The Cadillac ATS sedan gave the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class a run for the money when it came on the scene a couple of years back with distinctive design, lightweight construction and agile handling. The 2015 Cadillac ATS lineup gets updated features, a freshened look and a sleek, sporty coupe.
The Cadillac ATS coupe rides on the same platform as the sedan, though it gets its own bodywork and sits about an inch lower, with a wider track (the space between the left and right wheels). The only sheet metal the ATS coupe shares with the sedan is the hood. Everything else has been widened and elongated, from the modern take on Cadillac's signature egg carton grille to the rear bumper. Coupes also get fatter steering wheels, wider rear tires and a performance-tuned rear suspension.
Also debuting on the 2015 ATS lineup is Cadillac's new crest, a reinterpretation of the logo that was based on the family coat of arms of Detroit founder (take a deep breath) Antoine Laumet de La Mothe, sieur de Cadillac. The new crest is a more modern take, ditching the laurel wreath in favor of a lower and wider shape, with a straight-edged top line and a distinct angular lower line.
A host of new or updated tech features can be added to the 2015 Cadillac ATS. Wireless 4G LTE connectivity turns the ATS into a hotspot for WiFi-enabled devices, powered by AT&T (a separate data plan is required). A wireless charging system lets users charge a compatible smartphone by simply placing it in the charging tray, as long as the phone is equipped with a special case. Cadillac's CUE infotainment system is also updated, and now includes text message alerts.
New safety features for 2015 include an optional lane keep assist, which will automatically help guide drivers back into their lanes if they drift. An automatic safety belt tightening feature will take up any slack during fast stops, or if the system calculates a collision is possible.
As before, the Cadillac ATS sedan comes with three engine choices. The base model gets a 2.5-liter naturally aspirated inline-4, good for 202 horsepower and 191 pound-feet of torque. It's the least expensive and slowest of the bunch, with a manufacturer estimated 0-60 mph time of 7.5 seconds.
An updated version of the 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 makes 272 hp and gets an increase in torque for 2015 to 295 lb.-ft., making for peppier acceleration. The top-of-the-line powertrain is GM's 3.6-liter naturally aspirated V6, good in this application for 321 hp and 275 lb-ft. of torque, which propels the ATS from 0-60 mph in just 5.4 seconds.
Coupes are only available with the 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 or the 3.6-liter V6. Most models come standard with a 6-speed transmission, though a 6-speed manual is available on some trims with the 2.0-liter turbo. Each of these engines, whether on the sedan or coupe, can be equipped with all-wheel drive.
Fuel economy ratings for the 2015 Cadillac ATS: 21/33 mpg City/Highway for 2.5-liter base sedans with rear-wheel drive, and 18/28 mpg City/Highway for the 3.6-liter with RWD. The 2.0-liter turbo engine gets 21/30 mpg with the automatic transmission and 19/30 with the 6-speed manual. All-wheel-drive models get 20/28 mpg City/Highway with 2.0-liter engines and 18/26 mpg with the 3.6-liter V6.
The compact luxury sport segment remains a fierce battleground, with the Cadillac ATS sedan going up against the likes of the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. The coupe also has big shoes to fill, with competitors like the Audi A5 and the BMW 4 Series. But the ATS can hold its own, especially against Asian luxury cars like the Infiniti Q50 and Lexus IS. And while the ATS may not rule the roost in terms of brand cachet, it's definitely in the game.
Exterior styling on the ATS is bold and distinctive, continuing Cadillac's Art and Science design language that's been in use for more than a decade. Like other Cadillac models, the ATS makes a unique statement in a sea of sameness, but may prove a tough sell for European-luxury car enthusiasts who prefer sultry swoops to Caddy's sharp geometric shapes.
New for 2015 is a redesigned front grille, with a multi-dimensional pattern that's a modern take on Cadillac's signature egg carton grille. It's beset with two strong horizontal chrome lines and Cadillac's new crest, a more modern design that ditches the longstanding laurel wreath in favor of a lower and wider landscape shape, with a straight-edged top line and a distinct angular lower line.
