Featuring top-notch driving dynamics, a comfortable ride and classy styling, the Cadillac ATS coupe is almost ready to out-German the Germans; terrible touch-sensitive controls and cheap gauges are holding it back, though.
Cadillac is looking to up its game versus the German luxury brands, taking the fight to BMW and Mercedes-Benz with products designed to go toe-to-toe with their best. Rear-wheel-drive platforms, lightweight designs, sharp handling — and now, a compact coupe based on the ATS sedan to match up with the BMW 4 Series, Audi A5 and Lexus RC 350 (the Mercedes-Benz C-Class coupe hasn't been updated to match its new sedan yet).
Debuting for 2015, the new ATS coupe is arriving two years after the sedan was introduced and provides an alternative for the admittedly limited number of buyers shopping for a personal luxury coupe. Featuring two of the sedan's three engines, revised two-door bodywork and some suspension changes, the coupe isn't all that different from the sedan on paper. Is it good enough, then, to bring legions of BMW coupe buyers out of their repetitive buying habits and into something American?
Exterior & Styling
When the car was unveiled, I initially lamented the fact that the ATS coupe didn't look all that different from the sedan on which it's based. The previous generation of the bigger CTS sedan and coupe were very different-looking animals, with the CTS coupe taking on a wildly futuristic, angular look that I absolutely loved — but apparently nobody else did, given Cadillac barely sold any.
The brand played it safer with the ATS coupe; the car looked good as a four-door, and the changes to create the two-door are definitely on the conservative side. There's a slightly revised front bumper and grille, and of course there are only two longer doors instead of four. The roof is slightly lower, as well. The front track is wider than the sedan's, so the front fenders are slightly different to accommodate the additional width between the wheels. Yet the overall effect after you gaze at the car for a few days is really quite classy — more elegant than aggressive. I'm onboard with the styling now.
How It Drives
The Cadillac ATS was already a stellar performer, and the coupe is just that much better. The highlight of the car, without a doubt, is its handling abilities. While my test car, a 2.0T Premium with all-wheel drive and an automatic transmission, did not have the high-end Magnetic Ride Control suspension, it still performed beautifully. Its sport suspension tuning was well-balanced between sporty feel and compliant ride, and the 18-inch wheels handled cratered streets in Ann Arbor, Mich., with surprising aplomb.
Steering feel is outstanding, with effort and feedback that recalls how BMWs used to feel. Body motions are equally well-controlled, with no bobbing or bucking on broken pavement and no odd sensations that make you feel like the car is struggling to maintain its composure. It's easily a match for the BMW 4 Series, feels a little more communicative than the latest Audi A5 and pretty much blows the Lexus RC 350's handling out of the water.
The turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder, which is the midrange engine offering in the sedan, serves as the base engine in the coupe, making 272 horsepower and sending it to either the rear wheels or all four wheels. The optional all-wheel drive means you get a standard six-speed automatic transmission with three selectable drive modes: Touring, Sport and Ice/Snow. Putting the car in the spectacular Ice/Snow mode employs the all-wheel-drive system in bad weather, which made the ATS nigh unstoppable when Ann Arbor got smacked with a winter storm during my test drive.
The turbo-four provides adequate power to get the ATS up and moving quickly, but you'll want to keep it in Sport mode if you like frequent brisk acceleration. While not as torquey as the optional V-6, it's easily competitive with the turbo four-cylinder motors in the 428 and A5. The Lexus RC comes only with a V-6, but it doesn't feel appreciably faster than the turbocharged Cadillac, likely due to the extra weight it's lugging around.
The ATS coupe's lightness plays a part in its outstanding performance. As tested, my car weighed just more than 3,570 pounds — about 65 pounds lighter than a 428i and almost dead even with the Audi A5. It weighs a significant 320 pounds less than a Lexus RC 350 AWD, but again that car features a bigger, more powerful engine. The four-cylinder ATS coupe can easily keep up with four-cylinder versions of the BMW and Audi as long as its Sport mode is engaged, but you may encounter some situations where you'll wish you'd popped for the bigger, more expensive V-6.
Where you won't make that wish is at the pump, thanks to the ATS coupe's EPA rating of 20/28/23 mpg city/highway/combined with all-wheel drive. I averaged only about 20 mpg combined, but with my aggressive driving it's no mystery as to why. The all-wheel-drive BMW and Audi are both rated considerably higher than the Cadillac, however, with the 428i garnering a 22/33/26 mpg rating thanks to its eight-speed automatic, while the A5 snags a more comparable 22/31/25 mpg rating. The all-wheel-drive Lexus RC 350 gets a 19/26/21 mpg rating with its standard V-6.
Things are a bit cramped in the ATS coupe. It feels a little narrower than some of its competitors, but headroom is ample despite being lower than the four-door. Backseat hip room is considerably less than the sedan; this is a four-seater, as opposed to the sedan's five-occupant accommodations. Visibility to the front and sides is acceptable, but seeing into your rear blind spots is difficult due to the thicker C-pillars. That's the price one pays for coupe style.
