Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2016 Cadillac ATS Coupe

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This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car

Given that Cadillac debuted its ATS Coupe only last year as a 2015 model (two years after the ATS Sedan arrived), you'd be forgiven for thinking that not much will have changed for 2016. But you'd be wrong. Cadillac's sharp looking, nimble-handling luxury compact coupe gets a number of substantial updates for 2016, making it an even more appealing alternative to the segment's established German and Japanese offerings.

Cadillac's sharp looking, nimble-handling luxury compact coupe gets a number of substantial updates for 2016.

The ATS Coupe is available with either a turbocharged 2.0L four-cylinder engine or a naturally aspirated 3.6L V6. Both engines can be specified with either rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, and for shift-it-yourself enthusiasts the rear-drive 2.0T version can even be had with a manual six-speed transmission.

Most buyers will opt for the automatic, however, and for 2016 it's a new, lighter, eight-speed Hydramatic 8L45 automatic, replacing the former six-speed unit. I'd previously driven a 3.6L ATS Coupe with the six-speed automatic and found it slow to downshift, making the powerful V6-equipped coupe feel a bit lazy around town. The new eight-speed in my Red Obsession 2016 2.0T test car suffered no such faults: It shifts promptly (matching the revs on downshifts) and keeps the power on tap at all times, while contributing to improved fuel efficiency thanks to the extra gears.

Also helping efficiency is new-for-2016 auto stop/start technology, which shuts down the engine at traffic lights so you don't waste fuel idling. The system isn't quite as seamless and quiet as some of the German setups (start-up could occasionally seem a bit abrupt), but I did appreciate that you could roll forward a few feet after initially stopping, and the engine would obligingly shut off again (many systems discourage any repositioning because once you creep forward, the engine then stays running).

Aside from the auto stop-start system, the 2.0T engine carries forward unchanged. The direct-injected 3.6L V6, however, is all-new and now features what Cadillac calls Active Fuel Management (cylinder deactivation), higher-flow cylinder heads, a simplified and quieter camshaft drive system, more efficient two-stage oil pump, and revised continuously variable valve timing system with four-cam phasing, which enables late intake valve closing under certain conditions for enhanced efficiency.

The new V6 is claimed to be nine percent more efficient than the outgoing engine, and while it's still not as thrifty as the 2.0T (rated city/highway consumption figures are 10.8 / 7.8 L/100 km for my four-cylinder AWD test car, versus 12.2/8.5 L/100 km for an AWD V6), the V6 is happy running on regular gas while the turbo-four wants premium. In my time behind the wheel of the 2.0T I achieved an average of 12.3 L/100 km in mixed city and highway driving, with a best recorded number of 7.2 on flat 80 km/h rural roads, and 8.8 L/100 km at freeway speeds (that's 120 km/h on BC's Island Highway).

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It makes for an interesting dilemma: The turbo-four is almost as powerful as the V6 (272 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque, versus the V6's 333 hp and 285 lb-ft), and it's also significantly lighter. This means the four-cylinder car is nearly as quick in a straight line (0-100 km/h takes about 5.9 seconds in the 2.0T versus 5.8 seconds in the V6) and noticeably more frisky and light-footed in the corners.

The turbo-four's biggest drawback is its soundtrack: it's unobtrusively quiet most of the time, but at full throttle instead of the tuneful bellow of a big V6 you get something that sounds at best like an angry hornet. Still, overall, between the old V6 and the turbo-four I prefer the turbo-four. But the new V6? My feeling is that turbo-four's lightness (and $2,200 cheaper price tag) will still win the day for me, soundtrack be damned – but I guess I'll have to try the new V6 to be sure.

Underpinning the ATS Coupe is GM's well-regarded Alpha platform, developed specifically for the ATS to be compact and lightweight and to either support rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. It's a solid starting point, and its success is evident in the fact that it was chosen to underpin the latest-generation Camaro. In the ATS coupe it delivers precise, surefooted and drama-free handling, with a buttoned-down yet decently compliant ride, excellent steering feedback, and powerful yet easy-modulated brakes. Especially with the lighter 2.0T engine the ATS is a car that just plumb feels right and is richly rewarding to pilot along twisting, undulating roads. Words like ""excellent"" and ""superb"" really don't quite do the chassis justice.

