Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe V6 AWD

With the introduction of its ATS sedan for the 2013 model year, Cadillac issued a bold challenge: It was going to reclaim its position as a preeminent luxury marque, and it was going to do so by taking direct aim at BMW's hot-selling 3 Series, Audi's A4 and Mercedes-Benz's C-Class.

The 2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe V6 AWD deserves better than pointless complaining about its name. It could be called the Radish and it would still be pretty awesome.

It's little surprise then that two years later Cadillac has released the ATS Coupe. Indeed you might be forgiven for assuming there always was an ATS Coupe. After all, BMW has its 4 Series, Audi has its A5 and Mercedes-Benz has its C-Class Coupe. But no, the ATS Coupe is a new-for-2015 model, and after a week behind the wheel I must say it’s a most welcome addition to the segment, although not without its issues.

First up is the name. Mercedes-Benz might not have gotten the memo yet, but Audi has long understood that it's cumbersome, confusing, and not terribly successful from a marketing perspective to give your sedans and coupes the same name and simply slap on a suffix to differentiate them. Especially if you offer a variety of engine, drivetrain and trim options. BMW finally grasped this reality a couple of years back and went through a great deal of hoopla to split its 3 Series sedans and coupes into 3 Series sedans and 4 Series coupes (it subsequently screwed everything up again with the 4 Series Gran Coupe, but that's a whole different story).

With the ATS we get a mouthful of suffixes and even then Cadillac can't seem to decide whether the all-wheel drive version is the ATS4 (as my test car's badge implies) or the ATS AWD (as the car's official documentation states). It's too bad Cadillac already used the STS and CTS monikers, because starting things off with C for coupe and S for sedan would have made so much more sense.

But I digress, and anyhow the 2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe V6 AWD deserves better than pointless complaining about its name. It could be called the Radish and it would still be pretty awesome.

As the name implies, the ATS Coupe is essentially an ATS Sedan wearing sporty clothing, but Cadillac didn't simply reconfigure the doors and slope the roof. The ATS Coupe is longer, lower and wider by roughly three centimetres in each dimension, and it has entirely different sheetmetal, sharing nothing with the sedan save the hood. The resulting car is nicely proportioned, with a planted stance and an assertive but not unfriendly look. With its striking Opulent Blue Metallic paint and big 18-inch polished aluminum wheels, my test car certainly turned heads.

Inside, you pay for the stylish looks with restricted rear seat access and headroom. I found the front seats plenty roomy enough for my 5'11" frame, but when sitting in the back seat my head was in firm contact with the roof. Leg room wasn't too bad, so with a little scrunching down I could indeed sit behind myself, but in practice I wouldn't want to subject anyone over about 5'8" to riding in the back. They'll need to be fairly limber, too, as clambering in and out requires some contortion. The rear seatbacks do offer split-folding capability in case you'd prefer to use the space back there to extend the trunk's normal 295 L capacity.

Returning to the front seats, my test car's Performance trim included 12-way power adjustment (with memory) for the driver and 10-way adjustment for the passenger (standard trim cars make do with eight-way power adjustment). The seats are supportive and well bolstered and I found them generally pretty comfortable, although I'd prefer slightly softer cushioning in the seat squab.

In terms of materials and finish, the interior of the ATS Coupe is well fitted out, with a clean and mostly up-to-date style. I'm not keen on all the piano black centre stack surfacing, as it's a nightmare to keep clean, but the brushed aluminum trim is the real McCoy, and everywhere you're likely to contact the interior it's wrapped in luxurious leather or soft-surface materials. Rigid plastic is restricted to places like the door lowers, rear panel lowers and the bottom edge of the console. Ignoring the somewhat old-school foot-actuated park brake, the only thing that perhaps seemed subpar was the slightly flimsy and hollow-sounding instrument binnacle cover.

From a functional standpoint, however, I do have a couple of quibbles. The first relates to the car's sightlines, both inward and outward. No matter how I set the seat and steering wheel, by the time I was in a comfortable driving position the top of the steering wheel was obscuring the upper portion of the instruments. This isn't an unusual complaint for me (I suspect I like to sit a little more upright than most people) but it was especially bothersome in the ATS because the half-circle tachometer hits redline at just about 12 o'clock on the dial, meaning that it's this critical redline portion that gets obscured by the steering wheel. The outward visibility is also rather restricted, and while I was expecting as much to rearward (this is a coupe after all, and it's not as bad as some in terms of rearward visibility), I was surprised by just how boxy and restrictive the A-pillars were when looking forward. I was also surprised by just how small the exterior mirrors were.

My second quibble relates to Cadillac's CUE system and touch sensitive controls. These have both received plenty of unfavourable press, and I'd like to state up front that they aren't really as bad as all that, but they certainly could use some improvement. The touch sensitive controls suffer from speed and repeatability issues: touch the volume control button and some fraction of a second later the control will gently vibrate and the volume will change, but whether it's by a little or a lot depends on whether the system thinks you tapped or swiped the controller. The fan control is the same. It can be like trying to adjust normal controls while wearing work gloves and driving along an uneven cobblestone road. As an aside, the really puzzling thing to me is that after putting touch-sensitive controls on the centre stack, Cadillac then opted for actual pushbuttons on the door knobs to actuate the door locks. This is the one place where touch-sensitive controls are proven and welcome, allowing you to unlock and open the door in a single motion instead of first pushing a button and then pulling the handle. Weird.

