The Cadillac ATS holds its own against the world’s best sports sedans and coupes. Competitors to the ATS include the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Audi A4, and Infiniti G37.
The Cadillac ATS comes with four doors or two. The two-door coupe is slightly smaller than the four-door sedan, with a wider track for better cornering, and it looks the same but actually has different sheetmetal.
There are three engines: a 2.5-liter four-cylinder (sedan only); a 272-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder; and a 333-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 re-engineered for 2016 for better fuel mileage. You can further choose between a 6-speed manual gearbox or 8-speed automatic, and rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive.
The ATS sedan with the 2.5-liter engine gets an EPA-rated 26 miles per gallon Combined city and highway, the 2.0 turbo gets 26 mpg Combined, and the V6 is rated 24 mpg Combined.
The ATS-V is another animal altogether. Available as a coupe or sedan, its 3.6-liter V6 is turbocharged to make 464 horsepower and 445 pound-feet of torque, which blast it to 60 mph in 3.8 seconds and beyond to 189 mph. It has a presence that says modern muscle car, with wide flared fenders and aggressive aerodynamics to go with the iconic wedge-shaped Cadillac grille. The interior features Recaro seats, available faux carbon trim, and touches of dark suede. The stiff chassis is aluminum and steel, the suspension uses magnetic dampers, and it comes with the excellent Performance Traction Management (PTM) system. The result is a hugely powerful car that’s easy to drive either around town or on the track near the limit. ATS-V competes with BMW M3, Audi S4.
The 2016 ATS has eight airbags including front knee airbags, with rear side airbags optional. Other safety options include adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, and a rearview camera. The ATS earns a Superior rating for frontal crash testing by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), for cars equipped with the available Driver Awareness Package, which includes Forward Collision Alert.
The ATS is striking and crisp, you might even say dramatic and chiseled. It’s also universally accepted as beautiful, not easy for a design this bold. It stakes out unique ground that the Germans and Japanese competitors only strive to gain, and exudes confidence from its sculpted flanks. Cadillac calls this theme Art & Science, words that fit the fine details and focal points.
The coupe is softer at the edges and smoother at the corners than the sedan.
The ATS cabin is stunning, even on the base model, with soothing materials and exceptional fit and finish, in a modern layout. It’s warmer than the German cars and more upscale than the Japanese luxury cars. Now add the premium trims, with fancy wood and slick metal and cool carbon fiber, and it all becomes awesome.
There’s good headroom and legroom in front, while the sport bucket seats provide comfort for long distances and support for hard cornering. The trunk is small and the back seat is snug, but after all it’s not really a big car. The dash feels a bit like it wraps around the driver, an attempt to be ergonomic.
Cadillac calls its infotainment system CUE, and it’s been updated for 2016 with Apple CarPlay, to go along with its navigation, Bluetooth, and WiFi hotspot capability. It’s located front and center on the dashboard, and provides touch control for things including the sound and climate system. There’s a wireless charging mat behind the screen. Cadillac claims to have improved CUE for 2016, but so far we have found the system slow to respond and stubborn to voice command.
The multi-link rear suspension works well on all road surfaces. The front uses short and longer links with MacPherson struts to form a virtual axis; shorter links flex less, improving precision and response. The ATS corners flat, without body roll. Cadillac has learned a ton from its impressive racing program. The ATS feel more taut than a Mercedes-Benz C-Class or Audi A4, and it handles rough roads much better than an Infiniti G37.
The ATS with the optional FE3 sports suspension uses magnetically charged fluid-filled dampers similar to the Magnetic Ride Control in the Corvette. The FE3 package includes wider 18-inch wheels and tires, and Brembo brake calipers with upgraded pad material. It’s available with the 2.0 turbo.
The ATS-V is ready for the track, armed to take on a Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG, with stiffened shock towers, a stronger rocker bulkhead, stronger rear cradle-to-rocker braces, V-braces for the engine compartment, and an aluminum shear panel at the front of the chassis. The electronic limited-slip differential applies power progressively, while helping adjust the car’s rotational attitude.
The ATS-V feels wonderful at turn-in toward an apex, or at the edge in a fast sweeper. The 6-speed manual transmission feels a bit ropy, but it does rev-matched downshifts on its own. The 8-speed automatic accelerates quicker, and in manual mode it’s actually better on the track thanks to perfect gear spacing. With 14.5-inch rotors and Brembo calipers in front, and 13.3-inch rotors in the rear, the brakes can sure slow the car down from high speed, although it feels a bit squirmy under the weight of 3700 pounds on somewhat narrow 255-mm front tires.
One fun and useful option for the ATS-V is the Performance Data Recorder, which does video and audio, in addition to gathering data including acceleration, grip, steering angle, braking pressure, throttle input, and more. It can overlay laps from each session to study and improve. It’s what all the professional teams do.
The Cadillac ATS is a breakthrough car, showing the Europeans that, when it tries hard enough, Detroit can build distinctive and gorgeous cars that blow them out of the water.