2014 Cadillac ATS Review

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
August 18, 2014

The 2014 Cadillac ATS puts the Germans on notice in handling and performance, while hitting high marks in quality and comfort, too.

The 2014 Cadillac ATS is a relative newcomer on the market; but that's not the only reason why it manages to stand out. Among compact sport sedans, the ATS has come closest to unseating the Germans, and particularly the benchmark BMW 3-Series.

With brilliant handling, excellent cabin quality, and plenty of high-tech gadgetry, the 3-Series' position as the de facto leader is in jeopardy. That's not to say that other cars, including the Mercedes-Benz C Class, Audi A4, and Infiniti Q50, aren't also making their own leaps forward.

The exterior of the 2014 Cadillac ATS is striking but not controversial, as it blends modern Cadillac design with a wider-spectrum appeal. Inside, it's more of the same, with crisp lines and sleek curves meeting quality materials in a self-assured, modern environment.

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A trio of engines is available in the ATS: a base four-cylinder, an upgrade to a 272-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder, or a smooth 321-horsepower V-6. A Tremec six-speed manual transmission is available, pairing nicely with the turbocharged four-cylinder for enthusiast corner carving duties; a six-speed automatic finds better companionship with the powerful V-6. There's no ultra-performance version offered yet, and accordingly no V-8 engine, but the ATS' combination of lithe dynamics and punchy four- and six-cylinders displays a balance you might not expect of an American car.

Wood, leather, and metal adorn the interior, with a choice of trims and accents, including optional carbon fiber pieces. Sport bucket seats in the front grip the occupants, especially the upgraded performance seats; space is good in the front, too, with width and depth even for the long-legged. The rear seat is a bit tighter, but still quite good for its segment. Dotted around the cabin are numerous small-item storage bins, including one smartly concealed behind the CUE infotainment screen.

As you'd expect of any 2014-model car, the Cadillac ATS includes a full complement of airbags, numbering eight in total, including front knee air bags, plus an option for rear side air bags. The NHTSA grants the ATS a five-star overall rating. Safety tech includes an available lane-departure warning system, adaptive cruise control, and a rearview camera.

Standard Bluetooth, Bose audio, climate control, and power accessories can be built upon with a navigation system, full-leather interior, and expanded media connectivity including SD, USB, and Bluetooth audio streaming. The CUE system which drives the Cadillac infotainment experience is still new, and quite advanced, with its unique combination of capacitive touch and haptic feedback setting it apart from other luxury alternatives.

Priced competitively, the ATS spans a range from the lower $30,000s to the lower $40,000s in base price, depending on the engine chosen. Future additions expected for the ATS range include a coupe and possibly a high-performance V-series variant.

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2014 Cadillac ATS

Styling

The sexy ATS bathes in the afterglow of Cadillac's Art & Science ethos.

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.

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9

2014 Cadillac ATS

Performance

The 2014 ATS is as nimble as the BMW 3-Series, serving up Teutonic overcompetence with rear-drive and six manual gears.

The 2014 Cadillac ATS runs in a tough crowd; and ultimately what matters can be distilled down to a single question: Is it as much of a performance benchmark--in terms of technology, numbers, and seat-of-the-pants thrills--as the BMW 3-Series? The ATS performance story boils down to one question: is it the street-gripping, tach-ripping trump card to BMW's 3-Series, the car that just about every luxury brand calls its benchmark?

While you may never convince a Bimmerphile that a Cadillac could come close to the 3-Series' near-mystical handling, the truth is that it's right up in the 3er's face. With a lighter curb weight and better suspension design, the ATS is the best balanced, most controllable, and most tossable Cadillac, ever; it takes all that the CTS has done well, and amplifies them.

We also think that the 2014 ATS also is the most fully realized Cadillac ever launched, in terms of its drivetrain configurations and handling permutations.With powertrains ranging from merely responsive to very quick, there's enough to satisfy a wide range of driving-enthusiast wants and needs.

The centerpiece of the lineup is a thrusty turbo four-cylinder coupled to rear- or all-wheel drive, manual or automatic six-speed transmission, base or FE3 suspension tuning and magnetic shocks. It's bracketed by an outspoken, muscular six-cylinder teamed with the automatic and rear- or all-wheel drive.

Our first verdict? The turbo four/manual/rear-wheel drive combination is the one you'll see in endless head-to-head comparison tests; V-6s and automatics and all-wheel drive give the ATS broad appeal without distorting its lean character too far out of shape.

