Editor’s Note: All photos here are of the 2016 ATS Coupe Black Chrome Package.
Earlier this year, I was at an auto show with a friend who harbours a serious BMW fetish. As we strolled through the General Motors display, I asked for his thoughts on the Cadillac ATS, the luxury brand’s least-expensive offering and direct competitor to BMW’s 3 and 4 Series models.
He said he would never consider buying one, even if he thought it drove better than a comparable BMW, calling Cadillac an “old man’s car.”
He’s not alone. Despite a campaign to drum up appeal among younger drivers that began with the Catera in the 1990s and the CTS that followed in the early 2000s, Cadillac still faces a stiff headwind on the road to changing people’s perceptions of the brand. But that’s all changing as Cadillac’s repositioning is in full swing and appears to be working, attracting that more youthful (i.e. not old) core of car buyers.
The compact ATS debuted as a sedan in 2012 to go head-to-head with the BMW 3 Series (arguably the best-known sport sedan in the world), Audi A4, and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. GM’s most prestigious brand expanded the ATS portfolio in 2015 with the coupe you see here.
Race-Inspired with a 272-Hp Turbocharged Engine and Improved Handling
Where the ATS sedan lineup starts with a dull 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine that allows for that car’s $36,000 base price, the coupe skips straight to a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine that’s a much better fit in a car with sporting pretenses.
Discounting the bonkers ATS-V, which crams a supercharged V8 into this car’s engine bay, the turbo four boasts the most torque (295 lb-ft) of any ATS engine, a characteristic that shines through in city driving. It makes the car step lively when pulling away from stoplights and feels stronger than its 272-hp rating suggests.
But despite my own preference for turbocharging, the 3.6-litre V6 that is next up the ATS’ powertrain ladder is a better performer at highway speeds, pulling harder toward its redline than the turbo four.
Transmission: Optional manual gearbox
Reflecting the general trend toward automatic transmissions even in cars aimed at enthusiastic drivers, the 2.0-litre engine is the only one Cadillac pairs with a manual gearbox, but that was moot, as my test car had the optional automatic. Its eight closely-spaced ratios are well-suited to the turbo’s power delivery, but that is a lot of gears to sort through in city driving, a fact amplified by the transmission’s inability to pull off consistently smooth gear changes. BMW’s eight-speed (used in the 3 and 4 Series the ATS competes with) is more transparent in its work.
More impressive is the ATS Coupe’s steering, which delivers good road feel to the driver’s hands and contributes, along with a tight suspension, to making this car fun to throw into corners.
2016 Cadillac ATS Coupe interior
Inside, Cadillac has, if nothing else, created a cabin tighter than that in the already-snug ATS sedan. Headroom is at a premium even up front (my tester’s sunroof didn’t help) and the front seats are best enjoyed by those narrow in the hips.
Getting into the two-place rear seat is a bit of a circus trick, but front seats that both tilt and slide forward (the latter action being electric) help ease access. If you’re shorter than my own five-foot-eight, you’ll fit back there, but you will wish for more legroom. To be fair, the ATS sedan’s only real advantage are its rear doors; there’s not a lot more space in its rear quarters.
The ATS dashboard’s centre stack is all about touch-sensitive controls that can be slow to respond, or at least tough to touch properly at first attempt. More useful is a hidden storage compartment behind the infotainment touchscreen.
Other available technology includes forward collision alert, lane departure warning and lane keep assist, blind zone alert, rear cross-traffic alert, and a head-up display, all of which are options bundled into a “safety and security” package. Standard tech includes intelligent keyless entry and remote engine start.
Takaway: is the 2016 Cadillac ATS Coupe worth it?
My ATS Coupe’s as-tested price of $53,375 placed it mid-pack compared to similarly-equipped versions of the 4 Series, Audi A5, and Lexus RC.
The ATS Coupe looks the part of a $50,000 car, but given the brand stigma, we wonder if this car would look even better to prospective buyers were it priced about $3,000 less. It’s a tactic that has worked wonders for Korea’s Hyundai, a company getting set to roll out its impressive-looking range of Genesis models.
2016 Cadillac ATS Coupe Gallery:
2016 Cadillac ATS Coupe Specs:
- Engine: 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder
- Power: 272 horsepower
- Torque: 295 pound-feet
- Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
- Brakes: Four-wheel disc brakes
- Steering: Electric power-assist rack-and-pinion
- Suspension: Independent strut (front); Independent multi-link (rear)