2015 Cadillac ATS Review

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Nelson Ireson Nelson Ireson Senior Editor
June 17, 2015

The 2015 Cadillac ATS hits all the right marks in handling, performance, quality, comfort, and technology.

The 2015 Cadillac ATS is still fairly new to the market, but now entering its third full year, it brings a new variant to better compete against its luxury rivals: a coupe.

With excellent cabin materials and design, striking exterior design, and crisp, sporty handling, the Cadillac ATS rivals or beats the best of the segment on most metrics, even as those rivals, including the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Audi A4, and Infiniti Q50 make their own improvements.

Blending the edgy, high-tech feel of modern Cadillac exterior design with a wider-spectrum appeal, the 2015 ATS is at once striking and non-controversial. Crisp lines meet elemental proportions in a way that reaches a broad range of people. Inside, it’s much the same, with a modern layout and eye-pleasing materials throughout.

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Three core engine choices are available in the 2015 Cadillac ATS: a base 2.5-liter four-cylinder model; a 272-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder; and a 3.6-liter V-6. The two latter engines are the only options for the 2015 ATS Coupe. Both six-speed manual and six-speed automatic transmissions are available, and both sedan and coupe are available with either rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive.

Throughout the cabin, wood, leather, and metal are found at nearly every touchpoint and design cue. Optional upgrades include a choice of trims and accents, with carbon fiber among them. The seats are sport bucket units up front, offering a good mix of comfort and spirited-driving support; upgraded performance seats are available for even greater support. Width and depth are good in the front row, allowing plenty of head and leg room even for taller drivers. The rear seat is a tighter environment, but still among the better examples in its competitive set.

The 2015 Cadillac ATS hasn’t yet been fully rated by either the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), but the sedan has earned a five-star rating in frontal crash and rollover categories from the NHTSA. As you’d expect of a modern luxury car, the 2015 ATS includes a full set of standard airbags, eight in total, including front knee airbags. Rear side airbags are an available extra. Available safety technology includes adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, and a rearview camera.

On the feature sheet, the ATS starts out well in base form, with a host of available upgrades to take the sedan or coupe well into high-tech luxury territory. Navigation; expanded media connectivity including USB, SD and Bluetooth audio streaming; wireless phone charging; WiFi hotspot; CUE infotainment; all of these and more can be had in the 2015 ATS.

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2015 Cadillac ATS

Styling

The Cadillac ATS may not be pure art, or pure science, but it's an exceptionally handsome intersection of the two.

The 2015 Cadillac ATS is highly evolved from the now-classic “Art & Science” design theme that brought Cadillac out of the past and into its highly competitive present. Despite its steps forward, and in some ways away from that design theme, it retains a hint of the inspiration. The ATS’s look, perhaps especially the new two-door ATS Coupe, moves that once-controversial style into more mainstream realms.

Just as the expanding Cadillac vehicle range more closely corresponds with the offerings from Audi, Mercedes, and BMW, so too does the look of the ATS Sedan and Coupe. The corners are smoothed, the edges honed, the grill streamlined, and, for 2015, the large Cadillac crest on the nose de-wreathed. Despite the more comfortable styling, the ATS still stands out from the pack with its own take on the proportions and intentions of a sporty luxury compact, exuding a confidence that comes through from the LED-accented headlights to the sculpted flanks.

Inside the ATS, the design is more ergonomic and more straightforward than in the larger CTS sedan, and while the CUE system is still front-and-center in equipped vehicles, its improved performance shines in the tech-centric ATS. The look and feel of CUE-equipped models is also suitably high tech, with most of the buttons replaced by touch-sensitive, haptic-feedback systems that control everything from volume to temperature. Newly available for 2015 is a wireless charging mat behind the CUE screen that cleans up clutter in the cabin when traveling with a phone or iPod.

Fit and finish are remarkable throughout the ATS’ cabin, whether in the Coupe or the Sedan. Warmer than the Germans and more upscale than the competing Japanese, the American take on the mainstream luxury segment is impressive in the ATS, especially when upgraded with the higher-tier wood and metal trim options—or, for the more performance minded, carbon fiber.

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2015 Cadillac ATS

Performance

3-Series who? The ATS fashions a legit German alternative with rear-wheel drive and wow-factor handling.

