If a buyer can reconcile the fact that his neighbor’s BMW 4 Series will be more enjoyable on a Sunday drive, he can feel good about owning an ATS Coupe, because the Caddy will be better every other day of the week.
Cadillac is in the midst of a big push to “Expand and Elevate,” and the ATS Coupe is the latest example of the effort to embiggen the brand.
Accordingly, the ATS Coupe is both wider and lower – by one inch, to be exact – than the sedan. This makes the car look even more dynamic and sporty than before. It’s also made it heavier … but I’ll get to that in a minute.
Due to this rejiggered stature, the only body panel shared between the two ATS models is the hood. All the other sheet metal is distinctive to the Coupe. Amazingly, where I once found the Sedan to be the pinnacle of the Cadillac “Arts and Sciences” design language, when side-by-side to the sumptuous Coupe, the Sedan almost looks a bit pedestrian.
For example, the Coupe boasts frameless doors and a chrome trim line around the greenhouse that is now included in the body, rather than the doors. This means that when occupants open the doors, the lovely chrome highlight isn’t broken apart.
In the back, the Coupe further distinguishes it self from the Sedan. The rear trunk lip, which on the Sedan is formed from the rear brake light, is all metal on the Coupe. Instead, the chevron-shaped brake light has been incorporated just below the lip. The changes may be small, but they give the Coupe a far more upscale and elegant look.
Before we get to driving impressions, let’s talk powertrains. Compared to the ATS Sedan’s three engine options, the Coupe only offers two: either a four- or a six-cylinder.
The four is a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that makes 272 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque (up 40 torques over the same 2.0 in the Sedan), which can be mated to either the six-speed automatic or a six-speed manual with either rear- or all-wheel drive. Cadillac quotes the 0-to-60 run for the 2.0 at 5.6 seconds.
The V6 is a naturally aspirated 3.6-liter producing 321 hp and 275 lb-ft. Just like the four, the six can, too, be paired with an auto or the manual and either rear- or all-wheel drive. It, though, is rated at a 5.5-second 0 to 60 time, which strikes me as a surprisingly small improvement for fifty more horses.
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s get to the road.
Two should be better than four
When a luxury automaker like BMW makes a coupe variant of one of its cars, it – understandably – becomes more spirited and zestful. Take the transformation from 3 Series to 4 Series, for example. The 3 is full of vim and vigor, but the 4 is more so. BMW successfully took a great car, removed two doors, and made it better.
Don’t get me wrong; the ATS Coupe is very fun to drive … for a Cadillac.
As I mentioned above, it is both wider and squattier than the Sedan, which makes it look more energetic … and it offers 40 more torques. This is where the Coupe’s dominance over the Sedan ends, I’m afraid.
Don’t get me wrong; the ATS Coupe is very fun to drive … for a Cadillac. But comparing it to its brand mates isn’t really the point. For it to stand as a serious contender it has to – just as its early forefathers did in the 1940s – defeat the Germans.
Behind the wheel
On the highways and back roads, I was immediately struck with the serenity of the ATS Coupe’s interior. Even at over 75 mph, the cabin was incredibly quiet. The ride was also very comfortable, especially when fitted with Cadillac’s Magnetic Ride Control – the fastest-reacting suspension system in the industry.
Turning off the highway, however, my impressions changed. I found the very expensive steering rack to have almost no on-center feel. I could jiggle it several degrees both left and right without any movement at the wheels. Even though the steering weighted up in the twisty bits of the road, it never communicated much to my hands. Yes, the car handled very keenly – on par with the handling capabilities of the Corvette C6 – but I lacked connection.
As for acceleration, both the turbo four and the V6 offered ample power. Where the V6 was peppy at any rev range, the four preferred to be in the mid-level rpms. This was a problem, though, for the six-speed auto, which switches gears as quickly as possible.
This forced me to hammer the throttle a lot, which sent the four-cylinder into a bit of a tizzy. Delightfully, the throttle-hammering issue is solved by mating to the manual gearbox to the four-banger. In this combination, the ATS Coupe seems happiest.
On my first drive, a Cadillac engineer admitted to me his favorite combination of ATS Coupe is the ‘2.0T RWD Performance’ model. Having spent a week with it, I agree. With rear-wheel drive, manual transmission, and turbo four-cylinder, the ATS proves that GM engineers have finally learned the art of powertrain elasticity, something that same engineer admitted to me the brand didn’t understand until recently. No matter the rpm, the turbo-four and the manual gearbox found some pep
Yes, the engines are buzzy, especially the four-cylinder. And, honestly, I find the powertrain buzziness very strange because GM knows how not to make a buzzy V8. Something tells me – deep down – that GM engineers don’t want to make four- and six-cylinders.
