The ATS is GMs first serious venture into the very competitive luxury compact sport sedan segment. Based on the new "Alpha" platform this car is designed to go head to head with the BMW 3 series, the Audi A4 and the Mercedes C class. After a month with the 2014 ATS I would have to conclude that they have succeeded and, in in same areas, even surpassed the German competition. The gripes are few and mostly concern the interior and cargo room and the CUE system. However, in all other aspect this is a welcome and stylish new choice in this luxury segment for anyone who thinks that the German brands have lost their focus on fun driving dynamics or have just gotten a little dull.
To me, this is probably the best expression yet of Cadillac's Art & Science design language resulting in a well-balanced design with sharp flowing lines. Traditional Cadillac design cues such as vertical tail lights abound but meld well with clean sheet matal to produce a fresh modern design. Thankfully there is very little left of the old over styled styled baroque brage design of older Caddies.
Having seen older Cadillac interiors the ATS surprises with an elegant and relatively simple design. Gone is the fake chrome and Chevy parts bin switch gear which have all being replaced with real metal trim, a stitched dash with plenty soft touch materials and good quality leather. The center stack features the CUE touch screen and the slide and touch controls for the HVAC and stereo.
In an effort to make the dash simple and elegant, Cadillac may have gone a little too far as some real buttons and switches may have been easier to operate in everyday driving situations. However, the downside of the CUE system seems to have been exaggerated in some of the reviews I have read. Try it out for yourself - for me it was not a deal breaker.
For me the best aspect of the ATS was the handling. GM seems to have pulled off a nearly physics defying design that offers lively and sharp handling yet a composed and quiet ride at the same time. It reminded me a lot of my old E46 BMW 3 series. I prefer the standard suspension on the base and luxury trims. Opting for Performance or Premium will mean opting for the "sports suspension" which to me traded too much daily comfort for only little handling gain.
Note that some options such as HID headlights and blind spot monitoring systems can only be had with trims that feature the sports suspension.
There are 3 choices of engine in the ATS: a 2.5 liter 4 cylinder base engine, a 2 liter turbo and the familiar GM 3.6 V6. The base 2.5 makes for leisurely progress and is harsh at higher revs but if you think that a Lexus IS250 is fast enough then this might be the engine for you.
Next is the DI 2 liter turbo with 270 horse power and flat torque curve that makes for acceleration to 60 in about 6 seconds. Power delivery is excellent, particularly at low RPM. For most folks this is the engine they want as it delivers class competitive performance but doesn't weigh down the front of the car.
GMs well proven HF 3.6 is the top engine choice with 321 ponies and a throaty exhaust note that is sorely missing from the 2.0T. As a bonus it does not require premium gas so it will most likely not cost more at the pump than the 2.0T. The only drawback is that the heavier V6 weighs down the front on of the car making it less nimble in the turns.
The ATS is a compact sports sedan so cargo room was not a design priority. There is only 10 cubic feet of trunk space which is about 30% less than the BMW 3 or the Audi A4. Similarly tight is the rear leg room which is also noticeably less than the competition. Be sure that you assess your cargo needs before succumbing to the charms of the ATSs handling and looks.
While all of the engine choices perform well none is a fuel economy leader. Both BMW and Audi lead the ATS by about 4 MPG both city and highway.
At only 10 cubic feet the trunk is about 30% smaller than the competition. However, there is some storage blow the trunk floor for items such as first aid kits and road flares.
Audio & nav systems
The Cadillac CUE system would be improved by having some physical buttons and switches for commonly used features. The slider and touch buttons do work but just don't offer the same ease and control and are very dificult to operate while the car is moving. The HVAC system offers very little maual control so if you don't like what the system delivers in automatic mode, then you're out of luck.
The upgraded BOSE audio system is acceptable in this price range but has an overboosted base and the interface to iPods and phones are a little buggy. On startup, it will often forget where it was when shit down and just start playing track in alphabetical order.
The ATS is probably the best handling compact sports sedan you can curently buy. If you can live with the tigh rear leg room, the small trunk and the awkward CUE system then this is an excellent choice for those looking for a stylish and sporty sedan that still offers good ride quality and a beautiful interior.
Warranty, maintenance cost
Like BMW Cadillac offer 4 years of free maintenance with the ATS.
Price or payments
Depending on what promotions are active, an ATS Luxury 2.0T with sunroof and CUE has a transaction price of around $36K-$37K. While that compares favorably with the luxury competition, keep in mind that the expected depreciation of the ATS is most likely higher than some of its more established luxury rivals and what is gained on price may be lost whe it comes time sell.