Cadillac turned the sports sedan segment upside down by promising to deliver a BMW 3-Series fighter. Them be fightin’ words! Words that many just scoffed at. Remember the Catera? No? Maybe you’re just suppressing that memory? Either way, I can’t blame you, but with the ATS, Cadillac’s words were not hollow. They kept their promise and delivered in a huge way.
Caddy damn near photocopied BMW’s blueprints to a venerable sports sedan and gave birth to their own version.
I drove the ATS harder than I have ever driven any car I’ve reviewed by a very large margin. For the week that I had the privilege of testing it, I treated it like it was mine. I enjoyed grabbing the keys just to pick up groceries by taking the longer route. I looked for any excuse to drive the ATS, so if this review sounds a bit biased, it’s because I really enjoyed my time in it and was really sad to see it go.
Debuting in the middle of 2012, the ATS is within an inch of just about every exterior dimension as the 3-Series. Caddy damn near photocopied BMW’s blueprints to a venerable sports sedan and gave birth to their own version. That means the ATS can be had in both RWD and AWD configurations. Cadillac even copied BMW’s engine options in offering a 2.0L direct injected turbo four cylinder and a direct injected six cylinder, however the six cylinder is in V shape, naturally aspirated, and is a 3.6L as opposed to BMW’s in-line setup and dual turbos. Caddy even offers a base 2.5L naturally aspirated four cylinder in the base ATS. We were fortunate enough to try out the new 2.0L turbo mill mated to a slick 6-speed automatic (trust me, its nice) and AWD. The 2.0L turbo is good for a stout 272 horsepower at 5500 RPM and 260 lb-ft of twist from 1700-5500 RPM. It proved to be one exciting week with the sleek sedan, so I’ll try to keep the boring stuff short.
Its sleek angular styling and attractive lines break the mold and are very aesthetically pleasing to the eye.
The ATS’s styling is the most recent evolution of Caddy’s Art & Science design language and is a standout in the segment. Its sleek angular styling and attractive lines break the mold and are very aesthetically pleasing to the eye. The vertical headlamp style includes HID projectors with integrated vertical LED strips. The LEDs act as driving lights as well as the vertical fog light LED strips. Caddy saw fit to drag the top of the headlights up into the hood and along the fenders. It is truly a nice touch. The tail lamps follow the same theme with vertical LED strips and the third brake light doubles as a spoiler as well. The illumination continues onto the door handles making it easier to find them in the dark. In my opinion, every car should have these. Our tester was equipped with the standard 18” machined-finish aluminum alloys wrapped in Michelin Primacy MXM4 V-Rated all season run flats. There is very little chrome, instead Cadillac uses aluminum giving it a more upscale look. The dual exhaust tips round out the bright metallic work and are situated under a rear diffuser.
Our ATS was painted Thunder Gray Chromaflair and came with Morello red leather seats. I believe this is an excellent color combination. The sparkling gray metallic paint looks classy and the interior gives it a very athletic and sporty touch. The interior fit and finish is second to none. The stitching and the leather upholstery throughout the entire car are of great quality. The seats are incredibly supportive and have adjustable lateral bolsters to keep you in place when you decide to drive hard (and you will drive it hard). They are on the firm side but are very comfortable to sit in.
The seats are incredibly supportive and have adjustable lateral bolsters to keep you in place when you decide to drive hard (and you will drive it hard).
The rear bench is best for two. I think three will be a tight fit due to a lack of head and leg room. With the driver seat adjusted to my liking, space in the rear is severely lacking. I only had an inch or so of headroom, and I found myself having to twist my feet to tuck them under the front seat, which caused my shins and knees to be pressed into the seat-back. In other words, it was tight and uncomfortable. Even at just under 5’11” and of slender build, I wouldn’t want to sit back there.
Apart from the lack of rear room, the cabin in general is a great place to be. Contrasting the beautiful red seats are aluminum and piano black accents as well as plenty of carbon fiber. The only plastics you find are the window switches and signal stalks which are high grade. I’m not too fond of the placement of the cup holders which are right in the center and don’t have a sliding cover over them. The center storage compartment is wrapped in leather but doesn’t slide forward, so my elbow couldn’t rest on it comfortably.