Headlamps use Cadillac's signature vertical shape, with long, tapering tails that stretch up alongside the hood line. Vertical foglamps underneath accentuate the upright look of the front fascia. The front end is not only aesthetic, but functional: Inside the front grille are shutters that automatically close at certain highway speeds, which reduce aerodynamic drag and help fuel economy. Coupes get HID headlights and LED foglights all models, except for the standard base trims.
From the side, the ATS sedan appears squared-off, but not as wedge-y as the CTS. A rising character line along the bottom is evident, but not overdone. The roofline slopes gently past the C-pillar, and isn't as steeply raked as some sporty compact cars, presumably for the sake of rear passenger headroom. Chrome accents on window surrounds and door handles convey a look that's more luxurious over sporty. In addition, the Brembo performance brakes that come on some ATS models use a special Ferritic Nitro-Carburizing (FNC) coating, which helps to prevent corrosion and keeps them looking shiny.
ATS coupes are wider and sleeker than the sedans, with wider fenders and elongated lines. When the light hits it just right, one can see a definite wedge shape formed by the rising character line that stretches from just behind the front wheel arch, through the door handle and into the tail lamp.
In back, the rear bumper echoes the front with its sharp center crease. Tail lights and long and narrow. Sedans have a thin horizontal LED brake doubles as a rear spoiler. On coupes, the decklid spoiler is instead created from sheet metal, and the brake light is inlaid below. On both sedans and coupes, dual chrome exhaust pipes sit below the rear bumper.
Fit and finish inside the Cadillac ATS is comparable with Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series, though, as with the exterior design, the sharp creases and bold angles are unlike anything you'd find on a German car. Upper trim levels of the ATS use CUE, Cadillac's touchscreen interface. An acronym for Cadillac User Experience, the large screen uses proximity sensors, haptic feedback and voice recognition to control phone, audio and navigation functions. Unlike many luxury vehicles with proprietary interfaces (like the BMW iDrive and Mercedes Benz's COMAND system), there is no central control knob on the center console and all functions are performed either through voice or via the touchscreen.
Updates to CUE include a new text-to-voice feature that will read SMS messages from users' smartphones, and 4G LTE connectivity (branded as OnStar, which also encompasses GM's telematics service) that allows driver and passengers use the ATS Coupe as a WiFi hotspot for up to seven devices. CUE's home menu is configurable so you can access your favorite functions easily. It also uses proximity sensing, which saves extra steps and keeps your attention better focused on the road. When driving, CUE will display full-screen maps or audio information, but when your hand is nearby, it automatically brings up menu options related to the current function on the screen.
Although CUE has been improved during its lifespan to be faster and more user-friendly, we still have mixed feelings about the electronic interface. The volume, for example, must be adjusted by dragging one's finger across a horizontal bar, which requires exact manual dexterity, not easy in a moving car. Most of Cue's audio functions are better left controlled at the steering wheel. One of the touches we've always liked is the safe feature, which allows drivers to store valuables behind the movable touchscreen, which can be accessed by setting an electronic code.
Front seats are comfortable, and offer a range of adjustability from petite to tall. Because it's a smaller, sporty car, bolsters hug driver and front passenger tighter than in other Cadillac models, which is a good thing when navigating winding roads. On cars equipped with the optional Driver Awareness Package, the driver's seat will vibrate when the lane departure warning or forward collision alert is activated. If a vibrating seat isn't your style, you can change the warning to an audible tone. As for us, we think the vibrators should have a manual on/off switch and be repurposed as seat massagers.
Coupes equipped with front performance seats offer power-adjustable bolsters on the driver side. However, we found the bolsters didn't adjust narrowly enough to hug smaller or thinner individuals.
The ATS features extra touches like handcrafted cut-and-sewn leather upholstery on upper trim levels. Cadillac designers like to point out that all the materials in the ATS are genuine. If it looks like aluminum, it is. If it looks like carbon fiber, it is.
In back, rear legroom is on the tight side at 33.5 inches but is comparable for a car of this class. The sedan offers about the same as the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, but about an inch and a half less than the Audi A4 and BMW 3-Series sedan. It's a similar story with rear headroom; the ATS sedan is comparable to the Mercedes, but falls about an inch short when compared to the Audi and BMW. This is especially curious considering the overall length of the ATS is two inches longer than the C-Class, and practically three inches longer than the A4.