Separately, you're probably bound to find the best lease special on the rear-drive, four-cylinder, automatic-only edition. It has plainer appeal from behind the wheel, but it still should satisfy those who want the flashier styling of this sport sedan.

That base 2.5-liter four puts out 202 horsepower and 191 pound-feet of torque. It runs on regular fuel, changes gears with GM's Hydramatic six-speed automatic with tap control, and is rear-wheel drive only.  Cadillac estimates it'll clock a 0-60 mph run in 7.5 seconds, and deliver EPA-estimated gas mileage of 22 mpg city and 32 mpg highway. With 17-inch wheels, a leatherette interior, and the automatic-only layout, it's spec'ed out to a price, but we don't find it disagreeable.

Models packed with the 2.0-liter turbo four make an energetic 272 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. It's the only ATS to offer a choice of six-speed automatic with tap-shift manual control or a real manual six-speed transmission, and rear- or all-wheel drive. The turbo four's optimized for premium unleaded, but engineers say it'll deliver more than 250 horsepower if regular is used. With a mellow tenor growl, it benefits from GM's active noise-cancellation hardware. The turbo whistle has been tuned out for American tastes, and the turbo four plus a pretty light-shifting Tremec six-speed manual delivers a 0-60 mph rush estimated by GM at 5.7 seconds. That's coincidentally the same time as the BMW 328i with its eight-speed automatic.

At the top of the lineup there's the familiar 3.6-liter V-6, rated at a strong 321 horsepower here. It's pretty vocal, as we've found in the latest applications, like in the GMC Terrain Denali, and it rarely lacks for mid-range or passing power, with GM's quick-shifting six-speed automatic the only gearbox paired with it. Acceleration times drop only slightly, to 5.4 seconds, while gas mileage falls to 19/28 mpg.

With lots of time and attention given to its steering and suspension design, the ATS outclasses all but the BMW in its class for dynamic fluence, and creates a fog around BMW's unquestioned number-one status. No matter how you configure the ATS, there's a sense of composure, confidence, and precision behind the wheel--and the ZF electric power steering system gets some of the kudos. There's a sport mode that adds heft, but doesn't change the steering ratio--it's just a matter of taste, engineers say, and we say it's fine with the "normal," lighter effort. The single ratio keeps things true to form off-center, so some may prefer it to the variable-ratio racks in some competing products.

A sophisticated multi-link suspension helps allow that nuanced handling to transfer neatly to all kinds of road surfaces and driver inputs. 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. More taut than a C Class or an A4, the ATS still doesn't thrum or tramline over bad road surfaces like a G37.

On ATS sedans with the Premium package and the FE3 sport suspension, the struts are swapped out for dampers with magnetically-charged fluid that changes resistance dynamically, for the same Magnetic Ride Control (MRC) found in the Corvette. MRC does flatten out transient responses and road patter a bit, but the ATS' basic setup doesn't generate excessive body roll or ride harshness to begin with, even with the upgrade 18-inch run-flat wheel-and-tire package. The ATS' "Performance" package doesn't include MRC: take that either as a revealing detail, or as just a Freudian slip.

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There's still been no formal announcement about an even higher-performance ATS-V, but we know it's on the way. Additionally, if you want more performance—for the track, for instance—there's a package of Brembo brake calipers (and a brake-lining upgrade) that's offered on the base car and standard on other models. FE3 cars get wider-tread 18-inch tires.
8

2014 Cadillac ATS

Comfort & Quality

The back seat in the 2014 ATS is tight and the trunk is small, but the sport seats in front are fantastic.

While the Cadillac CTS has filled in as a rival to both compact sport-sedan models like the BMW 3-Series and those a size larger like the 5-Series, the new ATS is entirely a compact and taking on the 3-Series, Mercedes C-Class, and Audi A4.

That gives the next CTS, due this year, a chance to grow; and it permits those who don't plan to pack adults into the back seat (at least not for too long) a more compact sport-sedan option from Cadillac.

The ATS measures 182.2 inches long, and rides on a 109.3-inch wheelbase—so it's not really any larger than compact sedans like the Chevy Cruze or Ford Focus. At 55.9 inches tall and 71.1 inches wide, it's a relatively petite package all around, and at least relative to sport sedans of the recent past, Cadillac is proud of the ATS's low curb weight.

