2017 Cadillac ATS Review

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The Car Connection
2019
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Aaron Cole Aaron Cole Managing Editor
June 1, 2017

Buying tip

Don't overlook the 2.0-liter turbo when it comes to power and sportiness. It's a fun drive and may be a little better balanced than the V-6.

The Cadillac ATS makes for a smart sport sedan, with its sharp handling and very potent powertrain options.

The 2017 Cadillac ATS is a two- or four-door lesson that great-handling sport sedans can come from somewhere other than the Black Forest or Bavaria.

Now in its fourth model year, the ATS has shed its base, milksop inline-4 in favor of a simplified powertrain lineup that consists of a very good turbo-4 and a potent V-6. The number of trims has been significantly reduced and is more direct in its intended target: base, Luxury, Premium Luxury and Premium Performance.

It earns a rating of 7.0 on our scale to 10, thanks to excellent performance and good crash-test scores. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Review continues below

MORE: Read our 2017 Cadillac ATS-V review

The sheet metal of the ATS is more buttoned down and a little flatter than its competitors. The straight sheet metal and creased exterior is a sharp contrast against the BMW 3-Series; the curvy sheet metal from the 3er seems stretched to its limits, the Caddy is flat and pressed. Do you prefer to relax in stretch pants or a suit?

Inside, the approach is a little warmer, but not any more imaginative. The thick, plush materials are accented by Cadillac's "crafted" look to its dash and door materials. A center stack is cool and high-tech, made even better by a standard 8.0-inch touchscreen.

Under the hood, a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 spins up 272 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. It's standard in base and Luxury trims, and can be mated to a 6-speed manual or 8-speed automatic.

A 3.6-liter V-6 that makes 335 hp and 285 lb-ft is in Premium trimmed cars and is mated exclusively to an 8-speed automatic. All-wheel drive is available on Premium Luxury cars, rear-drive is the only option for Premium Performance.

(We say the turbo-4/rear-drive/manual combo is the sneaky performance pick and still taps the best performance feature: its superb chassis and stiff suspension setup.)

The ATS uses Cadillac's active noise cancellation system to make a quiet comfortable ride for passengers. Front-seat riders get the best seats in the house; there is plenty of room of front and deep sport buckets are comfortable. In back, the rear passengers are asked to make do with less room than both Mercedes-Benz and BMW competitors. There isn't much cargo room to speak of either.

The safety record for the ATS is unblemished, but incomplete. It has earned five stars across the board from federal testers, but the independent IIHS hasn't yet weighed in. It comes complete with standard airbags and safety features on lower trims, Premium trims come standard with advanced safety features such as blind-spot monitors and forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking.

As standard, the ATS is well equipped with an 8.0-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, Bluetooth connectivity, and a rearview camera. Available options include leather upholstery, head-up display and Premium Performance models include adjustable dampers and a limited-slip rear differential.

Pricing starts at $38,590, a $2,350 increase over the 2.0-liter turbo-4 from 2016.

5

2017 Cadillac ATS

Styling

The Cadillac ATS is a sharp looker; but its style is waiting to be updated.

The 2017 Cadillac ATS is a populist approach on the corporate design language since its debut in 2013. The exterior sheet metal is a little flatter and more creased than key rivals, its beak and bum are a little more chiseled. It's not as daring as the CTS that first introduced us to Cadillac's design language—for better or worse.

The ATS Coupe is even more mainstream than that, its character line is less broken all the way from the grille, through the front wheel and reaching into the taillights. It's handsome with crisp lines that reach a broad range of people.

We give it a 5 for styling, right down the middle. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

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. The ATS benefits from having the right proportions: a long hood line and athletic stance, which is especially pronounced in the coupe version.

Despite the more commercial look, the ATS has faded in several years against other competitors. Key competitors from Germany have adopted their own newer and curvier language, and even the Lexus IS has managed to stay fresh. A subtle refresh should be in order soon, but for 2017, the most dramatic shift for ATS shoppers will be an available carbon black sport appearance package.

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, which 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.

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. It can be frustrating for some to use, but at least the look is very clean. This year, Cadillac made a wireless charging mat standard, in the "hidden" compartment behind the CUE screen that cleans up clutter in the cabin when traveling with a phone or iPod.

