The Cadillac ATS, a rear-wheel-drive sedan or coupe with all-wheel drive available, was introduced for 2013, and immediately won North American Car of the Year. Since then it’s proven itself a worthy challenger to the best of the German sports sedans and coupes, as well as the Lexus IS and others.
The ATS is powered by two excellent engines, a turbocharged four-cylinder or silky powerful V6. The 2.0-turbo makes 272 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque, with an 8-speed automatic or 6-speed manual. The 3.6-liter V6 makes 335 hp and 285 lb-ft, mated to an 8-speed automatic.
The 2.0 turbo with the 6-speed manual transmission is a sleeper, a serious sports sedan, with more torque than the V6 and the stimulation of changing gears with a slick gearbox and old-school shift lever. It rides on a superb chassis with stiff suspension. It’s like the little brother of the ATS-V.
The ATS-V is the mega-high-performance model. With vigor and enthusiasm, it challenges the BMW M3 and the Mercedes C63 AMG. The ATS-V uses a twin-turbocharged 3.6-liter V6 making 464 horsepower and 445 pound-feet of torque. It’s mated either a 6-speed manual with rev-matching or an ultra-fast 8-speed automatic.
The ATS with its turbo four gets about 25 miles per gallon Combined EPA city and highway, on Premium gasoline. The ATS-V with its twin-turbo V6 gets about 19 mpg.
The ATS earns five stars from its federal crash tests. Features such as blind-spot monitors and forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking come standard on the upscale models.
For 2018 the only changes are updates to the available infotainment system, and a new color.
The 2018 Cadillac ATS comes as coupe or sedan in three trim levels, Luxury, Premium Luxury and Premium Performance. Standard ATS Luxury equipment includes fabric upholstery, rearview camera, 8.0-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, and Bluetooth. Options include leather upholstery and head-up display. Premium Performance models have adjustable dampers (shock absorbers) and a limited-slip rear differential.
Cadillac ATS Premium Luxury models come with forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, active lane control, blind-spot monitors with rear cross-traffic alerts, and a seat that vibrates to warn the driver of something.
ATS-V includes CUE infotainment system, which includes OnStar, WiFi hotspot, Bluetooth, voice recognition, text-to-voice reading, and Apple CarPlay. Options include a Performance Data Recorder, enabling a track-day driver to record video, while gathering data such as acceleration, grip, steering angle, braking pressure, throttle input, and overlay graphs of laps, on the 5.7-inch touchscreen.
The ATS distinctively Cadillac, with the classiest styling in town. Nobody does edges like Cadillac, and the ATS is beautifully chiseled in the front and rear. With a long hood and athletic stance, it’s crisp and handsome. Its proportions establish a presence.
The ATS Coupe boasts a character line that runs the length of the car, while the ATS-V shouts muscle car, with an aero kit, aggressive front fascia, wider fenders, big alloy wheels, fatter tires, twin pipes, and domed hood.
The ATS cabin is warm, plush and crafted. A noise cancellation system keeps it quiet. It’s relaxed and ergonomic, draped in wood, leather and metal. The centerstack is cool and high-tech, with an 8.0-inch touchscreen. The CUE infotainment system is improved, and shines. The CUE system uses haptic feedback systems that can be frustrating, but it cleans up clutter in the cabin when traveling with a phone or iPod. A wireless charging mat lives in a secret compartment behind the screen.
In front there’s plenty of room and the deep sport buckets are comfortable. In back it’s a tight fit with 33 inches of legroom, well short of the BMW and Benz. There isn’t much trunk space either, well below the Audi and Infiniti.
In the coupe, entry and exit can be tricky.
The ATS-V is available with Recaro seats with suede accents, but standard cabin materials are about right for the price. Some trim details don’t meet the level of the Mercedes C63 AMG. However when compared to the BMW M3 and M4, the ATS-V feels a step ahead in its leather seats and its metal and plastic trim.
The ATS brings the most powerful 2.0-liter turbo in the class, its 272 horsepower more than that in the Mercedes C300 or BMW 328i. The engine is agile, nimble, quick and eager to run with the big boys. The ATS can shoot from zero to sixty in less than six seconds, which is right fast for a four-cylinder in a big car.
The bigger engine, a direct-injection 3.6-liter twin-turbo V6, is super-smooth and powerful. It turns the ATS into a long-legged cruiser. The 8-speed automatic is seamless.
With either engine, the chassis offers composure, confidence, and precision. The ZF electric power steering contributes much to that, a nice light touch in Normal mode. Sport makes it firmer but not quicker; we like that the steering ratio isn’t variable, it makes the car more predictable. In the dynamic department, the ATS smokes the field, except for the BMW, which it matches.
The ride with the standard suspension is fairly stiff, but it might change with other available wheel sizes and tires. The suspension enables good cornering, and the ride is good even with the wider 18-inch wheels and tires. Brembo brakes come with the bigger wheels.
The available FE3 sport suspension uses dampers with magnetically charged fluid changing the stiffness depending on the road surface. GM’s Magnetic Ride Control (MRC) came from the Corvette, and continues to flatten the road.
The rear-wheel-drive ATS-V is a monster V6, with 464 horsepower and 445 pound-feet of torque, thanks to twin-turbocharging the 3.6-liter engine. The electronic limited-slip differential keeps the power balanced between the rear wheels. The paddle-shifting 8-speed automatic is poised on the track, thanks to its sophistication. The Performance Traction Management stability and traction control system is adjustable. Huge Brembo brakes, to bring you down from high speeds.
The body is very stiff, braced at the shock towers, rockers, subframe and engine bay. That helps make the ATS-V remarkably easy to drive, with an alive feel that some rivals lack. However it can get a bit squirmy, with 3700 pounds of curb weight pushing on relatively narrow 255 front tires.
The ATS was developed at the challenging Nurburgring, a benchmark circuit that’s a surefire signal that a manufacturer is serious about handling. Proving that Cadillac does not fear to tread into the backyard of Mercedes and BMW.
The Cadillac ATS has it all: distinctive classy styling, a fabulous turbo four engine or long-legged V6, sharp transmission, tight responsive handling, and a quality cabin with great leather. The ATS-V is a perfect monster.
Sam Moses contributed to this review, with staff reports.