Over the last few years, Cadillac has been drastically trying to redefine its brand image from the old stodgy ferry of retirees in Boca to a legitimate competitor to the big German luxury players. The first real step was the CTS sedan. It was sized to compete with a BMW 5 Series, but at a bargain price. After years of success with the CTS, Cadillac decided it was time to attack the biggest badge in the business, the BMW 3 Series. The new compact sports sedan wore the name ATS, and it was good. It has been one year since the ATS sedan arrived, and Cadillac has now graced the world with a sleek two-door coupe to tackle the BMW 4 Series.

I love the Bimmer, but I wanted to see if America could really hang with the Germans. Fast-forward to last week, when a beautiful ATS Coupe rolled into my drive for a full week of testing. My model had the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine that makes it very competitive with a 428i. BMW would show no mercy on the road, so neither did I. Several hundred miles, many gallons of gasoline and one mostly ruined pair of tires later, I had decided which I thought was best. Read on to learn my decision.

Read on to learn more about the Cadillac ATS Coupe.

  • 2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe - Driven
  • Year:
    2015
  • Make:
  • Model:
  • Engine:
    inline-4
  • Transmission:
    6-Speed Auto
  • Horsepower @ RPM:
    272
  • MPG(Cty):
    21
  • MPG(Hwy):
    31
  • Torque @ RPM:
    295
  • Energy:
    Gasoline
  • Displacement:
    2.0 L
  • Layout:
    Front engine - RWD
  • car segment:
  • body style:

Exterior

2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe - Driven Exterior
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2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe - Driven Exterior
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2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe - Driven High Resolution Exterior
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If you ask the Germans, every car should look exactly alike, apparently. Every machine sold is in the same shade of gray and with the same shape, just in different sizes. But the Cadillac jumps in with the brashness America is known for with a shape that defies the rules of the luxury market. Sharp, angular, aggressive and interesting, the body of the ATS coupe is a piece of modern art. If you removed all the windows and lights, just presented the shape as folded metal, it could be dropped in a gallery. The paint color on this tester only helped to attract me to it.

GM calls it Majestic Plum Metallic. It’s amazing.

2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe - Driven Exterior
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A purple Cadillac seems a bit cliché, but this color is mostly gray with a hue of burgundy, and when the light hits it right there is a sharp burst of purple metal flake. I love how adventurous this color choice feels in the mostly monotone segment that the ATS plays in.

The nose features an overly large grille with the modern interpretation of the Cadillac crest, flanked by upright headlamp assemblies. The vertical lines from the headlamps carry into the thin strip of LEDs that make up the fog lights, and they cant out slightly towards the top, drawing attention to the bulging fenders. Horizontal lines in glass black and chrome dominate the rest of the face of the Caddy. These make the car look even wider than it is.

If you follow the headlamp up and over the fender, it molds into the car’s shoulder line and bottom window trim. A second pair of creases trace from the front wheels to the rear of the car in an upward arc. The ATS looks like it’s moving fast when it’s parked. The same aggressive touches continue to the rear, where the car wraps tightly around the rear wheels and comes to a sharp point. Producing the growl from the engine is a pair of large exhaust outlets mounted toward the center of the car. Finishing up the whole package are the optional 18-inch chrome wheels tucked under the swollen fenders.

Interior

2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe - Driven Interior
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2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe - Driven Interior
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2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe - Driven High Resolution Interior
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The inside of the ATS Coupe is a bit more function and a touch less form, but it still looks great. This tester came with the optional Kona-on-Black, two-tone color palate that sees dark brown leather on the seats and arm rests, with black leather on the steering wheel and door panels. The door panels also feature a bit of contrasting stitching, with the brown arm rests featuring black thread, and the black leather upper attached with brown thread. Sadly, this contrast does not continue to the seats. The ATS even uses a bit of suede on the top of the door panel and the seat backs. Along with the various leathers, the cockpit is lined with several pieces of metal trim and some of the most attractive wood I have seen in a car in years.