Apart from the lack of rear room, the cabin in general is a great place to be.
The old ‘hands at ten and two’ adage doesn’t sit well with me as its just not a comfortable way to drive when I’m just lazing around town. I prefer having my left hand at 11 and my right on the shifter unless I am driving hard, so if that complaint sounds trivial, just ignore it. The view out of the cabin isn’t hampered by overly large A-Pillars and apart from the large C-Pillars, blind spots are minimal. The trunk floor isn’t as deep as I had expected but it is large enough to fit a tennis bag and a large duffel bag with plenty of room to spare for a couple bags of groceries.
As sporty as the interior is, the gauge cluster just doesn’t quite match. The analog gauges don’t fit the car’s mission and personality. The ATS is decked out with awesome gadgets (which will be discussed later) and very modern styling but the gauge cluster looks like an afterthought. There’s nothing fancy about the gauges as they’re all laid out in white lettering. The speedometer, tachometer, fuel and temperature gauges are all in a half moon layout encompassing a wide, centrally located multifunction LCD screen. The illumination matches the rest of the interior’s button color but it’s just too old fashioned. I typically prefer seeing full moon faces for the tachometer and speedometer or a central tachometer for an athletic feel. The multifunction LCD screen shows anything you could ask for regarding the car’s vitals: speed, navigation, audio, as well as a myriad of other bits of info. There are buttons on the steering wheel to cycle through them. As there is a lot of info to pick and choose from, I recommend doing it when you are not driving.
The multifunction LCD screen shows anything you could ask for regarding the car’s vitals: speed, navigation, audio, as well as a myriad of other bits of info.
Another cool feature that the car came with was a Heads Up Display system. The HUD can be adjusted for brightness, elevation and a few preset information displays. It was neat to show off, but the love quickly died. I found it more distracting than helpful when driving the car hard, and when manually changing gears, it wouldn’t show the selected gear large enough to be read with a simple glance. I would be very happy without the HUD. The ATS carried the optional Driver Assist Package which included front and rear automatic braking, side blind zone alert, rear cross traffic alert, adaptive cruise control and automatic collision preparation.
When you’re getting too close to the car in front of you, the driver’s seat will vibrate, alerting you that you’re about to collide with the poor unsuspecting soul before you. The seat vibrated twice for me in traffic and I found it to be a nuisance. Luckily its defeatable, so I turned off. Unfortunately, I had to turn it off multiple times because it resets itself every time you turn the car off and on. I would much rather just have the blind zone alert and forgo everything else.
I do have to give Caddy some due credit for taking a huge step in the right direction with the CUE system, but there are some serious growing pains and it could have gone through a bit more thorough testing.
The ATS came with Cadillac’s all new CUE system, or Cadillac User Experience, which is Caddy’s first go at a state of the art interface to compete against BMW’s iDrive, Audi’s MMI, and Benz’s COMMAND system. It features a haptic touch screen and center console controls along with a host of voice commands. The system is slow to respond to voice commands with a long gap between what you say and when it understands the command. The menus require some attention as you scroll through and the sub-menus require even more, demanding that you take your eyes off the road. Its the same with the climate controls as well, however I’m the type to set the automatic climate control and not worry about it again. CUE also allows you to use Pandora as well as bluetooth and USB audio. Utilizing the voice commands makes it easier to focus on driving as long as you don’t let the slight delay bother you. When using the touchscreen, it pushes back against your finger letting you know that your selection has been taken into account.
On a few occasions I noticed that I had to press a menu icon twice for it to register or that it took a while to process my input. The same effect applies to the buttons on the center console. A quick touch of the finger on the icon will register the command but there is a slight delay to the feedback effect that lets you know that your input has been processed. When driving, it requires your attention to be diverted, but not overly so. The radio controls can be done via touchscreen or steering wheel controls. There is a slider for volume control on the center console which works great, but again much like the rest of this system, it requires some attention. I do have to give Caddy some due credit for taking a huge step in the right direction with the CUE system, but there are some serious growing pains and it could have gone through a bit more thorough testing. It’s not unlike the MYFord/ MYLincolnTouch systems when it comes to a full touch interface without any buttons, however the Ford/Lincoln voice commands are arguably the best and most complete in the industry.
