Driven: 2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe 3.6L Premium

By Bradley Iger

September 04, 2014

When Cadillac rolled out the high performance CTS-V sedan, along with its subsequent coupe and wagon counterparts, it started to become clear that fairly sweeping change was underway for the company. In the ensuing years, there's been a concerted effort to change public perception of Cadillac from the go-to choice for reasonably well-heeled pensioners to something more youthful, relevant, and performance oriented. Or to put it another way, more BMW-like. But to truly complete with BMW, they needed a worthy 3-Series fighter, and that's just what we got with the all-new 2013 ATS sedan - a tour-de-force of GM's latest engineering efforts designed specifically to beat the German's at their own game. The sedan has earned high praise from critics and consumers alike, but if Cadillac wanted to achieve parity in the segment, they'd also need an answer to the two door BMW 4-Series and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class as well. Enter the 2015 ATS Coupe.
What's the idea behind the Cadillac ATS Coupe?
The coupe is not just a case of hacking off two doors from the sedan and calling it a day. Lower, longer, and wider than the sedan, the ATS Coupe shares no common body panels with the sedan expect for the hood, and looks noticeably more athletic for the effort.
Aside from being the lightest car in the luxury compact coupe segment (3411 pounds with the 2.0-liter turbo four pot), the ATS Coupe boast a near-perfect 50-50 weight balance, ZF-developed electrically assisted steering, GM's heralded magnetic ride control suspension system, standard front Brembo brakes, and when equipped with the direct injected 3.6-liter V6, as our tester was, more horsepower than turbocharged six cylinder used in the BMW 435i.
ATS Coupes equipped with the turbocharged four cylinder engine can also be had with either a six-speed automatic gearbox with paddle shifters or a six-speed manual transmission, and all wheel drive is optional on all models equipped with the automatic gearbox.
Who might want a car like that?
Cadillac has an uphill battle to fight in their attempt to sway potential BMW 3/4-Series, Audi A5, and Mercedes-Benz C-Class buyers away from the established players in the segment. Crucially, the Caddy has the numbers to make an impact. With a base price of just under $39,000, the ATS Coupe should also attract interest from those looking to move up market as well as luxury performance buyers seeking an option that's slightly outside the norm but still has the chops to run with the best of them.
How does the drivetrain perform?
While an optional three-pedal setup is available on models equipped with 2.0-liter turbocharged four, the 321 horsepower, 3.6-liter V6 found in our tester can only be had with the paddle-shifted six-speed automatic. While that's slightly disheartening it's by no means a deal breaker, as the automatic handles its duties aptly. In terms of shifting speed, you're not likely to mistake it for a dual clutch setup, but while loping along in traffic that's probably you'll appreciate.
With that gearbox paired to the V6, the ATS Coupe can get from 0-60 in about five and a half seconds, which isn't exactly mind blowing acceleration in an era of readily available 700 horsepower sedans, but it's definitely brisk enough to keep things interesting when you dip into the throttle.
Sonically, even with the bigger motor on hand, the ATS Coupe still has a fairly muted exhaust note, though it seems rather appropriate given its focus on providing a luxurious driving experience and the 3.6-liter's mostly forgettable song, though the 3.6-liter does take on a certain appealing growl at wide open throttle.
The driver-selectable Sport mode offers increased throttle response and a gearbox that's slightly less eager to upshift, and while the Caddy responded to inputs in this performance mode with confident predictability, we did find ourselves expecting a little more urgent feel to the whole Sport mode affair.
How does the Cadillac ATS Coupe handle?
Fitted with magnetic ride control suspension, Brembo front brakes, ZF steering electronic steering assistance, and a limited slip differential, the ATS Coupe certainly has the goods to yield a vehicle with capable cornering. While the ZF's steering was slightly vague on-center, we found it to be pretty enjoyable once things get more animated. Considering all of the high-performance bits and pieces on hand, we noted that the steering weight was also on the light side even in its sportiest setting, which occasionally necessitated some correction, but on the whole we were impressed with the ZF system.
While the ATS Coupe feels impressively rigid, which translated to more confidence behind the wheel at speed, we were surprised to find that even in the Sport setting, the magnetic dampers were tuned a bit softer than we had expected and allowed the car more roll that we would prefer. But with a near 50/50 weight balance and a reassuring amount of grip, the ATS Coupe does offer a good blend of sportiness and the sort of ride quality that many traditionalists would expect from a Cadillac, though in this two door layout we suspect there's a bit more room to nudge things in favor of the former rather than the latter.
How comfortable is it?
Cadillac may be a relative newcomer to the performance market, but luxury is where the brand made a name for itself in the first place. In terms of ride quality, the ATS Coupe doesn't betray the expectations many have when they think of the brand, and both pavement undulations and rough, uneven road surfaces dealt with in Touring mode are dispatched with hardly any notice. As mentioned earlier, the magnetic dampers do firm things up more in Sport mode, but it's still a safe distance of being considered harsh, and we could certainly imagine many drivers leaving the suspension in this sharper mode on a full-time basis.
In terms of interior noise, the ATS Coupe's cabin is virtually isolated from wind and road noise at speed, with only the engine's wail interjecting when we chose to mash the throttle. This sense of serenity allowed us to enjoy our tester's 12-way adjustable seats to an even greater degree than usual. Though visually sporty, the absence of substantial side bolstering indicates these seats were designed more for capable grand touring rather than holding you in place as you dive into the corkscrew at Laguna Seca. Given the overall tuning of the ATS Coupe these seats don't seem out of place here at all, and we found them to be supportive and comfortable throughout the duration of our time with the ATS.
How are the design, materials, and fit when you see the car in person?
In comparison with the sedan, the ATS Coupe has a sleeker and more purposeful presentation while its proportions still maintain a good sense of balance. This affords the ATS Coupe more of a unique identity than simply being just a two-door version of the sedan, and while it's not as much of a differentiation as we saw between the last generation CTS sedan and coupe, the ATS Coupe does indeed feel special, though we are looking forward the V-Series model to see how the car would fare with an added dose of visual aggression.
Inside and out, the ATS feels convincingly solid and high quality, right down to the solid "thunk" of the doors and the revamped Cue system which is leaps and bounds better than the version we used in the XTS Vsport. That said, we could still do without the capacitive button + haptic feedback control scheme of the Cue system in general, as despite the improvements it is still more of a chore to use than it should be. But in terms of features and responsiveness, the Cue system is now up to par with the best in the industry.
Anything else?
With a base price starting at just under $39,000, the Cadillac ATS Coupe makes a pretty persuasive argument for itself when put up against its competitors. However, at nearly $58,000 equipped as our 3.6L Premium Collection tester was, we're getting surprisingly close to base M3/M4 territory - a place where this Caddy isn't quite ready to compete just yet. Until the V-Series ATS makes its debut, we suspect that the sweet spot for the ATS Coupe can be found in a model equipped with the 2.0-liter turbocharged four cylinder motor and three pedals - a configuration that only loses a tenth of second to 60mph from a standstill versus the six cylinder model, and would compare even more favorably alongside something like a BMW 428i in terms of driving dynamics and price.

2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe 3.6L Premium
Price: $50,325 (base), $57,795 (as tested)
Engine: 3.6-liter, direct injected V6
Output: 321 HP / 272 LB-FT
0-60mph: 5.5 seconds (est)
Fuel Economy: 19 city / 28 hwy
On Sale: Now