Written by James Hamel
Overview (Graded Score after Eight Categories: A)
The 2014 Cadillac ATS sedan has pricing starting at $33,065 spanning all the way to a maximum of $58,780. Coming soon is a two door Cadillac ATS coupe that debuted at the Chicago Auto Show. Available in the ATS is a 2.5 liter 202 horsepower/191 lb. feet of torque 4-cylinder engine, a 2.0 liter turbocharged 272 horsepower/260 lb. feet of torque 4-cylinder and a 3.6 liter 321 horsepower/275 lb. feet of torque engine which is the unit tested here. A six-speed manual and six-speed automatic are both available and the ATS is rear-wheel drive with all-wheel drive optional on 2.0 and 3.6 liter models.
Admittedly the new Corvette has the star power but it really is the Cadillac ATS sports sedan which finally brought the fight to the BMW 3-Series that is the crown jewel of the new, vital and often-times class leading General Motors. Oh wait a difference a decade makes. Scratch that, even five years ago around the time GM was going through its bankruptcy proceedings things didn't look great for any of the brands at GM. Sure, there were certain models with promise but nothing like the current Cadillac of today that boasts a full line-up of amazingly well rounded luxury and sport vehicles ranging from the SRX, all-new CTS, XTS, gas/electric ELR, Escalade all the way to the high performance V-Series.
But the ATS at its launch had the biggest job of any Cadillac in recent memory—it had to prove the this brand belonged on the world stage with the best Audi, BMW, Lexus, Infiniti and Mercedes had to offer. And it did that and then some. Where the BMW 3-Series has sat for decades as the car to beat when it came to driving enjoyment, ride, handling and steering, anyone can spend just 15 minutes behind the wheel of this Cadillac and feel the engineering artistry that went into every aspect of its creation.
We have driven two versions of the ATS—we drove an elegant and startlingly fast ATS Premium Collection with the 3.6 liter V6 for a week and also had the privilege of taking a Cadillac ATS Performance model with the 2.0 liter turbo and six-speed manual transmission out on a race track filled with the best sport luxury models from Germany and Japan. Despite the fact that many of the drivers on the track had more experience the perfectly honed and calibrated suspension tuning and steering response along with the deliciously easy to manipulate six-speed manual allowed us feats of driving skill we never thought we possessed. It was perhaps one of the greatest driving experiences we may ever know.
Pulling the ATS 2.0 back in off the track after our laps we leapt out of the sumptuously leather lined and stylishly executed interior, took off our helmet and jumped up and down exclaiming, "We passed a BMW M3 and an Audi RS4! We passed a BMW M3 like it was standing still!" The Cadillac PR reps were no doubt pleased by our excitement but perhaps also thought the new car smell in our racing ATS had gotten us high or something. Yes, the 2014 Cadillac ATS can get you high and elevate your mood but in a totally natural way. It is, quite simply, the pathway to driving nirvana. And the best part is that the car is so fluid and easy to drive that anyone can get there. Anyone.
What We Loved about the 2014 Cadillac ATS
What We Didn't Love the 2014 Cadillac ATS
- The taut, controlled, responsive yet smooth suspension tuning
- The telepathic steering feel
- The gorgeous interior is truly better than a 3-Series, C-Class or A4
Exterior View (10 out of 10)
- The base 2.5 liter 4-cylinder wouldn't be our first choice although we haven't tried it
- Um...we're thinking
- We'd love to see a six-speed manual version of the 3.6 liter V6 model
This is currently our favorite interpretation of Cadillac's hugely successful "Art and Science" design ethos which carries through clearly through all of its models. As a brand, Cadillac deserves kudos for managing to make all of their models clearly related but not to such a degree you can't tell them apart. Too often we have trouble telling the latest 3-Series and 5-Series apart but thanks to differences in headlamps and overall silhouette you can always tell if you are looking at Cadillac's latest ATS and CTS. The same is true of the coupe models as well which is more than we can say about the 2-Series and 4-Series thank you very much. Simply put, the ATS sedan is sexy to the core and has no "bad angles."