Down low, the center stack runs out of steam and is awash in glossy black trim with a storage compartment too small to carry anything beyond change. We think change is good.

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2017 Cadillac ATS

Performance

The 2017 ATS engine lineup has been trimmed from three to two—it's probably better that way.

If you're like us, peering at the ATS-V's performance numbers will prompt a thorough review of will and estate documents.

Luckily, there's plenty of performance and value found throughout the ATS lineup, including a sneaky performance pick that may save ATS-V shoppers a few thousand bucks at checkout.

We think it's worth an 8 for performance; it sincerely has some of the best steering feel and response we've encountered in this segment. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The two main engine choices are carried over from last year: a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 and a 3.6-liter V-6. The 2.5-liter inline-4 has been dropped from the lineup this year, and it's probably better that way—it was built for economy, not necessarily luxury or performance.

As it stands, the 2.0-liter turbo-4 is the base engine and it's a good pick. It's been rated at 272 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. It can be paired with either a 6-speed manual or 8-speed automatic transmission, and in rear- or all-wheel drive configurations. It'll predictably make the dash up to 60 mph in just under six seconds, and on paper it's more potent than the base turbo-4s found in the Mercedes-Benz C300 or BMW 328i.

In reality, the 2.0-liter turbo-4 punches far above its weight class and the 2.0-liter turbo-4/manual/rear-drive combo should be the purist's pick here. It's agile, eager, and quick to comply thanks to the ace in the hole for the ATS: its superb chassis. If there's a caveat, it's this: the turbo-4 need premium gas to tap its potential, and its recommended for that engine.

For Premium trim buyers, the 3.6-liter V-6 was reworked last year to provide more fuel economy without a performance penalty.

The V-6 makes 335 hp and 285 lb-ft of torque and boasts cylinder shutdown technology and direct injection for better fuel economy. To that end, it's a success: its final fuel economy numbers are very close to the turbo-4.

The bigger displacement and more cylinders of Premium trims would be an instant magnet for anyone looking for a performance model, but again: the turbo-4/manual/rear-drive version is our contender for that crown. Instead, the V-6 may be a better long-legged cruiser with the 8-speed automatic and adjustable dampers. Cadillac's V-6 doesn't serve up a wall of torque like the turbo-6 from BMW, so its attitude is a little more relaxed than constantly on the wire.

In Premium trims with 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 standard on all models.

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 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.

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6

2017 Cadillac ATS

Comfort & Quality

The ATS is very comfortable and quiet, but it can be very monochromatic and there isn't much room in the back.

The 2017 Cadillac ATS heaps on tech and convenience features that complement the sedan's (and coupe's) well-executed interior—we just wish it was more ambitious.

We rate it a 6, with demerits for back-seat space mixed in with appreciation for supportive front buckets. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

At every turn, the Cadillac is draped in wood, leather and metal at every touchable surface, but there isn't enough there to keep pace with more refined offerings like the Mercedes-Benz C-Class.

Both coupe and sedan ride on the same 109.3-inch wheelbase, which affords the driver and front-seat passenger plenty of space, without much leftover for rear passengers and cargo. The rear passengers in coupe or sedan only get 33 inches of leg room, which is well short of Mercedes-Benz and BMW competitors.

That type of space is passable in the coupe, but not very practical in the sedan—entry and exit can be a little tricky too.

The 10.3 cubic feet of cargo storage in the trunk is even further down the list compared to Audi and Infiniti.

The story gets better in the front seats where a bevy of small storage places and generous sport buckets keep driver and passenger happy on long hauls.

The ATS has been tuned for a stiffer ride with more feedback than the normal luxury compact, so we suggest trying different wheel and tire combinations before settling in on a trim level. Although the Premium Performance package offers adjustable dampers, last year's base car with standard tires was more compliant.

Coupes are fitted standard with bigger wheels than the sedans, but the tire aspect ratios are the same so we expect that ride comfort will be a wash.

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2017 Cadillac ATS

Safety

The 2017 Cadillac ATS doesn't have complete safety data, but the scores it has are top notch.

Complete ratings for the 2017 Cadillac ATS aren't in yet, but last year's scores were very good and we don't expect much to change for this year.

