Cadillac started purging conservative proportions from its lineup back in 2003, when the CTS and its "Art & Science" styling brought chiseled, boxy, daringly different looks to the sport-sedan crowd. Since then the brand has applied the look to its other vehicles; to this day, the theme remains much discussed and sometimes maligned. But either way you look at it, the GM brand gained what it needed: a point of distinction.
Art & Science in the 2014 Cadillac ATS has been milled down from its exuberant, raw beginnings into something less divisive--or at least, something that fits right in with the current crop of sport sedans. The edges have almost been honed off the pint-sized grille, while boxlike fender folds have been toned down. Corners are smoothed like a contour sheet; some of the extreme tension that we see in the CTS's design is missing here; and the roofline seems right in pace with the graceful Infiniti sedans. There's a confident aura that pervades, though, accented with long tapered headlights, LED fillips, deeply sculptured flanks, and a stance that stands as a flat-out challenge to the current Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
We're not wild about the ergonomics inside the CTS, and here's where Cadillac does it better with the ATS. The sweep of wood or metal trim pieces wouldn't be out of place in a BMW or an Infiniti, but no other brand's so transformed the interior of their cars as completely as Cadillac does with CUE. Most of the ATS' controls have been replaced with a touch-sensitive screen, and the layout will be familiar to those who have cross-shopped luxury models--especially, say, from Lincoln--but the screens are beautifully rendered and a cut above those from most other luxury makers. Everything's coordinated in design and function, from a design standpoint--although of course we wish the interface itself would work a little bit better.
Fit and finish are Like Lincoln, Cadillac's made great leaps in fit and finish, and the ATS' cabin is warmer and better executed than any of its luxury competitors, save Audi. Stitched dash trim pieces, a choice of wood trims and finishes--or metal or carbon fiber--give the ATS the flashes of character you'll find in the latest A4, though the ATS' dramatically curved dash is more interesting than the Audi panel.