When you first step into the ATS, things can be a bit disorienting. The thick-rimmed steering wheel is festooned with unmarked black buttons, and the center stack makes use of the same black plastic, covered in silver accents, are there no markings there either. It all becomes clear once you hit the power button and a clean white glow emanates from every switch and button. It’s a cool effect that feels very appropriate for a modern luxury machine.

The features that don’t feel very welcome include Cadillac’s CUE system and touch-panel dash. In theory, CUE is a phenomenal piece of software. It will allow you to control almost every frequently operated function of the car using nothing but your voice. Just hit the button the steering wheel and speak “Tune to Sirius XM Alt Nation” and the car will happily tune the radio for you. The problem is its speed and comprehension. More than once I had to repeat commands, and when a command was accepted, it took so long to actually carry out that function that I thought it had failed. It took as long as eight seconds to change the station on the radio after being asked.

The touch-panel dash suffers from many of the same problems found in similar systems. Mainly, it’s hard to use when you aren’t looking and the system often misses inputs. Cadillac was smart enough to include a haptic feedback mechanism that makes the dash vibrate to signify a press has registered, but it still doesn’t help much. On many occasions I found myself staring at the dash, instead of the road, helplessly jabbing at the slab of black plastic until it finally responded. The panel has large silver accents that are there to designate where to touch the panel, but why couldn’t Cadillac have just made those buttons instead? Ah, the price of progress.

Drivetrain

2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe - Driven Drivetrain
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This particular ATS Coupe is equipped with the least-powerful engine Cadillac sells in the ATS Coupe, and the second-least powerful in the ATS family. It’s a 2.0-liter four-cylinder, but thanks to the magic of turbocharging it produces 272 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. The engine is very smooth and linear in its response, with almost no perceptible turbo-lag. It feels very similar to a good naturally aspirated motor. That power is sent to the rear wheels by way of a six-speed automatic transmission. The six-speed auto can be controlled manually, using the gear knob itself or with the set of magnesium paddles mounted behind the steering wheel.

Cadillac does offer this engine with a six-speed manual, and there is also an option for AWD.

Fuel economy for the ATS Coupe with this engine and transmission combination is rated at 21 mpg city and 31 mpg highway. I did see as high as 27 mpg during more lengthy highway cruising, but once I began to really hammer on this thing to test its performance potential, I saw that number fall below 20 mpg.

Chassis

2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe - Driven Exterior
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Considering its performance aspirations, Cadillac was certain to throw as many go-faster bits at the ATS as they could. On the list of standard features for every ATS Coupe are a premium electric sports-steering system sourced from ZF, a sports suspension with a five-link setup in the rear, and great big set of Brembo brakes to help bring everything to a halt. The brakes feel like overkill, considering that the ATS’s 3,400-pound curb weight makes it one of the lightest cars in its class.

Pricing

2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe - Driven High Resolution Exterior
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The starting price for the ATS Coupe is $37,995. Our upper-trim Performance model carried a base price of $44,935. The fancy leather interior was $1,295, the upgraded CUE system with navigation carried a price of $1,030, and the chromed 18-inch rolling stock was an extra $850. The final option on this car was a $495 upcharge for the fantastic Majestic Plum paint. Throw in the $995 destination charge and the final sticker price of this particular car was $49,600. I really don’t mind the $495.

Driving Impressions


The real point of a car like this is not how much it costs, how well-equipped it is, or even how it looks. This segment survives on the need to own a practical machine that is exhilarating to drive. On that front, the ATS Coupe excels. The seating position is wonderful and easily accommodates many sizes, thanks to a multi-way power seat and a steering wheel that tilts and telescopes. That wheel feels great to hold, with its thick diameter and soft leather coating, and when the going gets twisty, it offers solid levels of feedback with good weighting. I would prefer it to be a touch heavier, but it’s a nice compromise between usability and performance.

While I prefer to row my own gears, the magnesium paddle shifters feel great to touch and they make this addictive “clink” noise with each flick, causing me to use them more often than I normally would.

