The Cadillac ATS sedan competes with the BMW 3 Series, Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class and while it may not rule the roost it is definitely in the game, featuring lightweight construction, agile handling and a beautifully executed interior.
Launched for 2013, the Cadillac ATS was designed and engineered from the ground-up on an all-new platform. Its relatively compact size marked a turning point for Cadillac, which bought into the same-sausage, different-lengths philosophy of the Germans and now has true compact, midsize, and full-size sedans in its lineup, with the Cadillac ATS, CTS, and XTS, respectively. (For 2015, the lineup expands further when an ATS coupe joins the ATS sedan.)
Cadillac ATS is the luxury brand's small offering (as small as compact can get these days). Even though it may not be diminutive, the ATS is one of the leanest cars in the class, thanks to weight-saving technology, including the use of lightweight metals, that whittles the curb weight down to as low as 3,315 pounds. That's less than comparably equipped models from BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Audi.
As with most cars in this class, the Cadillac ATS uses rear-wheel drive. All-wheel drive is available on some models, but like the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class, they are based on a rear-wheel-drive platform as opposed to a front-wheel-drive platform, such as that of the Audi A4.
For 2014, Cadillac ATS carries over unchanged save for a few additional features. Intellibeam automatic high-beam control is added to the available Driver Awareness and Driver Assist packages for 2014. A frameless inside mirror is installed on all 2014 Cadillac ATS models. A leather-wrapped, larger-diameter steering wheel goes into models with steering-wheel paddle shift controls. A 110-volt power outlet has been added to the console of models with CUE and navigation packages.
Three engine choices are available for the Cadillac ATS, including two four-cylinder options. Each uses direct injection and variable valve timing to maximize performance and fuel efficiency. The base engine is a 2.5-liter naturally aspirated inline-4, good for 202 horsepower and 191 pound-feet of torque. It's the least expensive and slowest of the bunch, with a manufacturer estimated 0-60 mph time of 7.5 seconds. A sprightly 2.0-liter turbo makes 272 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque and can go 0-60 mph in an estimated 5.7 seconds with automatic, or 5.8 seconds with the available manual gearbox. The top-of-the-line powertrain is GM's much-used 3.6-liter naturally aspirated V6, good in this application for 321 horsepower and 275 pound-feet of torque, which propels the ATS from 0-60 mph in just 5.4 seconds. All versions use GM's 6-speed Hydra-Matic transmission, with the exception of the 2.0-liter turbo, which also offers a 6-speed manual in some trim levels as a no-charge option.
Like its big brother, the CTS, the Cadillac ATS was tuned on the track, including Germany's famous Nurburgring, often used by European car companies during development. The result is a light but solid chassis with near 50/50 weight distribution (a la BMW), which we found performs beautifully on the road. Driving dynamics are further enhanced by a five-link independent rear suspension, plus optional Brembo brakes with a high-tech coating that keeps the rotors looking as good as they perform. Magnetic Ride Control is optional on most ATS models, ready to adjust suspension real-time for even more responsive driving.
Inside, fit and finish rivals that of any Audi or BMW, although we found some interior configuration options limiting. Upper trim levels use CUE, Cadillac's touchscreen interface. An acronym for Cadillac User Experience, the large screen uses proximity sensors, haptic feedback and voice recognition to control phone, audio and navigation functions.
Fuel economy for the Cadillac ATS 2.5-liter model with rear-wheel drive is an EPA-estimated 22/33 mpg City/Highway. Unlike its Premium-burning German rivals, Regular gasoline is recommended. The ATS with 3.6-liter V6 is rated at 18/28 mpg, also on Regular gas, or 18/26 mpg with all-wheel drive. The EPA estimate for the 2.0-liter turbo with automatic is 21/31 City/Highway (20/29 mpg with AWD).
In addition to the BMW 3 Series, Audi A4/A5, and Mercedes-Benz C-Class, the ATS competes with the Acura TSX and Lexus IS.
The 2014 Cadillac ATS offers a choice of three engines: a 2.5-liter naturally aspirated inline-4, a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, and a 3.6-liter V6. Each comes in a variety of trim levels, with most trims similarly equipped across all engine choices. Most models come with a 6-speed automatic transmission, but the 2.0-liter turbo can be fitted with a 6-speed manual transmission. All-wheel drive is available with the 2.0-liter turbo and 3.6-liter engines.
Cadillac ATS 2.5-liter standard trim ($33,065) includes leatherette upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, 6-way power driver and passenger seats, leather-wrapped tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, cruise control, keyless ignition, a Bose 7-speaker audio system with dual USB portsSD card slot and auxiliary audio jack, Bluetooth handsfree phone connectivity, a trip computer, OnStar telematics and 17-inch wheels. Stepping up to the Luxury collection ($37,095) adds leather upholstery, 8-way power driver and passenger seats, unique exterior and interior trim, Brembo performance front brakes and unique 17-inch wheels.
Cadillac ATS 2.0-liter Turbo standard trim is available with either a 6-speed manual transmission or 6-speed automatic ($35,095). It's also available with all-wheel drive and the automatic transmission ($37,095). The 2.0-liter turbo Luxury trim is available with manual or automatic ($39,095), or AWD automatic ($41,095). The Turbo Performance collection is available with manual or automatic ($42,095), or with AWD and automatic ($44,095). Performance trim includes the CUE touchscreen interface, Bluetooth streaming audio, Bose surround system with CD player, and a Driver Awareness Package that includes rear thorax airbags, rain-sensing automatic wipers, lane departure warning and forward collision alert. An optional Driver Assist Package ($3,220 or $3,645) adds adaptive cruise control, front and rear automatic braking, head-up display, side blind zone alert and rear cross-traffic detection. The 2.0-liter with Premium trim includes Magnetic Ride Control and 18-inch wheels and is available with 6-speed manual or automatic ($45,095), or AWD automatic ($46,195).
Options for ATS include CUE with navigation ($945 or $1,445) and a Cold Climate Package ($600) that incudes heated front seats and a heated steering wheel.
The 3.6-liter V6 engine can be equipped with the Luxury trim ($41,095) or Luxury AWD ($43,095), Performance ($44,095), Performance AWD ($46,095), Premium ($47,095) or Premium AWD ($48,195). Most features on each trim level are the same as those found on 2.0-liter turbo variants.
Safety features on all models include driver and front passenger frontal airbags, knee and side airbags, and front and rear head curtain airbags; traction control, electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes. The optional rearview camera can help the driver spot a small child behind the car when backing up. Side blind zone alert and rear cross-traffic detection can help the driver spot other vehicles and possibly reduce the chance of an accident. Optional all-wheel drive can improve handling stability in slippery conditions. Luxury model can have a Driver Awareness Package ($895).