Ignoring the droning powerplants, the driving experience of the ATS Coupe is quiet enjoyable – especially the braking. Standard on every ATS Coupe is a front set of four-piston Brembo brakes. They gripped hard and never gave any feeling of premature overheating or fade.
The rest of the ATS Coupe’s performance can be classified as good but not great. Yes, the interior is nicer than that of the BMW 4 Series, but the ATS lacked the Bimmer’s sprightliness and enthusiasm. The ATS Coupe felt heavy … and there’s good reason for that. Amazingly, the ATS Coupe is 99 pounds heavier than the Sedan.
Although the ATS Coupe might have a better interior than the BMW 4 Series, that doesn’t mean it’s perfect.
Cadillac designers insist that when buyers see a material in the ATS Coupe interior, it’s real. The leather is real leather. The wood is real wood. The carbon fiber is real carbon fiber.
The soft touch dash, though? It’s rubber. The overly abundant piano back trim? It is plastic … and it won’t stay piano black for very long. The thing about shiny black plastic is that when it’s touched, it shows fingerprints brilliantly. And occupants will have to touch it a lot because the higher trim levels of the ATS Coupe still include the problematic Cadillac CUE infotainment system.
The Coupe, though, just might be the best-looking car under $60,000 on the road today.
First off, it’s ridiculously slow. If its snail’s pace reaction time weren’t enough, everything is touch based; it has no actual buttons. Cadillac tried to include haptic feedback – in the form of a light vibration and “bonk” sound from the dash – but that, too, is slow to react.
Then we have the piano black, well, everything. Pushing nonexistent buttons is one thing. Pushing them and then immediately dirtying up the clean center console is another thing altogether. Cadillac includes a cleaning cloth to wipe down the dash. But that’s like including a severe burn-treatment kit with a new stove. It says, “we know we didn’t do this right, so here’s the simplest solution for our vast oversight.”
Saving the tech story slightly is the inclusion of the new 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot from OnStar. For a nominal monthly subscription, owners will be able to pair as many as seven devices to the car’s hotspot, which puts the ATS Coupe inline with new Audis in terms of tech-friendliness.
If that weren’t enough, occupants can pop open the center CUE panel to find a storage cubby complete with inductive, wireless charging. That means when your smartphone is placed on the pad, and it’s capable of receiving an inductive charge, it’ll start charging instantly when the ATS Coupe ignition is on.
Plus, if your iPhone is Bluetoothed to the ATS Coupe, you can control CUE through either the CUE voice recognition system or chat with Siri. It’s the driver’s choice.
Over my week with the ATS Coupe, I found myself very much enjoying the wiles of the plucky little American two-door. I felt weirdly at home in the car. I knew, deep down, that it isn’t the best in its segment and for the money (my tester clocked in at $48,805), it should be better. Despite that, and ignoring the buzzy engine, I liked it very much. The interior is comfortable and quiet, the engine is plucky, the transmission well geared, and the suspension both forgiving and stiff.
While it’s not perfect, it’s still enjoyable. And for someone in the market for an American-made 2+2, it’s the only real option. However, being the best American 2+2 simply isn’t enough. Let put that this into context using another American best vehicle, the Escalade.
With a truck like the Escalade, though it competes with several other luxury trucks on the market, it’s easy to over look the likes of the Range Rover and purchase an Escalade. That’s easy because the two trucks are so different in so many ways. Yes, the Rangie might be far more luxurious and off-road capable, but the ‘Sclade is so damn bossy. Arguably, too, the Escalade will earn a driver far more accolades on the American streets than a Rangie might.
The ATS Coupe, though, doesn’t hold up to scrutiny in the same way. It’s not different enough from the Audi A5 and the BMW 4 Series to say without hesitation, “Yes, this car isn’t ostensibly as good as the German offerings, but it provides (insert distinguishing traits here).” The outgoing Cadillac CTS-V was never as good as the BMW M6, but it didn’t have to be because it offered a brash, styled-by-ruler, V8 American muscle that the Bimmer couldn’t touch. It was the yang to the M6’s yin.
The ATS Coupe, though is just yang-ish to the 4 Series yin. It’s yang light.
So, yes, Cadillac can and should be very proud of the ATS Coupe, it’s the best it’s ever made. That, however, simply isn’t enough.
- Stunning exterior styling
- Quick-reacting Magnetic Ride Control suspension
- Firm and fade-free brakes
- Mobile friendliness
- Buzzy powerplants
- Heavier than the ATS Sedan
- Woefully slow CUE infotainment system
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