The 2015 Cadillac ATS is the most fully realized Cadillac sport-luxury sedan yet, on the basis of its engine/transmission configurations and handling abilities. Both the turbocharged four-cylinder and the trusty, thrusty V-6 the ATS is a standout in a segment filled with tough competition.

The centerpiece of the ATS lineup, the turbo four-cylinder, can be mated with either rear- or all-wheel drive, a manual or an automatic six-speed transmission, and base or FE3 suspension tuning and magnetic shocks. For the 2015 model year, the four-cylinder turbo also gets a significant upgrade to 295 pound-feet of torque—an increase of 14 percent; horsepower remains constant at 272 hp. The turbocharged four is bracketed by a muscular (but somewhat loud) six-cylinder teamed with the automatic and rear- or all-wheel drive, and, at the base level of the sedan, a normally aspirated 2.5-liter four-cylinder that’s more about economy and affordability than any form of excitement.

For the enthusiast, the turbo four/manual/rear-wheel drive combination is the one to choose; V-6s with automatics and all-wheel drive give the ATS broad appeal without distorting its lean character too far out of shape. The turbo four’s 0-60 mph times are brisk, managing the dash in just 5.6 seconds.

The base 2.5-liter four-cylinder rates 202 horsepower and 191 pound-feet of torque. It runs on regular fuel, uses a Hydramatic six-speed automatic with tap control, and is rear-wheel drive only.  Cadillac estimates it can accelerate from 0-60 mph in 7.5 seconds, while delivering EPA-estimated gas mileage of 21 mpg city and 33 mpg highway. This is clearly the option for buyers seeking affordability, and while it gives up a lot of excitement to the more powerful engines, it’s not disagreeable.

GM’s familiar 3.6-liter V-6 sits at the erstwhile top of the ATS range, rated at a strong 321 horsepower in this implementation, available only with the six-speed automatic. It’s a more vocal companion than the fairly civilized turbocharged four-cylinder option, and acceleration times drop only slightly, to 5.5 seconds, while gas mileage falls to 18/28 mpg.

Thanks to well-tuned steering and suspension, the ATS outclasses all but the BMW in its class for dynamic ability, creating some doubt about BMW's largely unquestioned number-one status. The addition of the Coupe for the 2015 model year just enhances the ATS’s deserved reputation for performance and handling. The wider track of the coupe delivers even more confident cornering while maintaining the excellent balance of ride comfort, as well as the rest of the ATS’s favorable characteristics.

However it’s configured, the ATS offers a sense of composure, confidence, and precision behind the wheel. The ZF electric power steering system deserves some of the credit for the ATS’s feel; sport mode adds heft, but doesn't change the actual steering ratio. Engineers say it’s just a matter of taste or preference, and we find the lighter effort of “normal” mode to be just fine. The single steering ratio keeps things predictable and precise—two highly desirable traits in a performance vehicle, and advantages, for some at least, over the increasingly popular variable-ratio systems.

At the rear, a multi-link suspension design delivers confident, communicative handling over a variety of road surfaces. In front, a MacPherson strut is flanked by multiple links that create a virtual axis for better response, while the shorter links have less tendency to flex in corners, improving steering feel and driver confidence. Tuned to feel more taut than a C Class or an A4, the ATS still doesn't thrum or tramline over bad road surfaces like a G37/Q40.

With the optional Premium package and the FE3 sport suspension, magnetically-charged fluid-filled dampers change resistance dynamically, for the same Magnetic Ride Control (MRC) found in the Corvette and other GM performance cars. MRC does flatten out transient responses and road patter a bit, but the ATS' basic setup balances body roll and ride quality very well to begin with, even when fitted with the upgrade 18-inch run-flat wheel-and-tire package. A package of Brembo brake calipers (and a brake-lining upgrade) is offered on the base car and standard on other models. FE3 cars get wider-tread 18-inch tires.

A high-performance ATS-V joins the lineup for the 2016 model year.

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2015 Cadillac ATS

Comfort & Quality

The ATS has great sport seats in front and a lovely interior, but the back seats are cramped and the trunk is small.

The 2015 Cadillac ATS fills its role as a rival to the BMW 3-Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class nicely when it comes to quality and comfort, though the ATS’s suspension tune and inherent nature tend toward the sportier end of the spectrum.

