Something a little bit different | Cadillac has developed a very consistent look across their lineup and the ATS is no exception.
Cadillac’s first big stride forward in the premium sport sedan market was in 2002 with the CTS. It was far from perfect, but it sold well and marked the beginning of Cadillac’s “Art and Science” design language. Personally, I couldn’t really get into the concept of a small Caddy, and driving a few examples of the early CTS only served to validate my lack of enthusiasm for them. The second generation CTS was a huge improvement, but it still didn’t do much to excite me. Now though, with the CTS being re-born as the larger road-ruling sedan that it is today, the ATS has stepped in to fill the void. As someone who was completely smitten for the last CTS I drove, I was anxious to see if I’d be equally as impressed by its younger sibling, the ATS. Happily, GM lent me the keys to a brand new 2014 Cadillac ATS 3.6 Premium AWD.
Cadillac has developed a very consistent look across their lineup and the ATS is no exception. My Diamond White Tricoat (a $1300 color option) test car looked stunning on its 18” machined aluminum rims and two-tone Caramel and Black interior. The tricoat paint might be a pricey option, but it does go a long way to giving the car a premium look, and garnered nothing but compliments all week. I am also a fan of Cadillac’s vertical headlamp system as it gives even the smaller ATS a bit of a sinister look to it from the front, a nice touch.
The exterior of my $54,000 ATS Premium is without a doubt, worthy of the Cadillac nameplate. For the first time since Cadillac has been building mid-sized sedans, I finally feel that the interior is worthy of wearing the badge as well. Before I get into any fully loaded car, I tend to remind myself that the basic vehicle is built to the base price and with an entry price of $35,000 I was expecting a little bit of skimping on materials. I was pleasantly surprised to find an interior that was very, very well appointed. The materials used throughout are top notch, leather is exceptionally soft and the door panels are a work of art themselves. Excessive? Yes, but that’s what a Cadillac is about, even the smallest one. My only suggestion for improvement would be the gauge cluster, while it has a handy digital display similar to the CTS, the gauges are still analog, and they’re not the prettiest or easiest to read analog gauges out there.
From a functionality standpoint though, there is a little room for improvement inside the ATS. Firstly, there is very little storage available up front, and the glove box is almost entirely used up by a CD changer (call me old fashioned, but I still do appreciate a CD changer). The CUE infotainment system would be my second gripe. Despite spending 5 weeks in Cadillacs using this setup this year, I still find myself stumbling through its cumbersome menus. On the flip side though, one area that the design team at GM have done a great job in the ATS is the rear seat; they’ve raked the backrest back a little and carved out the seat bottoms as well as the headliner to create more than enough headroom for most adults to be comfortable in the backseat.
The real joy of the ATS though isn’t the looks, or the fancy interior. It’s the way the car’s chassis seems to defy the laws of physics. They’ve somehow managed to make a 3600lb AWD sedan handle as directly and confidently as a proper sports car. On the daily grind the ATS is a perfect companion; plush, quiet, reasonably efficient and still engaging to drive. Pushing the two buttons immediately below the shifter disables the traction control system and activates Sport mode. Once these two buttons have been pushed the ATS transforms into a corner carver. Feedback through the steering wheel is direct and the steering ratio is extremely tight with less than 1.5 turns of the wheel required to full-lock. The chassis remains well planted through higher speed corners, but most impressive to me is how well it handles irregularities in the road. One of the worst feelings when you’re taking a corner or even a highway ramp at speed can be hitting a rough spot in the road and feeling a loss of grip from under the front tires. Despite its size and relative soft ride, the ATS somehow does a simply amazing job of maintaining its grip even over the torn up asphalt many of our Toronto streets suffer from.
My tester’s phenomenal chassis was paired with GM’s now well-established 3.6L V6 and all 321 horses do a great job of making themselves felt. Even with the added weight of the AWD system, the ATS is a blast to toss around. AWD adds about $3000 to the purchase price, and unless you frequently drive poorly maintained back roads in the winter, I’d suggest that the RWD version with a solid set of winter tires would provide even more smiles per dollar. The 3.6L is a perfect complement to this chassis. With its smooth and well-balanced power curve, it allows the ATS to power through corners and blast past slow moving traffic, without threatening to kill you. While I am confident that this chassis would be made even more fun if and when Cadillac decides to fit the twin-turbo 3.6 (ATS-V!), I am happy to enjoy the thrill and efficiency of the existing 3.6L. Speaking of efficiency, despite the frequent use of my right foot, I managed to keep my fuel consumption down at an average of 9.8L/100km for the week.
It took a few tries, but Cadillac has built a sports sedan truly worthy of the prestigious Cadillac nameplate, and I believe it’s a very serious competitor against the German offerings. In my mind, this is an ideal daily driver for the young aspiring professional with a family. This buyer maybe has a bit of an itch for something that can handle a little spirited driving, yet is a little different than the lineup of Audi A4s and BMW 3-series’ parked in front of the local Starbucks.
Second Look: 2014 Cadillac ATS 3.6 Gallery