With 42.5 inches of front leg room, 33.5 inches of rear leg room, and 10.2 cubic feet of trunk space, the ATS checks in about even with most of its competitors for cabin space. Its base front buckets are good enough to be compared to the German school of firm and fine; the optional performance seats have very supportive backrests, are thinner in profile, and have adjustable thorax bolsters and thigh cushions. If there's no sunroof, the ATS has decent to good headroom for a six-foot adult, with good legroom in front.

In back, it's where you'll need to consider your priorities. There's simply not enough useful space for average-to-taller adults, and even getting in and out can be tight. The slightly larger A4 and the noticeably bigger BMW and Infiniti are closer to practical for regular adult use. From the same overall length, BMW seems to have extracted more usable space inside, and much more trunk space.

That said, the ATS does offer up a lot of places within the cabin to store smaller items. Just behind the CUE infotainment screen is a storage bin almost 2 liters large; it's big enough to hold phones, tablets, or radar detectors.

Another thing the ATS gets right is the details—in terms of trims, materials, and the look and feel of everything. At least at the base level, the 3-Series feels built to a lower cost. In the ATS, real magnesium shift paddles, the haptic interaction with CUE, the coordination of CUE's graphics and icons across both its screens, even the high-quality look of the base leatherette interior all speak to a level of attention that mostly escaped today's CTS. If there's one detail the ATS is lacking, it's the rock-solid door-closing sound of some old-school German sedans.

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9

2014 Cadillac ATS

Safety

A five-star NHTSA rating, as well as all kinds of high-tech safety options, add up to the stuff to satisfy techies and worriers.

Although Cadillac is aiming the ATS at the driving-enthusiast crowd and those who want a lot of technology in their cars, it's not a stretch to say that a big portion of these shoppers will also be interested in getting all the latest safety gear and even accident-avoidance features.

For that, all indications so far are that the ATS delivers. It's already earned a five-star sweep in federal safety tests, including five stars even for the static rollover calculation. It hasn't yet been tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

A strong set of core safety features includes eight airbags (with dual front knee airbags) and active headrests. Rear side airbags are a major option not usually seen in domestic luxury sedans, but often found on German luxury four-doors.

Bluetooth is standard, but we find visibility to be questionable for shorter drivers especially, and a rearview camera isn't offered on the base car unless you opt for CUE.

We reserve the larger discussion on CUE (the Cadillac User Interface) for the Features section. Using any such infotainment interface is a distraction. That said, CUE is one of the neatest integration systems for smartphones and voice controls yet. 

The ATS has standard OnStar. With its GPS and cellular connection, it can dial emergency services in the event of an accident. It also can be linked to a myCadillac mobile app that performs all sorts of functions, from reminding you where you've parked, to setting a service appointment.

If you're willing to pay a little (or a lot) extra, there's quite the list of tech options that could be considered an asset to safety. They include adaptive cruise control; front and rear automatic braking that can prevent or mitigate impacts at low speeds; a lane-departure warning system paired with a haptic seat that vibrates a bottom cushion when the car crosses into the opposite lane; and blind-spot monitors with cross-traffic alerts. The ATS also can be fitted with a head-up display, configurable for the driver's favorite settings, whether they include posted speed limits, a tachometer, or navigation.

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2014 Cadillac ATS

Features

Cadillac's CUE interface highlights a very tech-forward, luxuriously equipped cabin.

Just in case you don't find the 2014 ATS inviting enough based on how enjoyable it is to drive, Cadillac has filled it to the brim with features--more than most rival sport sedans--and fitted (into most ATS models you'll see at the dealership) it with the brand's latest CUE in-dash interface.

The new sedan comes in four different trim levels: standard, Luxury, Performance, and Premium. The base 2.5-liter ATS comes only as a standard or Luxury sedan, with rear-wheel drive and an automatic transmission. The 2.0-liter turbocharged four spans the widest range of trim levels: it comes in standard, Luxury, Performance, or Premium trim, and can be had in rear- or all-wheel drive, with a choice of manual or automatic transmissions. The 3.6-liter V-6 comes only with the automatic, with rear- or all-wheel drive, and only in Luxury, Performance, or Premium trim.

Those trim levels stock nearly every standard feature needed to make the ATS the equal or superior of the A4, C Class, 3-Series, or G37. The standard ATS comes with Bose audio with a single-CD player; Bluetooth; 17-inch wheels; a leatherette interior; power windows, locks, and mirrors; cruise control; and climate control. It's the only version to offer the basic radio, but Cadillac took time to integrate the simpler unit into the dash so it wouldn't look like an afterthought. Still, they expect most buyers still will opt to add CUE to even this version--along with the bundled 8-inch LCD screen, HD Radio, Bluetooth with audio streaming, rearview camera, and voice controls. Other options on this trim will include a sunroof, and a cold-weather package with heated seats.