Both Coupe and Sedan share the same 109.3-inch wheelbase, making for a fairly roomy front seat and a rear seat that’s suitable for adults, if a bit snug, in either version of the car. The coupe’s low roof line does compromise headroom somewhat in the rear seat, but even those over six feet tall can find enough space—if only just—below the sleek lines. By the specs, the ATS offers about 42.5 inches of front leg room and 33.5 inches of rear leg room. BMW and Infiniti rivals are noticeably roomier; the Audi A4 is just slightly bigger. On the whole, the ATS’s usable space is good, if not quite great.  

The seats themselves are comfortable in each position, with a good balance between firm and supple. Optional performance seats offer very supportive backrests and adjustable side bolsters and thigh cushions. The only compromise to front head room comes from the optional sunroof, which can impinge on the cranial freedom of six-footers.

Inside the cabin, storage space is ample, from a glovebox in the dash to a center console storage area, to a unique hidden alcove behind the display screen where a wireless charging system can keep a phone fully powered, even while streaming Bluetooth audio—and kept out of sight.

The ATS’s trunk is a reasonable, if not generous, 10.2 cubic feet. That’s about on par for this size class of luxury car, and competitive with its main rivals.

On the whole, the cabin of the 2015 ATS hits the right marks and hits them well: materials, trims, look and feel, space, comfort—it all comes together in a harmonious effort to display the best of Cadillac’s manufacturing and design in a modern, sporty, luxurious package.

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2015 Cadillac ATS

Safety

Great crash-test scores so far couple with the latest safety tech in the Cadillac ATS.

The 2015 Cadillac ATS hasn’t yet been fully rated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), though the sedan remains structurally identical to last year’s model, which swept NHTSA tests with five star ratings across the board.

The 2015 ATS has received five-star front-impact and rollover ratings from the NHTSA, but side-impact and overall scores remain absent. The IIHS hasn’t yet rated any version of the ATS Sedan or Coupe.

Despite the lack of complete official safety ratings, the full suite of standard safety equipment offered on the ATS indicates it will perform well when put to the test, whether in the lab or in real life. Standard safety equipment includes a complement of eight airbags, including front knee airbags; side rear airbags can be added. Active headrests, Bluetooth phone connectivity, and OnStar telematics with emergency services features are also standard.

Optional extras can add a measure of accident avoidance capability, with features like the safety alert seat, forward collision alert, front and rear automatic braking, rear cross-traffic alert, side blind-zone alert, full-color head-up display, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, rearview camera, automatic safety belt tightening, and more available as add-ons or as part of upgrade packages. New or revised safety features for 2015 include text message alerts and Teen Driver features integrated into CUE-equipped models.

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2015 Cadillac ATS

Features

CUE continues to get better; we prefer the cut-and-sewn interior, as far as luxe features go.

The 2015 Cadillac ATS is, unquestionably, one of the most enjoyable luxury cars to drive in its class, but it’s also chock full of great features and available extras, including the latest CUE in-dash interface, a new-for-2015 wireless charging system for your phone, and a high-speed 4G LTE WiFi hotspot.

The new coupe and the existing sedan both come in four different trim levels: standard, Luxury, Performance, and Premium.

Base 2.5-liter ATS models are only available as  standard or Luxury trims, with rear-wheel drive and an automatic transmission. The widest range of trim levels is spanned by the 2.0-liter turbocharged version of the ATS, which is available in standard, Luxury, Performance, or Premium trims, and can be had in rear- or all-wheel drive, with a choice of manual or automatic transmissions. Opt for the 3.6-liter V-6 and you’ll get only the automatic transmission, with a choice of rear- or all-wheel drive, and only in Luxury, Performance, or Premium trims.

Nestled in those trim levels is a range of equipment and features to rival the best of the C-Class, 3-Series, A4, or Q50. Base models come standard with Bose audio with a single-CD player; Bluetooth; 17-inch wheels; a leatherette interior; cruise control; power windows, locks, and mirrors; and climate control. Despite the lack of the CUE system, the base model’s center stack still looks thoughtfully integrated, even though it’s the only trim to offer the base radio. Cadillac nonetheless expects most buyers to add CUE even to the base model, bringing with it the bundled 8-inch LCD screen, Bluetooth with audio streaming, rearview camera, HD Radio, and voice controls. Other options on the base trim include a sunroof and a cold-weather package with heated seats.