The front seats are very comfortable, with an optional leather trim that looks fantastic. My car was done up in optional deep Kona Brown leather that complemented the Black Raven exterior paint beautifully. Most interior materials are also quite good, with high-grade, soft-touch leather and plastic for most surfaces. Compared with the 428i and A5, the ATS coupe feels completely up to par, and it surpasses the substandard dash plastics in the Lexus RC 350.
Ergonomics & Electronics
Where the ATS falls short of its German competition is in its controls, displays and multimedia systems, which do not feel as sophisticated or as high-quality. Two areas in particular are woefully inadequate: the center console control panel, which is made up completely of capacitive touch-sensitive buttons, and the standard gauges. For a luxury car to feel luxurious there must be tactile feedback in the controls and switches, and the muted "bump" provided by the Cadillac touch-panel system doesn't provide this. One has to focus too much on where on the panel to touch, and oftentimes more than one touch is required to activate a function, be it climate control, radio volume, etc. It's not a pleasant control system, and combined with the still-problematic Cadillac User Experience multimedia system, it nearly ruins the entire experience of driving the ATS. For many prospective buyers, I'm sure it will be a deal-killer.
The other area that feels cheap is the set of standard gauges behind the steering wheel. It's a three-dial affair that looks ridiculously plain in an otherwise upscale luxury coupe. The display looks like something from General Motors' cheapo 1980s days, when budgets and bean counters outranked stylists and engineers. A more sophisticated, all-electronic display available on the larger CTS would remedy this issue, but it's not available on the ATS. For a coupe that costs more than $50,000, this is just unacceptable.
An available head-up display projects limited information onto the windshield (and remarkably does not disappear when one puts on sunglasses, as it does in BMWs), but this isn't enough to overlook these two glaring flaws in an otherwise well-done cabin.
Cargo & Storage
The ATS coupe features as much cargo room as the sedan version, with 10.4 cubic feet. A split, folding backseat is standard. All that is exactly on par with the Lexus RC 350 coupe, which also features exactly 10.4 cubic feet of room and standard split, folding seats. But the 428i and A5 feature more cargo room in back, with 15.7 and 12.2 cubic feet, respectively.
In National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash tests, the Cadillac ATS coupe earned five stars across the board — an excellent result. You can see the crash test results here. As for standard safety equipment, the ATS coupe features eight airbags and a backup camera system, but if you're willing to spend a little extra there are some interesting options available: A Driver Awareness Package includes a vibrating safety alert seat, forward collision alert, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, rain sensing wipers and more. Taking it to the next level involves opting for the Driver Assist Package, which adds adaptive cruise control with stop-start, electronic parking brake, automatic front and rear collision avoidance braking (to prevent you from hitting a pole as you're backing up, for instance), rear cross-traffic alert and the full color head-up display. See all the ATS' standard and available safety features here.
Value in Its Class
The Cadillac ATS coupe starts at $38,990 with rear-wheel drive and the 2.0-liter turbo engine; the 2.5-liter non-turbo engine in the base sedan cannot be had in the coupe. The coupe's price bumps up to $41,440 when all-wheel drive is selected. Four trim levels are available: Base, Luxury, Performance and Premium.
My test car was a Premium model, which starts at $49,200 but includes a lot of standard equipment, such as a sport suspension, 18-inch wheels, performance seats, navigation, remote keyless entry with remote start, the head-up display, front and rear park assist, the Driver Awareness Package and more. Only two separate options were specified on my car: the $1,295 Kona Brown leather interior and $850 polished 18-inch wheels, for a total sticker price of $51,345, including destination.
Stick with a rear-wheel-drive turbo model and forgo the fancy multimedia systems and leather interior, and you can get into an ATS coupe for less than $40,000. Spec out an all-wheel-drive V-6 model with all the options, and you can top $60,000. Option one up your way here.
This pricing is perfectly in competition with the major players. The BMW 428i starts at $41,700, a bit more than the ATS coupe, and rises to $43,700 when all-wheel drive is specified. As with most BMWs, however, you'll start paying through the nose on options. Every paint color except non-metallic white or black costs $550; any leather interior requires the addition of both the Luxury Line and the Premium Package, adding $3,800 right off the bat.
With options similar to what I had on my ATS coupe test car, the 428i would cost more than $57,000 — quite a premium over the Cadillac. The Audi A5 comes only with quattro all-wheel drive, so the base version costs $40,925. Optioning one up to match my test car brought the A5 to $52,325, quite comparable to the Cadillac. Unlike the Cadillac, both the 428i and A5 have several trim and color combinations for sportier equipment and appearance packages, giving them more versatility and personalization options. The Lexus RC 350 starts at $43,715 for a rear-wheel-drive coupe and $45,950 for the all-wheel-drive version, but as mentioned before it comes with a much larger, more powerful standard engine than its competitors. Optioning the RC 350 up to the same level of features as the others brings it to just more than $52,000, as well. See how these four luxury coupes stack up against each other here.
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