2016 Cadillac ATS Review

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
June 13, 2016

The 2016 Cadillac ATS meets all the benchmarks for performance, features, and driving dynamics, and it somehow emerges to market with a little more soul than most of its key rivals.

The 2016 Cadillac ATS is the real thing—a sport sedan with the sort of performance credentials and bragging rights that those shopping in this category seek, even if they're not going to exploit those capabilities on the commute.

The ATS gets Cadillac's foot in the door, so to speak, in a category where it's long aspired and then stumbled. This time, thankfully, it really doesn't need any excuses.

This year the ATS gets a new high-performance V-Series variant—powered by a twin-turbocharged V-6 making 464 horsepower and 444 pound-feet of torque and capable of getting to 60 mph in 3.8 seconds or a top speed of 189 mph. Realistically, the type of shopper who considers an ATS-V is quite different (and flush, perhaps), so we've done separate 2016 Cadillac ATS-V review pages.

Review continues below

The ATS remains offered in two body styles: a four-door sedan, and an ATS Coupe that actually boasts completely different sheet metal and is somewhat shorter.

Distilled to the core, the ATS design seems to grab the gist of Cadillac's chiseled-yet-sandblasted "Art & Science" exterior design and combine it with wider-spectrum appeal. At once, the ATS is striking and non-controversial, and with its crisp lines meeting elemental proportions in a way that reaches a broad range of people, it's almost universally handsome. Inside, the look is a little lower and more relaxed relative to last-generation Cadillacs, with warm, eye-pleasing materials punctuating a modern layout.

Three main engine choices are available in the 2015 Cadillac ATS: a base 2.5-liter inline-4; a 272-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4; and a 3.6-liter V-6. The big news for 2016, other than the "V," is that the 3.6-liter has been fully reworked and re-engineered with several fuel-saving technologies; yet it produces a higher-than-before rating of 333 hp. Additionally, the 2.0T gets engine stop-start technology this year. The base engine isn't available if you're considering the ATS Coupe. But in all cases, you can choose between a 6-speed manual and 8-speed automatic transmission, and between rear- and all-wheel drive.

ATS cabins are stunning, even when you don't option them up with the premium trims. But when you do, you get wood, leather, and metal at nearly every touchpoint, with fine detail for every design cue. In front you get great sport bucket seats, which offer a great mix of long-distance comfort and support for spirited driving, while there's actually plenty of headroom and legroom for taller drivers. The trunk is definitely on the small side, even within this class, but the back seat is as snug as you might expect here, given the rather compact exterior.

The 2016 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. So far, federal crash-test ratings are in, and they're spectacularly good. With the optional Driver Awareness Package, which includes forward collision warning, the ATS earns the top IIHS "Superior" rating for front crash prevention. Additionally, Cadillac has upgraded some of the ATS's active-safety packages this year. 

Base 2016 Cadillac ATS models start out simply as extremely well-equipped, comfortable sedans, but through a long and intricate series of packages and a la carte upgrades you can take this sedan or coupe well into high-tech luxury territory. This year Cadillac has added Apple CarPlay capability and has claimed to have improved performance of  CUE infotainment system—one that we're not quite as delighted in as we used to be, as we've been in a few models with laggy responses and unreliable voice controls. Yet this can be a remarkably full-featured system—one with navigation; expanded media connectivity including USB, SD and Bluetooth audio streaming; wireless phone charging; and wi-fi hotspot capability.

The most efficient version of the 2016 ATS is the rear-drive base model powered by the 2.5-liter four-cylinder and 8-speed automatic transmission. This combination scores 22 mpg city, 32 highway, 26 combined, according to the EPA.

The four-cylinder turbocharged ATS is not far behind when equipped with the 8-speed auto, scoring 22/31/26 mpg. With the manual transmission, the four-cylinder turbo model rates 20/29/23 mpg combined. The turbocharged 2.0-liter models with all-wheel drive return 22/30/25 mpg.

8

2016 Cadillac ATS

Styling

The 2016 Cadillac ATS manages to look stylish and smart, and far different than any of its rivals.

