|2.0T Standard||2.0-liter Turbo Inline-4 Gas||8-Speed Automatic||Rear Wheel Drive, All Wheel Drive||$32,865||$34,595|
|2.0T Luxury||2.0-liter Turbo Inline-4 Gas||8-Speed Automatic||Rear Wheel Drive, All Wheel Drive||$36,475||$38,395|
|3.6L Premium Luxury||3.6-liter V6 Gas||8-Speed Automatic||Rear Wheel Drive, All Wheel Drive||$41,795||$43,995|
|3.6L Premium Performance||3.6-liter V6 Gas||8-Speed Automatic||Rear Wheel Drive||$44,645||$46,995|
by Chris Wall
It’s not Cadillac’s first compact executive, but the ATS sedan is arguably the company’s best to date.
Contrary to belief, Cadillac did make a compact executive sedan before the current ATS. In the middle of the last decade, the company made its BLS – a four-door car only exclusively in Europe, to take on the might of BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz on their own turf. The fact you’ve probably never heard of the BLS is perhaps the biggest indicator that it wasn’t exactly Cadillac’s finest hour... Fast forward the clocks, and we now have a much different take on a shrunken sedan in the form of the Cadillac ATS. We actually get to buy it from US dealerships this time, and it features some of the most up-to-date features ever seen on a Cadillac. Crucially, though, the ATS is by all accounts a very good compact executive car.
Gone are the days where feeble plastics and faux wood inserts dominated proceedings.
One of the ways the Cadillac ATS has reached that status is with regards to the premium feel of the interior. Gone are the days where feeble plastics and faux wood inserts dominated proceedings: instead, we’re treated to lavish leather, gloss black trim and a premium aura that places this cabin as one of the more inviting examples you’ll find in this segment. The control layout on the ATS also pretty good, with the combination of a multimedia ‘CUE’ interface and capacitive sensors culling the center console’s button count. It’s a shame, then, that neither systems are 100% user friendly: the CUE display is clunky and unresponsive, and the capacitive sensors don’t always register inputs. For quite a few situations, it’s easier to use the controls on the multi-function steering wheel for the TFT dashboard binnacle display than it is relying on CUE and the sensors – and, like the conventional analogue gauges in the binnacle, it’s also clearer and more legible to read at a glance.
Even the Mazda2 citycar has a larger trunk than the Cadillac!
Practically disappoints, too. Though space up front is good, with plenty of adjustability for the driver and the passengers riding shotgun, the same can’t be said for the back. Head room is only acceptable for class standards, and rear leg room isn’t exemplary – which is further compounded by the transmission tunnel which eats even further into the space available for the center rear passenger to place their feet. Long story short, you’ll struggle to transport three adults comfortably in the Cadillac ATS’ back seats on longer journeys. Trunk space suffers as well, with the paltry 10.4 cubic feet capacity the ATS right at the bottom of the compact executive sedan in this area. It’s not even an impressive figure for a car of this size (at 13.3 cubic feet, even the Mazda2 citycar has a larger trunk than the Cadillac!), and the space issues are further compounded by the fact split-folding rear seats are reserved for the Luxury and Premium trim levels. That being said, the lid opening is fairly broad and the trunk itself is a boxy shape, so you can at least make the most of the limited space on offer.
The body lean is exceptionally well contained by class standard.
If it’s not practicality that makes the Cadillac ATS stand at the top of the compact executive sedan pile, then what is it that makes this a car to consider? The way it drives, duh! Poor humour aside, the Cadillac ATS is very impressive when it comes to finely judging that ride/handling balance that so many other cars in this class often struggle to find. The body lean is exceptionally well contained by class standard, with the Cadillac ATS remaining flat and level in all but the most aggressive of cornering manoeuvres, yet that doesn’t translate to a firm and uncomfortable ride. In fact, the way the Cadillac ATS flows along the asphalt is eerily reminiscent of the BMW 3 Series and Jaguar XE – the current class-leaders of the compact executive sedan in terms of driving dynamics.
That similarity to the sharpest cars in this segment to drive manifests itself in other aspects of the Cadillac ATS. For instance, the steering is light and responsive, meaning it’s easy to place the car accurately on the road, and the benefits of that 50/50 weight distribution that Cadillac kept banging on about prior to the ATSs release means this 3,500lb sedan is beautifully balanced and neutral at normal speeds, with only a whiff of understeer if you’re asking too much of the front tyres. All in all, it’s an incredible achievement that, even without the optional adaptive dampers that come with the top ‘Premium’ trim package, makes the Cadillac ATS easily one of the most pleasant cars to drive in this class. Factor in the seriously levels of noise insulation in the cabin and impressive all-round visibility (the latter only really hampered by thick rear posts – an issue you’ll find is pretty commonplace in this class), and you’re left with a sedan that runs the BMW 3 Series and Jaguar XE incredibly close.
The only downside to this engine, in fact, is that it can be paired up with a notchy and imprecise six-speed manual transmission that lets the entire car down.
