The 2015 Cadillac ATS sedan remains as compelling a sport sedan as GM has ever made, but issues with the interior diminish its appeal versus the heavy-hitting German competition.
New for 2015 is an ATS coupe, which you can read about here. In this review we evaluate the ATS sedan (compare the two body styles here), which competes for your $45,000 or so against a familiar gaggle of sedans — from the venerable BMW 3 Series, Audi A4, Lexus IS and redesigned 2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class to newcomers like the Acura TLX and forthcoming Jaguar XE. As for the Caddy, GM's luxury division serves up revised front styling and a few more features, plus more torque for the midlevel turbo four-cylinder. Compare the 2015 and 2014 ATS here.
Exterior & Styling
Detractors of Cadillac's current wreath-and-crest logo, which dates back to 1999, may appreciate the wreath removal for 2015. Or not. What remains is a sort of pancaked version of the Cadillac crest, as if someone melted and stretched it past the wreathed boundaries. It sprawls across the ATS' hood, tail and steering wheel. Dislike it? You may not have to wait long for its departure. In Cadillac's 112-year history, the logo has undergone six revisions and 38 overall variations.
How It Drives
The ATS' 272-horsepower, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder gets some much-needed torque for 2015 — it's now 295 pounds-feet, up from 260. It turns what was once a peaky, must-rev drivetrain into a quick, entertaining mover. Hints of turbo lag dissipate quickly, as usable power starts as low as 2,000 rpm. Beyond that, the tach needle revs smoothly all the way to redline, with as much midrange punch, and possibly more, than competing turbo four-cylinders from the German competition.
For a sport sedan, however, the ATS' six-speed manual is a disappointment. The shifter has rubbery, medium throws, and the deep clutch pedal hampers any attempt at quick upshifts. I still applaud Cadillac for including a manual — stick shifts are an endangered species, and luxury brands are among the top poachers — but the ATS also offers a responsive six-speed automatic with which the vast majority of new ones listed on Cars.com are equipped. Stick-shift buyers may have to special-order their ATS from a dealership, and this manual isn't worth the wait.
The manual is available only with the turbo four-cylinder. The automatic is optional on the four-cylinder, and it's the only transmission you can get on the ATS' other two engines: a base 202-hp four-cylinder and the range-topping 321-hp V-6. (The ATS coupe doesn't offer the former.)
The ATS' dynamics rival those of the excellent 3 Series, which is high praise. The nose stays in line while progressive accelerator input slides the tail out with controllable predictability. But the tradeoff comes in noise and ride quality. Highway wind noise is low, but our car's optional 18-inch wheels (17s are standard) sent up plenty of road noise at all speeds. The ATS' optional adaptive suspension — the sportier of two setups — rides firmly, even in its Touring mode. A Sport mode renders noticeably more intrusion, but in either setting the suspension thumps away at anything short of smooth pavement. It's noisy and uncomfortable, and competitors like the 3 Series prove you don't have to sacrifice this much ride comfort to get expert handling.
A chief complaint for the ATS has always been space, which was particularly cramped in a moonroof-equipped sedan we tested against other sport sedans in late 2012 (see it here). This time around, our test car was moonroof-free. Cadillac says that frees up 1.8 inches of headroom, and it makes a significant difference. The low windshield and narrow rear window still limit visibility, but headroom is no longer an issue if you raise the seat. The backseat, by contrast, sits low to the floor, and some may find the space — high windows, thick pillars and all — a bit claustrophobic.
Cabin materials feature plenty of Cadillac's cut-and-sewn dashboard routine. It's faux leather and won't fool anyone into thinking it's the real deal, which Lexus occasionally accomplishes. But that's par for the course in this class. Still, Cadillac needs to work on build quality; certain areas have unsightly gaps and unevenly fitted sections.
Cargo & Storage
Both the ATS coupe and sedan have just 10.4 cubic feet of trunk space, which is small even for compact sport sedans. The C-Class and 3 Series have around 13 cubic feet of trunk space; the IS has nearly 14 cubic feet. What's more, a folding rear seat in the ATS is optional, not standard — a disadvantage versus competitors like the C-Class and A4, which have standard folding backseats.
Ergonomics & Electronics
With either four-cylinder engine, base trim levels have an AM/FM Bose stereo with dual USB ports, Bluetooth phone compatibility and a 4.2-inch screen. It also has an array of capacitive controls, which require you to plant your finger on a touch-sensitive area for a moment to accomplish anything — changing the temperature, for example, or accessing the home screen. It's as annoying as it sounds, but at least the base setup has physical volume and tuning knobs.
Unfortunately, Cadillac's optional Cadillac User Experience system deprives you of those knobs. It gets an 8-inch touch screen, which relegates stereo tuning to the screen and volume adjustments to a touch-sensitive slider bar — both annoyances that don't let up over time. Unfortunately, CUE is the only way to get Bluetooth audio streaming or a backup camera, as well as a higher-end Bose system or navigation. It also includes an in-car Wi-Fi hotspot through OnStar's latest 4G LTE connectivity. A complimentary trial lasts three months or 3 gigabytes; after that, it's available with a subscription (see details).
The ATS has not been crash-tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. In frontal tests by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the sedan earned five out of five stars; it also has a five-star rollover rating. Those ratings don't apply to the ATS coupe, and NHTSA hasn't tested either body style for side impacts.
Eight standard airbags include dual front knee airbags and side curtain airbags for the front and rear seats. Optional rear side-impact torso airbags bring the total airbag count to 10. Blind spot, lane departure and forward collision warning systems with auto braking are optional. Click here to see all the ATS' safety features or here to see our evaluation of car-seat provisions.
Value in Its Class
The ATS sedan starts around $34,000. Standard features include dual-zone automatic climate control, power front seats, leatherette (imitation leather) upholstery and Bluetooth phone but not audio streaming. The latter is optional, as are heated leather seats, a moonroof, navigation, upgraded Bose audio and either of the more-powerful engines. But the price climbs fast: All-wheel drive is available only on the 2.0-liter turbo or V-6 ($2,000 more on most trims), and an all-wheel-drive V-6 ATS can top $55,000. That's no different from the competition, particularly the Germans, which can reach eye-watering prices if you slather on the options.
Now in its third year, the ATS contends with the best of them, but issues persist. It will take a full redesign to address the problems inside, but the car's handling prowess should entice a lot of buyers to look past that — particularly with a higher-performance ATS-V on the horizon.
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