The design of the 2016 Cadillac ATS focuses around a collection of fine details and focal points, matched with sheet metal that's a little more flat-and-creased than that of key rivals. Altogether, it seems to grab the gist of Cadillac's chiseled-yet-sandblasted "Art & Science" exterior design and combine it with wider-spectrum appeal.

While that, and the former version of the CTS, for instance, were downright polarizing, the ATS has a wider appeal. It's universally handsome, and with its crisp lines meeting elemental proportions in a way that reaches a broad range of people.

While the two-door ATS Coupe moves in an even more mainstream style, if you go by the smoothing-over of some of its details, its profile on its own is striking and refreshingly different.

If you want to get down to details and how the ATS manages to step over to look and feel a little more mainstream, it comes down to the corners, which are smooth, the edges, which are honed a little less boldly, and the grille, which is more streamlined. Last year, the large Cadillac crest on the nose was even 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's exuded in the sculpted flanks and LED-accented headlights.

Inside, the look is a little lower and more relaxed relative to last-generation Cadillacs, with warm, eye-pleasing materials punctuating a modern layout.The dash feels a bit more like it's wrapping around the driver; versus in the previous CTS, for instance, the dash felt separate and more upright. The design is more ergonomic and more straightforward than in the current version of 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.

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.

The look and feel of CUE-equipped models is suitably high tech, with most of the buttons replaced by touch-sensitive, haptic-feedback systems that control everything from volume to temperature. Last year Cadillac made a wireless charging mat available, in the "hidden" compartment behind the CUE screen that cleans up clutter in the cabin when traveling with a phone or iPod.

Review continues below
9

2016 Cadillac ATS

Performance

Handling is deft and performance is strong and satisfying across the lineup—although four-cylinder versions aren't quite in step with German offerings.

If the top-performance ATS-V and its over-the-top performance (and price) aren't exactly what you need, there's plenty of strong, accessible, and satisfying performance elsewhere in the 2016 Cadillac ATS lineup.

Three main engine choices are available in the 2015 Cadillac ATS: a base 2.5-liter 4-cylinder model; a 272-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4; and a 3.6-liter V-6. The big news for 2016, other than the "V," is that the 3.6-liter has been fully reworked and re-engineered with several fuel-saving technologies; yet it produces a higher-than-before rating of 333 hp.

With direct injection, Active Fuel Management, and engine stop-start technology, the V-6 boasts more power as well as better fuel efficiency for 2016. The V-6 now makes 333 hp and 285 pound-feet of torque, and in light-load conditions the Active Fuel Management will temporarily run the engine on four of its cylinders to save fuel.

Additionally, the 2.0T gets engine stop-start technology this year. The base engine isn't available if you're considering the ATS Coupe. But you can choose between a 6-speed manual and 8-speed automatic transmission, and between rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive.

While the ATS drives very well with the V-6, the centerpiece of the ATS lineup is the turbo inline-4, which can be mated with either rear- or all-wheel drive and base or FE3 suspension tuning and magnetic shocks. Last year this engine got a significant upgrade to 295 lb-ft of torque—an increase of 14 percent; horsepower remains constant at 272 hp.

The base engine, the normally aspirated 2.5-liter inline-4, is definitely more about economy and affordability than any form of excitement. It produces 202 hp and 191 lb-ft of torque.

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.

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.

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 No. 1 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.

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 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. FE3 cars get wider 18-inch wheels and tires, and Brembo brake calipers (and a brake-lining upgrade) are offered on the base car and standard on other models.

Review continues below
8

2016 Cadillac ATS

Comfort & Quality

The 2016 Cadillac ATS has a luxurious cabin and great trims and build quality—although it's short on back-seat space.

If comfort and cabin details are your priority, the 2016 Cadillac ATS fills its role as a luxury sedan very well—although with the caution that the ATS’s suspension tune and inherent nature tend toward the sportier end of the spectrum.