That's why we give the ATS a safety score of 8. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Federal regulators gave the 2017 ATS sedan top five-star scores across the board, including a five-star overall rating. The independent IIHS hasn't rated the ATS in any of its crash tests since it was new in 2013.

The ATS comes with a standard complement of airbags and stability control systems.

Premium trims of the ATS come with an advanced suite of safety systems including forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, active lane control, blind-spot monitors with rear cross-traffic alerts; and GM's safety alert seat that rumbles the seat to alert the driver. The available package has been rated "Superior" by the IIHS.

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8

2017 Cadillac ATS

Features

For 2017 Cadillac made standard its 8.0-inch touchscreen and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto—and we all rejoiced.

For 2017, Cadillac has made several features standard that should propel the ATS to the top of many lists for luxury buyers who prioritize tech.

All ATS models will come standard with the automaker's 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system, dubbed "CUE," which includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Cadillac also includes built-in wi-fi broadcasting capability in all ATS models, which runs on a separate, subscription-based network.

The CUE system has its fair share of critics, but standard Bluetooth connectivity, rearview camera, and built-in support for every smartphone on the planet could sway some shoppers from other brands that tend to charge hundreds—if not thousands—for similar options.

Cadillac also simplified the ATS lineup for 2017 to four trims: base, Luxury, Premium Luxury and Premium Performance. As a result, it's easier to understand each model's intended audience and feature options.

Last year's naturally aspirated 2.5-liter inline-4 is gone now, and Cadillac's turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 is the standard engine in base and Luxury models. "Premium" branded models step up to the 3.6-liter V-6 and add a wealth of optional equipment and available accessories.

Base models come standard with Bose audio with 12 speakers and active noise cancellation to reduce unnerving powertrain vibrations. Base cars also come with 17-inch wheels (18-inchers on the coupe), three USB ports, rearview camera, and a basic version of General Motors' OnStar telematics system. A 6-speed manual is standard and an 8-speed automatic with paddle shifters is available.

Moving up to Luxury versions adds standard 10-way power adjustable heated front seats, navigation, a heated steering wheel, front and rear parking assistants, and remote start via Cadillac's app.

Premium Luxury models step up to the bigger motor and add adaptive headlights; 12-way power adjustable driver's seat with lumbar support; a suite of advanced safety features including forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, active lane control, blind-spot monitors with rear cross-traffic alerts; and GM's safety alert seat that rumbles the seat to alert the driver.

Premium Performance models get a performance-based suspension setup, adjustable dampers, a limited-slip rear differential, head-up display, 18-inch wheels shod with summer rubber.

Premium Performance models tread carefully not to encroach on the ATS-V's territory, although the right motor/tire/transmission combo in Premium Performance trim can be hugely fun to drive and shave thousands from the ATS-V's entry price—provided you can live without the bonkers mill.

All of that seems very good, so what gives with our features score of 8? Cadillac's ATS keeps pace with the rest of its competition, but doesn't set a higher bar for features. And its warranty and service plan is relatively on par with the rest of the crowd—nothing above and beyond the call of duty. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

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2017 Cadillac ATS

Fuel Economy

The least powerful ATS engine is gone, but fuel efficiency doesn't take a hit.

For 2017, Cadillac dropped its least-powerful inline-4 engine in favor of a simplified lineup. Fuel economy hasn't taken a hit, the most efficient models still manage around 25 mpg combined. 

That merits a 7 on our scale where gas mileage is concerned. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 manages 20 mpg city, 29 highway, 23 combined, in rear-drive with a 6-speed manual. The 8-speed automatic version is more efficient, according to the EPA. This year that car is rated at 22/31/25 mpg.

Stepping up to the 3.6-liter V-6 won't dramatically impact fuel economy. The EPA rates those rear-drive models at 20/30/24 mpg with the automatic. 

Adding all-wheel drive to both engines drops the ratings roughly 1 mpg across the board.

Those figures are fairly good, but more current powertrains from BMW or Lexus are more efficient. The BMW 320i is rated up to 35 mpg highway and the turbo-4 in the IS 200t can return up to 33 mpg highway.

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Expert Rating
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Styling 5
Performance 8
Comfort & Quality 6
Safety 8
Features 8
Fuel Economy 7
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