The CUE system is a marvel of connectivity and customizability and I was able to get my phone synced up lickety-split. But once you move beyond basic functions the menu system becomes less than intuitive, and the system's response time could be most charitably described as "deliberate." This wouldn't really be an issue if all CUE controlled was the infotainment features, but Cadillac has woven many of the car's basic functions into CUE in an (admittedly successful) attempt to de-clutter the centre stack. One of my biggest resulting pet peeves is that you don't seem to be able to display even basic climate settings while using the navigation map or using the audio screen.

I spent much time watching Cadillac's online CUE tutorials videos, but I wasn't able to find a way to show split-screen information, and indeed all I really took away from the tutorials is that the guy in the video spent an inordinate amount of time peering at the screen, and frighteningly little time actually looking at the road. On the plus side, the navigation graphics are second to none – bright, crisp and packed full of information – and the upgraded 12-speaker Bose audio system in my test car was powerful and rich sounding.

On the road, the ATS Coupe delights with its effortless performance and crisp handling. It's available with either a 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 272 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque, or with my test car's 3.6L V6, which cranks out 321 hp and 275 lb-ft of torque. Regardless of which engine you choose it's hooked up to a six-speed automatic transmission with shift paddles, and you can select either rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. A six-speed manual transmission is offered as an option, but only on rear-wheel drive 2.0T cars.

The V6 has a lusty snarl under acceleration and will haul the reasonably light ATS Coupe from standstill to 100 km/h in about 5.7 seconds (the V6 AWD weighs 1,675 kg). In manual mode the transmission responds to shift requests quickly and crisply, making the paddle shifters a pleasure to use. Where the drivetrain slightly misses the mark is in the amount of time it takes to downshift and get going if you're loafing along in Drive and suddenly want a burst of acceleration: The car feels wound up and ready to pounce, but when you punch the throttle it pauses for a fraction longer than expected before it gathers itself up, downshifts, and launches forward with authority.

Interestingly the turbo-four is hardly any slower to 100 km/h (it still comes in under six seconds, thanks in part to its lighter 1,550 kg curb weight), and it is certainly somewhat more efficient, rating 11.5/8.5 L/100 km (city/highway) in the automatic AWD Coupe, versus 12.8/8.9 for the AWD V6 Coupe. I used a good deal more fuel than the rating might suggest, averaging 14.8 L/100 km over the course of a week of mostly city driving. Highway economy isn't the problem – there I was able to match the 8.9 L/100 km rating without too much attention to my driving habits – but around town the big V6 has an enthusiastic appetite for fossil fuel, and I saw numbers as high as 18 L/100 km. The V6 does have the advantage that it runs on regular fuel.

In the corners the ATS Coupe really shines. Sadly the AWD cars aren't available with Cadillac's magnetic ride control, but my test car still displayed a nice balance between ride comfort and handling, and the all-wheel drive system adds confidence and grip without being intrusive – dynamically the car retains much of the enviable character of a rear-drive car. The ATS Coupe is more firmly sprung than BMW's entry-level 428i, and it handles better too, at least subjectively. It turns in with speed and precision, and it offers decent steering feedback, a flat cornering attitude, and abundant lateral grip. Brake performance is excellent too, with good pedal feel and short stopping distances. The upshot is that when you get the ATS Coupe out onto some twisty pavement, all the little foibles that car reviewers are paid to point out simply melt away: Cadillac's two-door carving knife is an absolute joy to drive on serpentine roads.

Price-wise, the base car ATS with rear-wheel drive and the 2.0L turbocharged engine, starts at $43,040 including the $1,800 destination fee. Aside perhaps from leather seating (the base car features leatherette) it includes all the essentials such as dual-zone climate control, passive entry with push-button start, heated seats, nine speaker Bose audio system, ambient lighting, leather-wrapped steering wheel and much more. This compares very favourably against the base Audi A5 ($46,795 destination in), BMW 428i ($46,995 with destination charges) and Mercedes-Benz C-Class Coupe ($46,725 delivered).

Things get a little muddier as you start moving up to higher spec models, because the price climbs rapidly: my V6 AWD Performance test car (with leather, navigation, sunroof, upgraded 12-speaker audio, heated steering wheel, safety alert seat, forward collision alert, lane departure warning, automatic headlights and more) clocked in at $57,825 with destination. Mind you, the German rivals (and the Infiniti Q60 and Lexus RC for that matter) can climb climb even more steeply in price once you start moving up the model range and adding on options. But while the base ATS Coupe will spank the base BMW 428i, by the time you move up to the ATS Coupe V6 versus the BMW 435i it's not nearly so clear cut – the 435i is a mighty formidable machine. And I've never had the door handle trim fall off a BMW like I did on the Cadillac. (In Cadillac's defence, the piece that fell off — or was perhaps liberated by some prankster – is intended to be removable so that you can access the keyhole on the driver's side in case the battery is dead. But it seems it comes off a bit too easily, and in any case it was the passenger's side that went missing.)

All that aside, if you're in the market for a luxury performance coupe you owe it to yourself to check out the Cadillac ATS. It's something a little different from the usual lineup of German and Japanese cars populating the segment. It offers stylish good looks, a properly luxurious interior, and truly excellent driving dynamics, and that's exactly what a luxury performance coupe is all about.

4 years/80,000 km; 6 years/110,000 km powertrain; 6 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 6 years/110,000 km 24-hour roadside assistance

Audi A5
BMW 4 Series
Infiniti Q60
Lexus RC
Mercedes C-Class Coupe

Model Tested 2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe (V6 AWD Performance trim)
Base Price $52,795
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,800
Price as Tested $57,825
Optional Equipment
$3,230 (Cadillac CUE with navigation, power sunroof, polished aluminum wheels)