The 2.0-liter turbo engine under the hood is happy to rev itself out to its redline, and it makes a nice noise as it does so. Its not as loud or aggressive as I would prefer, but it matches the energetic character of the car. From a dead stop, 60 mph will arrive a hair after 5 seconds, and the ATS will continue to pull strongly well into triple digits. To get even quicker throttle response and a firmer suspension, the ATS has a Sport mode that tightens everything up. When everything is turned to 11, the ATS Coupe comes alive. The great steering and willing engine combine with the sports suspension and the huge Brembo brakes to create a car that is an amazing dance partner on the twistiest of roads.

Best of all, the harder you push the ATS Coupe, the better it seems to perform. The chassis is wonderfully balanced and it just begs to be flogged for hours on end. My only real issue is that the chassis outshines the engine. Every piece of this car reacts in a way that lets you know it can withstand much more power. This car feels as though it was built to withstand the 500 horsepower. Every time you drive it, you will enjoy it greatly, but you will also be keenly aware that it is capable of so much more.

The ATS is far from a one-trick pony. Jump off the back roads and hit the highway for your morning commute and the little Cadillac will keep you safe, comfortable and sane for the journey. If you put the car in comfort mode, the suspension will smooth the road ahead, soaking up all the bumps, and the supportive seats are padded enough that you can take trips several hours long with no issues. Even the back seats are good for adults under six feet tall. Getting into and out of those seats requires solid knowledge of yoga, but once you get situated, you should be comfortable for an hour or two. Even the trunk is spacious, but like the back seats, the opening to get things into that trunk is smaller than it should be.

The ATS is a great machine to flog, it’s a wonderful daily cruiser, and it’s practical when you need it to be. It’s really remarkable.

Competition

BMW 428i

2014 BMW 4 Series Coupe High Resolution Exterior
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The BMW 4 Series is the obvious target of the Cadillac ATS. For decades, BMW has been making the best all-around sports sedans on the market, but the Americans are ready to challenge. While both the ATS Coupe and the 428i are powered by 2.0-liter turbocharged engines, the Cadillac is far more powerful. The BMW only manages to produce 240 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque. That gives the ATS a 13 percent advantage in horsepower and 16 percent in torque.

The BMW does have a more sophisticated transmission though, with its eight-speed automatic. The BMW also takes top trumps in fuel economy with its 35 mpg highway rating. As far as driving feel, I think I prefer the ATS to the BMW. The 428i has better steering, but the style and thrust of the ATS would win me over every time.

As a nice little bonus, the Cadillac is also a touch less expensive. With similar equipment, the BMW would cost you $52,000.

Mercedes-Benz C250 Coupe

2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class High Resolution Exterior
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In the land of luxury, Mercedes-Benz is one of the most respected names in the business, but in this competition the C-Class is stuck playing second fiddle. The C250 comes into the battle with the smallest engine in this group: a 1.8-liter, and its 201 horsepower and 229 pound-feet of torque make it the least-powerful car here. That gives the C250 a 0-to-60 time of 7.1 seconds, making it the slowest car as well.

That loss of power doesn’t even pay off at the pump, with a highway rating of only 31 mpg, the Merc is less fuel-efficient than the BMW, and only manages to match the Cadillac. The only advantage the Mercedes has here is that when similarly equipped, it’s a few hundred dollars less than the Cadillac.

The C250 Coupe is not powerful enough, fast enough, efficient enough or priced well enough to be real completion in this crop of cars.

Conclusion

2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe - Driven High Resolution
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My time with the ATS Coupe has proved to me that the Germans are losing their advantage, and America is taking up the torch for modern luxury performance, at least at the lower end of the scale. The new 4 Series is fun, but BMW has lost some of its magic over the years, and Mercedes isn’t even playing on the same ball field. The Cadillac ATS offers the most power, incredibly sharp handling, style and luxury, and it wraps it all up in a package that is competitively priced. CUE needs serious work, and Cadillac needs to think about going back to using real buttons for HVAC controls, but overall it is hard to hate anything about the ATS. If anything, driving the ATS has only made me even more excited for the bonkers V version.

Keep up the good work, GM.

  • Leave it
    • Chassis begs for even more power
    • Automatic transmission is great, but manual would have been better
    • Trunk opening is too small
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