Inside, the ATS Coupe gets a few more changes for 2016. The fundamentals are all the same, and in my Performance trim test car that meant luxurious leather and soft-surface materials wherever you're likely to contact the interior, big polished alloy paddle shifters, and genuine brushed aluminum trim that elicited favourable comment from passengers. Cadillac continues to stick to its guns with a piano-black centre-stack sprinkled with a minimalist selection of stylish-looking touch-sensitive controls, while most functions are controlled via the CUE touchscreen interface.

The piano-black is as unforgiving as ever when it comes to showing dust and scratches, and the touch-sensitive volume and fan controls remain somewhat hit-or-miss in operation, but Cadillac has upgraded the CUE system to make it noticeably faster responding and has tweaked the navigation interface to make it more intuitive. Also debuting in 2016 is Android Auto and Apple CarPlay phone integration (this basically turns the car's touchscreen into a mimic of your phone's screen). Combined with CUE's OnStar 4G LTE connectivity and built-in Wi-Fi hotspot it means that passengers can retain a remarkable degree of connectivity when out on the road.

The power-operated front bucket seats in my test car were supportive without being restrictive, and offered near infinite adjustability, making it easy to get comfortable behind the wheel, even for a three-hour highway excursion. The back seat is less accommodating: while at 5'11"" I could indeed ""sit behind myself"", it was an interference fit, with my hair brushing the roof and my knees touching the front seat. Longer, lower and wider: that's the coupe credo, and the ATS sticks to it. If you want rear seat room get the slightly taller sedan.

In practical matters, the ATS has a smallish trunk at 295 L, but it does have split-folding rear seatbacks in case you want to extend your cargo-carrying capacity. In-cabin storage is likewise on the small side (the door pockets don't hold water bottles, for instance) but it's well thought-out and there's a nifty hidden bin behind the centre stack, complete with USB plug and wireless charging pad. I found outward visibility to be reasonably good for a coupe, and my only real quibble was that there was a touch more tire noise in the cabin than I would have expected (not that there was a lot, mind you).

In term of comforts and conveniences, the ATS Coupe hits all the right luxury coupe notes: Standard equipment includes things like dual zone automatic climate control, keyless passive entry, remote start, rearview camera, premium Bose audio, cruise control, ambient lighting, and leather-wrapped steering wheel. The base car gets leatherette upholstery, but all other models get leather upholstery plus a variety of other key features like Bluetooth connectivity, Cadillac CUE touchscreen interface, heated steering wheel, and much more. On top of this there's a wide array of available equipment including an excellent-sounding upgraded 12-speaker Bose audio system, sunroof, wireless charging, navigation system, and parking assist.

Safety-minded buyers will be impressed with my test car's $3,510 Driver Assistance Package. This provides all of Cadillac's Driver Awareness features (safety alert seat, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, blind spot monitor, cross traffic alert, automatic high-beam control and rain-sensing automatic wipers) plus a head-up display, full-speed adaptive cruise control, front and rear automatic braking, electronic park brake (a pedal-actuated brake is standard), and automatic seat belt tightening (personally I don't much like the way this tugs at me as I drive off, but apparently it offers safety benefits).

All in all, with a starting price of $41,490 for the base car (not including delivery charges) and my well-equipped Performance trim test car pricing out at $56,610 before freight, the ATS Coupe is no pretender: It has stand-out style, a richly luxurious interior, and is a blast to drive without sacrificing day-to-day liveability. It's exactly what a compact luxury coupe should be.

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

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Model Tested 2016 Cadillac ATS-4 Coupe (2.0T AWD Performance trim)
Base Price $49,185
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,950
Price as Tested $58,560
Optional Equipment
$7,325 (Red Obsession Tintcoat paint $1,145, Cadillac CUE with navigation $1,105, Driver Assist Package $3,510, power sunroof $1,395, premium floor mats $170)