Compared with the sedan, coupes have one inch less headroom in front, and nearly two inches less in rear. Rear legroom measure the same as the sedan, but the two-door configuration makes the rear much trickier to access.
Trunk space in the ATS measures 10.2 cubic feet in sedans and 10.4 cubic feet in coupes, which falls short of competitors like the Audi A4 and Mercedes C250, which both have a total volume of 12.4 cubic feet, and the BMW 328i, which offers a roomy 13 cubic feet.
Like other recent Cadillac models, the ATS was tuned at some of the world's most famous racing circuits, including the Nordschleife section of Germany's Nurburgring.
The result is a light but solid chassis with near 50/50 weight distribution (a la BMW) that performs quite well on the road. Driving dynamics are further enhanced by a five-link independent rear suspension. Magnetic Ride Control, now in its third iteration, is optional on most ATS models, which adjust suspension real-time for even more responsive driving.
The underlying architecture of the ATS uses a combination of several metals, including high-strength steel, aluminum, magnesium, and many others that together help achieve rigidity and lightness. The result is a solid, stable chassis that is wonderfully compliant on the road as well as on the track, with a hunkered-down feel and little-to-zero body roll. The near-50/50 weight distribution keeps the car feeling balanced and controllable around all twists and turns.
We drove an ATS Luxury sedan with the standard 2.5-liter naturally aspirated engine on the street and found it perfectly adequate for freeway cruising and tooling around town.
However, we much prefer the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, which Cadillac expects will account for the majority of ATS models on the road. For 2015, a revised version of this engine offers more torque, although maximum thrust comes in at higher rpm. Still, passing was easy, and we never felt short of power, except perhaps a tad around sweeping turns up steep inclines.
The cabin of the ATS is very quiet. We noticed very little road or wind noise while driving. Even the direct-injection engines, which are notorious for their clickety-clackety ticks, couldn't be heard much in the cabin, thanks to plentiful and well-placed sound insulation.
The 6-speed manual transmission was mostly a joy to drive, although we occasionally found ourselves rowing between third and fourth on demanding roads, frustrated that the latter was too tall and the former was strained and noisy (we found the same issue on ATS models equipped with the 6-speed automatic). Still, we applaud Cadillac for offering a manual option in a world where others seem to be going the way entirely of paddle shifters.
On the track, we found the 2.0-liter turbo engine had plenty of power to make it fun, but not quite enough to make it effortless. And for those who actually like to work for a lap time, that's a good thing.
The 3.6-liter V6 with Magnetic Ride Control, however, was another story. While we found that engine to be ho-hum in the bigger, heavier XTS, the favorable power-to-weight ratio in the ATS makes for a dynamite ride. After a few laps in the V6, it's impossible not to dive into the pit lane smiling. Unless, perhaps, you're riding shotgun. On both models, the Brembo performance brakes stopped quickly and efficiently.
Coupes get a sportier rear suspension than do the ATS sedans, which makes for a firmer and more hunkered-down feel around twists and turns. Wider tires in back offer more grip. When equipped with the Performance Package, coupes also get summer tires and a mechanical limited-slip differential, which helps plant the car even more in demanding driving. Coupes also get standard Brembo front brakes, which are some of the best in the business. Stops are quick and confident, and a special anti-corrosive coating on the rotors keeps them looking shiny and new. Magnetic Ride Control is available here, too, and it makes a marked difference in ride and handling, though it's a pricey option.
On all models, we have mixed feelings about the ZF-sourced variable-effort electric steering. The steering gear used in the ATS is belt driven, which Cadillac claims makes for a smoother feel, but we found it a little too numb on demanding turns. Most drivers might not notice this in daily driving.
The 2015 Cadillac ATS sedan and coupe exude import-like luxury and performance, and makes a unique statement in a sea full of competitors.
Laura Burstein filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com after her test drives of Cadillac ATS sedans and coupes.