Camaro ZL1
Sharing its drivetrain with the outgoing Corvette ZR1 means BIG power. The supercharged 6.2L V8 produces a prodigious 580hp, making it the most powerful car in the group. Complaints about the automatic slush box paddle system were quickly quelled with a stab at the go pedal. Members were genuinely impressed that a convertible weighing in at 4,000+ lbs could turn and stop with such precision. The engine is specifically tuned to run just rich enough on the overrun to make the exhaust crackle and pop and the whole experience of hammering around twisty roads in an American, supercharged V8 Convertible was just too hilarious to not find enjoyable.
2014 Chevrolet Stingray Z51
Yes it does live up to the hype and there is no way to describe it short of getting in the driver’s seat yourself. The interior would put certain European manufacturers to shame, and the exhaust note sent bystanders running for cover. Simply put, the new Corvette is sublime. To offer supercar performance for a sport-sedan price is a real feat, our hats are off to you GM. This car accelerates, turns, and stops better than any American car we've ever driven. Scion FR-S like handling in a 460 HP sports car? Yes please! The Stingray is taught and balanced and begging for the driver to tell it to change direction. Visibility is excellent with the sculpted hood giving a a view directly to the tarmac. It is easy to drive fast but maintains the adrenaline-pumping excitement that so many "too fast" technological marvels miss. The new direct-injection LT1 brings together instant throttle response and that high compression crack of the whip, with classic, American V8 torque… and it does it with the same basic push-rod V8 layout that we have in our 63 stingray, 50 years it’s elder! How do they do that!?! A curious NYPD cop summed it up when he shouted, "Hey! Is that a new Ferrari?!" No officer, but Ferrari had best take note of their newest American contender, because it's taking the world by storm.
Thanks again to Steve and the guys at GM, with the track they're on, I suspect there will a lot more metal to test out in the Spring!