THE GOOD: Cadillac’s 2.0-liter turbo engine delivers big power, while also returning respectable fuel economy. Handling capabilities match or surpass its German competition. Exterior design is distinctive, while cabin build quality is high.
THE BAD: The old CUE system continues to handle infotainment duties in the cabin with unresponsive captive-touch controls. Navigation system is very slow to start up and calculate routes. Rougher ride quality when equipped with optional performance suspension package.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Caddy’s ATS Coupe delivers style and world-class performance that more people really should take notice of.
The 2017 Cadillac ATS Coupe disappoints a couple of friends shortly after I take delivery for a week-long evaluation. “Oh, it’s not the ATS-V?” they both say. No, my test car isn’t General Motors’ 464-horsepower performance monster, it’s a base model with a turbocharged four-cylinder and an eight-speed automatic gearbox. They are unimpressed.
Still quite a performer
At first glance, writing off the ATS Coupe, as my two comrades did, may seem easy. But take a closer look at the drivetrain and you’ll see that this entry-level Caddy’s 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder is nothing to sneeze at. With 272 hp and 295 pound-feet of torque, the ATS outmuscles same-sized turbo mills in the Mercedes-Benz C300 Coupe(241 hp, 273 pound-feet), BMW 430i (248 hp, 258 pound-feet) and Audi A5 (252 hp, 273 pound-feet).
Off the line, the ATS fires forward rapidly and with no turbo lag, delivering potent thrust all the way up to its engine’s 7,000-rpm redline. The deeper tone from my tester’s optional performance exhaust system adds to the experience. Shift performance from the eight-speed auto transmission is brisk, but not quite as quick and buttery as the ZF units in the Audi and BMW.
Not only is the drivetrain peppy, it’s fairly efficient. EPA estimates call for 22 miles per gallon in the city and 31 mpg on the highway.
Most impressive of all is the ATS’ handling, especially with the available V-Sport suspension that brings stiffer springs, dampers and Bridgestone Potenza RE050A summer tires to the party. Pairing the upgraded hardware with a rock-solid platform creates a coupe with superb grip and a keen sense of balance that encourages quick changes of direction.
The whole thing feels light on its feet because, well, the ATS is light compared to its trio of German rivals. At just over 3,400 pounds, the ATS weighs over 150 pounds less than BMW’s 430i, while being roughly 200 pounds trimmer than Audi’s A5 and.
Hefty steering feel and respectable feedback adds to the ATS’ engaging drive experience, as does a strong brake package featuring four-piston front Brembo calipers. My test car’s binders have a bit more bite thanks to more aggressive pads clamping down on slotted rotors, a worthwhile option at $1,190.
Unfortunately, the ATS’ nimble handling does come with tradeoffs. Ride quality suffers with the low-profile performance run-flat tires and firmer suspension. You feel impacts from ruts and potholes in the cabin, and some tire noise is also noticeable.
A visual standout
Admittedly, I’m not a fan of Cadillac’s design language on its sedans. To my eye, the ATS sedan and CTS look soft and uninspiring. However, on the ATS coupe, sharper and more defined lines work, giving it a distinct appearance that helps set it apart from rounder German designs.
With the accessory V-Series rear spoiler, various black chrome trim pieces and 18-inch wheels, the ATS is without a doubt a looker, but I still prefer the appearance of the 4 Series, A5 and especially Benz’s C-Class Coupe.
Inside the cabin, materials are of excellent quality with nice leather, stitched microfiber accents and carbon fiber trim. Front seats are comfortable and offer respectable side support to keep occupants happy. As for the backseat, that’s another matter entirely — limited head- and legroom means the second row is best for small children, if not shopping bags. In a pinch, folding up an adult or two in the back will work for short trips.
Tired infotainment but tons of safety tech
Cadillac User Interface, CUE, soldiers on in the ATS Coupe to handle infotainment functions with its 8-inch touchscreen and missing-in-action physical volume and tuning knobs. The aging interface’s navigation system still takes its sweet time to load up and calculate routes, and the capacitive-touch controls on smudge-prone piano-black surfaces still aren’t responsive enough to inputs. It’s a frustrating system to use.
CUE still has some positives, of course. There’s Apple CarPlay and Android Autocompatibility and an OnStar 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot and Bose surround sound audio. There’s also a wireless charging pad locating in the compartment behind the center screen. It’s sized right for my Samsung Galaxy S6, but it’s too small to allow bigger phones like a Galaxy Note to lay flat.
A smorgasbord of available ATS safety technologies includes personal favorites such as Side Blind Zone Alert and Rear Vision Camera with Rear Cross Traffic Alert. Lane Keep Assist with Lane Departure Warning works well, gently nudging me back into the center of the lane a couple of times during my week of testing, and Forward Collision Alert triggers once when traffic comes to an abrupt halt. At no time do any of the ATS’ safety gadgets go off unwarranted, suggesting that tuning is on point.
My ATS Coupe
For my ideal base ATS Coupe, I would start with a rear-wheel-drive Luxury model to get adaptive high-intensity discharge headlights, front and rear parking sensors and heated front seats and steering wheel, because I deal with Michigan winters.
In the name of driving entertainment, my ideal car would be fitted with a six-speed manual transmission, the $2,265 V-Sport suspension package and $1,650 exhaust system. For more heavily-bolstered Recaro seats and style, I’d also opt for the $2,950 Carbon Black package with sharper-looking wheels, black chrome exterior trim and rear spoiler on a car with Phantom Grey Metallic paint.
Since I’m a big fan of Side Blind Zone Alert, the $1,500 safety and security package would also be a requirement.
With all those options, my dream ATS Coupe’s $42,390 base price jumps up to $51,350, but that still comes in under the $54,445 MSRP of the car shown in these pictures (all prices include a $995 destination charge).
Give it some respect
While respect for the ATS Coupe is in short supply from my friends, my admiration for this two-door only grows over my week of testing. Caddy’s focus on building engaging vehicles not only pays off in flagships like the ATS-V and CTS-V, but even in entry-level models such as this ATS Coupe. At no time did I find myself disappointed by its driving experience. Instead I walked away from each trip in the ATS Coupe thinking about how solid and well-sorted it is.
Sure, its shortcomings include a bumpier ride and lackluster CUE infotainment, but this Caddy is a strong package that is without doubt a worthy alternative to the A5, 4 Seriesand C-Class Coupe. Unfortunately, very slow sales for both the ATS coupe and sedan suggest that few people know just how good this car is, but more than likely, that just means that better deals are available for those who take the time to find out.