Interior Comfort, Quality and Overall Ease of Use (10 out of 10)
The interior of the ATS is a true design tour de force from Cadillac with the brand achieving a new level of style and appeal with tasteful yet lush feeling leathers available in multiple shades (red, tan, black) as well as perfectly matched wood trims and metal accents. It all comes together so well inside of the 2014 Cadillac ATS you could easily think you were in the inside of a semi-flashy Audi model. Everything inside from a touch and feel perspective embodies the concept of luxury. Don't misconstrue that Cadillac merely ripped off the interior style of another brand—no, the ATS is unmistakably and totally a Cadillac sedan evolved with hipster cool for the 21st
Some have complained that Cadillac's CUE navigation/infotainment touch screen system is not intuitive enough but we had zero problems with it. Perhaps auto journalists have grown too used to having a BMW iDrive style knob somewhere inside a luxury car as everyone seems to have copied that concept. The CUE system works just via touching the screen or voice command. And again, it worked flawlessly with directions via the navigation, syncing up our iPhone5 for Bluetooth and playing back our music from our iPod via the impressive Bose surround sound audio system.
Overall, the inside of the ATS is where folks who have previously been only considering German or Japanese luxury sport sedans will become sold on this car. It is built to the highest standard, the materials quality is first rate and the seats prove comfortable on long drives. But most of all, it's the unique design statement and feel of the ATS interior that will make ex-BMW and ex-Lexus owners see why they chose to switch to Cadillac each time they get in for a drive.
Technology (10 out of 10)
You name the technology and we are pretty sure you can find it available somewhere on the 2014 ATS—anything from all-wheel drive to a digital heads up display that shows speed and other info at the base of the windshield in front of the driver to auto hi-beam headlamps which turn themselves on and off automatically when they detect other vehicles ahead of you and even an all-around sensor system that detects objects in your path and vibrates the portion of the driver's seat bottom where the obstacle lies so it becomes almost instinctual where to check. Truly, Cadillac offers every high technology safety feature a driver could want with the 2014 ATS. And best of all, we found it all very intuitive and easy to use.
Fuel Economy (9 out of 10)
When you are getting 321 horsepower from a non-turbocharged 6-cylinder motor with a healthy 3.6 liters of displacement, you have to anticipate that your ride
won't be getting Prius mileage. But then, no one ever yelled "cool Prius" to anyone in a parking lot. Ever. In the history of time.
So we think that the ATS 3.6 boasting an EPA average of 19 city/28 highway is pretty darn good especially considering our as tested average of 24 miles per gallon over a week of mixed driving. We mean city streets and highways since at no point did we hypermile or do anything other than floor the throttle from each stop light simply because we thought the noise the engine made as it revved out was such delicious fun. So really, that number should be much lower due to our hooliganism.
Predicted Reliability and Initial Quality Ratings (8 out of 10)
2013 was the first year that the all-new ATS was on sale and as such it had a few first year teething issues quality wise which lowered its quality score in the J.D. Power Initial Quality Study. But Cadillac as a brand always ranks highly in surveys thanks to dealers that are apparently some of the best in the industry and the fact that models like the CTS have five star predicted quality rankings whereas the 2014 ATS has four out of five stars. While it's always risky to buy a totally new model its first year on sale, we agree with J.D. Power's finding that the 2014 ATS should be a safe entry level luxury sedan purchase from a quality perspective.
Safety (10 out of 10)
As of the moment of this writing the 2014 Cadillac ATS has yet to be crash tested by the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) but since it got all full five star scores in testing with the Government run NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) we see no reason why it would get anything lower than a "Top Safety Pick" rating. In the NHTSA tests the ATS received full points for front impact, side impacts and rollover roof strength. Also, when you drive it the 2014 Cadillac ATS has that built like a brick outhouse" feel to it, if you'll pardon the expression.
