This US muscle car is a signal that the performance establishment had better start looking over its shoulder, across the Atlantic

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This thoroughly revised ATS-V takes the small Caddy formula and amplifies all of its respected traits to make this American saloon a legitimate threat to the German establishment.

Available in both two and four-door versions, the ATS-V could signal Cadillac’s return to building cars that are truly capable of satisfying the performance-minded driver.

It's the first V-Series Cadillac powered by a V6 - no, not a thundering V8 like the earlier, beastly CTS-V - but a modern twin-turbocharged 3.6-litre V6, that produces a meaningful 464bhp at 5800rpm and 445lb ft at 3500rpm. It sounds properly American, like a small displacement V8, not pleasantly contrived like an AMG nor disappointing like a BMW M4.

Transmission choices are a six-speed manual, with rev-matched downshifting if you like, or a quick-shifting eight-speed torque converter automatic transmission. Cadillac claims the transmission to be faster on upshifts than Porsche’s PDK dual-clutch 'box and shifts do feel dual-clutch quick.

The ATS-V's power reaches the rear wheels through a standard-fit, electronically controlled differential, similar to what’s used by its cousin, the Chevrolet Corvette Stingray. Brakes are six-piston Brembo calipers up front, with two piece rotors, and four-piston rears. The wheels are 18in forged and machined alloys wrapped in Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres.

Suspension rates are up 50 percent over the base ATS and the chassis is 25 percent stiffer. Body and wheel movement is controlled by the latest generation Magnetic Ride Control dampers that respond 40 percent faster than before.

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The interior is largely unchanged, save for the comfortable and supportive, 18-way adjustable sports seats by Recaro, and a larger diameter steering wheel. In the coupe, those seats take up valuable interior space and render the rear perches even less useful.

As for the standard specification - the ATS-V, in both saloon and coupé, gets launch control, a performance traction control system, a carbonfibre bonnet and aerodynamics, an electronic slip differential, a colour head-up display and Cadillac's infotainment system complete with sat nav, Bluetooth, wireless phone charging, GM's OnStar system and a Bose sound system.

Driving on the back roads of Texas, first impressions are that the ride is both comfortable and well-controlled, compared with the firmer-riding established players in the segment.

Much of the credit is due to the magneto-rheological dampers, which gives this ATS-V perhaps the best combination of ride comfort and control in the segment.

Comfort aside, performance is remarkable, whether the car is accelerating from a standstill - Cadillac says the ATS-V will do 0-60mph in 3.9 seconds - or putting power down while exiting a corner.

Both transmission configurations are exceptionally well sorted, with the e-diff doing most of the work to ensure power is put down effectively. The ATS-V easily hits 145mph on the back straight at Circuit of the Americas and eventually ran out of steam at an impressive 189mph.

The e-diff also lends confidence to the driver by increasing braking stability. In manual spec, power builds all the way to the redline but the automatic gearbox is clearly the faster of the two transmissions.

Turbo lag is minimal, in part due to modern engine management, but the lightweight turbo impellers also spin up quickly. The standard 'no-lift shift' feature eliminates any perceptible lag once you become accustomed to keeping your right foot planted to the floor.

The steering is quick and precise, but doesn't have enough feel and in the more sporting drive modes, feels artificially weighted. Regardless, it’s exceptionally easy to balance the ATS-V at its limits, even during high-speed, smoke-generating drifts or under significant cornering loads on the circuit.

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After just a few laps of Circuit of the Americas, it becomes apparent that the ATS-V is a very approachable performance car. Power and traction are abundant, and only when provoked does the rear axle step out, doing so in an easily-controlled way.

Cadillac remains the outsider’s choice but, while not as hard-edged as some rivals, the ATS-V is still impressively capable. It's unmistakably American in character, but represents a brilliant balance of refinement and outright performance nonetheless.

Cadillac ATS-V 2016-2019 First drives