2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe Test Drive

Cadillac has never made a car like the ATS Coupe before, and it didn't have to now. But it kind of did.

The all-new two-door is the company's first true compact luxury sport coupe (the front-wheel-drive, hybrid ELR doesn't quite fit the bill.) Built on the same platform as the 2013 North American Car of the Year-winning ATS sedan, the coupe is world's removed from Caddy's personal luxury cars of old like the Coupe de Ville and Eldorado, and targets a segment that's not exactly a high volume arena, but is a must for a premium automaker looking to move into the big leagues.

Lower and a little longer than the sedan, it brings a sharp, elegant, original style to the class. It’s not nearly as avant-garde as the larger, outgoing CTS Coupe, which would look right at home in the trailer for "Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens," but since that hasn’t been a huge seller they went for subtlety this time around. The interior is snazzy to the nines with lots of stitched upholstery and would be on par with the company’s top models if it weren’t let down by a cheap-looking instrument cluster that is the ATS’s only opening for a Cimarron reference.

Two engines are available, both with rear or all-wheel-drive: a 272 hp turbocharged four-cylinder and a 321 hp V6. Caddy left the entry-level 2.5-liter four-cylinder offered in the sedan off the options list to position the $38,990 coupe a little further upscale.

A six-speed automatic transmission is standard, but rear-wheel-drive turbos offer a six-speed manual as a no-cost option for the handful of customers who might be so inclined. Nevertheless, the fact that you can get one at all sends a loud and clear message to a certain three-letter German brand that the ATS came to play.

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    The V6 is a fine engine, but the turbo has more torque (295 lb-ft vs. 275 lb-ft), is lighter, and delivers more punch in most situations. While it’s not buttery at full throttle, it’s silent most of the time and lends the ATS more of an import feel than the six-cylinder.

    As with the sedan, the back seats are cramped, even for a compact, and you’re best to leave them to the occasional grammar school run. Up front, you sit sports car low in narrow, seriously-bolstered buckets and have as much legroom as you need. While Cadillac’s touch-sensitive CUE infotainment system interface leaves much to be desired, it is chock full of technology, and the ATS has a built-in 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot. A Powermat wireless charging pad is optional, as is a CD player. Remember those? Cadillac hopes the younger buyers it’s after these days don’t.

    My test car was a rear-wheel-drive turbo done up in Performance trim, which adds low-profile tires, a Brembo brake package, and a stiffer suspension, among other things. Even without the adjustable Magnetic Ride Control active suspension that top of the line Premium trim models get, the ATS blends an impressive mix of ride comfort and handling. One of the car’s great traits is just how light and stiff the chassis is, and it helps on both of these counts.

    The steering doesn’t have the uber-hefty feel of a premium European car, but maybe that’s for the better. This is American luxury, after all, and if it didn’t offer a little of its own flavor, what’s the point? Nevertheless, when you spin that wheel to throw the ATS into a turn, it responds beautifully and always seems to have more grip than you expect. It’s more at home on twisty roads than the boulevard, but excellent everywhere.

    The automatic transmission does leave something to be desired. Compared to the best -- and that includes the terrific eight-speed in the Cadillac CTS – it’s a little lazy, the Sport mode isn’t perfectly calibrated, and a couple of more gears would likely raise the highway fuel economy above the current 30 mpg. Still, in relaxed driving it’s generally smooth and fits the overall, soft-edged personality of the car well enough. That’s going to change next year with the launch of the high-performance 455 hp twin-turbocharged ATS-V coupe and sedan, which will have that eight-speed and lots more go-fast bits. Based on the current models, the ATS seems ready for the challenge.

    When the ATS sedan came out two years ago, I suggested that it wouldn’t get too many people to give up their BMWs and Benzes, but might keep them from getting into them in the first place. Based on the dwindling sales of the ATS since then, and the records being set by the Germans, I’ll double-down on that presumption here. If the ATS were a couple of grand less expensive, things would be very different, but New York City-bound Cadillac is taking the baller route and pricing its cars close to the targeted competition, so it’ll have to sleep in that bed.

    The ATS coupe should make its owners very happy, however. It’s is a world-class “made in the USA” option for the few, the proud, and the brave looking for a compact luxury sport coupe.

    They’re sure to be in an exclusive club.


    2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe

    Base price: $38,990

    As tested: $48,305

    Type: 2-door, 4-passenger coupe

    Engine: 2.0L turbocharged 4-cylinder

    Power: 272 hp, 295 lb-ft torque

    Transmission: 6-speed automatic

    MPG: 21 city/30 hwy