Performance (10 out of 10)
Alright, we will try not to wax lyrically poetic about the myriad driving highs an ATS owner will come to know over the course of the years they spend driving this scrumptious luxury sport sedan. To sum it up, the steering is scalpel sharp, the suspension can turn the worst driver into a race track hero, the ride is smooth, quiet and comfortable over long distances and the turbo/V6 engines both emit deliciously unique yet tasty growling noises as you rev them out. We simply love every minute driving the ATS.
With the ATS turbo and the manual gearbox there is very little lag before power comes on strong and the 6-speed self shifter is a deliciously slick delight to utilize. Kind of like BMW's manual transmissions used to be like back in the day. The 3.6 liter 321 horsepower/275 lb. feet of torque feels every bit as powerful as those numbers suggest with other traffic easily turned into a fading and shrinking memory in your rear view mirror with one led foot stomp on the accelerator pedal. Not that we ever did that. Okay, the 3.6 liter V6 has power that is so addicting; the act of driving the ATS slowly is practically painful. But in a good way.
When driven responsibly the ATS is the refinement equal of any of its competitors with possibly Lexus still maintaining its tomb-like quiet crown to this day. But we are weird; we actually like to "experience" driving our luxury sports sedan a bit. Sure, we want leather lined comfort and soothing, smooth bump absorption (which the ATS provides) but we appreciate that this Cadillac talks back to the driver through the steering wheel and allows you to hear the engine working if you feel in the mood to push it. This sedan is truly the most perfectly balanced entry level luxury sport sedan on the market today. Now, can we have an ATS Turbo for a week Cadillac? Hey, we had to ask.
Pricing and Value for Money (9 out of 10)
Prices for ATS models with the top of the line 3.6 liter V6 currently start at $39,250 which is a nice relief from what you would pay for a top level 6-cylinder BMW 335i for example. While you can always stick with the value base version named "luxury," we recommend either opting for "Performance" ($42,020) or our as tested "Premium" which comes to $47,095 with our only necessary option being the $600 Cold Weather Package which added heated seats and steering wheel.
With the Premium model you get performance seats, the CUE navigation system, Bose 10-speaker audio, a full array of safety equipment usually optional on rival models, the intelligent HID (High Intensity Discharage) "smart" headlamps we mentioned earlier, magnetic ride control with active dampers as well as a mechanical rear differential for optimal handling performance. That's not a bad price for so more sport and so much luxury in one premium sedan. We can't think of a better way to spend $48,000. Frankly, you'd never regret the choice.
"The Final Numbers" and the Competition (76 points out of 80)
Alright, the 2014 Cadillac ATS competes with the BMW 3-Series, Lexus IS, Audi A4, Infiniti Q50 and to a certain degree the overpriced, under equipped and
underpowered current Mercedes C-Class. An off-beat alternative would be a Volvo S60 but the current Lincoln MKZ doesn't hold a candle to the ATS when it comes to style, interior build quality and most clearly handling capability. We tested a MKZ hybrid that got scarily floaty at any speed at or above 75 miles per hour. Many people still will not consider anything but a 3-Series and it is a fine sedan if you can handle getting violated by BMW's options lists and pricing.
The latest Lexus IS was a huge leap forward for the brand but the IS250 is gutless so you really only have the IS350 as a true sport sedan choice and it gets pricey. Plus, it has some odd looking angles. We adore the Audi A4 but its turbo 4-cylinder can't outperform the Cadillac 2.0 Turbo so you might have to spend insane S4 money to get your Audi to feel as special as an ATS. We are sure Infiniti would be very willing to cut you a deal given the fact that no one knows what their cars are called since they up and changed them all for no reason. In other words, we think you will choose the 2014 Cadillac ATS if you just give it a chance. It really is the standard of the world.