Reviews

2015 Cadillac ATS Driving Impressions



Like other recent Cadillac models, the ATS was tuned at some of the world's most famous racing circuits, including the Nordschleife section of Germany's Nurburgring.

The result is a light but solid chassis with near 50/50 weight distribution (a la BMW) that performs quite well on the road. Driving dynamics are further enhanced by a five-link independent rear suspension. Magnetic Ride Control, now in its third iteration, is optional on most ATS models, which adjust suspension real-time for even more responsive driving.

The underlying architecture of the ATS uses a combination of several metals, including high-strength steel, aluminum, magnesium, and many others that together help achieve rigidity and lightness. The result is a solid, stable chassis that is wonderfully compliant on the road as well as on the track, with a hunkered-down feel and little-to-zero body roll. The near-50/50 weight distribution keeps the car feeling balanced and controllable around all twists and turns.

We drove an ATS Luxury sedan with the standard 2.5-liter naturally aspirated engine on the street and found it perfectly adequate for freeway cruising and tooling around town.

However, we much prefer the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, which Cadillac expects will account for the majority of ATS models on the road. For 2015, a revised version of this engine offers more torque, although maximum thrust comes in at higher rpm. Still, passing was easy, and we never felt short of power, except perhaps a tad around sweeping turns up steep inclines.

The cabin of the ATS is very quiet. We noticed very little road or wind noise while driving. Even the direct-injection engines, which are notorious for their clickety-clackety ticks, couldn't be heard much in the cabin, thanks to plentiful and well-placed sound insulation.

The 6-speed manual transmission was mostly a joy to drive, although we occasionally found ourselves rowing between third and fourth on demanding roads, frustrated that the latter was too tall and the former was strained and noisy (we found the same issue on ATS models equipped with the 6-speed automatic). Still, we applaud Cadillac for offering a manual option in a world where others seem to be going the way entirely of paddle shifters.

On the track, we found the 2.0-liter turbo engine had plenty of power to make it fun, but not quite enough to make it effortless. And for those who actually like to work for a lap time, that's a good thing.

The 3.6-liter V6 with Magnetic Ride Control, however, was another story. While we found that engine to be ho-hum in the bigger, heavier XTS, the favorable power-to-weight ratio in the ATS makes for a dynamite ride. After a few laps in the V6, it's impossible not to dive into the pit lane smiling. Unless, perhaps, you're riding shotgun. On both models, the Brembo performance brakes stopped quickly and efficiently.

Coupes get a sportier rear suspension than do the ATS sedans, which makes for a firmer and more hunkered-down feel around twists and turns. Wider tires in back offer more grip. When equipped with the Performance Package, coupes also get summer tires and a mechanical limited-slip differential, which helps plant the car even more in demanding driving. Coupes also get standard Brembo front brakes, which are some of the best in the business. Stops are quick and confident, and a special anti-corrosive coating on the rotors keeps them looking shiny and new. Magnetic Ride Control is available here, too, and it makes a marked difference in ride and handling, though it's a pricey option.

On all models, we have mixed feelings about the ZF-sourced variable-effort electric steering. The steering gear used in the ATS is belt driven, which Cadillac claims makes for a smoother feel, but we found it a little too numb on demanding turns. Most drivers might not notice this in daily driving.

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