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2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe First Review: Fewer doors, more style and performance

By Matt Degen on August 7, 2014 1:34 PM
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Cadillac accomplished a rare feat when it introduced its ATS Sedan for 2013: It created an all-new car in an entrenched segment that bucked adversity from rivals like the BMW 3 Series to become a hit with critics and consumers alike. Indeed, Cadillac's compact luxury sport sedan went on to win the North American Car of the Year award while simultaneously driving impressive sales its first year out. Perhaps more importantly, the car is attracting younger buyers to the Cadillac brand.

With this backdrop, it's a no-brainer that GM's luxury division is releasing a 2-door version, the ATS Coupe. Like its 4-door sibling, the 2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe boasts sporting cred with standard rear-wheel drive, available all-wheel drive, powerful engine choices and a near 50/50 weight balance. And while the new ATS Coupe and the ATS Sedan share the same 109.3-inch wheelbase, the coupe is very much its own car. In fact, with a lower and wider profile and its own design aesthetics, Cadillac executives boast that only the hood sheetmetal is shared by the coupe and sedan. Yet like its 5-passenger counterpart, this 4-passenger coupe has European rivals in its sight, namely the 2-door version of the Mercedes C-Class as well as dedicated coupes like the BMW 4 Series and Audi's A5. 

Also: 2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe makes Detroit debut

At just under $39,000, the new Cadillac ATS Coupe slightly undercuts the starting prices of those rivals but still comes nicely equipped with standard features like a turbocharged engine, push-button start, power front seats, rearview camera, Bose sound system and GM's OnStar communications system with 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot. The compact Caddy also has exclusive and high-end features such as wireless charging of compatible smartphones, Magnetic Ride Control suspension, Brembo performance front brakes and Cadillac's CUE touch-sensitive command system.

Cadillac invited us to test the 2015 ATS Coupe on the rural roads of northern Connecticut and southern Massachusetts. Here's what we gathered from our first blush with this all-new compact luxury coupe.

A Pair of Potent Powerplants

The ATS Coupe offers a choice of two engines: a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder good for 272-horsepower and a whopping 295 lb-ft of torque, or the optional 3.6-liter V6 that dishes 321 horsepower/275 lb-ft of torque. As with the 4- and 6-cylinder options of the BMW 4 Series, both of the ATS' powerplants are very good, and like its German competitor, the Cadillac's 4-cylinder will be more than adequate for most buyers. 

In the ATS, the 4-cylinder is efficient, achieving up to 31 mpg vs the V6's 28 mpg, and saves you several thousand dollars to boot (V6 versions of the ATS Coupe start just over $46,000). Yes, the V6 feels stronger and smoother under hard acceleration, but there's little to complain about except some minor turbo lag with the 4-cylinder. And for the few American buyers who will want a manual transmission ATS coupe, the 4-cylinder, rear-drive version of the car is their only choice. Incidentally, rowing through this 6-speed manual was among the highlights of our test drive. The ATS' manual transmission is remarkably satisfying to operate. The only letdown was pronounced engine noise once the revs hit 4,000 rpm, which is also where this engine begins to be most fun to operate.

Performance-Oriented Suspension

Not that long ago, Cadillac and comfort went hand and hand. But that image is shifting as the brand emphasizes road-going performance over pillow-soft cruising. Combine that with the fact that the ATS Coupe's suspension has been tuned for better dynamic performance than its sedan sibling, and it's no surprise that the ability to carve corners trumps wafting over pavement. 

In this respect we found the compact Cadillac coupe feels solid on the road, tossable in corners -- and stiff over uneven pavement. If your budget allows, the Magnetic Ride Control (MRC) included in top-trim Premium models does an admirable job of quelling road imperfections in Touring mode via its real-time damping system.  The MRC also helps improve steering feel in Sport mode, but in general the ATS Coupe's steering feel and feedback aren't as spot-on as the BMW 4 Series.

Style and Some Compromise

From just about every angle, the ATS Coupe is a lovely looking 2-door. Well-proportioned and with prominent side creases that run from just aft the front wheels to the LED taillights, the 2015 ATS Coupe should have no problem attracting admirers young and old. Proof of this, albeit anecdotally, came several times on our daylong test-drive when strangers gave us thumbs-up, inquired what model this was and even pulled over to the side of the road to get a closer look while we were parked. Yes, this coupe might have looked even better without the B-pillar between the front and rear side windows, but Cadillac reps insist that including it greatly helps side-impact requirements and structural rigidity.

Also: 10 Best Luxury Cars Under $40,000

Inside the baby Cadillac is equally well-executed, especially higher-trim models that feature lush, semi-aniline leather seats and real wood trim. The back seats have the same 33.5 inches of legroom as the ATS sedan, but space here feels more confined. We ended up just using the rear pair of seats to carry parcels, not passengers. Cadillac's CUE touch-sensitive infotainment system continues in its bittersweet state of looking high-tech and appealing but being frustrating to operate at times with its touch-sensitive controls that can be too sensitive and not all that intuitive. On the bright side, we applaud the available navigation system, which not only saved us from taking a very "scenic route" back to our hotel, but operated quickly and flawlessly. 

Like the sedan than came before it, the ATS Coupe is a fine effort by Cadillac in the brand's new affront to the compact luxury coupe segment. With eye-catching looks, more standard horsepower and a lower entry price than rivals, the ATS' European competitors will surely be on notice -- all while a new generation of buyers takes notice.

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