The entry point in the Cadillac ATS range engine-wise is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine, though we reckon it’s best to skip this motor entirely and go straight to the more potent 2.0-liter turbocharged option. In comparison with its forced induction brethren, this 2.5-liter is low on power (202hp and 191lb/ft of torque are quite low for a 3,500lb sedan with sporting intentions) yet it’s claimed to be only marginally more efficient than the objectively better turbocharged alternative. All it really has going for a Cadillac ATS with a 2.5-liter engine is $2,000 cheaper than one with a .2.0-liter – so it’s a sign of just how much better the turbocharged option is that we feel that upgrade is worth every dime. Quite a lot of that recommendation is down to this 2.0-liter being a much more flexible engine – with 272hp and a meaty 295lb/ft of torque available across a broad rev range means you don’t need to work this motor too hard in order to get up to speed (which is good, as this otherwise smooth and fairly silent engine starts sounding rather coarse when you get it beyond 5,000rpm or so). Plus, it’s also fairly efficient by class standards, with claimed city and highway mpg figures of 22 and 31 respectively. To put that in a bit of perspective, a similarly-powerful 2.0-liter gasoline Mercedes-Benz C-Class can return 25mpg and 34mpg on the city and highway.
All in all, it’s a worthy match to the supercharged gasoline V6 in the Jaguar XE.
The only downside to this engine, in fact, is that it can be paired up with a notchy and imprecise six-speed manual transmission that lets the entire car down. Thankfully, the much smoother and easier-to-live-with (if still a bit sluggish in comparison with an Audi S-Tronic or BMW dual-clutch transmission) eight-speed automatic is available across all three engines in the Cadillac ATS range, and can be specified on the 2.0-liter turbocharged gas motor at no extra cost. Speed monkeys who’ve been eyeing up an Lexus IS350 or Infiniti Q50 400t won’t like the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. But that’s okay, as the Cadillac ATS also gets a 3.6-liter six-cylinder gasoline engine that’s only trumped in this car by the twin-turbocharged engine found in the ATS-V. This 3.6-liter, though, should be good enough for the needs of most buyers, thanks to its punchy 333hp output, and the throttle response is also much sharper on this engine than it was on the 3.6-liter six-cylinder that debuted with the Cadillac ATS in 2013. All in all, it’s a worthy match to the supercharged gasoline V6 in the Jaguar XE, and the strong turbocharged six-cylinder motor in the BMW 3 Series.
While resale values for Cadillacs have been steadily improving over the years, the ATS sedan still suffers when it comes to residuals. Quite a few factors are at play here, but the most important one is down to the badge on the hood – Cadillac just doesn’t have the street cred of BMW and Audi, so the ATS will always be on the back foot in the used car market. It’s a shame this is the case, as Cadillac’s actually done quite a bit of work to make the ATS a fairly good value proposition. Though you’ll admittedly have to pay at least $36,240 for one with a good engine (the ATS range starts at $34,210, but that’s with the ‘why did you go for that one?’ 2.5-liter gasoline engine), it is competitively priced alongside its rivals – a like-for-like Mercedes-Benz C-Class will set you back over $38,000, for instance. That price saving over its premium rivals hasn’t equated to poverty spec standard equipment levels. All Cadillac ATS variants get Bluetooth connectivity, cruise control, heated front seats and climate control, which isn’t too bad in an age where BMW doesn’t fit electric front seats on its entry-level 3 Series models.
Our recommendation would be to go for the ‘Luxury’ trim package.
Despite this, our recommendation would be to go for the ‘Luxury’ trim package (the next step up from standard), as it includes a rear view camera, all-round parking sensors, split-folding rear seats and satellite radio on top of all the goodies included in the regular Cadillac ATS. Choosing this spec does bump the price up to $37,835, but you do get quite a few features fitted here that would be optional extras on its similarly-priced German rivals. Speaking of optional extras, you can choose from a wide variety of them, with some being more useful than others. All-wheel drive, for example, is one we reckon you can probably ignore on the 2.0-liter and 3.6-liter models if you live in the more temperate states, considering it bumps the price up by roughly $2,000 and has a negative impact on fuel consumption, and $3,870 is an extortionate amount of money to fork out for the Black Sport Appearance Package (especially if you go for the 2.5-liter engine, which is almost the antithesis for a sporty sedan). The only area you probably don’t need to spend ridiculous money on is the safety equipment, as the Cadillac ATS comes with a decent amount of it bolted on as standard. For sure, there’s plenty of impressive gubbins on offer (we especially like the blind spot warning and cross-traffic alert systems, which we reckon are quite handy to have on a car as big as the Cadillac ATS), but you still get tire pressure monitoring, a full complement of airbags, child seat mounting points on the two outer rear seats and an array of OnStar assistance programmes.
The Cadillac ATS is a monumental achievement for the company. Not only is it genuinely a good car in isolation, but it’s also strongly capable in enough areas for it to be a true front-runner in the compact executive sedan class. Yes, it’s by no means a perfect car. We wish the haptic touch sensors on the center console were more responsive, and it’s a real shame that the Cadillac ATS is one of the worst cars in this class for trunk space and residual values. Look beyond those criticisms, though, and you’re left with a sedan that can give the class leaders a run for their money in certain areas. The likes of the BMW 3 Series may still be king, and new kids on the block like the all-new Audi A4 and Jaguar XE may have knocked it off the podium places, but the Cadillac ATS is still an executive sedan that we highly recommend you consider for your next compact sedan.