June 19, 2014
2014 Cadillac ATS. Click image to enlarge
Review and photos by Jacob Black
Art and science. If there is a more eloquent expression of a design principle anywhere in the automotive world I haven’t heard it. It’s a line that resonates with me, and one that I find is translated beautifully into practice in Cadillac’s ATS sedan.
The same bold lines and sharp creases from the larger and even-more stunning CTS are here, but the effect is slightly softer. At the front, the headlights are trimmed in sophisticated LED but the LED strips aren’t as domineering as they are in the CTS.
At the back, two large exhaust tips protrude from under the bumper bar, but inboard of the rear wheels. It’s a neat place to put them and unusual too – most manufacturers put the exhausts at the outer edges or pair them in the middle. The effect is eye-catching and helps accentuate the exhausts. The familiar Cadillac “V” is here, accentuated by a crisp red LED lighting cluster that also forms a lip spoiler on the boot lid.
The large, sloping C pillar and short trunk lid help with the cabin-back stance – another elegant-but-tough feature beautifully executed.
Looking at it in isolation it’s surprising that the ATS is the entry-level Cadillac. With a base price of $35,695, it’s a great jump-off point for buyers looking for Cadillac style and flair but who aren’t quite ready to cough up the $50,895 needed for a CTS sedan. Bracket creep is the scourge of the automotive industry though, and my tester came in at an as-tested $54,885.
The base level ATS comes with a 2.0T but this tester comes with the same 3.6L V6 as can be had on the CTS, mated to the same six-speed automatic gearbox with driver shift control. It weighs 114 kg less than a CTS at 1,646 kg – and that’s important. There is the same 321 hp at 6,800 rpm and 275 lb-ft of torque at 4,800 but with less to haul, it feels like it pulls the ATS off the line a tad harder than the CTS did.
Unlike the CTS I tested in March though, this ATS did not have the paddle shifters – and that’s important too. It’s not surprising, this is a far cheaper car, but it is disappointing given that Cadillac has set their sequential “manual shift” mode up wrong. Forward for up, back for down is wrong. So very wrong. I complained about it in March, but shrugged it off because you’d use the paddle shifters if you want to shift anyway. Here you need to use the shift lever, and with it set up in this unintuitive, backwards and out-of-step way you are prone to making embarrassing shift errors – which I did. Only once, though – I’m not a complete imbecile [No comment –Ed.]. Trying to change down right when you need to shift up leaves you hanging on the rev limiter and not able to use the engine where you need it – like the exit of an off-ramp.
2014 Cadillac ATS engine bay & dashboard. Click image to enlarge
I don’t think I am the only journalist to have made the error either. In fact, I’d bet my life on it. See, the whole reason I had decided to try manual mode (instead of just ignoring it as the pretend bit of fakery that it is) was because the automatic had left me hanging during hard acceleration already. Launching myself from a set of lights, through a minor on-ramp and on to the freeway the ATS changed rapidly and appropriately into second up near the redline, but when it came time to change into third – nada. I was left, hanging on the rev limiter in second, unable to coax a shift out of the box. I looked down to make sure I hadn’t knocked the lever into manual and confirmed that I hadn’t. Even the dash showed that I was still in automatic. So what was the issue? I’ve driven this gearbox enough to know it’s not a common issue so I put it down to this one having been abused by journos in the past – and I bet that dodgily set-up gear lever is to blame.
It could also be that journalists have been exploiting the ATS’s excellent handling and steering to have far too much fun. Yes it’s all-wheel drive, but it still has an edgy, sporty flair to it. The steering is well-weighted and crisp – yes it’s electric and “boo-hiss technology rabble rabble” but it’s a well-sorted system.
2014 Cadillac ATS taillight. Click image to enlarge
The suspension comes in two flavours, Sport Tuned or Performance Tuned – and this tester had the standard Sport Tuned suspension. Both have independent five-link suspension at the rear but the lower spec gets twin-tube shock absorbers and the up-spec gets Magnetic Ride Control with monotube shocks. Up front sits MacPherson-type suspension with dual lower ball joints, twin-tube struts and a direct-acting stabilizer bar – again losing the MRC and monotube shocks available in higher-spec trims.
The lack of magnetic wizardry can’t detract from the fundamentally good geometry and balanced chassis, so the ATS turns in willingly, holds a flat body position, maintains track and even changes direction well. It’s confidence inspiring, and agile and rewarding – exactly what a sports sedan should be. There is a little understeer mid-corner, but it is corrected with a bit of trail-braking to point the nose. Throttle steering is possible but the AWD system prefers to stamp out throttle-induced oversteer.