Sport is where all the fun is and that’s the setting the baby Caddy stayed in most of the time I had it.
The ATS can be driven in three different modes; Winter, Normal, and Sport. I couldn’t test the car in Winter mode because of the weather conditions, but I was able to utilize the other two. Normal mode keeps things simple, as you would expect, but to be honest, there isn’t much to report. Sport is where all the fun is and that’s the setting the baby Caddy stayed in most of the time I had it. To cycle through the different modes, there is a designated button near the shifter labeled MODE. Press the button and the LCD screen in the gauge cluster will cycle through the different modes. While leaving the car in auto, the shifts are quick and the car does a good job of staying in the right gear. To have a bit more fun, move the shift lever to manual shift mode and tug the aluminum paddles on the steering wheel for the utmost pleasure.
The shifts are amazingly quick for a run of the mill automatic. They’re precise and provide a little kick to each shift which I personally welcome. Each down shift is accompanied by a wonderful rev match which allows for a much smoother shift. I almost thought it was a dual clutch gearbox. The electronic steering is direct and has a linear load to it and provides enough feedback to keep me satisfied as the ATS isn’t meant to be an all out sports car. Its errs on the sporty side but does a good job of isolating road imperfections and irregularities. Cadillac kept the body motions buttoned down. There is very minimal roll and the ride is very well damped. It is very taut, and can even be stiff but the ATS isn’t punishing by any means.
The shifts are amazingly quick for a run of the mill automatic.
On some of the harshest back country roads in the Litchfield Hills area of Connecticut, the ATS had no trouble soaking up the bumps and dips while being pushed hard. The roads are rather treacherous and very hard to drive spiritedly but the ATS exudes confidence with every turn. Caddy did a great job tuning the suspension to take a beating and to immediately come back for more abuse. The AWD helped keep things in check when hitting puddles and rain run off on the roads. The car tends to understeer, but can be coaxed to oversteer however, I find more excitement when all four wheels stick to the road. Keep the wheels pointed in the direction you wish to go and the chassis responds immediately. This car just loves to turn. The Brembo brakes are immediate and will never be put to serious work unless they are on a tight track. I found myself braking later and later into turns and going faster and faster.
The only downside I found about the ATS, besides rear seat room, was the power delivery from the turbo mill. The engine builds power as the revs climb but around the 5500-5700 RPM mark, it sounded hoarse and felt out of breath. The power dies off abruptly and there is no need to rev to its 7000 RPM limit as you’ve already exhausted its maximum accelerating potential. It tended to ruin the enjoyment on occasion as I fully expected it to pull all the way to the red line so I could keep on the power exiting a corner. To compensate I had to shift earlier to keep the engine in the sweet spot. The only time I experienced any lag was off an abrupt launch when idling at a stop light, but it was minimal and I didn’t come across it any other time. The ATS could use a bit more aggressive tone to the exhaust as it sounded a bit subdued. Perhaps a valve system that can open up in Sport mode and stay closed in normal?
With the aggressive driving, I managed to get anywhere between 17.9-18.9 MPG, according to the trip computer. For a car that is expected to get 21MPG/31MPG city/highway according to the estimates on the monroney sticker, that is rather low. To be quite honest, I didn’t care. If I can have this much fun in a car when pushing it as hard as I was, fuel economy is the last thing on my mind. Since my driving is probably the exception and not the rule, take that with a grain of salt also.
The only downside I found about the ATS, besides rear seat room, was the power delivery from the turbo mill.
Well, what does all this fun and tech do to the wallet, you ask? The Premium ATS starts at $45,995 plus options, which include the Driver Assist Package for $3,220, the $995 charge for the Thunder Gray Chromaflair paint job, the $600 Cold Weather Package, and the $895 Destination charge. Our ATS rang in, as tested, at $51,705.
For Caddy’s first serious go at a competitor to the Germans, I’m left rather impressed. While the rear seat is tight, and it could use a bit more fine tuning of the engine and CUE, other than that I can’t find any other gripes with the car. I feel the joy I’ve had in the time I was given greatly outweigh the negatives. So, do I recommend this car? Absolutely! If I had $50+ grand to burn, the Cadillac ATS would be a good place to burn it.
Photo Credit: Cadillac