ATS cabins are stunning, even when you don't option them up with the premium trims. But when you do, you get wood, leather, and metal at nearly every touch point, with fine detail for every design cue.

In front you get great sport bucket seats, which offer a great mix of long-distance comfort and support for spirited driving, while there's actually plenty of headroom and legroom for taller drivers.

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 head room somewhat in the rear seat, but even those over 6 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 trunk is definitely on the small side, even within this class, but the back seat is as snug as you might expect here, given the rather compact exterior.

From the glove box 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, there's some great use of space, and plenty of nooks and crannies to keep things out of sight.

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8

2016 Cadillac ATS

Safety

Lots of high-tech options as well as excellent federal safety ratings bode very well for the occupant safety offered by the ATS.

The 2016 ATS lacks a full set of crash-test ratings, although the ones it has are absolutely top-notch, and there's a set of active-safety equipment to rival even the most tech-centric German and Japanese luxury sedans.

The 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.

So far federal crash-test ratings are in, and they're spectacularly good with five-star ratings across the board. With the optional Driver Awareness Package, which includes forward-collision warnings, the ATS earns the top IIHS "Superior" rating for front crash prevention. There's only one thing that keeps this model from being a perfect-10 in safety: the ATS hasn't yet been rated in the the standard IIHS crash categories.

Cadillac has upgraded some of the ATS's active-safety packages this year. A newly available Driver Awareness Package gets lane departure warnings, a remote locking fuel door, blind-spot monitoring and rear traffic alert. A Driver Assist Package includes active lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise control and head-up display.

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2016 Cadillac ATS

Features

The feature set offered in the 2016 Cadillac ATS is a great mix of comfort and traditional luxury on one side, modern and tech-centric on the other.

Whether you're headed for the 2016 ATS Sedan or ATS Coupe, you have two sets of choices. Feature-wise, the ATS comes in four different trim levels: standard, Luxury, Performance, and Premium. And beyond that, you can choose from Level 1, Level 2, Level 3, and Level 4 appearance-and-trim levels.

On a feature basis, the ATS really wows, with items like a wireless charging system, a configurable instrument display, a head-up display, 4G LTE connectivity with wi-fi, and an enhanced version of Cadillac's infotainment system, dubbed CUE, with voice recognition and integrated text messaging.

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.

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 8.0-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.

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 receive 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.

Cadillac’s infotainment system, called CUE, features 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, augmenting them with steering-wheel controls and voice commands. CUE has proximity sensing, so the menu options change as your hand approaches the screen, and it accepts tablet-like operations to zoom and scroll. 

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.

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. This year as well, GM has added Apple CarPlay capability to the system.

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7

2016 Cadillac ATS

Fuel Economy

For what it is—which is a luxury sport sedan—the 2016 Cadillac ATS is reasonably fuel-efficient.

For what it is—which is a sport sedan, or a luxurious, sporty touring coupe—the 2016 Cadillac ATS is relatively fuel-efficient.

The most efficient version of the 2016 ATS is the rear-drive base model powered by the 2.5-liter inline-4 and 8-speed automatic transmission. This combination scores 22 mpg city, 32 highway, 26 combined, according to the EPA.

The 4-cylinder turbocharged ATS is not far behind when equipped with the 8-speed auto, scoring 22/31/26 mpg. With the manual transmission, the 4-cylinder turbo model rates 20/29/23 mpg combined. The turbocharged 2.0-liter models with all-wheel drive return 22/30/25 mpg. 

The EPA has rated the 3.6-liter V-6 models equipped with new technologies such as Active Fuel Management with similar numbers. When equipped with all-wheel drive, those cars manage 19/28/22 mpg. Rear-drive models fare slightly better: 20/30/24 mpg.

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January 24, 2016
For 2016 Cadillac ATS

2016 Cadillac ATS Sedan Outperforms the Competition

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The 2016 Cadillac ATS 2.0 Turbo outperforms its European and Japanese competitors. It's definitely one of the most fun to drive vehicles on the road. Acceleration and handling match or exceed the BMW 3 Series... + More »
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