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

All the Luxury features are standard on the Performance model, except the fold-down rear seats don't--they have only a pass-through. A Performance Package is added, including adaptive HID headlamps; aluminum sport pedals; front sport seats with power-adjustable bolsters and thigh supports; and on automatic-equipped cars, paddle shift controls. The Performance model also includes 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.

Options on Luxury cars include a Driver Awareness Package with a 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; a navigation system; a sunroof; and a cold-weather package. Meanwhile, options for the Performance model include the navigation system, cold-weather package, and 18-inch run-flat tires.

The Premium model includes everything but the Driver Assist Package, a cold-weather package, and a sunroof. It also gets a full fold-down rear seat.

Most ATS models include CUE. In short, it's a conceptual rival to the MyFord Touch system (also MyLincoln Touch) that's in Ford Motor Co. vehicles, but we tend to think that its beautifully rendered screens and true capacitive touch screen with proximity sensing make it easier to use. This so-called Cadillac User Experience is a touch-and-swipe interface that replaces many buttons and switches on the center console, and augments them with steering-wheel controls and voice commands. CUE senses when a hand approaches the screen, and responds by displaying primary command icons for audio, climate, phone, and navigation. And its touch-sensitive screen also enables some of the same pinch-zoom-scroll commands that are going to be familiar to anyone who's used a smartphone or tablet.

One of the great design features of CUE is that you can set preset buttons for any function it controls--not just radio stations. It reads inbound text messages from Bluetooth-tethered smartphones as voice messages, and can respond with pre-set responses. It can read music or video from SD cards, DVDs, or CDs, and stream audio from mobile apps or a music player via Bluetooth.

Although CUE replaces a lot of traditional buttons, it does add some haptic feedback to confirm actions. Like the seat vibration that's triggered by a lane departure on some ATS sedans, it's the right kind of motion in the right context. CUE also retains some hard buttons for major functions, skipping the learning curve that all the other luxury brands have had to learn the hard way, on their road to reducing clutter while exponentially increasing functionality.

We've played around with CUE in beta form and in the XTS a few times, and think it's the clear winner among all the advanced infotainment interfaces available from the luxury brands--the roller-controller set included, with the possible exception of the Tesla Model S.

For 2014, Cadillac has 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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7

2014 Cadillac ATS

Fuel Economy

You won't find best-in-class mileage in the 2014 Cadillac ATS, but with the turbo four it's pretty frugal for a sport sedan.

The 2014 Cadillac ATS is one of the better models for fuel economy in this class of sport sedans, but it isn't the efficiency leader.

The base 2.5-liter four in the ATS is rated at 22/32 mpg, with the turbocharged 2.0-liter four earning the same ratings. At the other extreme, V-6 models earn 19 mpg city, 28 highway, or 18/26 with all-wheel drive.

Turbocharged 2.0T models stand in the middle, with ratings of 21/31 with rear-wheel drive, or 20/30 with all-wheel drive. Those numbers are a bit below those of the BMW 328i, which also includes stop-start technology, a potential fuel-saver in sluggish commuter traffic. There's also Audi's latest A4, with an eight-speed automatic--rated at 24/31 mpg.

A diesel version of the ATS is still a possibility for the U.S. market, but Cadillac hasn't yet announced a time frame for its introduction.

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June 25, 2015
2014 Cadillac ATS 4-Door Sedan 2.0L Luxury AWD

beautiful auto but small on uncomfortable not east to get in and out of

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as above hard for older people to get into and out of. But is a beautiful auto.
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April 28, 2015
2014 Cadillac ATS 4-Door Sedan 2.0L Luxury AWD

Pretty car. They stepped up interiors.

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ATS is a nice looking car. It's sporty, the tubro 2.0L has gusto. I swore I'd never buy a GM, never liked them since a teen. The fit and finish have been stepped up, and I like how they are not just putting... + More »
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April 14, 2015
For 2014 Cadillac ATS

Outstanding value for the money

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The 3.6 Cadillac ATS is nothing short of outstanding. Without turbos it launches like a rocket. The magnetic ride control is amazing and really works! The interior is better than a BMW and I have owned 3 high... + More »
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