The ATS is Cadillac's first shot at competing directly with the world's best entry-level luxury sedans - including the benchmark BMW 3-Series - in terms of size, handling, technology and refinement. Riding on GM's new rear/all-wheel-drive Alpha platform, the ATS was optimized at the demanding Nurburgring track in Germany and has the responsive driving dynamics to prove it.
For its third year on the market, the ATS benefits from a minor facelift including a restyled front end with Cadillac's new, streamlined logo, more responsive steering, and a torquier turbocharged four-cylinder.
Other upgrades include 4G LTE with WiFi capability, text message alerts and wireless phone charging, among other tech items. Additionally, a proximity key is standard for all trim levels.
Stylistically, the ATS exhibits a softer, somewhat conservative take on Cadillac's once-edgy Art & Science design language. Narrow, elongated headlights that extend halfway down the sides of the hood are a distinctive touch, while a rising beltline adds a hint of athleticism.
The ATS is smaller than Cadillac's CTS sedan and nearly identical to the 3-Series in all major dimensions. Cadillac says that the ATS undercuts its competitors with a curb weight as low as 3,400 pounds (for base models), which was achieved by employing lightweight materials such as an aluminum hood, magnesium engine mount brackets and natural-fiber door trim panels.
The low mass pays dividends in terms of handling, which is also aided by a suspension setup composed of a multi-link double-pivot MacPherson-strut with a direct-acting stabilizer bar up front with a five-link setup at the rear. Performance is further augmented by an optional sports suspension with GM's impressive Magnetic Ride Control system, which can adjust the dampers in the blink of an eye to prevent body roll during hard corners or keep passengers comfortable while cruising.
Inside, the ATS emulates the CTS with a similarly sharp-edged design and extensive use of premium materials, including stitched surfaces on the dashboard and doors. Befitting its performance-oriented character, the ATS is available with carbon fiber interior trim, while real wood is another trim option.
The ATS is also offered with Cadillac's new CUE infotainment system, which controls navigation, communication and vehicle settings through an eight-inch advanced tactile-feedback touch-screen designed to emulate the look and feel of a smartphone. The system replaces most of the conventional buttons and knobs on the dashboard, and can reportedly be configured for technophiles, troglodytes and everyone in between.
The ATS is available with the buyer's choice of three different engines, automatic or manual gearboxes and rear- or all-wheel-drive.
The base motor is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that produces 202 horsepower and 190 lb-ft of torque. Available exclusively with a six-speed automatic transmission and RWD, this engine returns 22/33 city/highway mpg.
Those looking for a mix of performance and fuel economy can opt for the mid-level 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, which serves up a healthy 272 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque - up 35 lb-ft for the latest model year. A six-speed manual is available for enthusiasts; so equipped, the 2.0-liter ATS returns 22/32 mpg. With the standard six-speed automatic, the motor returns 21/31 mpg with RWD or 20/30 mpg with the optional AWD system.
The range-topping engine, at least until the high-performance ATS-V launches, is a 3.6-liter V6 that pumps out 321 horsepower and 274 lb-ft of torque. Only the automatic gearbox can be had with the big six. Fuel economy is rated at 19/28 mpg with RWD and 18/26 mpg with AWD.
All engines can run on regular fuel, although Cadillac recommends premium for the turbo.
Trim Level Breakdown
The ATS can be had in a number of trim levels based on engine choice - the 2.5-liter motor is the default choice in Standard and Luxury trims, the 2.0-liter turbo can be spec'd in Standard, Luxury, Performance and Premium trims, and the 3.6L is avaialble in Luxury, Performance or Premium form.
The Standard trim comes with leatherette upholstery, a Bose AM/FM/XM sound system with center console-mounted USB and SD Card media and auxiliary audio ports, dual-zone automatic climate control, a 5.7-inch color information screen on the center stack, Bluetooth connectivity, a proximity key, LED interior accent lighting, OnStar with 4G LTE and WiFi hotspot capability, and 17-inch painted aluminum wheels.
Upgrading to the Luxury trim adds leather upholstery, the aforementioned CUE infotainment system, text message alerts, wireless phone charging, a rear vision camera, front and rear park assist, eight-way power-adjustable driver and front passenger seats with two-way power lumbar adjustment and memory functionality, exterior mirrors with integrated turn signal and puddle lamp, adaptive remote start, a smart key, midnight chrome grille accents and 17-inch polished wheels.
The Performance trim brings HID headlamps with LED accent lights, sports seats, aluminum pedals, magnesium steering-wheel paddle shifters (when equipped with the automatic transmission), a lane departure warning system, forward collision alert, rear thorax airbag, and rainsense windshield wipers.
For those willing to settle for nothing but the very best, the range-topping Premium trim brings a navigation system, a head-up display, a sport suspension with magnetic ride control and limited-slip differential, a power tilting and telescoping steering column, high-capacity engine cooling and 18-inch machined-finish aluminum wheels shod with performance summer run-flat tires.
All ATS models are fitted with eight airbags in addition to traction and stability control systems and four-channel ABS. In addition, a long list of optional safety features are available, including adaptive cruise control, intelligent brake assist, forward collision alert, brake pre-fill automatic collision preparation, lane departure warning and side blind zone alert.
The ATS is designed to run with the best the entry-level luxury sedan segment has to offer, including the Infiniti G25 and G37, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Audi A4, Volvo S60 and, of course, the benchmark BMW 3-Series.