The 2016 Cadillac ATS is probably the hottest car you’ve never heard about. Sure, all the enthusiasts have been singing its praises for some time now, but usually, when thoughts narrow in on the more nimble sporty sedans, those minds wander toward the German marques. But the 2016 Cadillac ATS sedan is boldly standing up to the likes of the BMW 3 series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class with their latest offering of a true driver’s compact sedan.
2016 Cadillac ATS 2.0L Turbo Premium Collection RWD Sedan: Road Test and Review
Photo Credit: Carrie Kim
Models and Pricing
Cadillac offers four trims in its ATS lineup: Standard, Luxury, Performance, and Premium. Depending on the trim, buyers can choose from a 2.5-liter direct injection four-cylinder engine, a 2.0-liter turbo direct injection four-cylinder engine or a 3.6-liter direct-injection V6 engine. The engines produce 202, 272 or 335 horses respectively. Not too shabby for a sophisticated sedan, and certainly impressive considering the ATS sedan is a separate model from the beefier, performance-driven ATS-V.
The ATS pricing ranges from $33,215 to $48,110. Standard models are well-equipped with Keyless Access, Passive Entry, and Push-Button Start, along with options for GM’s longtime safety companion OnStar with 4G LTE and Wi-Fi connectivity. A Luxury model adds an 8-in. color touchscreen with the Cadillac CUE infotainment and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto compatibility. The Performance model adds the 3.6-liter V6 engine option. The Premium model tacks on more advanced features like adaptive suspension, navigation, and heads-up display.
If looks could kill ...
The Cadillac ATS is a handsome sedan, no matter the trim level. However, the 2.0 Turbo Premium model we tested is the best. The rich Black Raven exterior paint paired with the Black Sport Appearance Package ($3370), took us from zero to hero in about 1.3 seconds. The black grille, 19-in. wheels and bright red brake calipers caused an additional double-take; for a moment, we almost thought they’d left an ATS-V with us instead.
The ATS’s styling is angular and sharp—particularly in the rear, where its shape closely mimics the brand’s badge emblazoned on the back. The flared edges and spoiler give off a slightly menacing vibe, the tail lights stand vertically to command attention, and the chrome exhaust pipes only add to the image. Despite the high belt line and sleek window profile, we still managed to catch the gazes of several other drivers on the road ogling the ATS.
The big thing the ATS really gets right...
The Cadillac ATS is aggressively coming at its European competitors by delivering an extraordinary drive experience. And indeed, with the ATS, it's more about the hardware under the skin than the frills inside the cabin. Claimed by some to even overtake the BMW 3 Series in steering and handling, the ATS impressed the experts at Autobytel with its immediate responsive and pleasantly firm ride. Also, with GM’s Magnetic Ride Control, there’s no need to switch between “Sport” or “Comfort” modes—the system picks up on the driver’s actions and automatically toggles to a firm setting when more spirited driving is involved. Conversely, it will soften the suspension when the ATS is being driven in a straight line on the highway. Our Cadillac’s 6-speed manual transmission only added to our enjoyment of this “driver’s car.”
The small things where ATS misses the mark...
Since the stakes are high and the competition in this class is tough, a solid case for scrutiny is in order. Although the Cadillac ATS looks sharp on the outside and definitely keeps up with the pack in performance, there are some areas in which it lags. The interior trim, for example, looks inexpensive and plasticky, especially when compared to the ATS's more upscale (and more expensive) rivals. Despite Cadillac's valiant efforts, the cabin of the ATS doesn’t seem fully matured enough for the luxury set just yet.
To V or not to V?
There were several times throughout our week-long test drive that we got to thinking about how competent the ATS is and why you might want to go for the ATS-V instead (aside from the beefy-V’s staggering specs and capabilities, of course). The Performance and Premium ATS models are robust and yield plenty of muscle for the average consumer with 202, 272 or 335 horsepower ratings respectively. Even the styling can fool a crowd and have them searching the body for the tell-tale racing flag "V" badging. We found the capabilities of the manual 2.0 Turbo Premium ATS enough to scratch the itch, but if it’s face-melting performance that you ultimately crave, the ATS-V’s starting price of $60,660 may be something to start budgeting for.
Interior Comforts and Capacities
The ATS challenged our notions of what the inside of a Cadillac should be. Naively assuming that the interior would resemble the old-money opulence found in the Cadillacs of eras gone by, the ATS’s racy Morello red leather interior and piano black trim punched up the mood of the cabin significantly (and shaved quite a few years off of the target audience demographic). This Cadillac is sporty on the inside, read: tight seats and little wiggle room to spare. It’s certainly enjoyable behind the wheel, but as a passenger, things can get a little cramped.
Drivers with little people, heads up: Some car seats may be a little too bulky for that back seat. We fared well on carpool duty one morning with kindergartners in boosters, but rear-facing infant seats and larger convertibles may be a tight squeeze. Adjust expectations for this sporty compact sedan accordingly.
Cadillac CUE seems to be the infotainment interface everyone loves to hate lately. While we aren’t exactly thrilled with CUE, we think that living with it means eventually growing out of the frustrations felt at the beginning of the learning curve.
If CUE has got you feeling blue, there’s a great alternative; with the added compatibility of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, you can say goodbye to your infotainment woes. You can connect your smartphone of choice and enjoy the familiarity and intuitiveness of your phone’s interface in the car, instead of using CUE. Problem solved.
Safety and Ratings
The Cadillac ATS has been awarded a 5-star overall safety rating by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and a Superior Front Crash rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), when equipped with the optional Driver Assist Package.
Cadillac does offer a wide array of safety features for the ATS as well. Coming standard is a 5-year basic OnStar plan, which includes key emergency services like Crash Response, Crisis Alert, and Roadside Assistance. Options include a rear-view camera, cross-traffic detection, forward collision warning, lane-keep assist, lane-departure warning and adaptive cruise control. Our favorite was the simple head-up display and the safety alert seat. The seat will vibrate to notify you of potential hazards, and we prefer that over the loud beeps and buzz alerts found in other vehicles.
Photo Credit: Cadillac
We think that folks in the market for an athletic sedan —and don’t pledge allegiance to another brand with more badge cachet—will fall hard for the Cadillac ATS. Its bold styling stands out against traditional designs BMW and Audi bring to the market year after year. Definitely a “driver’s car,” the ATS also performs arguably better than the 3 Series or A4. However, despite the cars having a similar price, the ATS’s cabin and infotainment are notably less sophisticated. Overall, we feel the ATS is a fun car that likes to fly below the radar but will surely get you noticed once you take it on a twisty road.