Most ATS models include CUE, Cadillac’s infotainment system featuring beautifully rendered screens and true capacitive touch screen with proximity sensing. Short for Cadillac User Experience, CUE offers a touch-and-swipe interface that replaces many buttons and switches on the center console, augmenting them with steering-wheel controls and voice commands. CUE can sense when a hand approaches the screen, responding by displaying primary command icons for audio, climate, phone, and navigation. CUE’s touch-sensitive screen also enables some of the same pinch-zoom-scroll commands that are familiar to anyone who's used a smartphone or tablet.

One of CUE’s best features is the ability to set preset buttons for any function it controls--not just radio stations. CUE can also read text messages aloud and respond with predetermined answers. The entertainment side of CUE can read music or video from SD cards, DVDs, or CDs, and stream audio from mobile apps or a music player via Bluetooth.

Despite the near-complete lack of buttons, CUE isn’t without tactile feedback. Instead of the click of a button, haptic vibrations confirm commands. Like the seat vibration that's triggered by a lane departure on some ATS sedans, it's an intuitive way of communicating to the driver. CUE also retains hard buttons at a few key points, helping to reduce the CUE user’s learning curve—a problem some have had with other luxury brands on their road to reducing clutter while increasing functionality.

While CUE is still young compared to more mature systems from BMW, Audi, and Mercedes-Benz, in many ways it's the clear winner among all the advanced infotainment interfaces —the roller-controller set included—with the possible exception of the large-screen Tesla Model S.

Luxury package models add standard leather seating with 10-way power front seats with memory function; front and rear parking sensors; a fold-down rear seat; a rearview camera; Brembo brakes and polished 17-inch wheels; and the CUE package that’s offered as an option on the base model.

Performance models get all of the standard Luxury trim features, except for the fold-down rear seats; Performance models get only a rear-seat pass-through instead. Performance package upgrades include: aluminum sport pedals; front sport seats with power-adjustable bolsters and thigh supports; adaptive HID headlamps; and on automatic-equipped cars, paddle shift controls. Safety and convenience upgrades are also included with the Performance Package, such as the Driver Awareness Package and a Driver Assist Package with blind-spot monitors; adaptive cruise control with front and rear automatic braking; and a head-up display that can be reconfigured to the driver's taste.

If you’d like to upgrade the Luxury trim, available extras include a navigation system; a sunroof; the Driver Awareness Package with lane departure warning system, forward collision alerts, rear side airbags, rain-sensing wipers, and a haptic safety seat that vibrates the bottom cushion when the car crosses out of its lane; and a cold-weather package. Meanwhile, options for the Performance model include the navigation system, cold-weather package, and 18-inch run-flat tires.

Premium trim models include everything but the Driver Assist Package, the sunroof, and the cold weather package. Premium models also get the full fold-down rear seat.

Last year, Cadillac added a 110-volt power outlet to ATS models with CUE and the Navigation package; Intellibeam automatic high-beam control has been added with the Driver Awareness and Driver Assist packages, and a new leather-wrapped, larger-diameter sport steering wheel is included in models with steering-wheel paddle-shifters.

There's also an extended array of dealer accessories, including new Manoogian premium painted wheels, Y-rated summer tires, a black chrome sport grille, and aluminum sport pedal set.

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2015 Cadillac ATS

Fuel Economy

Gas mileage is above average, not best in class, in the 2015 ATS.

The 2015 Cadillac ATS offers good, if not quite great, gas mileage. Four-cylinder models perform respectably in the city and quite well on the highway; V-6 versions are best on the highway. All models, however, offer a fairly impressive mix of economy for their luxury and performance levels.

The most efficient version of the 2015 ATS is the rear-drive base model powered by the 2.5-liter four-cylinder and six-speed automatic transmission. This combination scores 21 mpg city, 33 mpg highway, and 25 mpg combined. The four-cylinder turbocharged ATS is not far behind when equipped with the six-speed auto, scoring 21/30/24 mpg city/highway/combined. With the manual transmission, the four-cylinder turbo model rates 19 mpg city, 30 mpg highway, and 23 mpg combined. In rear-drive V-6 form, the 2015 ATS scores 18 mpg city and 28 mpg highway, for a combined 22 mpg.

When packaging the 2015 ATS with all-wheel drive, gas mileage slips slightly; the four-cylinder turbo model scores 20 mpg city, 28 mpg highway, and 23 mpg combined; the V-6 with all-wheel drive rates 18 mpg city, 26 mpg highway, and 21 mpg combined.

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Styling 8.0
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Comfort & Quality 8.0
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