The ATS' chassis is flawless and easily the best part of the car.
First things first; we have already conducted an extensive review on the 2016 Cadillac ATS 3.6. It’s a nearly loaded car with almost all of the bells and whistles, stunning Crystal White Tricoat paint, and the driving dynamics of a true sports sedan. I wanted to get behind the wheel and experience the new 3.6L engine and play with the latest application of Cadillac’s CUE, complete with Apple CarPlay implementation.
The entry-level luxury sports sedan segment is a lucrative one. BMW’s 3-series has been considered the winner almost universally, but I’d argue that the current crop of entries are pretty exceptional. Amongst our team, we have the argument regularly about which one we would have in our own garages. The ATS stands out because of its edgy, modern interpretation of Cadillac’s “Art & Science” philosophy. This particular model was painted in a Crystal White Tricoat, a $1,145 option. Higher trim models also offer stunning LED light strips on the headlights, along with a set built into the door handles. Even though our car was not equipped with these, the lines are still attractive, and the polished 18” wheels help significantly.
Neither of these changes is immediately evident – the engine’s power numbers aren’t too far off from previous years. GM’s 3.6L V6 remains one of my favourite six-cylinder motors thanks to its excellent torque delivery, smoothness, and versatility. It’s good for 321 horsepower at 6,800RPM and 275 lb-ft of torque at 4,800RPM. Power delivery is much smoother and more linear, and there’s more torque available at the low end. The sporty yet grown-up exhaust note from GM’s 3.6L is still there, and throatier than ever.
Gone is the old six-speed automatic – Cadillac’s engineers have coupled the ATS’ engine to a new eight-speed unit, one that optimizes efficiency without foregoing any of the fun. Models equipped with the 2.0T motor (review here) also get the eight-speed. My particular tester was not equipped with paddle shifters, but there is still a manual shifting mode for this gearbox. The shifts are pretty quick and firm – the transmission is reflective of the ATS’ light-hearted personality. Higher trim levels are available with paddles, but I was disappointed to see them lacking on a car with a sticker hovering just north of $55,000.
As in all previous versions of the little Cadillac, the chassis is flawless and easily the best part of the car. GM’s Magnetic Ride Control, on board here, is said to be the fastest-reacting suspension on any mainstream production vehicle. The dampers are adaptive and adjust the shocks according to road conditions, and do a phenomenal job of it. The ATS handles like a dream, and the steering, though electrically assisted, is excellent and definitely meets the BMW benchmark in the segment. The ATS was introduced as a serious 3-series competitor, and the German definitely has its match in the handling department.
Now, onto the electronics – the CUE system has always been a bit puzzling. Though the theory and idea of it works, the execution was a challenge. With no physical buttons, the entire infotainment system, including climate control and navigation, had to be controlled via touch. For 2016, CUE is compatible with Apple CarPlay, which worked well for me. It solved the problem I had with my older iPod Classic that would freeze and require a reset whenever connected to a Cadillac vehicle. Apple CarPlay includes compatibility with Spotify, and the car’s on-board 4G-LTE WiFi hotspot meant my phone’s service provider didn’t send me a huge bill for data use.
The CarPlay system worked in a very responsive manner, with minimal lag and no spontaneous freezing. Whenever the phone received text messages, the car would read them out and give the driver an option to respond by voice control. Speaking of which, the entire CUE system has some of the best voice recognition in the industry. There are basic controls for the system on the steering wheel, such as seek and volume, making for more ease of use.
My issue with CUE is a bit of a paradox. Cadillac is trying to lower the age of their average buyer by making their lineup more appealing to a more youthful audience. As I said before, the execution is going to be the biggest obstacle, even with this new refreshed system. Those savvy with smartphones, tablets, and streaming will have zero issue getting acquainted and familiarized with CUE, but in the process, Cadillac will lose some of their more mature, loyal buyers. We personally know a baby boomer who drove Cadillacs for decades, but traded in his ATS after only a few months because he just couldn’t get used to the system.
There is a lot to like about the 2016 Cadillac ATS 3.6. The all-wheel-drive model tested here with the V6 engine is one of the slickest powertrains available in its segment. With rivals like the BMW 340i (review here) and the Mercedes-Benz C450 AMG, the ATS has tough competition. Regardless, with a fresh engine and a tweaked technology suite for this model year, the Cadillac lives up to expectations, and delivers the driving experience of a legitimate performance sedan.